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Adopting Agile Governance Requires Discipline

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Governance establishes chains of responsibil­ity, authority and communication in support of the overall enterprise’s goals and strategy. It also establishes measurements, policies, standards and control mechanisms to enable people to carry out their roles and responsibilities effectively. You do this by balancing risk versus return on investment (ROI), setting in place effective processes and practices, defining the direction and goals for the department, and defining the roles that people play with and within the department.

Governance and management are two different things. Governance looks at a team from the outside, treating it as a system that needs to have the appropriate structure and processes in place to provide a stream of value. Management, on the other hand, occurs inside the team and ensures that the structure and processes are implemented effectively.  The Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) process framework characterizes governance as an element of enterprise awareness from the team’s point of view because governance looks at the team from the outside.

It is easier to avoid your traditional governance and tell management that “agile is different” than it is to work with your governors to adapt your governance to properly guide the delivery of your agile teams.  As we described in the book every organization has a necessary degree of governance and there are ways to make it especially effective on agile initiatives.  It takes discipline to work with your governors to help them understand how disciplined agile teams operate and then discipline to accept and conform to the resulting governance process.

Our experience is that the most effective way to govern agile teams is to focus on collaborative strategies that strive to enable and motivate team members implicitly. For example, the traditional approach to motivating a team to provide good ROI would be to force them to develop and commit to an “accurate” project budget, and then periodically review their spending to ensure they’re on track. An agile approach would be to ask the team to provide a ranged estimate of what they believe the cost will be so as to set expectations about future funding requirements.  Then the team works in priority order as defined by their stakeholders, visibly providing real business value through the incremental delivery of a potentially consumable solution.  Costs are tracked via the team’s burn rate (the fully burdened cost of the people on the team plus any capital outlays for equipment or facilities) and value is tracked by the stakeholders’ continuing satisfaction (hopefully) with what the team is delivering for that cost.  In short, a traditional approach often measures financial progress against a budget whereas an agile approach seeks to maximize stakeholder value for their investment by always working on the most valuable functionality at the time.

The DA toolkit includes several important agile governance strategies:

  • Adopting a risk-value driven lifecycle
  • Explicit, light-weight milestone reviews
  • Agile enterprise teams that work closely with agile teams
  • Regular coordination meetings (daily standups in Scrum)
  • Iteration/sprint demos
  • All-hands demos
  • Follow enterprise guidelines (coding standards, UI standards, data conventions, …)
  • Retrospectives, and better yet measured improvement
  • Increased stakeholder visibility
  • Development intelligences (BI for IT)
  • Aligning agile team governance with other governance (operations, security, data, …) strategies
  • Agile measurement/metrics programs
  • Active risk mitigation
  • Named phases
  • Robust role definitions

Many of the strategies described above are “standard” agile governance strategies, and a few are unique to DAD.  It requires discipline to adopt and then execute on effective governance strategies, particularly in organizations where you already have a strong traditional governance program in place.

Posted by Scott Ambler on: November 30, 2012 07:50 AM | Permalink

Comments (1)

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Great insight to work with agile teams without losing the governance aspects of the project.

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