Building an Agile Federal Government
The Samuel Freeman Charitable Trust and the Project Management Institute cosponsored an Academy white paper that explored the issues associated with agile government and recommended ways that the federal government can become more agile. The study considered such issues as:
- How agile differs from current management practices;
- When agile approaches are appropriate and when they are not;
- How agile should be promoted by central management entities; and
- What implementation actions should be undertaken by federal departments and agencies.
This was a six-month project. The Academy formed a three-member Expert Advisory Group to provide guidance to the professional study team.
The study team proposed that diligent, thoughtful, widespread application of agile—as adapted from the digital world—as a way to manage organizations can significantly improve federal agencies’ responsiveness and results. New operating principles and practices—and a new leadership and management mindset—will be required for success. With a more flexible management approach, the federal government can be in a stronger position to tackle persistent problems and deal with crises.
The study team's key recommendations regarding the use of agile in the federal government include 1) To the maximum extent feasible, agile government should be the preferred operating model across the federal government, 2) Agile methods of management and operations should be championed inside federal departments and agencies and incorporated into as many of their activities as possible, 3) Key barriers to agile functioning within the federal government should be identified and appropriately addressed within the nation's checks-and-balances political system and legal framework, 4) Agile approaches, successes, and challenges should be highlighted across the federal government, and 5) Department and agency leaders should ensure that readily-accessible training opportunities and approaches, especially including management skills, are available.
Final Report Recommendations and Action Steps
Recommendation 1: To the maximum extent feasible, agile government should be the preferred operating model across the federal government.
- Agile should be a cornerstone of the President’s Management Agenda.
- Agile should be incorporated into existing Cross Agency Priority (CAP) Goals, especially “Improving Customer Experiences with Federal Services”3 (CX), to ensure that agile management is used whenever appropriate for organizations, programs, and projects.
- The General Services Administration’s Office of Government-wide Policy should assign or establish an organizational unit designed to assist federal departments and agencies with their agile management journey.
- The President’s Management Council should coordinate across its member agencies to develop and facilitate the implementation of strategies for accomplishing agile-related goals.
Recommendation 2: Agile methods of management and operations should be championed inside federal departments and agencies and incorporated into as many of their activities as possible.
- Department and agency leaders—both political and career—should seek out, support, and publicize agile programs, projects, and management approaches already existing within the agency.
- Leaders and managers should assess their organization’s agile readiness, starting with the indicators outlined in Appendix A, and take steps to increase organizational readiness.
- Leaders and managers should ensure that staff members assess their individual readiness, starting with the indicators outlined in Appendix A, for participating in an agile endeavor and take steps to increase their individual readiness.
- Leaders and managers should encourage and support agile management practices throughout their organizations (at the agency-wide, program, and project level) by:
- Empowering team members to make decisions, try out new roles, and determine their way of working;
- Encouraging collaboration and discouraging siloed behavior;
- Providing support as leaders, managers, and staff members start down the agile management path;
- Actively participating in the agile management process, including by attending stand-up meetings, demos, and retrospectives as appropriate; and
- Reinforcing the idea that agency actions, processes,and procedures should enhance the experience of customers/end users.
Recommendation 3: Key barriers to agile functioning within the federal government should be identified and appropriately addressed within the nation's checks-and-balances political system and legal framework.
- The Office of Management and Budget, the General Services Administration, and the Office of Personnel Management should work together to identify the most significant government-wide statutory and regulatory barriers to making agile management an expected way of doing business at the agency and program levels, not just IT projects.
- Individual departments and agencies should identify the most significant organizational-specific statutory and regulatory barriers to agile functioning.
- Based on the results of these reviews, departments and agencies should take steps to remove or mitigate unnecessary “self-imposed” (that is, non-statutory) regulatory impediments to agile functioning.
- Within the first two years of the Administration, the President should work with Congress on a package of needed legislative reforms to ensure that unnecessary impediments to agile operations are addressed or removed.
- Federal leaders throughout the government should engage the auditing community—including their Inspectors General, the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, and the Government Accountability Office—to get as much buy-in from them as possible on new agile approaches.
Recommendation 4: Agile approaches, successes, and challenges should be highlighted across the federal government.
- The federal management councils—with support from the designated agile unit within the General Services Administration and the U.S. Digital Service—should establish agile communities of practice to support adoption, provide platforms for knowledge sharing, identify lessons learned, and publicize progress.
- The new agile unit within the General Services Administration should create agile management playbooks that can be used by departments and agencies in a variety of situations to move forward on their agile journey.
- Federal leaders and managers should build relationships with federal councils, including the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency and others, to encourage and help facilitate the movement toward use of agile principles.
- Federal leaders and managers should coordinate with “good government” organizations as resources and allies in promoting agile management, identifying lessons learned, and developing proposed solutions to issues and challenges.
Recommendation 5: Department and agency leaders should ensure that readily-accessible training opportunities and approaches, especially including management skills, are available.
- Agile management should be incorporated into federal training programs, including at the Federal Executive Institute, and agency/department working frameworks across the federal government.
- Hands-on opportunities for leaders and employees to use these new ways of working together should be provided.
- Utilize existing platforms for agile training and instruction and determine how to adapt existing IT agile training for broader audiences such as organizational leaders and managers.
- Connections should be made with universities, schools of public policy and public administration, business schools, and other educational areas to encourage them to incorporate agile into their curricula and practical learning experiences.