Overcoming the challenges of working with government teams new to Agile

Helen Taylor

I’ve been a delivery manager and Scrum Master on government Agile Discovery and Alpha digital projects for 8 years.

As an Agile Scrum Master it is part of my responsibility to coach team members to understand and adopt the Agile processes they are expected to adopt. 

I recently refreshed myself on the Scrum Master course, which made me reflect on the challenges of coaching team members. 

On most projects the user researchers, service designers, UX designers … are supplied by Lagom team members, and are already well drilled in Agile.

However, the client-side individuals on government department and ALB Discovery project service teams often have little or no knowledge or training in Agile. 

This can cause several challenges:

Unsure of their role and responsibilities

The default product managers and service owners from the inhouse team often don’t fully understand their role and responsibilities in an Agile Service Standard lifecycle. They may not (yet) think of themselves as Product Manager or Service Owner, and are understandably unsure  what responsibilities will fall to them. 

I use the kick-off meeting in the inception phase to identify who is best placed to fill these roles. I then coach them over the Discovery to help them understand their role and responsibilities.

Lack of availability from the service team

As this client service team members are not always aware of their roles and responsibilities, they often underestimate the amount of time they should allocate to the project.

Competing “business as usual” priorities can prevent them attending the Agile ceremonies to make the key decisions for the team to function well and efficiently.

Once I’ve identified the product owner during the inception phase I plan out the whole project so the product owner is given as much notice as possible for all the key ceremonies and decision making milestones.

A new and conflicting methodology 

Many of the processes within government and wider government follow the waterfall model including the processes around procurement, spend control and approvals.

As so much of their other work does not follow Agile, client service team members then find this conflicting and struggle to follow the Agile model.I set expectations and highlight these risks in the proposal and pitch phase, giving the client team time to educate themselves in Agile as early as possible. For instance attending the GDS Academy courses.

We’ve certainly learned to anticipate these recurring challenges when working with teams new to Agile. And we’ll continue to design and deliver our projects to support them as they progress on their Agile journey: something that gives us great satisfaction to see.

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Overcoming the challenges of working with government teams new to Agile

I’ve been a delivery manager and Scrum Master on government Agile Discovery and Alpha digital projects for 8 years.