The UK Government's Agile Strategy - If you can remember it, you weren't really there

Whitehall map, by ChrisO (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
First published in The Agile Journal, 2 May 2011

A few weeks ago, the UK Government released its ICT strategy in which it set out the case for this Wild New Thing, Agility:

Cynics - that is to say, those of us with experience of the public sector - have had rather a laugh at this. It has long been decried that Agility + Government doesn't add up to an equation for anything, it's just an oxymoron. "Surely this can't be anything but monkeyshine and mummery", we guffaw. "Since when did the Cabinet Office become this ashram of alternative project management thinking? It isn't for real. It's just another attempt at boundary-pushing, like those weird debates they occasionally have on the legalisation of pot!"

Ah, but this time, can it be that they are serious? I certainly know it's possible for the public sector to be Agile. Several of us in the industry have proven it. That's why I'm working with the DSDM Consortium on reconciling Agile Methods with established Government project management frameworks like PRINCE2. And so, sometimes I can't help but allow myself the conceit of wondering: "have the mandarins come round?"

Of course, I don't know, all I can do is to keep pushing the agenda. But I think I can make out one thing through the Whitehall fog. By bigging-up Agile Methods they have declared in favour of something they like the sound of. However, the Cabinet Office is not entirely clear on what Agility means, and my concern is that they may care even less. It seems that in typical Whitehall fashion they first want an initiative to define what it means. Again, I admit to being a cynic, but it smells like that classic political gambit: try leveraging some spin whilst eliminating the risk of action. Eventually the issue might go away, or be inherited by another government. I'm not sure if these chaps know their Lewis Carroll, but in his day Lewis Carroll certainly knew them. If you stare at the Cheshire Cat long enough eventually it just disappears.

The opportunity for wry observation was not missed at the Wall Street Journal:

'Their [the UK Government's] action plan says not that it will be implementing agile techniques within a year, but it “will establish an approach and capabilities for agile development”, in other words what they will have defined the term “agile” to mean. How long to define it?: “Within 6-12 months.”'

So, back to the ashram. Are we in for a creative visionary haze of Government projects, where managers let it all hang out in a glorious round-trip of iterative gestalt thinking? Will the corridors of power echo to the explosive riffs of Whitehall Scrum Sessions? Or is it all smoke?

Well, no matter how tempted you are, don't hold your breath...

Update, 5 May 2011: Let's give it a chance