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Agile methodology can help manage risk and governance

Agile methodology can help manage risk and governance

Governance is best defined as the rules for losing and a contract is a shopping list of the punishment to be meted out, according to Lonely Planet IT manager, Nigel Dalton.

The comments emerged during the Engaging for Agile panel at the Agile Australia conference in Melbourne. The panel discussed several issues to convince various stakeholders to adopt agile methods, including governance and risk management, and securing finance and stakeholders for a project.

The roundtable included Dalton, Smart Service Queensland (SSQ) online service integration manager Todd Porter, National Offshore Petroleum Safety Authority (NOPSA) senior information officer Ian Crawford and ThoughtWorks Australia managing director Chris Murphy as moderator.

Dalton explained that Lonely Planet's legal team have become the organisation's most proficient staff in agile methods, which has changed the way that governance and contracts are applied to IT. However, the change only occurred after a significant IT project failure.

“[Traditionally] governance is best defined as rules for losing and in that definition a contract is best defined as a shopping list of how a punishment for losing will be meted out,” Dalton said. “We've lived through these whole revenge cycles of a very poorly failed technology project several years ago, which is how we came to agile.

“The process of seeking revenge was ugly, unprofitable, and bad for everyone. That contract was 100 pages long. Did it protect us? Did it give us a better outcome, better governance? Absolutely not.”

He said governance and risk management is addressed by agile methods to prioritise the project functions to be delivered, and also the 'stand-up' where staff regularly explain their work to their peers.

“Governance is every day, every morning when you look into the eyes of the 23 year-old developer, and see how uncomfortable they are in what it is they're working on.”

SSQ’s Porter echoed the sentiment, saying that once you have the trust of project sponsors, you can perform more valuable work.

“That gives them a comfort level for stuff,” he said. “When they really don't have the time, expertise and energy to be involved, they just need to know that the people that are involved have it under control.

“My monthly program risk register has strategic risk [and] it has the COAG investments, so I'm not duplicating investments with the COAG initiatives — that's where they have the most value.”

SSQ is a part of the Queensland Government and is subject to the public sector's intense reporting requirements, he said. It is therefore important to be upfront about using agile methods and explain how it will benefit groups such as legal teams and treasury.

“You sell them an outcome, not requirements,” he said. “[You say] 'we're going to change the business in this way' and it's all about establishing that credibility and trust that you are the right people to do the job.

“My lawyers are concerned when I'm taking on agile I'm taking on too much risk, but you explain to them all that agile has to offer to mitigate risk. Explain the greater visibility of delivery under the contract.

“Give the lawyers some practical things that agile has to offer,” Porter said. “I've found them great sponsors of our work after having those conversations.”

NOPSA similarly faces the government's strict reporting demands but Crawford was able to make a business case for agile by identifying the right sponsor — which is not always the finance department.

“We were originally talking to the CFO about the project... but we realised we weren't going to get anywhere that way.

“We surreptitiously chose another sponsor, by talking to the people who actually end up using this and finding out who was significant enough to be able to sign off.”

The more time and resources that can be invested by a sponsor, the better value the project, Crawford said.

“We also turned around the problems for us with finance, because they then become an enabler to a common cause; they're not a gatekeeper any more.”

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