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Agile conversion to a new ways of working

August 8, 2012


 Many of the case studies presented in my new book emphasize the importance of getting data conversion right – the creation of smooth data links to other systems, and the performance problems caused a lot of problems in agile and non-agile technology projects. At the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) a link to the Defense Identity Repository was deployed seven months late, in October 2010, after many problems.[1]

A lesson here is that when planning a project, the data conversion programs and interfaces should be among the first modules to be built and tested, not among the last. This ensures that any problems with existing data can be identified and tackled early on, for data usually takes months or even years to be ‘cleaned’. For practical reasons, it is very useful in performance testing to have a full sized database available early in the project. And finally, interfaces are complicated, for example an old system may use a longer format for postal addresses than the new one, causing truncation of some lines of information unless special data cleaning programs are developed.[2]

The operational teething problems highlighted in the case of VA are not unusual for any rushed project. They show the importance of careful planning for business transition to new ways of working. The problems were understandable, given the speed of implementation which was driven by the need to implement support for urgent legislation, and to do it fast. However, the risks associated with the short project timescales need to be managed carefully. The Scrum method and also XP pay no specific attention to interfaces, data conversion, and user implementation planning. To make sure that these areas are integrated into a holistic project approach, a service-oriented framework, such as DSDM, can bring value.

We need to cover the need for focus on interfaces to other systems, user training, using agile to develop new business processes, and how to implement a solution smoothly into Business as Usual/operations.[3] Sometimes an agile project must work alongside waterfall projects, or be part of a large waterfall program of work. This can sometimes be an inescapable fact of life. For example, an existing contract with a supplier may have been drawn up as a result of waterfall procurement. In these cases a superstructure of waterfall project management using standards such as ANSI 99-001-2008 or PRINCE2 may be appropriate. These aspects of project management need to be planned hand-in-hand with technical development so that the technical solution is implemented smoothly. Where large scale business change is required, a program approach may be adopted to ensure that communications management and benefits management are effective. Relevant program management guidance can be found in the guidance issued by the US Project Management Institute (PMI) in its Standard for Program Management. The UK Association for Project Management (APM) and the UK Cabinet Office also provide useful guidance on strategic governance of programs which has a more external focus than the PMI materials and may usefully be used in conjunction with them.[4]



[1] Brian Wernham, Agile Project Management for Government: Leadership Skills for Implementation of Large-scale Public Sector Projects in Months, Not Years. (New York, London: Maitland and Strong, 2012)

[2] GAO, “Veterans’ Education Benefits: Enhanced Guidance and Collaboration Could Improve Administration of the Post-9/11 GI Bill Program: GAO-11-356R,” 2011, 8, [[]]

[3] “DSDM Atern The Handbook,” DSDM Consortium, 2008, 10-11, 26, 41, 97, 143,166

[4] Association for Project Management, APM body of knowledge, 5th ed. (High Wycombe: Association for Project Management, 2006),“The Standard for Program Management, Second Edition: Project Management Institute: Kindle Store,” PMI, 2011, [[]] and OGC, Managing successful programmes, 2011st ed. ([London]: Stationery Office, 2011)

From → Agile Governance

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