News Archive

NOVEMBER 30 2015: Atlassian have blogged on "how the agile manifesto rescued the Daily Telegraph's service desk". Following problems with an external vendor, the newspaper decided to bring its service delivery function in-house. To achieve this they looked at how to apply the agile practices being used by their development teams in a service context as well. They decided to work directly with customers to build a minimum viable product (MVP). The first MVP addressed specific things, including a Customer portal, knowledge base articles for the top five most common issues (password reset, etc.), and queueing. The MVP was released to The Daily Telegraph’s 1,000+ employees within three months.

NOVEMBER 27 2015
: London.gov.uk has claimed a significant agile success...they have allegedly been using agile project management techniques for a new website project which is now in its "beta phase". Note: although a number of good agile techniques are cited as being in use, a "beta phase" would be a contra-indication to agile practice. This is because each iteration ought to result in a potentially releasable increment or Minimum Viable Product, each of which represents work that is understood to be Done. The concept of a "beta phase" does not exist in an agile context.

NOVEMBER 5 2015
: The U.S. Federal Government is making progress in the never-ending cybersecurity fight, but everything from acquisition to network protection is lagging by decades, reports Federal Computer Week. Retired Brig. Gen. Gregory Touhill, the deputy assistant secretary of cybersecurity and communications at the Department of Homeland Security, is quoted as saying: "I think that we're making progress, and we've got good velocity and precision <...> but I think that as we look into the future, we need to be a little more agile." Note: The general claims that the new focus on "outcome-based solutions" is a positive move. This reflects the importance of valuing outcomes over outputs, the latter of which can easily lead to the Vanity Metrics antipattern.

OCTOBER 21 2015
: "The scope of an Agile organizational transformation is often completely underestimated", according to blogger Stefan Wolpers in a post on Agile Failure Patterns in Organizations. "Each organization has it own set of dysfunctions and hence solutions dealing with them need to be tailored specifically to that organization", he says. He goes on to enumerate how these failures can exist at the organization, team, process, and facility levels.

AUGUST 6 2015: A White House official, U.S. Chief Information Officer Tony Scott, has observed that agile development is not a magic bullet for federal IT problems. "I think we’re immature as an industry in really understanding the context in which agile can survive and thrive in a large organization," he said at a panel discussion in Washington which was picked up on in a briefing by Nextgov. He pointed out that sometimes "you get a great experiment going and then the antibodies come out and kill it." Note: There are a slew of antipatterns that large organizations must recognize and mitigate if an agile transformation is to be successful. These are no less common to government agencies than they are to other enterprises at scale. Clear sponsorship is important if the "antibodies" Scott refers to are to be overcome.

JULY 27 2015: Does the architect role constitute a useful viable agile pattern? "The role of 'Architect' is sometimes frowned upon in the Agile community" say two IHS engineers in a recent experience paper. "...this role is often perceived as a central command-and-control authority who performs large up-front design, generates excessive documentation and bottlenecks decisions". They ask:"is there truly a place for an Architect in an Agile organization?" 

JULY 1 2015: A recent Gartner report has found that company CIOs need to embrace agile practices. Gartner's research director Nathan Wilson said that the use of agile methods has the capability to transform IT-business relationships...but only if they are executed well. They can then have a major positive impact on IT value delivery. "Done badly", Wilson said, "agile development will create a lot more problems than it solves". Note: The report is critical of the "pick-and-mix" approach to agile transformation. This is commonly referred to as the WaterScrumFall antipattern. Strong executive sponsorship is needed to overcome the associated problems, and to facilitate an end-to-end business transformation. A failure to do so will result in local optimizations at best, and may ultimately lead to a failed transformation effort.

APRIL 16 2015
: Federal Computer Week reports that most PMOs have a significant percentage of portfolio value that is at risk due to troubled projects. The key to solving this is "moving from a workforce that is focused strictly on meeting requirements to one with a more entrepreneurial orientation" and to thereby have a "more agile Project Management Office". Note: FCW observes that PMOs have long been staffed by people who are too "process oriented" and who "struggle to meet the pressures of a more dynamic portfolio of projects, which include more diverse project types and increased stakeholder scrutiny". The Kanban Sandwich pattern can help PMOs in this journey towards greater portfolio agility.

OCTOBER 25 2014: Ken Schwaber has confirmed that Scrum.org will conduct "Scrum at Scale" courses in December this year. Ken's fellow co-founder of Scrum, Jeff Sutherland, launched Scrum at Scale in July. Note: With both of Scrum's co-founders behind it, this pattern-based approach to agile transformation can now be seen as the de-facto standard for adopting Scrum across the enterprise. Ken Schwaber has said that he intends to build on the framework by detailing the strengths and weaknesses of scaling the various artifacts.

AUGUST 26 2014: Federal Times says "it's time to get agile". The Federal Times has claimed that U.S. federal IT managers don’t adopt agile best practices when embarking on IT projects. Despite the encouragement of agile development approaches by both the Office of Management and Budget and the Government Accountability Office, the federal agile transformation has met with limited success. "Four years ago, OMB pressed agencies to deliver functionality every 12 months as a critical way to reduce investment risk", reports the Times. "In 2012, it upped the bar, urging agencies to deliver functionality every six months. But few agencies are complying". Note: Although the gradual reduction of batch sizes can be a sensible and cautious approach to Agile Transformation, release cycles of no more than a month are needed to demonstrate agility. Government agencies struggle to implement the Limited WIP pattern on capitalized projects within Timeboxes of such a length. They may also fail to identify a Minimum Viable Product in terms of small batches that support Validated Learning. Patterns such as Kanban Sandwich and Release Orchestration can help ease the process.

UK Cabinet Office
AUGUST 19 2014
: The DWP has been accused of hiding "agile" project failings while the UK Department for Work & Pensions has tried to organize a cover-up in the notorious Universal Credit scheme, according to the Public Accounts Committee. The scheme was designated as having been "reset" in September 2013. This is a new term that appears to have been devised specifically for the the new programme, committee members said. According to The Guardian: "The decision to devise a new rating for the project meant that it was not given a rating by [the Major Projects Authority] on its five-tier traffic light system, running from green to red, in this year's annual report and that there will be no assessment of its progress until after next May". Note: A "reset" will amount to nothing if lessons are not learned. This one appears to be a deliberate attempt to stifle transparency at DWP and which would thereby compromise the implementation of the Inspect and Adapt pattern. Furthermore, the DWP's claim that Universal Credit "...is available in a growing number of areas, including 39 Jobcentres" can be criticized as an example of Vanity Metrics. Despite being a supposed flagship agile initiative, Universal Credit seems to exhibit the trappings of a classic Waterscrumfall bodge.

AUGUST 18 2014: The UK Government has been slapped for £224m over waterfall cancellation. The US defense contractor Raytheon (NYST:RTN) has won over £220m in damages, after the UK Home Office terminated a contract to supply an immigration computer system for the UK Border Agency in 2010, according to Computer Weekly. This figure includes £9,600,851 for disputed contract changes. Note: Agile practice should allow scope to flex without the need for changes to contractual terms and conditions. Agile patterns such as Backlog, Timebox, Increment, and MVP can all be used to manage the risk of delivery, while Controlled Failure limits liability to the cost of the most recent Iteration.

AUGUST 18 2014: Surrey Police's failed SIREN project is an alarm call for agile, according to law firm DLA Piper. "Agile projects demand close supplier and customer collaboration. However this potential strength can equally prove a weakness", they noted in their article for Computing. They observed that the "in-house team was willing but unfortunately did not have the necessary skill set and experience to support an agile development. To make matters worse, the Force's team suffered from frequent changes in personnel and, for various reasons, external expertise (be it by consultancy or recruitment) was not brought in until late in the day". Note: As well as exposing problems in implementing the Inspect and Adapt pattern, this project has suffered from the Distributed Team antipattern by separating supplier and customer representatives.

AUGUST 8 2014: GE has trained 40,000 employees in Lean Startup techniques, one of the largest initiatives in GE’s 122-year history, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. "The problem these companies face is, as they get bigger, as they scale, things slow down,” says Ranjay Gulati, an organizational growth expert and professor at Harvard Business School. “They lose speed because they have so many systems and structures and processes, and they lose the ability to take risks". Note: This follows a small startup testbed experiment last year in which GE produced a fridge. A broad spectrum of agile patterns must now be applied across the enterprise if GE is to truly become a startup at scale...and that should include antipattern removal. For example, GE Capital CIO Jim Fowler recently observed that outsourcing had gone too far. Now, instead of dispersing development team members around the world as per the Distributed Team antipattern, GE Capital intends to resolve this by co-locating them physically in the same place.

JULY 30 2014: Following the ignominious Healthcare.gov failure, the US Government has introduced a "playbook" for agile best practice. It states that a product should be developed iteratively, using "agile methodologies" with an initial "minimum viable product" (MVP) delivered "as soon as possible, and not longer than three months from the beginning" of the project. Note: Although heartening, the gap between stated intentions and organizational sponsorship for these practices remains vast. There are numerous patterns, of which the Minimum Viable Product is just one, which must be mastered and rolled out in a controlled and empirical fashion for an enterprise agile transformation to succeed.

JULY 30 2014: The US Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) attempted an “agile” approach to developing its data hub and website, when the organization had insufficient experience to do so, according to a Government Audit Office report. The GAO also criticized the “high risk” model used for compensating contractors. Note: The report indicates that IT governance included sequential reviews and approvals and required deliverables at pre-determined points in the project. This "modified" agile approach is typical of Waterscrumfall antipattern implementations. The use of the Backlog pattern with Limited WIP is more appropriate than trying to leverage an agile view onto a deterministic stage gated model.

JULY 24 2014
: After six years of development at a cost of nearly $300 million, the US Social Security Administration has decided to press "reset" on its project to improve a claim processing system. The inability of large suppliers to emulate the lean and agile approach of "startups" comes under criticism in this article by Federal Computer WeekNote: Large organizations can adapt to lean and agile ways of working, but it requires major cultural change and executive sponsorship to do so. The Agile Transformation pattern exemplifies this process for becoming a "startup at scale".

JULY 17 2014After six years in development, a new automated system for processing immigration forms is taking twice as long to process applications as it did by hand. The plan is now to break the remainder of the project into six-month software release cycles so as "to identify problems early". Note: Although this "agile" development strategy was praised in the DHS Inspector General's report, and almost certainly represents an improvement, a six monthly cycle is still too long to constitute an agile way of working. Unless potentially releasable increments are provided at intervals of no longer than a month, such a revised approach may quickly degenerate into the Waterscrumfall antipattern.

JULY 15 2014The Wall Street Journal reports that Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ:MSFT) seeks a more "nimble" approach to product development. The move comes at a time of redundancy fears and a search for efficiency savings. Microsoft declined to comment on the matter of 5,800 potential job cuts, or indeed as to whether the company was in fact shifting broadly to agile development. Note: A successful enterprise agile transformation needs greater executive sponsorship than Microsoft seems willing to allow. Also, by associating the initiative with job losses, employees are likely to prove resistant to change.

JUNE 20 2014ComputerworldUK reports that an Agile methodology was not actually used on this project, and so the expected benefits have not been gained. The geographical distance between supplier and customer is cited as having been one of the contributing problems. Note: Making sure team members are co-located is a key challenge in agile transformation...see the Distributed Team antipattern.

SEPTEMBER 5 2013: In what is perhaps the most notorious agile transformation failure to date in the U.K., the Department for Work and Pensions spent £300m developing a replacement social benefits system. They decided to attempt an agile approach, but engaged large "traditional" suppliers with little experience of applying such methods. The agile community has since disowned it, saying it was never suited for to projects held by large contracts to fixed terms with large suppliers. NoteThe National Audit Office produced a report into DWP's mismanagement of the programme under Cabinet Office guidance, and which suggests it had all the trappings of a classic Waterscrumfall bodge.