Agile Project Management on Government Finance Projects

By Kraft, Chris | The Journal of Government Financial Management, Spring 2018 | Go to article overview

Agile Project Management on Government Finance Projects


Kraft, Chris, The Journal of Government Financial Management


While agile software development is not new, there are many assumptions made about what constitutes agile. Many of the early applications of agile were focused on product development. These were later adopted for software development and have led to the evolution of many different agile methodologies. There are many benefits to using agile over the more traditional, sequential waterfall approach. These benefits can be leveraged on federal projects to deliver increased value, reduced risk, enhanced visibility and greater adaptability. Agencies looking to implement or expand the use of agile should evaluate their specific circumstances to determine what approach will work best.

WHAT IS AGILE?

Most people are familiar with the concept of agile, but that does not mean they understand it. Some associate agile with a form of anarchy where everyone does whatever he or she wants.1 Harvard Business Review found many executives do not really understand agile, and they manage projects in ways that undermine the effectiveness of agile teams.2 Agile methodologies have been used in different forms for decades. While most people today associate agile with software development, there is a long history with product development.

In 1986, Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka published an article in the Harvard Business Review that looked at how companies were moving away from a sequential to more holistic approach to developing products.3 The article looked at the six characteristics of this holistic approach as "built-in instability, self-organizing project teams, overlapping development phases, 'multilearning', subtle control and organizational transfer of learning.4 Companies applying this holistic approach were able to implement flexible processes for new product development. The authors used an analogy of rugby, where you pass the ball with the team as the unit moves up the field.5

The arguments made by Takeuchi and Nonaka, including the need to implement approaches to product development that included speed and flexibility, have influenced the software development community. In 2001, a group of software developers got together to discuss lightweight software development methods. They shared best practices, identified common themes and developed a common purpose for agile practitioners.6 The result was the Agile Manifesto.7 While agile methods existed before 2001, this manifesto has become a foundation for agile software development. This manifesto includes four values and 12 principles of agile software development.

The group that put together the Agile Manifesto was "uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it."8 They outlined the things they have come to value, presented in the form of things valued over other things. The four values below have come to define agile.

The first value is individuals and interactions over processes and tools. This highlights a preference for personal communication. While processes and tools are important, it is more important to focus on personal communication. Teams should seek to abandon assemblyline mentality in favor of a fun, creative environment for problem solving.9

The second value is working software over comprehensive documentation. This value focuses on applying effort where it will deliver the most benefit. Delivering software to the customer is more important than delivering comprehensive documentation. This does not mean agile is against producing documentation. It simply means working software is valued over endless documentation. The belief is the team can learn faster by seeing results of working software and getting it to the customer for feedback.10 The importance of experimentation also underlies this idea of delivering working software.

The third value is customer collaboration over contract negotiation. A key element of agile is to integrate the customer into the project. This integrated team that fosters collaboration can be much more responsive to the business needs and better suited to developing working software that meets customer requirements. …

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