Challenges to Agile Working in the Public Sector
Agile – it’s no longer a new concept, but many public sector colleagues may find themselves experiencing the “mindset shift” in 2019. Agile has swept the private sector for years now, and is now being adopted by public sector organisations. Why? Because it provides the flexibility, pragmatism and, well, agility to succeed in the type of large scale transformation needed to modernise and keep up with increasing budget cuts, especially those with significant digital components. Culturally, agile principles promote empowering the individual at all levels to drive change and multidisciplinary teams collaborating to explore innovation. Tactically, an agile team works to deliver small, frequent iterations to ensure constant alignment with the business need and changing circumstances. So, what is stopping public sector organisations from fully embracing and benefiting from agility?
Ways of working
The characteristic lack of capacity across the public sector often prevents a representative group of staff and end users from getting involved in change programmes, but for these transformations to be effective, they must be an active part of the process. Organisations that work heavily in silos also struggle with this. Understanding prioritisation techniques and modernising communication channels has helped our clients achieve great ways of working.
The business case driven systems involved represent a challenge in that, procurements are inherently “waterfall” and contrary to working in an agile way. We have worked with our clients to think creatively about procurement processes and have found an appetite for removing the current barriers to achieve empowered, incremental and rapid procurement.
The leadership and governance tends to be centralised and removed from day to day operations. To work in a truly agile way, leaders must be able to delegate authority to make decisions within the defined scope so as not to create delays for the project team. Ideally, the person who is best qualified (e.g. Product Owner) to makes the decision, not necessarily the highest ranked.
Behaviours and culture
Personnel at all levels need to embrace the vision and understand the WHY of a programme. Organisations must also become comfortable with the idea of failing fast, and failing better, to reduce the fear around change and eliminate blame culture.
With the appropriate tailoring, agile methodology can apply to and enhance change programmes in public sector organisations, and we’re working with our clients to both maximise the benefits of working in this fashion and avoid waste in adopting agile.