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Challenges of Applying Agile Approach in the Public Service Sector

Agile is a project management methodology that has gained popularity in the private sector for its ability to improve project delivery and adapt to changing requirements. In recent years, there has been a growing interest in applying Agile in the public service sector to improve IT projects and digital transformation initiatives. However, there are several challenges in adopting Agile in the public service sector, as highlighted in a research study titled “Institutional challenges in agile adoption: Evidence from a public sector IT project” by David Baxter, Nicholas Dacre, Hao Dong, and Serkan Ceylan.

High Failure Rates in Government IT Projects

Government IT projects have a history of high failure rates, with only a small percentage of projects being successful. These failures can be attributed to various factors, including the complexity of introducing new technology into established processes, inter-organizational coordination challenges, and outdated management methods that do not account for the drivers of complexity.

Agile as a Solution

Agile has the potential to improve project management in the public service sector, especially for IT projects. It allows for flexibility in system design, frequent stakeholder interaction, and adjustments based on new information or customer requests. Agile has been recommended for public sector IT projects by scholars and is even mandated by some governments.

Challenges in Agile Adoption

Despite the potential benefits of Agile, there are challenges in its adoption in the public service sector. The rate of transformation towards Agile has been varied, with some organizations adopting it ceremonially or as a mindless trend. Agile requires substantial changes in policy, management, and organizational culture, which may be limited due to the existing government culture that is often bureaucratic and compliance-driven.

Institutional Logics Perspective

The study uses an institutional logics perspective to understand the complex inter-organizational relationships and change dynamics in a large-scale public sector IT project. Institutional logics theory helps in identifying and evaluating the dynamics, tensions, and conflicts within the institutional setting.

Findings and Implications

The study found that Agile aligned with the market and state orders, but conflicted with the corporation order in the public service sector. There were tensions between Agile and the existing governance structures, policies, and hierarchical culture. However, Agile also led to changes in the corporation order, such as the transition from a commodity supplier to a mission collaborator and the development of a one-team culture.

The findings have implications for practice in the public service sector. There is a need to anticipate and address the challenges in aligning Agile with traditional methods of project funding, governance, and management. Changes in project contracts, governance mechanisms, and management methods will be required. Training and organizational design efforts are also necessary to support the adoption of Agile.

The study highlights the challenges faced in applying Agile in the public service sector and the need for further research to understand how Agile should be applied effectively. The findings provide insights into the institutional challenges and changes brought about by Agile in the public sector. By addressing these challenges, organizations can harness the potential of Agile to improve project delivery and digital transformation in the public service sector.