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Projects in eGovernment: agile or classic, is both right?

Field report from two linkyard ag consultants who hold different agile roles.

In public administration, there seem to be two project methods that are diametrically opposed to each other. The agile project methodologies / product organizations that have been emerging for some time and the historically grown classic project methodologies, such as HERMES. In the following blog post, Neil and Raji from linkyard will present the two methods in the context of public administration, describe their experiences, weigh the advantages and disadvantages from their point of view and point out the hybrid form as a possible compromise, as HERMES 5 also tries to build a bridge between classic and agile.

The classic project method (also known as the waterfall model) is a sequential process model in which each phase of a project must be completed before proceeding to the next. This method is well suited for projects with a known scope and a predefined approach. The agile project method has an iterative approach where the project is developed in short iterations (also known as sprints). This method is well suited for projects with high uncertainty or rapidly changing requirements. The agile project method focuses on flexibility, adaptability and close collaboration between team members and stakeholders. The main goal is to generate tangible value as quickly as possible. In summary, the classic model takes a top-down approach, while the agile model takes a bottom-up approach.

The different approach to classic and agile project management

In public administration, the application of the agile project method is challenging because public administrations are often characterized by rules, regulations and political influence. Nevertheless, there are more and more efforts to introduce agile methods in public administration in order to generate results faster and reduce complexity. Agile methods can also help to improve collaboration between different departments and stakeholders, which can lead to better acceptance and implementation.

However, it is important to note that agile methods are not suitable for all projects in public administration and a thorough evaluation is required to decide. It is also important to adapt agile frameworks to the specific needs and challenges of public administration in order to be successful with them.

In the course of the organizational transformation in the public administration, linkyard was able to be part of various agile projects. Applied project methodologies with which they work or have worked were for example Nexus, SAFe, Scrum, Kanban, Scrumban but also classic like HERMES and also hybrid project methodologies. In our mandates for public administration, we have noticed the following challenges in the application of agile project methodologies:

  • Rules and regulations: There are often many rules and regulations that require tight planning and predictability. Agile methods designed for flexibility and adaptability can be difficult to adapt to these requirements.
  • Culture and mindset: The advantage of the classic methodology such as HERMES is precisely that it had been established for decades and was thus known to countless organizations and employees. Also, this general project methodology could be specified to the respective task area of a federal office. This is no different in the private sector, a financial service provider has different requirements than an industrial corporation. The areas of responsibility of the various federal offices differ to a similar extent as in the previously mentioned example, so the implementation of an agile transformation in the various areas of eGovernment is very complex. Introducing agile methods in a traditional environment can be a challenge for the existing organization and employees, as understanding agility requires a culture change in the company. An additional challenge is the servant-leadership culture , which emphasizes self-organization through facilitation rather than control. Hermes aims for clear approvals, so traceability can be increased as to when which decision was made by whom, but the documentation effort is very high for all participants.
  • Communication and collaboration: Agile project management requires close collaboration between team members and stakeholders. In a public administration with many departments and stakeholders, it can be difficult to unite all necessary parties on a common platform. Also, external employees are often not allowed to flexibly participate in other teams due to restrictive contractual terms (WTO's).
  • Evaluation and measurement of the resources used: In public administration, it is important to be able to measure the success of projects in order to achieve the best possible result. As a project method, HERMES has been precisely tailored to the needs of public administration. Agile projects require different measurement tools. Processes need to be worked out so that stakeholders and higher-level managers can understand and identify the new measurability. In this way, resources used in agile projects could also be traceable for external auditors if the effort is not too high.

Despite these challenges, the application of agile project methods in public administration can lead to improved efficiency, effectiveness, and user satisfaction if carefully planned and implemented. Public administration can demonstrate benefits with the agile project method, especially in these areas:

  • Adaptability: Agile methods make it possible to respond quickly to changes and challenges that may arise during the project.
  • User participation: Agile projects rely on close user collaboration and feedback, which can lead to better results and higher user satisfaction.
  • Transparency and communication: Agile processes promote open and transparent communication between all stakeholders, which improves collaboration and identifies problems early on.
  • Flexibility and scalability: Agile processes can be easily adapted to the needs of each project, providing a flexible structure that can adapt to the needs of the team and users.

In order for these advantages to take full effect, certain factors must be guaranteed:

  • Corporate culture accepts and promotes agile principles: Only when the corporate culture fully embraces agile principles and aligns its processes accordingly can employees also be productive. Administrative processes that are part of eGovernment, such as audits and reports, should be designed to generate as little effort as possible for the teams.
  • Management commitment: If management is invited into the agile meetings to set the goal or to sign off on goal achievement, then they should be actively involved. Servant-leadership means that the teams organize themselves how to achieve goals, but management must provide clear guidance on what needs to be achieved and how to proceed if goals cannot be achieved. This is how teams support in agile project leadership. For example, clear acceptance criteria by management for the acceptance of goals can ensure traceability and transparency whether goals are achieved.
  • Training to support the agile mindset: Administration staff must be trained and educated to understand and effectively apply agile methods. This is particularly important to ensure successful implementation.

Align methodology according to project

These considerations lead us to the conclusion that there are advantages as well as disadvantages for both project methodologies and therefore the methodology should be aligned with the project plan. Depending on the project, a classic or agile implementation may make more sense. But a project does not necessarily have to be implemented only classically or agilely. Hybrid forms can also be considered. For example, classic for the initialization and agile from the concept phase to the introduction. As is also the case with HERMES, for example. The right methodology can have a significant impact on the success of the project.

The future of the agile project method in public administration is promising, but it remains to be seen how the application of agile methods will develop in this area. Some experts predict that agile processes will become even more common in public administration in the future, as they allow for greater adaptability and flexibility and better address user and stakeholder needs. However, it is also expected that the challenges facing public administration in applying agile methods will remain, particularly with regard to regulations, rules and controlling. Overall, it can be said that the future of agile processes in public administration depends on the ability to overcome the challenges and leverage the benefits to achieve better results. Or, depending on the project, to weigh whether a project methodology or a hybrid form should be used. To be able to optimally decide which methodology to apply, one must be appropriately well educated in the foundations of agile and classic frameworks. To stay up to date in this area, linkyard is continuously expanding its SAFe training capacity so that knowledge can be passed on directly to customers through courses. Due to the introduction of a completely new project methodology and entirely new roles with a new understanding of leadership, the need for adaptation is correspondingly high and is far from over. linkyard can support its customers in the most diverse ways through the diverse experiences of its employees and training offers. Contact us!

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