Should You Govern Agile Teams Via a Traditional Strategy?

The quick answer is no, that’s an incredibly bad idea.

We ran a study in February 2017, the 2017 Agile Governance survey, to explore the issues around governance of agile teams. This study found that the majority of agile teams were in fact being governed in some way, that some agile teams were being governed in an agile or lightweight manner and some agile teams in a traditional manner.  See the blog Are Agile Teams Being Governed? for a summary of those results.

The study also examined the effect of governance on agile teams, exploring the perceived effect of the organization’s governance strategy on team productivity, on the quality delivered, on IT investment, and on team morale.  It also explored how heavy the governance strategy was perceived to be and how well it was focused on the delivery of business value. The following figure summarizes the results of these questions.

Governance Effectiveness with Agile Teams

Here are our conclusions given these results:

  1. Agile governance helps agile teams. There is a clear co-relation between an agile approach to governing agile teams and positive results such as improving productivity, increasing quality, spending your investment in IT wisely, and improved team morale. This is what we believe the goal to be, to help the people being governed to be more effective and successful.
  2. Traditional governance hinders agile teams.  There is a clear co-relation between traditional approaches to governing agile teams and reduced team productivity, reduced quality of output, wasting IT investment, and decreased team morale.  We believe that these results are the exact opposite of what you hope to achieve with your governance strategy.
  3. Agile teams should be governed in an agile manner.  This follows directly from the previous two conclusions.  It should come as no surprise that your governance strategy should be well-aligned with what it is being governed.
  4. Traditional governance strategies likely hinders traditional teams too.  We didn’t look into this issue directly, but our experience has been that traditional governance tends to be more of a hindrance than a help to traditional teams as well.

When we work with organizations to help them to adopt agile ways of working, we often find that they are running into several common challenges when it comes to IT governance:

  1. They have both agile teams and traditional software teams.  This is because it’s a multi-modal world: You will have some teams taking a traditional approach, some an agile approach, some take a lean approach, and some are even skilled enough for continuous delivery.  Each team will follow the lifecycle that makes the most sense for them, and as a result each team should be governed by the approach that best suits the way that they are working.  To do anything different would be to hinder the teams, and that isn’t what good governance should be about.
  2. There is a desire for a single approach to governing software teams. This makes sense on the surface because it would simplify your overall governance strategy, thereby making things easier for the people doing the governing.  But, as we’ve learned, this results in negative effects in practice.  Your governance strategy must be flexible enough to support the range of teams being governed.
  3. The governance team is struggling to understand agile.  Your executives and middle management need education and coaching in agile and lean just like the people on your software team do.  It is naive to expect your governance people to devise a governance strategy for agile when they don’t really understand the implications of agile to begin with.

For agile to succeed in your organization the way that you approach IT must evolve to enable and support it, and this includes your governance strategy.  Reach out to us if you would like some help in addressing this important issue.

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