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Why Stakeholder Involvement in Agile Processes is Key

Federal IT program and project managers argue that client engagement is critical to improving Agile processes.

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Federal IT program and project managers are looking to maximize collaboration across stakeholders and customers as they implement Agile methodologies to improve the development process.

Even though government IT teams are increasingly embracing Agile approaches to software and tool development, managers across federal agencies said it is important to educate and involve customers in the process to make new technology implementation successful.

During an ATARC webinar last week, Health and Human Services Human Capital HR Information Systems Program Manager Clarence Baker explained the importance of customer interaction.

“Agile only works if the customer understands, has some type of basic knowledge of Agile and what the expectations are,” Baker said. “As we implemented applications, one of the lessons learned was we need to give these people a five-minute brief on what Agile is, what it means to you. … As you’re implementing the new technology, the new way of doing business, a lot of the customers didn’t really understand the technology until you’re in the third or fourth sprint.”

With stakeholder collaboration, project and program management and development teams can understand what customers find preferable earlier on.

“You need to know what actually is going to make them tick, what’s actually going to resonate with them and what actually irritates them and minimize that,” said Court Services and Supervision Agency Senior IT Project Manager Anthony Burley. “If you’re working with federal employees, you may have to have a conversation with their management. They may not be the right fit for the project. But be honest about that. … You want to give the bad news early. It doesn’t age like wine.”

The trust and involvement built through customer involvement in the development process can also help demonstrate value to agency stakeholders.

“Really getting everyone involved in software development … can be one of the core ways for an organization to show value to its users, to the public,” Fox said. “I think providing that space for folks to come together, to integrate on that delivery line and be a part of that — what that requires is, I think, some psychological safety.”

Fox, Baker, Burley and others added that the variety of collaboration tools that their organizations use make it helpful to engendering stakeholder and customer engagement. Baker said applications like Zoom, Webex and Teams have been effective.

“Collaboration tools on the technology side are really key to effective communication, as well as project management,” said Defense Department Platform One Software Licensing Program Manager Dusty Bakker. “Your chat applications, whether it’s Slack or Mattermost or something along those lines, allows inter-team communication without having to jump on a meeting room every time you need to communicate with somebody or use any other form of communication.”

Moving away from channelized communications to platform- or dashboard-based communication tools has been helpful. Fox explained that approaches like this can be a vehicle for facilitating transparency across development processes for project or program teams and their stakeholders.

“If that’s literally on a table or up on a board, up on a wall, whether it’s digital or stickies, if everyone’s on the office or Trello boards or Jira, whatever tool — Slack is great — if you get rid of the phone calls and emails and get it into platforms like Wikis, any of the tools and the culture around it [can] get folks openly sharing on what things are doing and … getting the stakeholders involved because a lot of those tools will record the interaction,” Fox said.

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