Thursday, December 15, 2022
“Imagine if clear definitions of missions, wide reliance on evidence, and carefully crafted guiding metrics informed collaboration via small cross-functional teams, who involved both customers and the public in innovating quickly and iterating on solutions to solve major problems. This is the promise of agile government.”

This vision opens a new report from the IBM Center in collaboration with the Agile Government Center of the National Academy of Public Administration, The Future of Agile Government, by G. Edward (Ed) DeSeve, Coordinator of the AGC and Executive Fellow with the IBM Center.

In software development, agile techniques feature small, cross-functional, self-organizing teams that include customers working quickly to deliver solutions in increments that immediately provide value. The development is customer-centric and collaborative networks are used for development and deployment. Agile developers use “scrums” and “sprints” as techniques to produce products quickly that have a high degree of customer acceptance and satisfaction. Agile principles continue to guide projects and programs involving software development today.

In this report, Ed DeSeve builds on his prior work as leader for the AGC to refine the definition of agile government: Agile government is a principles-based integrated framework that involves interaction among teams and iteration with users and the public to develop and implement policies, regulations, and programs at all levels to transform governments and improve trust.

The principles referred to in the definition have been at the core of the growth of agile government, and include effective leadership, a clear mission and vision, actions based on evidence and metrics, a focus on customers and the public, use of internal and external networks and teams, innovation, speed, and persistence.

DeSeve expands on how agile principles can apply to the development and implementation of government policies, regulations, and programs. The author introduces the “Integrated Agile Framework for Action”, to guide government leaders and stakeholders in implementing agile strategies in their work to provide services to the public in a way that fosters public trust.

The report concludes with multiple recommendations for government leaders and agile innovators, including:

  • Agile leaders at all levels need an agile mindset. This means a willingness to try new ideas and processes to achieve better results.
  • Government needs intentional leadership development strategies. Equipping leaders at all levels via a common approach to agile principles drives successful transformation.
  • Integration is critical to execution. The elements described in the framework are designed to work together.
  • Leaders at all levels need to analyze and understand trust in and across their organization. Trust is key for populations including employees, the public, and partners.
  • Agile government must begin with understanding customers. Analyzing the customer experience and journey starts with understanding who the customers are, how their journey with the organization flows, what constitutes “defining moments” in their experience, and continuous monitoring of customer views.
  • Public values must be respected and the public must be engaged. These values include a focus on openness, integrity, and fairness, which can improve overall trust
  • Networks should form the default development and implementation pathway wherever possible. Collaborative networks can be internal, external, international, or some combination of these, and should serve as a force multiplier for mission execution.
  • Cross-functional teams should drive integrated solutions to problems. Cross-functional teams bring more perspectives and encourage diversity of thought in creating and executing new solutions, greatly enhancing the chances for success.
  • Appropriate speed and persistent iteration will enable the organization to shape and reshape successful approaches. Setting aggressive deadlines to accomplish work and demonstrate continual achievement builds internal and external support.
  • Simultaneous execution of agile government actions is required. Agile government is not a sequential process, but rather an integrated series of actions designed to increase organizational competence while respecting public values.

The report builds on the considerable body of work released through the AGC since its creation three years ago. The AGC serves as the hub of a network that brings together governments, nonprofits, foundations, academic institutions, and private sector partners to assist in developing and disseminating agile government principles and case studies of agile policies and programs. This network of leaders and experts from the U.S. and around the world provides support for those who want to adopt and implement agile principles to provide public goods and services that fully meet customer needs and build public trust, and to identify cases of effective agile government in practice. DeSeve outlines many such cases in this new report.

Prior relevant reports published by the IBM Center and the Academy’s AGC include Human Centricity in Digital Delivery: Enhancing Agile Governance, by Ines Mergel; Agile Learning: the Role of Public Affairs Education, by Angela Evans; Adopting Agile in State and Local Governments, by Sukumar Gapanati; and Ed DeSeve’s initial report, The Road to Agile Government: Driving Change to Achieve Success. In addition, the AGC has published Building an Agile Federal Government, released by the Academy with support from the Samuel Freeman Charitable Trust and the Project Management Institute and Agile Regulation - Gateway to the Future, released by the Academy with support from the Project Management Institute.

We hope this report provides a path to further progress for government leaders and stakeholders on how agility can drive improved operations, service delivery, and public trust, in the U.S. and around the world.