Project Management

When Agile fails on a massive scale publicly

From the Agility and Project Leadership Blog
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So here’s this report on the British government’s impending failure of a system called “Universal Credit” which is a way to manage welfare payments in real-time and through a unified entitlement program to lower costs and streamline the distribution process.
 
Unfortunately, signs are that it is a troubled project even despite the fact that they used “Agile” methods:
 
 
 
In fairness to Agile, it looks as though the method was adopted more in “sprit” and as a ruse, to get the public to think that they were going to use a modern project management method know to deliver software projects efficiently.  As the author states, Agile “has been treated as a silver bullet – not as what it really is – just another design methodology – while much of what is supposed to happen with an agile software development project – especially regular and repeated testing of prototypes - has been conspicuously absent.”  So of course their decision is to go back to a more traditional approach for the back-end and to use Agile for the front-end, customer facing portions of the system:
 
 
 
Though this will be perceived as an Agile project that failed on a massive scale, one could also view Agile as a method that allowed the failure to be noticed quicker than if they had used a more traditional approach.
 
Sadly, I’m not so sure if this will build confidence in the public’s overall perception of the government’s ability to deliver projects though.
So here’s this report on the British government’s impending failure of a system called “Universal Credit” which is a way to manage welfare payments in real-time and through a unified entitlement program to lower costs and streamline the distribution process.
 
Unfortunately, signs are that it is a troubled project even despite the fact that they used “Agile” methods:
 
Universal Credit is also the world’s biggest ever “agile development” software project and a massive financial and social (and hence political) risk for the government. Unless delivered on time and on budget then the consequences are grave – some of the most vulnerable people in society could be left literally destitute, with all that entails for their personal welfare and social order.
 
Yesterday the government – at least part of it – finally admitted in public what the rest of us have known for a long time: that the project is in deep trouble.
Universal Credit is also the world’s biggest ever “agile development” software project and a massive financial and social (and hence political) risk for the government. Unless delivered on time and on budget then the consequences are grave – some of the most vulnerable people in society could be left literally destitute, with all that entails for their personal welfare and social order.
 
Yesterday the government – at least part of it – finally admitted in public what the rest of us have known for a long time: that the project is in deep trouble.
 
In fairness to Agile, it looks as though the method was adopted more in “sprit” and as a ruse, to get the public to think that they were going to use a modern project management method know to deliver software projects efficiently.  As the author states, Agile “has been treated as a silver bullet – not as what it really is – just another design methodology – while much of what is supposed to happen with an agile software development project – especially regular and repeated testing of prototypes - has been conspicuously absent.”  
 
So of course their decision is to go back to a more traditional approach for the back-end and to use Agile for the front-end, customer facing portions of the system:
 
Some steps have been taken to try to rescue the project. The back end – the benefits calculation – has reportedly been shifted to a “waterfall” development process – which offers some assurances that the government at least takes its fiduciary duties seriously as it should mean no code will be deployed that has not been finished. The front end – the bit used by humans – is still meant to be “agile” – which makes some sense, but where is the testing? Agile is supposed to be about openness between developer and client and we – the taxpayers – are the clients: why can’t we see what our money is paying for?
 
Though this will be perceived as an Agile project that failed on a massive scale, one could also view Agile as a method that allowed the failure to be noticed quicker than if they had used a more traditional approach.
 
Sadly, I’m not so sure if this will build confidence in the public’s overall perception of the government’s ability to deliver projects though.
 
Posted on: June 09, 2013 10:44 AM | Permalink

Comments (3)

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Thanks for the links. My interest is in the software development side but talking to a friend who works on social policy I think the situation may be more grim than even when I wrote the original piece - the suggestion is that the current trial phase is *entirely* paper based and the software is not being tested at all.

The development community have to take some of the blame - I was at the event where it was announced, with huge fanfare, that this project would be "agile" and no one (even those of us who had doubts) dared tell the Emperor he was naked.

Hi Adrian, thanks for the insights from your original article as well as your comment here. Sometimes that's the problem with huge public projects in that nobody wants to tell the truth so as to be politically sensitive. It always eventually gets back to you though as you acknowledge.

Thanks for sharing

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