Time for the New Zealand Government to step up

I clearly remember a meeting I had with a large government agency three years ago. I was explaining how we approached software development, and this was met with considerable resistance from one of the key players in the meeting.

I could understand that some of the ideas were new (to them) and definitely presented a different world view. So I asked the question: "Do your existing processes and approaches work?". This was met with silence as the eight people in the meeting looked at one another. Then one brave person said: "No, our current process is causing our projects to fail". They decided to stick with their existing processes.

Looking at what the agency has delivered in the last three years, you won't be surprised to hear that by doing things the same way, they've achieved the same result - in other words, very little.

Worldwide we are experiencing an evolution of software development best practice at government level.

Late last year the US Government released their Digital Services Playbook.

Today, too many of our digital services projects do not work well, are delivered late, or are over budget. To increase the success rate of these projects, the U.S. Government needs a new approach.

Digital Services Playbook

The playbook lists 13 plays:

  1. Understand what people need
  2. Address the whole experience, from start to finish
  3. Make it simple and intuitive
  4. Build the service using agile and iterative practices
  5. Structure budgets and contracts to support delivery
  6. Assign one leader and hold that person accountable
  7. Bring in experienced teams
  8. Choose a modern technology stack
  9. Deploy in a flexible hosting environment
  10. Automate testing and deployments
  11. Manage security and privacy through reusable processes
  12. Use data to drive decisions
  13. Default to open

These plays are music to my ears. They are practical, feasible and valuable. If we used these plays, we could be delivering so much more!

Building on the playbook, the US Government has released
The TechFAR Handbook for Procuring Digital Services Using Agile Processes. Released on GitHub, this document is a comprehensive look at Agile procurement. It makes a fascinating read for anyone - whether you're a supplier or on the procurement side - involved in using Agile to deliver digital services.

Looking at the New Zealand government's software procurement and processes, I find it increasingly difficult to understand why they are so resistant to these best practices!

The only conclusion I can draw is that often organisations are more comfortable failing in a familiar way than potentially succeeding by changing how they work.

I see some signs of change, but they are small, fleeting and are usually squashed by the bureaucracy. What is it going to take to see systemic change?