In our digital age, technology provides the foundational components that underpin how citizens live, work, and communicate. Whenever a new digital offering or process enters the market – typically in the rapidly transforming consumer sector – citizens’ expectations and demands of their government transform. While commercial enterprises have proven adept at quickly developing, applying, and deploying innovative technologies, government organizations frequently lag behind the innovation curve.
Shift to Agile
In an effort to increase speed, flexibility, and responsiveness, government has increasingly shifted from their legacy project management methodology to an incremental, customer-centric Agile product development that is transforming how federal development advances. In a landscape notable for major project failures, Agile has proven repeatedly that it delivers high quality working, citizen-pleasing, iterative products frequently and efficiently.
Agile should not be viewed as just as set of methods and practices but, rather, a discipline – the discipline of reliably producing working products. Agile is formal, disciplined, and hard to do well. But, for those agencies that choose to embrace Agile, the rewards are outstanding products that deliver incremental value, as committed and on-budget – and just as importantly – satisfied citizens, teams, and management.
Adapting to Agile
Agile literally has a language all its own. “How do we decompose this feature into small vertically sliced user stories?” “What is our scrum team’s velocity?” And instead of project managers, Agile identifies product owners and scrum masters who review Burndown Charts instead of Gantt Charts. This new terminology reflects Agile’s lithe, lean style of product development whose teams work in close collaboration with the customer and stakeholders to add value to every step of the process, targeting a goal of continuous improvement.
The Agile Scrum method takes an iterative approach to product development, in which the work to deliver increments of value to the customer is time-boxed into short sprints. A sprint typically lasts from 2-3 weeks, and at the end of each sprint a potentially shippable increment of value is produced. In DevOps enabled teams, increments of valuable functionality can be released on-demand to the customer
In Agile, there is less focus on big, up-front planning since a central principal of agile is that the teams keep important options open “until the last responsible moment”. This means that Agile teams must strike a healthy balance between upfront planning and planning “just in time”. There is also more emphasis on reviewing the product and the end of each sprint and incorporating user feedback to continuously evolve and develop the product in upcoming sprints. During each sprint, increments of valuable functionality is released, followed by review and feedback
By adopting Agile practices across their organization, agencies have proven that they can become faster, more productive, and more responsive to citizens’ needs.
What’s wrong with traditional project management methodologies?
In the federal government where computer systems are large, agency problems are complex and constantly shifting, and IT budgets are shrinking, traditional project management methodologies consistently fail to deliver timely products that satisfy – much less delight – their users.
Agile is notably different from legacy project management in the way it focuses more on teamwork, collaboration, and flexibility, as opposed to a strict sequence of activities.
What makes a product-oriented mindset more conducive to meeting the users’ digital needs and expectations?
- Internal Strategic Alignment: By dismantling legacy organizational silos, integrating IT into the fabric of the business, and fostering a high degree of collaboration between and among leadership and technical SMEs, organizations can ensure that product requirements and deliverables don’t just align with organizational objectives, but fundamentally drive strategic agency mission by delivering a digital experience that engages the end-user in intentional and meaningful ways.
- Technical Delivery Approach: Migrating from traditional waterfall project management and software delivery processes to a an Agile, DevSecOps/Release on Demand approach enables organizations to reduce risk, expedite time-to-market, and ultimately lower costs by employing a flexible product development approach that can easily adapt to changing requirements and customer needs.
- Lean-Agile Leadership and Team Behaviors: Leaders don’t have all the answers. When organizations pivot from traditional, hierarchical leadership structures to ones that give knowledge workers a seat at the table and empower SMEs to make critical decisions, they create the generative, collaborative culture necessary to drive innovation, value, and mission through digital experiences.
- Culture of Innovation: The only way to stay ahead of the curve is to commit to continuous improvement and promote a culture of innovation – thereby allowing teams the sufficient time, resources and flexibility to discover, evolve, and pioneer solutions that engage end-users to achieve strategic organizational objectives and goals.
How can we help your agency shift focus from project to product?
Ambit partners with federal agencies to facilitate the successful transition from legacy software delivery practices to an Agile, product-oriented mindset.
Our experts leverage a proven, proprietary approach – honed over 16 years cultivating federal business transformation and product management capabilities– to foster technical excellence, optimize value delivery, and embed a product-oriented culture across all layers of the agency. This approach not only utilizes Agile best practices to stand up teams and structures that are ideally positioned to meet future industry needs, but also infuses Lean portfolio management methodologies to transform governance constructs – enabling budgeting, staffing, reporting, and prioritization practices that better deliver business value and achieve agency mission.