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Introducing Disciplined Agile Delivery to Government Projects and Programs

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Bill Brantley
March 15, 2020

I estimate I have trained over a thousand federal employees in Agile project management. Through webinars, in-person courses, and conversations on the Lean-Agile email list, I have spread the practice of Agile project management since I returned to the federal government in December of 2008. My favorite training course to deliver is where I have the participants use LEGOs® to build an airplane using an Agile project management method called scrum. Nothing like hands-on learning to obtain a real understanding of how Agile works.

Agile project management has been around for nearly twenty years. The Agile Manifesto was first published on February 21, 2001, by 17 software developers and consists of four values:

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation.
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
  4. Responding to change over following a plan.

Twelve principles were added to the Agile Manifesto to support the four values. The Agile values and principles guided the creation of various Agile project management methods from Scrum to Kanban to Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). Agile project management has also migrated from a way to managing software projects to managing projects in other fields such as Human Resources and Marketing. The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created using, “Agile development.” The federal government has been slowly working with Agile since President Obama’s administration in 2009.

State and local governments are increasingly adopting Agile. According to reports from Accenture Consulting and Deloitte, state and local governments are rapidly increasing their adoption of Agile methods. However, the lack of staff training and expertise is a barrier to more adoption of Agile for the state and local governments. Another barrier to adopting Agile is integrating the practices into the organizational culture.

Rethinking Agile

Some of my colleagues are enthusiastic supporters of managing every project using Agile. Other colleagues completely dismiss any type of Agile project management preferring the, “Tried-and-true,” practices of traditional project management. Many project managers are combining traditional and Agile project management methods into a hybrid structure. I like the hybrid approach because I can build the best project management method that fits the organizational structure and culture while better delivering the project product. Forbes magazine calls the trend toward, “Customized or hybrid project management approaches and methodologies,” as one of the four emerging project management trends in the 2020s.

The rise of hybrid approaches led Agile practitioners to call for a rethink of the Agile Manifesto. There have also been the usual articles and blog postings claiming that Agile is dead. But, a new Agile approach is the best fit for government projects.

Disciplined Agile Delivery: A Toolkit of Agile Project Management Methods

Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) is a collection of, “Hundreds of practices and techniques from a variety of sources, including Scrum, Spotify, Extreme Programming (XP), Kanban, Agile Modeling, SAFe, Unified Process, DevOps, and many more.” The reason for DAD’s toolkit approach is that, “Context counts.” Every organization, project and team is different and are encouraged to build a unique project management approach from the DAD toolkit—the, “Way of Working” (WoW).

Another advantage of DAD is the promotion of a, “Full, beginning-to-end, solution delivery lifecycle.” The DAD toolkit has six lifecycles that guide the project team’s WoW. The lifecycles are based on the usual Scrum or Kanban lifecycles. What is new is the addition of a concept phase initially, and a transition phase after the project product is delivered. Two of the lifecycles create a continuous delivery project while another lifecycle allows for exploring new ideas. The sixth lifecycle helps develop a team of teams for large-scale Agile projects. Teams can start with a lifecycle and then switch to another lifecycle as the project progresses.

DAD uses 21 process goals to help teams build out the WoW for the selected project lifecycle. For example, one process goal is, “Explore Scope.” Within the, “Explore Scope,” process goal are decision points that lead to different strategic options. At the start of projects, the teams go through a process workshop where they make the WoW decisions, such as choosing the appropriate starting lifecycle and the strategic options from the process goals.

Why DAD?

DAD sounds complicated, and it is. That is the discipline in DAD. As the creators explain, being disciplined ensures that the teams are developing toward awesome, that customers are delighted and that organizations are evolving. All seven principles of DAD focus on using the best methods to create great products, great teams and great organizations. The real strength of DAD is WoW. Every government agency is different and so are there projects. The flexibility of DAD is perfect for government projects.


Author: Bill Brantley teaches at the University of Louisville and the University of Maryland. He also works as a Federal employee for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. All opinions are his own and do not reflect the views of his employers. You can reach him at http://billbrantley.com.

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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