Agile in Government: Myths vs. Realities

We hear about ‘Agile’ in government projects more and more frequently. It’s not a new concept, but one with many misconceptions that can derail a transition from a Waterfall to Agile environment. According to Maria Burton from Focus on Training, her teams experienced three common myths as they transitioned to Agile, about which I share my own perspective:

  1. Myth #1: Agile doesn’t require documentation. So that means you don’t have to worry about huge requirements and design documents, right? Not exactly! You may end up actually writing more documentation than in a Waterfall environment. The difference is the documentation is much less formal, but it has much more functionality in a concise document.
  2. Myth #2: Customers/stakeholders don’t have time to participate. How many times have your teams spent countless hours painstakingly documenting requirements that had to be reviewed and approved upfront, only to have unhappy customers because they didn’t get what they really needed? And you had to pull teeth to get the resources you needed to participate in requirements gathering! In an Agile environment, ongoing customer feedback and user involvement are imperative. Core customers and stakeholders learn they are able to influence what is actually produced, so participation becomes buy-in. That translates into software releases that actually meet the customers’ needs. And that they will be excited about.
  3. Myth #3: Eliminating waterfall overhead means you can deliver more features faster. While it’s true that Agile can eliminate a lot of the overhead that can slow a project down, especially at the beginning, there are new Agile practices that must be incorporated. Things like peer reviews, end-of-sprint reviews, continuous integration, and automated testing. Initially, you may not see the touted increase in productivity. This is when leaders often become impatient and abandon the practices prematurely. Investing in the practices will allow you to ultimately increase your productivity.


Is transitioning to Agile easy and pain free? No. Is Agile the proverbial silver bullet for all your IT woes? No. But many Agile teams say their work has become more rewarding. And helping our government clients embrace this kind of change is just the kind of work we enjoy.