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The Importance of Agile Project Governance

Is Agile Project Governance an Oxymoron?

Do the words “Agile Project Governance” sound like they go together? On first glance, your answer might be “No”.

  • The idea of superimposing a Project Governance Model on an Agile project sounds like mixing oil and vinegar
  • However, I don’t believe that is necessarily the case especially when you attempt to scale an Agile project to large, complex enterprise-level projects
Agile Project Governance

Agile Project Governance – Conventional Agile Wisdom

Much of the wisdom about Agile has been about how to optimize the performance of an individual Agile team.

  • There are hundreds of books about almost every aspect of optimizing Agile team performance. However, the idea of scaling Agile to enterprise-level projects is a road that is far less traveled and requires a lot of new thinking
  • In many cases, it requires blending together some plan-driven principles and practices with Agile principles and practices. The goal is to create an overall governance model for large, complex programs consisting of multiple teams.

Agile Project Governance – Fitting the Approach to the Company

The predominant thinking in many cases seems to be that you have to shift the entire culture of a corporation to adapt it to an Agile development approach.

  • My experience has been that is not necessarily the best approach in many situations
  • The company’s culture:
    • Needs to be built around what makes sense for that company to be most successful.
    • Should be determined by the business environment that it operates in and that may not always be well-aligned with becoming totally Agile

Companies Focused on Product Innovation

An Agile culture works best in companies who are focused on product innovation. Examples are:

  • Companies who produce and sell software products like Intuit Quickbooks or
  • Where some form of product innovation is closely related to their primary business goals like Amazon.com.

Companies Focused on Other Areas

In companies where product innovation is not the most important factor in the success of the business, it becomes a lot more difficult to convert a company to an Agile development approach because it may not make sense to force the company to adopt a culture that is totally Agile. Consider, for example, the following case studies from my new book:

Agile Project Governance – Some Examples

Here are a few examples from case studies I’ve done to illustrate the role of the company’s business environment.

Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare (HPHC)

HPHC’s business success is driven largely by customer satisfaction. They have been ranked number one in healthcare industry surveys for over nine years. Operational excellence is a very important goal. They must be able to process millions of healthcare transactions efficiently at a very low cost

  • They were faced with a requirement to do a massive redesign of all their operational systems that involved over 100 Agile teams over a five year period
  • Obviously, they can’t afford any disruption of customer service in that process, and
  • There are a lot of moving parts that need to be carefully coordinated to avoid any disruption of service to their customers.

General Dynamics, UK

General Dynamics, UK is a large defense contractor in Europe.

  • Obviously, there business has to be geared around government contracting so there are limits on how Agile they can become, yet
  • They were able to blend together some level of traditional plan-driven project/program management practices with an Agile development approach to achieve the right balance to fit their business


Valpak is a very Agile company and fast-paced product innovation is much more critical to their business success. It is the company that periodically sends people in the US those blue envelopes stuffed with coupons.

  • They have a huge processing facility in Tampa where paper comes in one end and millions of coupons stuffed in envelopes ready for mailing come out the other end
  • The whole operation is very highly automated and it is a very impressive operation
  • Valpak has been very successful in transforming their entire business using Dean Leffingwell’s Scaled Agile Framework.

Overall Summary

The key point is that each of these three businesses is different. Trying to use a “one size fits all” approach to force each business to adapt to a “textbook” agile model would not have been the best solution.

  • The right approach is to go in the other direction and fit the approach to the business environment
  • It requires a lot more skill to do that, but fortunately some frameworks and models are evolving to make that a lot easier to do. Dean Leffingwell’s Scaled Agile Framework is only one example

Related Articles

Check out the following related articles on “Agile Business Management”:

Additional Resources

Resources for Agile Project Management Online Training.

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