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New National Audit Office Report on Agile in the UK Government – Blog Part III

December 7, 2012

New National Audit Office Report on Agile in the UK Government – Blog Part III

Brian Wernham – Author and Consultant

So, what conclusions can we draw from the recent NAO report into Agile projects in the UK Government?

The report sets out its stall as a factual statement on some projects that are being run in a selection of UK Government central departments and delivery agencies. It states its aim “to facilitate learning and information sharing across organizations” not as an audit report into value for money. The report does investigate whether projects claiming to be using Agile methods really are, nor does it aim to provide project assurance or assess value for money.

Interestingly, the conclusions that can be drawn from this report relate to how to measure agile success. The final part of the report outlines 12 case studies, and for 11 of these a description is given of the “Measures of Success” that the NAO perceive as applicable in each case.

Now, the report does not try to analyze these “Measures of Success”, but the way I see it, they fall into five broad categories:

Agile Adoption Measures: The most detailed examples are from the Health & Social Care Information Centre which attempts to assess how ‘agile’ each of its projects really is, and how effective the project governance arrangements are. For example, an assessment is made as to whether development is really test-driven, or specification driven and how much acceptance testing really takes place within development iterations.

Input measures: These are where projects have been assessed on perceived reductions in costs over the alternative (presumably Waterfall) project development approach. Although no hard evidence is provided, organizations such as the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) claims to measure the success of agile if “delivery timescales and costs are reduced”.

Process measures: The most popular measure quoted is of perceived process improvement. For example, the ability to track progress with more granularity at user story level by the Cabinet Office on its ERTP project is a salient feature of its use of agile, as is the importance of weekly ‘show and tell’ sessions. Staff morale amongst the development team at Companies House was reported to have improved with reduced turnover of staff.

Output measures: The measure of product features is a popular approach. For example, at DOT defect rates are tracked as they are also at Companies House where there has been a marked improvement from up to 30% defect rates previously to less than 5% on agile delivered software now.

Business Effectiveness measures: Some organizations
focus on the more difficult to track, but perhaps most relevant measure of agile success: how effective the project outputs have really been. At the Office of the Public Guardian clear, business orientated targets have been agreed, such as fewer errors in the registration for powers of attorney and a reduction in the cost per transaction. Most other organizations also state the need to meet the project business cases, but mainly in terms of satisficing the
stated objectives of time, cost and quality, without an attempt to justify the use of agile.

So, the question that is now outstanding is:

Is the agile approach being used everywhere it is claimed in government? And where it is, does it create better business value than the counterfactual scenario of the traditional, waterfall project approach?

Comment below…


[1] UK NAO, “Snapshot of the use of agile delivery in central government,” 2012.

[1] See also Brian Wernham, Agile Project Management for Government (New York, London: Maitland and Strong, 2012)


From → Agile Governance

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