Government and IT – “A Recipe for Rip-Offs”

We write a lot about what the government is doing with Agile, especially the UK. With DSDM in it’s back pocket, and Agile methods taught to University students, it would make sense that Agile-reform will take over and help businesses succeed. But that doesn’t mean they have always worked in the past…

[Read it here]

The Public Administration Committee of the Parliament of the UK recently posted a scathing report about how the UK government has done in regards to IT work. Call it a report card for the UK Government and IT. The published report was ordered by the House of Commons to be printed 18 July 2011. It’s definitely worth a read… if you need something to put you to sleep tonight. But I like to read this stuff because that’s what I love to do. :)

Essentially the government is: dumb, pays more for IT work than anyone else, wastes money, and allows IT contractors to sell them $100 paper clips…

BUT!

The IfG identified three main barriers to using agile working methods in Government:

  • Governance issues. The current approval process looks for a detailed specification as a sign that a project has been properly thought out, but such specifications are not normally produced for Agile development as the specification is expected to change as the project develops;
  • Commercial processes. A preference for fixed price contracts to deliver a particular solution reinforces the tendency for both sides to demand a high level of detail up-front;
  • Cultural issues. A reluctance to delegate and assign high levels of responsibility at lower levels of the organisation, in addition to a more general wariness of change from inside Government.

The report tells us the Government is keen to introduce Agile methods but commercial process, cultural and governance issues stand in the way. Maybe breaking some boundaries and using agile techniques would help to avoid costly failures. In addition, it seems, that a greater use of Agile development is likely to necessitate behavior changes within Government. As agile methodology requires increased participation from the business to provide feedback on different iterations of the solution, departments will need to release their staff, particularly senior staff with overall responsibility of the project, to allow them to participate in these exercises.

“Agile development is a powerful tool to enhance the effectiveness and improve the outcomes of Government change programmes. We welcome the Government’s enthusiasm and willingness to experiment with this method. The Government should be careful not to dismiss the very real barriers in the existing system that could prevent the wider use of agile development. We therefore invite the Government to outline in its response how it will adapt its existing programme model to enable agile development to work as envisaged and how new flagship programmes will utilise improved approaches to help ensure their successful delivery.” – House of Commons

Ouch. Well, keep on trucking UK!

[VIA: Parliament.UK]

7 Responses to “Government and IT – “A Recipe for Rip-Offs””

  1. Paul Boos
    August 9, 2011 at 8:54 am #

    I don’t disagree with anything said here; I’ll try to post a lengthy follow up on some of the US challenges and some ways to which an Agency can potentially maintain compliance yet become more Agile.

    • peter
      August 9, 2011 at 11:32 am #

      Looking forward to seeing it!

  2. Chris R. Chapman
    August 9, 2011 at 11:03 am #

    Here in Canada (which has a parliamentary system of government based on British traditions), IT departments are not monolithic but rather individual, and often feudal, dutchies within each Ministry that only occasionally operate in unison. The norm is a simmering, frustrating patchwork of systems, practices and skills.

    Trying to corral teams in government to use agile practices is like trying to clean the ocean with a single Brita filter. They just don’t understand why to bother. Compounding the indifference is the instransigence of public sector unions that will file grievances at the first whiff of something that upsets any apple cart, stalling change in bureaucratic coils.

    It’s at the point of being futile.

    To be sure, there are some folks who want to do more and better, but the prevailing culture isn’t one that supports a transformation to the speed of agility. We are talking about the Ents of IT: They do not believe in doing anything unless it takes a long time to do so.

    Bravo to the UK’s HoC for their initiaive – let’s see where it takes them.

    • peter
      August 9, 2011 at 11:33 am #

      At least the government did this report, not some government watchdog of sorts. I’m always interested to see where the UK govt is going with Agile. Here’s to hoping! Another post on canada related activity later this week, stay tuned :)

  3. Yavor
    August 10, 2011 at 8:14 am #

    Very interesting article. It’s somehow related to another initiative which I’ve recently encountered – “fixing broke(n) Governments through Serious Games”:
    http://www.indiegogo.com/Serious-Games-for-Serious-Civic-Engagement

    • peter
      August 10, 2011 at 9:04 am #

      Ooo. I like this. Thanks for sharing!

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