Is Agile the Answer?

“We used waterfall to put a man on the moon, so it can’t be that bad,” said Aldila Lobo, Principal with Deloitte Consulting. This line certainly got a laugh from the crowd at NASPO’s Exchange conference in New York City – but it holds a fair amount of truth as well. “Waterfall” is the non-modular procurement methodology that originated in the construction and manufacturing arenas and became popular as a method for software development and procurement. The process of development literally flows from one stage to the next. Agile, on the other hand, focuses on flexibility, continuous improvement, an embrace of change, speed, and satisfied customers. Agile comes not in stages that build on one another, but in sprints, where pieces of the larger puzzle are developed one at a time.

While Agile development and procurement methods have taken hold as an elegant solution to decades-old problems, the simple truth is what Aldila alluded to – that sometimes, for some types of procurements, waterfall is still best. However, Agile and other modular procurement methods do two things that make it easier to manage large developments: they segment risk and increase transparency. While Agile and modular procurement aren’t just for information technology procurement and software development, those are the most popular applications.


Jim Butler, NASPO Honorary member and facilitator for this session, offered a great analogy for how Agile can improve results. Exchange was held during the 2018 NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournament and Jim pointed out how much better everyone’s brackets would be if instead of filling out the entire thing at the beginning of the tournament, you were allowed to readjust and fill it out after each round of play. We would all quickly become basketball experts – and win our office pools with ease! This is the theory behind Agile development; to take on one sprint at a time and work out the kinks and issues before moving on to another sprint.

Below are some additional important takeaways from the session at Exchange, which in addition to Aldila and Jim, also included Tamara Armstrong, Executive Director, Project Management Office, State of California Department of Technology, and John Walko, Partner with Accenture:

  • Test Agile in your office as a pilot project. Try Agile out with a small, self-contained project to use as an example of how Agile would succeed on a larger scale.
  • Make sure your business partner has the structure in place to make Agile work.
  • For Agile to succeed, your organization needs a top-down cultural change. Agile is all about the team, so make sure you have the right combination of players and your team is well-trained on the methods behind Agile.
  • Understand that Agile might not, in fact, be cheaper or faster – but it might produce better quality results due to the constant cycle of feedback throughout the sprints.
  • Procurement can lead the way when it comes to driving value and gathering data; have the right data to make good decisions along the way.

For more information on Agile and modular or iterative procurement, check out NASPO’s Modular Procurement Primer by clicking here. Thanks to all the panel members and participants in this session at Exchange!

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