Reimagining Public Service Delivery in the Amazon Era

By Kirsten Oelrich 3 min read

Reimagining Public Service Delivery in the Amazon Era

July 26, 2018

By Kirsten Oelrich

Governments may change every few years but established ways of governance become practices for centuries. Over the years, citizen trust on governments has eroded and public service delivery has been written off as slow, inefficient, and rigid. As a result, the public sector is faced with increasing pressure to evolve and provide more customer-centric services.

But a new shift is taking place. Digital technologies have amplified citizen expectations and government agencies are abandoning the legacy baggage of a pre-digital era to adopt new, efficient models. Public service delivery is being acknowledged as the cornerstone of effective governance and agencies are pulling out all stops to adapt to the digital realities of today.

One of the significant ways governments are evolving is by the adoption of the Agile approach to quickly deliver technology that meets users’ needs. But the success of Agile depends on setting proper expectations and diligently applying project management methods to meet those expectations.

Moreover, scaling Agile presents unique challenges. A big project can require multiple teams. How do you bring the different pieces together? How can you ensure quick decision making and rapidly deliver working prototypes? How do you ensure that interdependencies are managed without adding to the bureaucracy?

The truth is, Agile isn’t a magic wand that makes all the challenges disappear. Agile at scale is a management challenge as much as a technical challenge. Regardless of the specific Agile approach, the potential exists for challenges, as mentioned earlier. Below are the three key challenges when implementing Agile:

1. Managing cross-team dependencies seamlessly

One of the most common scenarios during a project is for a team to seek completed components from another team before proceeding further. Such cross-team dependencies create the need for additional coordination when planning upcoming iterations. The ordering of the sprints becomes important, but there should be a balance between flexibility and adherence to the overarching plan.

In Agile at scale, project leaders need to keep an eye on the big picture while the teams absorb themselves into sprints. The most common approach is to divide groups of teams into an “initiative” and multiple initiatives into a project. With different teams working on different features, someone has to ensure that the user interface—the overall “look and feel” of the various components—is eventually consistent.

2. Building detailed roadmaps and setting specific milestones

In Agile, the precise features of the final product emerge through a process of joint discovery rather than through a theoretical design vision. One of the most challenging aspects of Agile at scale may be the need for multiyear road maps in light of an uncertain, evolving future end state.

Teams can do all the right things, with all the right controls and following best practices, but get nowhere without a guiding vision. With the help of multiyear road maps, project leads can help teams remain on track to deliver business value, constantly refining the product’s next minimum viable product) release. Large organization initiatives often involve multiple objectives with long time horizons. Implementations should inform long-term business and product road maps while maintaining basic Agile principles, including the ability to adjust the end vision as new information comes to light during the build. This requires a “loose-tight” long-term road map that ensures the project provides consistent incremental improvements to business value throughout the long and winding journey.

3. Ensuring overall governance excellence

Large-scale Agile implementations involve multiple Agile teams from disparate functions, often in dispersed locations. These resources are often pulled together from various organizational entities, all of which could have a stake in their use. In scaled Agile, it is critical to coordinate these teams under some form of common governance. For example, additional roles are often needed to facilitate communication and resolve conflicts. And strong leadership via the governance framework is critical.

Agile coaches and product owners should regularly convene in a “scrum of scrums” to facilitate cross-community communication and provide fast decisions. The Agile community of leaders provides a forum for communicating across teams, reporting, and consolidating tracking, and attending in-progress product demonstrations of working system capabilities. The regular cadence of demonstrations, along with direct two-way executive and business stakeholder communication and velocity reports from user and technical story completion rates, becomes the primary metric for quantifying progress, and it helps to build confidence that the project as a whole is on track.

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Kirsten Oelrich

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Kirsten Oelrich