Increasing expectations from citizens, brittle technology solutions in need of modernization, an aging (and retiring) workforce, and competition for talent are among the many factors driving state government agencies to look for more efficient approaches and higher-quality IT implementations. This has especially been true since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, with agencies increasingly recognizing the need for Agile Transformation efforts.
We suggest reflecting on two primary questions: (1) what challenges in technology delivery is your agency attempting to address, and (2) what set of outcomes is the Agile Transformation intended to drive? Commonly-desired outcomes for state governments’ Agile Transformation programs typically include:
Faster time to market
Increased business user satisfaction
Faster defect resolution
Greater flexibility and change responsiveness (adaptability)
Streamlined procurement models
Reduction in manual processes through system-derived capability
Reduced vendor lock-in
Left-shifting learning and “fail-fast” culture
More sustainable Operations and Maintenance (O&M) tail
Improved business-IT alignment
While government is jumping on the Agile bus to remedy past challenges, the most common approach we have observed is adopting agile processes within Information Technology divisions, while failing to address the underlying issues that led to IT delivery failures in the past. In most cases, the bulk of IT value stream waste lies not in how requirements are decomposed and developed, but in the difficult processes surrounding approval of, and reporting on, IT project work. In many cases, moving to agile delivery methodologies at the project level is both possible and beneficial, but fails to address the root causes for project delays, including tedious governance processes, long procurement lead-times, and lack of clear business vision for intended outcomes. IT groups are able to affect change in the domain(s) they control but are often powerless within broader procedural governance structures.
For Agile Transformation initiatives to truly drive efficiency and reduce risk in IT project delivery, technology value streams must be assessed from end-to-end, and teams seeking real business-IT alignment will likely be hampered by the “other stuff” until a holistic business value pipeline view is taken. In Mik Kersten’s 2018 Project to Product primer on product transformation to promote Agile and DevOps culture shifts in modern enterprise, he notes that:
“In the context of a software value stream, the concept of “end-to-end” includes the entire process of value delivery to the customer. It encompasses functions ranging from business strategy and ideation all the way to instrumentation of usage to determine which values were most adopted by the customer base. It is this end-to-end process that we need to understand and find bottlenecks in before considering the optimizing of any particular segment of the process, such as feature design or deployment.” 1
Much of the end-to-end “waste” in the state government IT value stream lies in detailed planning, budgeting, procurement, and governance processes that precede project kickoffs and iterative delivery activities, rather than solely within project endeavors and post-project-initiation. Because of this, state government agencies may need additional leaning out of broad planning, budgeting, acquisition, and reporting processes. While taking an agile approach to building product supports (and often drives) many of the outcomes above, some agencies are finding that leaning on methodological frameworks alone is not effectively driving the sort of change IT and business leaders are seeking. In short: Agile Transformation of IT delivery processes is necessary, but not sufficient, for achieving impactful improvements to an overall IT system’s delivery life cycle.
Agile for state government does have specific constraints and idiosyncrasies revolving around proving value for taxpayer spend and supporting audit requirements. This is not uncommon in other industries; for example, the stewardship of public funds at federal government agencies and stringent auditability requirements faced by financial institutions. But by tailoring Agile Transformation strategies to address these constraints, agencies can focus on optimizing the big picture to obtain tangible results.
Over the next year, CapTech’s government solution team will publish a series of tactically driven recommendations aimed at enabling governments to repeatably achieve improved outcomes in IT delivery contexts.
1 Mik Kersten, From Project to Product: How to Survive and Thrive in the Age of Digital Disruption with the Flow Framework, IT Revolution Press, Portland, Oregon, 2018, pg. 39.