Scrum Masters to coach public servants to be Agile


The Digital Transformation Office is asking the market to provide up to five Agile coaches and two delivery managers to support its work, coinciding with the launch of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s revamped digital services policy on Friday.

Documents released by DTO as part of a request for tenders explains the skills required of an Agile coach — that’s agile with a capital ‘A’ — who would be expected to nurture an “Agile culture” inside federal departments and agencies.

At the same time, the government’s election policy includes a commitment to a new “expert in residence” program that would aim to “make it easier for government agencies to access world class digital experts” and begin within the DTO:

“We will partner with private sector companies to access digital experts on three, six or 12 month secondments. Secondments will help increase the level of collaboration between government and the private sector, making it easier for government agencies to access specialist digital skills.”

Agile coaches must “facilitate the embedding and building of capability in Agile and lean practices in teams and the foundations to support them” and make sure delivery teams in agencies are “adopting Agile and performing effectively” according to the tender documents.

They also need to make sure agencies use a “pragmatic approach to the way in which they govern delivery and continuous improvement of digital services” and must have experience in user-centred design and organisational change related to the popular new addition to the management-speak lexicon.

A delivery manager, the DTO explains, “supports the team by identifying and removing obstacles that are stopping the team from delivering” and might be better known as a “Scrum Master” to those who know the lingo. Their job is to facilitate daily and weekly meetings — ones where you stand up rather than sit down — to keep individual projects on track.

Staying active in the delivery manager community, they need to define the roadmap for any given product and translate this into user stories and lead a collaborative, dynamic planning process that matches work to be done with the skills and capabilities of the team, and make sure projects are fit for each release stage: alpha, beta and full production.

The DTO website now shows five active projects, all of which are still in the beta phase — but discrepancies and alterations to some of these and the confusing way they have been listed over time call into question the transparency and accountability supposedly provided by the agency’s website.

Despite the same list showing there are zero in the earliest stage called “discovery”, a different page shows a vaguely described project to develop a digital identity system began its discovery phase in January and is expected to produce an alpha version this August. This, like the project to build gov.au, is separately listed as it is a new creation rather than improvement of an existing government service.

The myGov elephant in the room

The digital identity project description does not mention whether it is linked with the DTO’s work on the troubled myGov service delivery portal, which is listed under last year’s budget allocations. In the Coalition’s new election policy, it would give the DTO 12 months to improve the user experience of myGov in a few specific ways, working with the Department of Human Services and other service delivery agencies that use it.

Within a year, a re-elected Turnbull government would want users to be able to choose their own unique username, starting with their email address, as part of simplifying and improving the whole login experience.

Australians would also be able to sign in to participating agencies directly, without having to first go through myGov, and generally improvements to “usability and design … particularly on mobile devices” would also be demanded through the $50 million project, which was funded in this year’s budget. Assuming a Coalition win, this will provide $45.1 million of ongoing funding over four years and $5.4 million over two years to modernise the service.

The Mandarin understands DTO staff have found the task of finding quick wins to improve myGov a daunting challenge, to say the least. While it has achieved a decent level of usage, it has also annoyed early adopters when they’ve tried to use the bespoke government service portal.

While there is a faction that has pushed for a complete replacement of myGov, that’s not a dominant view in Canberra or in the states. Former myGov executive at DHS, and now City of Melbourne CEO, Ben Rimmer, told The Mandarin earlier this year that keeping what myGov has achieved and building iteratively on it is a smarter move: “myGov [has] a higher penetration than exists in America, UK or Canada — that’s an incredible strength to build on.”

The Coalition’s new election policy followed by the tender for certified Agile digital development gurus seems to recognise that some parts of the DTO’s ambitious agenda are proving more difficult to accomplish that the PM’s initial promises suggested.

Turnbull promises government APIs, more open data and service delivery dashboard

The Coalition’s new list of pledges contains another indication that it sees a need to hit the reset button on digital transformation: it would produce a fresh roadmap for the DTO by this November and ask it to work with agencies to produce their own versions. The DTO would also be asked to “identify the highest value services and prioritise them for digital transformation” — which sounds like something it was supposed to be doing from the start, although that is not altogether surprising in campaign material.

Digital government experts would also be pleased to see the PM pledges to accelerate the release of open data from the public sector, and supports the creation of more government APIs — application programming interfaces — to enable more third-party apps that help citizens navigate the world of government:

“By default, all new essential government services will be built to enable access by application program interface or web services, enabling them to be integrated and compatible with third party platforms.

“Enabling access via compatible web services will allow schools, hospitals and community groups to provide their website users with up to date information and access to Government services.”

Turnbull’s digital government policy also promises stronger protection of personal privacy through a “tell us once” system that would supposedly give citizens complete control over which agencies and “linked private sector services” can see their details.

Security of personal information also comes up in the context of a pledge to push agencies to make cloud computing the default for “non-sensitive” working environments. A new Secure Services Strategy would be developed to set guidelines for hosting public information on private servers.

The Coalition also claims a new dashboard to show how public services are performing would increase transparency and accountability through metrics like “cost per transaction, user satisfaction, and completion rates” and allow benchmarking against leading private sector practices. That project looks to be behind schedule, according to the DTO website.

About the author
Premium

The essential resource for effective public sector leaders

Special offer on now: Subscribe for a year to Mandarin Premium, get two outstanding books free.

Get Premium Today