UNLEASHING AGILE: Obstacles and Opportunities in Human Services.

Author:Lopez, Rafael

When it comes to information technology (IT), human services agencies are at an inflection point. There is growing recognition that systems built using "big bang" waterfall approaches have failed to deliver intended benefits or support intended outcomes. Many have missed their schedule and budget targets as well. All the while, agencies are working to reshape their services to deliver "whole person" support to better serve children and families.

To sum it up, many are asking, "Are we just doing it wrong? And, how might we do better?" For a growing number of states--including California, Connecticut, and Tennessee--the answer lies in the agile movement. A recent study by Accenture and the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) affirmed that most state CIOs recognize the value of agile development, yet still face some barriers.

Here are some of our key findings about what is holding states back--and how to overcome the obstacles:

  1. More of what you want, less of what you don't.

    Most state CIOs and IT executives agreed that using Agile supports increased customer engagement and business ownership (74 percent), improved customer satisfaction (71 percent), improved quality (68 percent), improved transparency (65 percent), greater flexibility (59 percent), and less risk (50 percent). At the same time, Agile helps prevent some of the most pernicious challenges: wasted money from ineffective IT projects (70 percent), large IT project failures (66 percent), delayed implementation (60 percent), programs that do not meet business needs (58 percent) and programs that do not meet needs (43 percent).

  2. "Processing" improvements.

    Regardless of development methodology, it's always wise to evaluate business processes before automating them. Accenture and NASCIO asked states that implement Agile and tackle process analysis or re-engineering before project kickoff how they approach those initiatives. Business process mapping (78 percent), LEAN process (49 percent), process re-engineering (46 percent), design thinking (24 percent) and Kaizen (24 percent) emerged as most popular. As human services agencies seek to innovate, human-centered design (also called design thinking or service design) may be an ideal place to start. These techniques help in challenging existing business processes and in bringing powerful user perspectives to the table.

  3. All or nothing? Not necessarily.

    More than half of respondents (53 percent) told us they...

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