Embracing agile digital transformation in the public sector

Public sector organisations are starting to recognise the importance of Agile when implementing digital transformation projects to drive forward the sector’s digital capabilities. Although Agile can be seen as the most effective route for delivery, it’s best practice to think about all project implementation tools when considering a digital transformation project.

Jon Grainger, CIO, interviews David Laycock, delivery manager, to discuss the successes of Agile within the public sector; how it is coming up-to-speed, and the key things to consider when implementing digital transformation strategies. Here is a taster and takeaways from the interview:

 What is Agile?

Agile will vary between projects, but ultimately, it embraces the fact that we can’t know everything upfront and that plans are designed to evolve.

“Agile is a mindset,” comments David. “It’s about being pragmatic. It’s about being kind of nimble but with a structure.”

Agile strategies work in cycles. Organisations develop a plan for a particular cycle, completing all the short-term tasks, before coming together in a review to discuss what went right, what went wrong and what the next steps should be.

Experience problems vs method problems

Agile can help teams to manage timescales and understand the necessary next steps to drive digital transformation projects forward. However, it’s important that organisations aren’t using Agile to substitute for a complete lack of experience. 

“It doesn’t matter what method you go through, if you’ve never done something before and nobody in the team has ever encountered it, you’ve no point of reference.” Explains Jon.’It’s not really a method problem, it’s an experience problem.’  

Is Agile a ‘silver bullet’?

By no means is Agile a solution to any and every project. It’s not about retrofitting your digital transformation project to Agile methodology; it’s about evaluating your needs and picking the right strategy. 

“Just because we work in an Agile space, doesn’t mean to say you have to adopt an Agile approach for something and make it fit,” continues David.

Organisations that use Agile in the right way can end up delivering services up to 50% faster, and improving satisfaction by up to 25%, so it makes sense that public sector organisations are keen to adopt it. However, it’s more important that it’s done right.

Simply put, Agile isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. It’s often best suited to projects that are complex and have urgent and novel elements, which is why it tends to suit the public sector. 

IT is one of the most popular areas for Agile techniques, as it often solves problems that haven’t been encountered before. However, linear or waterfall project delivery also have their place.

Psychological safety

In Agile, where mistakes and ‘failures’ are common and analysed, it’s important all employees are protected psychologically within the culture of the organisation.

Psychological safety means all members of a team feel safe enough to ask questions, admit mistakes and challenge the status quo. That’s why culture and mindset is so important for Agile projects to succeed –In Agile projects, it’s about learning quickly, rather than failing fast. 

“Psychological safety, that’s a core fundamental in smaller teams. Being able to feel safe gives that little bit more flexibility to be able to get on with things,” adds David.

“Ultimately, the objective is to get the feedback and go: ‘okay, we made a mistake, we’ve learnt and move on’,” states Jon.

A ‘no blame’ culture is a key part of this, which is why implementing the right people to perform digital transformation is so important, especially if these are temporary, external parties rather than permanent members of your team.

Public sector culture: learning and curiosity

Over the last ten years, there’s been a significant change in how the public sector works. 

Ten years ago, there was a lot of scepticism when it came to Agile, as some organisations didn’t see it as a legitimate strategy. However, today it’s adopted a lot more, especially when it comes to digital transformation.

“Remember Agile is a mindset. It’s about being pragmatic.’ Says David. “If you want to use government and the public sector as a model, I would say start small. It’s about understanding what you are trying to achieve, learn things and fail fast.”  

Watch the full interview between Jon Grainger and David Laycock here: https://info.certes.co.uk/agile-within-public-sector