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7 Steps to Agile Development

A report released at the annual NASCIO conference offers some practical tips on realizing the benefits of agile development.

AUSTIN, Texas — At its annual conference on Oct. 2, NASCIO, in conjunction with Accenture, released Agile IT Delivery: Imperatives for Government Success. The report is fueled by detailed surveys and interviews of state government leaders from across the country, both inside and outside of IT. It makes the point that although government is perhaps better positioned than the private sector to benefit from agile development methods, there are more structural impediments standing in the way of its success. Among government’s built-in challenges, according to the report, are budget constraints and cumbersome requirements around compliance. 


The NASCIO/Accenture report defines agile as follows: “An iterative project management methodology that delivers differentiated, high-value solutions in rapid deployments and functionality and relies on frequent feedback and adaptation to reach desired outcomes.”


Agile requires an organizationwide change in culture that extends far past the boundaries of IT. Other stakeholders that must be on board are agency leadership, budgeting and procurement, CIOs and CTOs.


The report identifies seven steps to help improve your chances of agile success. 
1. Secure Executive Sponsorship 
2. Spark a Cultural Transformation
3. Maintain Business Engagement 
4. Adopt User-Centric Design Thinking 
5. Involve Budgeting & Procurement 
6. Engage Authorizing Agencies
7. Conduct Training Across the Enterprise 
At an afternoon session, New Hampshire CIO Denis Goulet and Nebraska CIO Ed Toner, alongside NASCIO’s Eric Sweden and Accenture’s Keir Buckhurst, offered their take on how to advance agile development in state government, despite the hurdles. 
As reported by Government Technology earlier this year, Nebraska’s enterprise content management system is run using agile development by an enthusiastic group of millennials, fresh off their college-level agile coursework. 
In New Hampshire, Goulet brings extensive private-sector agile experience to the state. He pointed out that agile requires a level of commitment from the business side that is far greater than traditional waterfall methods. “It was a sell job to the business, really,” he said. “There’s going to be some fear and uncertainty and doubt.”
But there are many benefits to be had. Sixty-six percent of survey respondents felt that agile helped avoid major failures, while 58 percent said it kept them from investing in programs that don’t meet business needs. About half indicated that agile helps reduce risk and bolster efficiency.
In New Hampshire, Goulet described the payoff in specific terms. One agency customer was routinely slow in paying central IT following project delivery. Using agile, central IT worked alongside its agency partners on a year-long project, which included “sprints” (small, measurable deliverables) every two weeks. Upon the project’s conclusion, the agency paid the bill within two days. Goulet credits the change to the customer's full engagement throughout the process that stemmed from agile. 
Panelists also offered their take on 10 agile “starting points” offered in the report. The list includes picking the pilot — something with broad impact, preferably; addressing budgeting and procurement, processes that can be at odds with agile; fostering the knowledge and enthusiasm of the team and injecting experience into the process.
“Some people think agile is just an excuse to be undisciplined,” Goulet said, but the reality is quite different. “Agile is incredibly disciplined.” 
Done well, agile development has performance management built in. “A good agile team knows who’s performing, knows who isn’t and does a lot of that difficult work for itself/themselves,” he added.
Noelle Knell is the executive editor for e.Republic, responsible for setting the overall direction for e.Republic’s editorial platforms, including Government Technology, Governing, Industry Insider, Emergency Management and the Center for Digital Education. She has been with e.Republic since 2011, and has decades of writing, editing and leadership experience. A California native, Noelle has worked in both state and local government, and is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history.