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The ReleaseTEAM Blog: Here's what you need to know...

How to Successfully Adopt Agile Within a Bureaucracy

While the private sector was quick to embrace agile development methodologies, the necessity for bureaucratic oversight hampered adoption from public entities. Finding a balance between the structured trust built into the waterfall model, while improving release cycles remains a complex task.

Most developers working in public entities or government agencies will be the first to tell you that any new methodology (such as a DevOps workflow) sounds like science fiction when it comes to the daily tasks and activities performed at these institutions.

When bureaucracies first emerged, people considered it as an innovative idea that helped companies and organizations scale without compromising operations. The business cycles were annual, and anything relating to change would fall into that schedule.

In the current modern technological climate, a year may as well be a lifetime for business units and public stakeholders. Bugs and defects need immediate solutions in order to prevent massive amounts of hours spent on rework or finding ways to work around the known issues.

The Challenges with Adopting Agile in a Bureaucratic Institution

Challenges in adopting agile methodologies exist in every company, but in government and public sector organizations, the need for oversight and control compounds the issue. Firstly, departments and Business Units (BUs) have specific mandates that create competing priorities. It also creates a culture of distrust between teams, leading to increased control measures further slowing down the software development lifecycles.

Every BU has new requirements, and often the department head who bangs on the table the loudest will get the highest priority. While not ideal, this is exactly the kind of culture that the waterfall approach created within these bureaucracies.

Some of the primary challenges in adopting agile DevOps workflows within a bureaucracy include:

  • Bloated processes that still rely on physical approvals for any change.
  • A cultural legacy of authority that influences the decisions relating to new initiatives.
  • Budget limits (or reductions) making upgrades or implementations more difficult.
  • Limited access to the latest expertise with new technology and/or tools.

While this list is not exhaustive (or unique to the public sector), the ability to overcome them remains a priority for government agencies. Modern business environments are increasingly volatile and dynamic, requiring frequent adaptions and rapid changes to solve technically complex issues. A necessary imperative exists to find an equilibrium between oversight and reacting to changes in all organizations.

Finding a Balance Between Agility and Oversight

Even within these constraints, the opportunity exists to find a balanced approach that improves code reliability and software quality. Using a sand-boxed, iterative approach will assist agencies in speeding up release cycles. Planning releases and assigning tasks within a set window of time will immediately improve the team’s productivity.

Additionally, a new concept that’s gaining ground is Minimum Viable Bureaucracy. Similar to the Minimum Viable Product strategy, this concept focusses on assigning autonomy to the responsible parties and delegating authority to help the teams achieve the desired outcomes.

Finally, getting buy-in from the top level will be beneficial but is rarely achievable within a bureaucracy. For advocates of an agile Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) model, it may be necessary to show rather than tell upper management about the benefits that methodologies such as Scrum and DevOps can bring to the team. A pilot project that demonstrates the improved collaboration and communication, as well as auditable change history may go a long way to getting department heads onboard.

ReleaseTEAM’s Agile Experts Can Advise Your Public Agency

ReleaseTEAM has over twenty years of experience in delivering agile projects and systems for public and private organizations. Our software development veterans at 866-887-0489 or email us at info@releaseteam.com.

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