Culture or Policy – a Federal Government Case Study

Recently I attended the Agile 2010 show and was lucky enough to sit through the Tom Grant, PhD talk. Dr. Grant presented a myriad of statistics and used an analogy from French History about adoption patterns moving from Radical/Fanatical to Pragmatic

One example of this is in the US DoD or Federal space.   With the new legislation brewing around Section 804 [note to readers: I will write an article that will do a deep dive on this later] the US Government has dictated from a Policy perspective that ‘users’ are now part of team.  In hearing this, most all of the Agile players are cheering (and hoping other governments follow suit), but those who’ve been doing this for a while understand that Agency culture may trump policy.

In other words, although US Government legislation is moving to include business users on software development projects, agencies and systems integrators will still have the flexibility to maneuver around these laws using cultural norms as the justification.  This isn’t to say that those of us who’ve been working with governments to implement Scrum and Agile as a means to a better end (user experience) shouldn’t be jumping for joy.

Let’s not make any bones about it, this is a big deal.  But in all the celebration let’s not forget that localized cultural change still needs to be part of the transformation even though the policy change has already occurred.

CollabNet will be hosting and sponsoring a conference in Washington DC later this year dedicated to helping Government officials better understand how all development efforts – from contract writing to delivery to hosting and maintaining applications will be changing with these new regulations.

So I will leave you with this to think about, does it matter if Policy change or localized cultural changes happen first?  Is there a necessary order to these organizational communication patterns?  Do we need both?

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3 comments on “Culture or Policy – a Federal Government Case Study
  1. Guy Martin says:

    Thanks Laszlo!
    This is a good synopsis of what’s going on – and I especially like the commentary about how local cultural change will continue to be the toughest nut to crack.
    To answer your question, we need both cultural change as well as policy change. To illustrate, we have it on fairly good authority that the cultural change we started to see as a result of our work on Forge.mil was partially the genesis for section 804 legislation. This is good, because we actually started to prove out the value *before* someone drafted legislation. 🙂
    My personal opinion is that it’s always better to get things started at the grass roots level, but that once things get to somewhere beyond ‘pilot’ but not quite critical mass’, you’ll usually need ‘the stick’ (legislation, policy, etc.) to carry the ball forward over the goal line.
    Looking forward to the conference – I think there is going to be some great discussion.
    -Guy

  2. Do you know the date for the conference in Washington DC yet?

  3. Laszlo Szalvay says:

    Sorry for the S L O W response guys.

    @Guy – yep I agree – you need the mindshare of people to get things done. But often times, as outside consultants – (e.g. the CollabNet Consulting Services division) can do more than internals as it relates to pitching Business Agility to higher ups using concepts like our transformational blurprint for Agility. Not sure exactly why that is – but it has to do with the culture in some companies.

    @Keith – it’s this coming this week. Here’s the link: http://www.afei.org/events/1A01/Pages/default.aspx

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