It’s something we’re not going to get away from: mashing traditional projects and project management with agile. You know it as many names – waterfall, scrumerfall, scrumbut – each as bad as the last. It comes in many guises: time lines, gantt charts, milestones and my favourite, governance.

You can have timelines and milestones, they’re not too far removed from Release Planning, as coined by (and then retired by) Mike Cohn. Gantt charts are OK, if you turn them on the side and use them as a product backlog, but something I cannot really get behind is governance.

Now, there are a truckload of different types of governance, but what I’m talking about is “agile governance”. Brian Wernham talks about it an an APM blog post here and it’s an interesting read. Essentially, it’s a sponsored, empowered set of controls. You could argue that the blog post is over 18 months old and not relevant anymore, but my experience says otherwise.

Sounds crappy, huh?

The idea of governance is that it allows a group of key project people (think stakeholders and team members) to get together regularly in a room and talk about the project. Not altogether too dissimilar to sprint demo, except the governance meeting is future looking and the demo is a view of the last itertion.

The trouble with the governance meeting is that it tries to tie you into a plan, “What are we going to do next?”, “When can we have X thing?”, “What are our biggest risks and how do we avoid them?”

But the biggest and most troublesome problem with the governance meeting is compounded during an “agile transition/adoption”, you can bet your ass that before a company started being agile, they had governance meetings and so, after the adoption, continuing with the governance just helps to reinforce bad habits and out of date ideas on how “projects” should work.

The meetings cause anxiety – instead of going into it (as in a demo) with a list of things to show for your effort, you’re going in with a list of problems that, if you could solve them, you already would have, so they’re unsolvable right now and not worth talking about, they just make you more anxious. You’re going to talk about the future of a project with some of the wrong people and not all of the right people – afterall, it’s a team sport – why leave some of your A players on the bench? Many of the people in that room will not be in your team and not be accountable for the work that get’s done, the planning or the outcome.

Push to get rid of governance and provide everything anyone needs at your demo. It’s the only way we’ll make any real progress on a project. I think that the GDS has got it mostly right. It’s the government, so they’re going to have governance, but they couch it in these terms

GDS has defined 6 principles for governing service delivery. Following them should help you create the right culture within your service. They are:

  1. Don’t slow down delivery
  2. Decisions when they’re needed, at the right level
  3. Do it with the right people
  4. Go see for yourself
  5. Only do it if it adds value
  6. Trust and verify

See what it doesn’t say there? It doesn’t say weekly (or regular) meetings with the same people just to see what the status of a project is and complain when it’s not “on schedule”. Head through to the Governance Principles page, it’s an excellent and enlightening read.

It’s not often anyone can say “let’s be more like the government”.

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