Developing Agile government


When I read my colleague Paul Jenkinson’s recent blog post, Mindset, meditation and mettle: nurturing Agile teams, I immediately recognized its value and at the same time wanted to better align it with my own target audience of US Public Sector executives.

 This was not a new sensation. I frequently receive communications that were written for the commercial sector and therefore contain terms and themes that don’t necessarily resonate with my target audience. So, I have long practice editing these materials to better suit US Public Sector executives. The results often parallel the originals, quite deliberately. In this instance, I contacted Paul and together we wrote a new version of the piece, specifically tailored for the public sector:

We are witnessing the next stage of the Agile evolution. Originally a mechanism to deliver software at higher speeds and better quality, Agile is now enabling the digital transformation of government itself.

Government organizations are in a constant state of transformation. They are working to enhance the citizen experience, bring together ad hoc technology processes, improve capabilities, build a more cohesive team and change mindsets, all at the same time. Business agility is an important stepping-stone on that journey.

The basic premise of business agility is to create an organization that is able to adapt rapidly to change, all the while delivering value to the mission and to citizens. For individuals, it is about becoming more resilient, adaptable and courageous. How do you get started? You emphasize the “Three Ms” — mindset, measurement and moxie.

Mindset: Innovation is not just for technology

I still see plenty of government organizations today operating in a manner that reflects the hierarchical management systems of 100 years ago. No wonder organizations such as Netflix, Google and Atlassian are envied; they have eroded traditional structures, discarded conventional management text books, and are operating in an innovative environment that best suits their own needs. Many government organizations know that they need to change, but don’t know what to change or how to get their teams on board to change. Operating more efficiently and effectively is only part of the equation. Management needs delivery mechanisms to change the culture and behaviors of the team.

Our experience shows that a coaching and consulting approach embeds new ways of working across teams. Educating teams on Lean Change, and giving them access to agile tools and techniques creates an interactive, engaging, collaborative experience. This helps teams to outline their purpose, behaviors and establish their own direction — after all, that’s the goal. Agile organizations are self-organizing. They run on iterative cycles, including service design and continuous improvement. They are hyper-transparent, with near-real-time availability of detailed information at the point of decision, internally, to citizens and other stakeholders. All employees have some experimentation built into their work life.

Measurement: Outcomes matter more than inputs

Modern government organizations have transitioned away from the traditional emphasis on measuring inputs — people, budgets, widgets — and instead focus on mission outcomes. This transition has been a significant challenge given the large body of acquisition regulation and policy that emphasizes input-based pricing mechanisms like LPTA, T&M and Cost-Plus. And yet what citizens, legislators and regulators all want is outcomes. The art of this change lies in a relentless leadership focus on value.

What does “a relentless leadership focus on value” look like? Decision-making is based on a shared understanding of value and value drivers, and using near real-time metrics to make decisions at speed. A balanced-scorecard-like approach is used for monitoring and making decisions. Risk management has been completely overhauled based on digital disruption, so that conventional risks are actively balanced against inertia risk. Benefits are tracked from implementation to harvesting, with challenge mechanisms and adaptation.

Moxie: Call it as you see it

High performing teams only materialize when you build trust and respect. Trust and respect require a foundation of honesty and transparency. Simply put, the practice of courageous conversations is core to the success of business agility. It allows team members to be candid and objective with each other about performance – what it is today and what it needs to be tomorrow. Trust and respect enables teams to continually refine their courageous conversation skills in a safe and professional way.

This is a common attribute of high performing teams — they act on “critical moments” by having courageous conversations. This means finding the moxie to speak up when you are naturally introverted, or when a senior team member exhibits undesirable behaviors. Sometimes simply remembering to thank someone for a job well done takes courage and effort as well as coaching and support from management.

Co-written by Michael Conlin and Paul Jenkinson


Mindset, meditation and mettle: nurturing Agile teams

Develop business agility by building stronger teams

Digital transformation means doing the hard yards


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