Agile Delivery Is Crucial to Digital Government

Digital advances in areas such as mobility, social media, analytics and customer engagement are opening vast new opportunities for government, in all shapes and sizes, to deliver better and more efficient public services. At the same time, government success in harnessing new and often disruptive technologies hinges partially on a behind-the scenes shift in how IT projects are designed and implemented. Agile delivery, based on short, iterative technology development cycles, is often key to the timely success of digital initiatives and is rapidly gaining ground alongside government's traditional long, single-cycle "waterfall" approach (plan, budget, build) toward IT modernization.

Citizens are clamoring for government to join the digital revolution, with 85 percent in the U.S. expecting the same or higher quality digital services from government as they get from businesses, up from 73 percent in 2014. And while citizen expectations for digital government are growing, tight budgets and political realities also demand better government planning and focus to ensure successful IT project delivery. The agile delivery approach does not guarantee success, but it can dramatically reduce risk of project failure and increase satisfaction among digital customers, and therefore is becoming an increasingly crucial IT development methodology in the public sector.

In light of the growing importance of agile delivery to government modernization, NASCIO and Accenture earlier this year surveyed chief information officers and other officials from 34 states to document current views of agile and identify barriers to adoption.

Agile: Highly Popular

The research found 98 percent of respondents believe agile delivery is effective for state government, 95 percent believe it produces excellent results and 98 percent like agile's frequent status updates.

Drilling down into agile's popularity, 74 percent of respondents said agile delivery increases customer engagement, 71 percent said it improves customer satisfaction and 68 percent cited improved quality. Additional perceived virtues of agile include greater transparency (65 percent), greater flexibility (59 percent) and reduced risk (50 percent).

Agile delivery methodology is helping states seize the upside of "going digital" while reducing IT project pitfalls. Respondents said agile helps prevent wasted money from ineffective IT projects (70 percent), and helps avoid large IT project failures (66 percent) and delays (60 percent).

Training Wheels Still On

While views of agile delivery are overwhelmingly positive, it remains very new for many states, and often a challenge to implement. Only 31 percent said they have been using agile for more than three years. Among those using agile, the approach remains the exception rather than the rule; 59 percent are using agile on less than one-fifth of their projects, and when used, agile is commonly blended with other implementation methodologies.

Clarifying the main organizational barriers to agile delivery reveals primary areas for government improvement in pursuit of the potential benefits. Lack of training was cited by 75 percent, unsuitable procurement processes by 70 percent, and 47 percent said their organization's culture does not support agile.

Nearly half (47 percent) said their organizations struggle to recruit workers with agile delivery skills. Only 6 percent are engaging coaches or other outside experts in agile delivery.

Looking Ahead

Agile delivery is increasingly central to the technology renewal and revitalization that states are striving for. We are now in phase two of the research, identifying best practices that can support further adoption of agile delivery methods. While views of agile delivery and early indications of its value are highly favorable, the approach remains in its infancy in state government. But it will likely grow fast as governments overcome the barriers and seek to keep pace with the digital revolution.