Agile Myths: If we are doing Agile, we don't need governance?

20 Mar 2023

We don't need governance in Agile

This is absolute tripe. It’s a concept that has been around since the inception of agile back in 2001, but doesn’t hold a shred of truth. Agile is big on governance. Agile is big on compliance. Agile is big on anything that requires us to create a solution for a client, exactly how that client needs the work or solution to be produced.

Agile is not unprofessional, nor is it irresponsible.

Governance exists for valid reasons. In some industries, such as healthcare and defense, governance is the difference between people living and dying. In industries such as finance and investment agencies, governance is the difference between people gaining or losing millions of dollars.

It is essential. It is valuable. It is critical to business success.

Stricter Governance in Agile.

If you embody the spirit of the agile manifesto and work through an agile framework like scrum, kanban, or LeSS (Large Scale Scrum), you may find that agile is stricter on governance and compliance than traditional software development environments.

Definition of Done.

Within scrum, you have a definition of done which requires the product owner, developers, and customer or product stakeholder to articulate every element of compliance, legislation, and governance required for each work item.

Each. Work. Item.

In Kanban, each work item is listed within columns of progression (for example, from in-progress to in-review to done) and each of those items will include any legislative requirements, governance requirements, and compliance criteria.

The item cannot move from one phase of development to another unless that strict protocol has been met. It can’t progress through the system unless every single one of the governance criteria has been achieved.

It’s the same in LeSS (Large Scale Scrum), the same in SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework), and in pretty much every single agile framework I can think of.

The reason behind the myth.

Agile is built on empirical process control, which in turn is built on the 3 pillars of:

  • Transparency
  • Inspection
  • Adaptation

Agile makes work visible and transparent. Agile makes every hypothesis and intention visible and transparent. Agile makes the language we use transparent. Agile makes the terms and conditions of every element of work visible and transparent.

This means that everyone who is relevant to the work, from the developers and product owner to the customer and stakeholders, are able to see exactly what is planned, what is required for that item to pass through the system, and how it is progressing through the system.

In this kind of an environment, nobody is guessing. Nobody is clueless as to what is happening.

In a traditional project management environment, this isn’t the case. The organization may have a project manager that likes to keep things close to their chest and ensure that everybody in the organization is on a need to know basis.

There is nothing that prevents that from happening. There is nothing that prevents a project manager from assigning work to different teams without providing them with transparency and insight into every element of governance or compliance required.

So, agile tends to highlight flaws in a system rather than fix them and for many teams, they have scrambled back to traditional project management once they have witnessed how strict agile is with transparency, visibility, and governance.

That’s the first reason Agile comes under fire. The second is because people declare that they are using agile or scrum, but don’t actually perform scrum or adhere to any of the values, principles, and guidelines that are the foundation of agile or scrum.

They use the language, walk through the motions of the framework, but don’t derive the benefits of the frameworks because they aren’t deploying them completely or correctly.

Relationship Driven Development

In scrum and other agile frameworks, there is a direct relationship between the developers, the product owner, and the customer or product stakeholder.

We don’t have a meet and greet team upfront who hide the developers away in a back room.

Everyone is connected, engaged, and an interconnected part of the value creation process. So, in scrum, for example, the product owner and developers would be having deep conversations with the legal, compliance, and governance people right at the start of the product development process.

It would be very clear, from the very start, what standards of governance are necessary and teams will negotiate those elements with governance and compliance people to make sure that we are creating a definition of done that is valuable, compliant, yet lightweight and deliverable.

We tend to move away from comprehensive documentation and unnecessary elements of delivery.

We want to streamline as much as possible and ensure that we are delivering exactly what is needed, exactly the way it is needed, in a way that creates value for the organization as well as the customer or end user.

So, governance is an incredibly important part of agile product development and there are many layers of process, systems, and relationships to ensure that it gets the attention it deserves.

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