First published in The Agile Journal, 5 May 2011
Surely one of the most controversial of Agile practices is Fail Early, Fail Fast. The underlying principle is simple. If an initiative is obviously crocked then the worst thing you can do is to keep it going*. Ed Yourdon talked about this years ago when he exposed "The Death March" syndrome of many IT projects. There are political reasons why these death marches continue to happen, each one a case study in the pathology of denial. Attempting to save face, or to buy time, are but two of them. The irrational yet very human desire to insist on return from bad investments is another. And then we have the "ugly baby" syndrome - a refusal to accept the evidence of one's eyes when the spawn is your own creation.Now let us turn to the UK Government's Agile initiative, which they proposed in their recent ICT Strategy. I have been among the first to lift that ill-starred babe from the crib, and shake my head sadly at the Quasimodo before me. "This folly is an unworkable chimera" I have groaned. "How can Government be Agile? It will likely reject the substance of its own tissue". For whilst neither an abomination against God nor Science, an Agile Government is never likely to come to terms with its own contradictory form. To the bell tower with it then, before it blackens us all with its presence?
Well, others around me propose even worse. But if we were to strangle this child at birth, it wouldn't be Fail Early Fail Fast, it would be murder. I say we have to give it a chance. At the very least it must be given the opportunity to succeed, and to prove any potential it may have. After all we are stakeholders in the success of our governments, and there can be no reward without some degree of risk.
And so it is that I must refute each of the arguments that were recently presented in Computer Weekly's Public Sector IT section. In the relevant article - " Agile will fail GovIT, says corporate lawyer" - a series of points were expressed which seem to sound the very death-knell of the Agile Government initiative. Another dose of healthy cyncism, perhaps? Well no, not really. Not when, in my view, each of the four points made happens to be wrong.
The misgivings we all have about Agile Government are no excuse for misunderstanding. It is admittedly an unlikely initiative, but it can work. We've already gained some early successes and we will continue do so. Above all though, we need to be engaged and listened to by the Government; they need to prove it is more than spin, and allow us to help. Then, as is always the case with Agile Methods, we will see further proof of success in the delivery.
Update 10 May 2011: I've uploaded a video blog on the above:
*Also known as the "Mastermind" project, after the BBC quiz show of that name which featured the catchphrase "I've started, so I'll finish!"