How State and Local Agencies Are Moving Forward on Agile

(For the purpose of understanding the following summary: The two basic, most popular methodologies are:

Waterfall: might be more properly called the “traditional” approach, and

Agile: a specific type of Rapid Application Development and newer than Waterfall, which is often implemented using Scrum (a framework that  helps teams work together).


State and local government agencies have been shedding the perception that they are not moving fast in creating new applications and services for citizens. Over the course of the pandemic, they have been using DevOps methodologies, low-code/no-code platforms, and agile development tools to create scalable and modern digital services.

A recent report from the IBM Center for the Business of Government notes that agencies are using agile methodologies for project and human resources management, policymaking, and contracting and procurement. Agile builds and tests iteratively to ensure that what is developed is what the organization wants.

The Evolution of Agile Processes in Government

There are three stages of agile adoption. The first is “infancy,” when agencies transition from waterfall to agile and have little capacity in agile methods. The report advises agencies to start with a pilot project and notes that agile teams need support with adequate training and resources

In the second, “adolescent” stage, agencies have some experience with agile, but most projects are still waterfall. The report encourages agencies to institutionalize agile acquisition procedures. It is important at this stage to cultivate an agile community of practice that extends the peer support system and fosters an ecology of agile environment in the organization.

The third, “adult” phase of adoption encourages state and local agencies to support structures put in place for agile management to “provide the institutional, technical, and contractual assistance for agile projects.” This helps make agile development routine and enables agencies to “work with vendors in iterative and incremental ways.”

An agile culture should be seen not as an end in itself, but as a way to achieve different outcomes. State and local agencies should consider agile for four main reasons:

  • The traditional waterfall management approach has had a high rate of failure
  • Agile is particularly relevant in the rapidly evolving digital era
  • Agile can be used for increasing efficiency in public management
  • Agile marks a cultural shift in management from a siloed bureaucracy to an entrepreneurial bureaucracy.


How State and Local Agencies Are Using Agile

State and local agencies have been making use of agile for a variety of government functions.

In Connecticut, the state’s Office of Policy and Management issued the “Policy for the Management of State Information Technology Projects,” which “explicitly included the scope for agile among the project management methods.” Additionally, the Governor made agile procurement a key area of focus using agile for Business One Stop, a single portal for business owners to register and manage their businesses online, and Real ID Wizard, which helps residents prepare documents for obtaining Real ID.

California established the state’s Project Management Office and designed a structure with a “focus on standardized frameworks, education, training, and tools and techniques” using agile as one of its frameworks for project management creating agile playbooks.

New York City set up the Service Design Studio with the goal of pushing the ball forward on “research, data and design to advance evidence-based programs, policies, and service delivery.” SDS has been involved in public-facing digital services, including ACCESS NYC, an “online screening tool to determine a person’s eligibility for health and human service programs.”

In Austin, the Office of Design and Delivery has worked with the city’s innovation office and has “undertaken several projects in partnership with other departments where they have employed user-centric design principles.” The ODD is guided by six principles, which are relevant to its adaptation of agile methods: Put residents first; prioritize equity; recognize that digital services require teams and competencies; cultivate a community of learning; champion iterative, data-informed methods; and support vendors that can prove value to residents.

“Agile is a mindset of organizational change,” the report concludes. “As a process of continuous improvement, agile methods themselves could evolve over time with doing, testing, and improvement.”

Original article here

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