Pros and Cons of Agile Development in the Public Sector


By IT standards, the Agile development methodology has been around for a long time and has become increasingly popular in recent years. While Agile has been successful in many private sector projects, its implementation in government IT projects remains a topic of debate. There are pros and cons for using Agile in government IT projects.

Agile is defined as an iterative, collaborative approach to project management and software development and configuration that helps teams deliver value to their customers with fewer issues. It doesn’t involve in-depth initial planning, and it allows for changing requirements over time based on user feedback. Instead of utilizing a “big bang” approach/launch, an Agile team delivers work in small, digestible increments. It allows for continuous improvement through small and frequent releases.

The Agile methodology or operational framework is beneficial for industries that handle constant or unpredictable change for teams creating a new product. However, Agile may not be best suited for projects that have strict constraints that require more traditional management styles.

The Agile Methodology Is Based on 4 Pillars:

  1. Effective teams and collaborative work styles are valued over the tools and processes
  2. The resulting software product is valued over comprehensive documentation of the product
  3. Customer interaction and satisfaction are valued over the negotiations leading to the contract
  4. Responding to change in adaptable and flexible ways is valued over following a plan established in the past

In short, the Agile methodology values the ends over the means. Though it recognizes governance must be in place, it does not need to be as rigid as other methodologies/approaches.

The question is, how well does it work for public-sector IT teams?

Pros of Agile Methodology in Public Sector:

  1. Flexibility: Agile methodology is designed to be flexible, allowing project teams to quickly adjust to changes in requirements or priorities. In government IT projects, where requirements can change frequently due to shifting regulations, policies or public demand, Agile can provide an effective solution.
  2. Improved stakeholder engagement: Agile involves regular communication with stakeholders, which helps ensure the project is aligned with their needs and expectations. In government projects, where multiple stakeholders are involved, Agile can help improve communication, collaboration and stakeholder input.
  3. Faster time to market: Agile emphasizes the delivery of working software in small increments. This allows teams to deliver a working product faster than traditional software development methods, which can be beneficial in government projects that require timely delivery of services to citizens.
  4. Improved quality: the Agile methodology prioritizes the delivery of high-quality software through continuous testing and feedback. This can help reduce errors, defects and bugs, which can lead to better software quality and improved user satisfaction.

Cons of Agile Methodology for Public Sector:

  1. Lack of predictability: Agile emphasizes flexibility over predictability, which can make it difficult to accurately estimate project timelines, costs and resource requirements. This can be demanding in government projects that require detailed planning, budgeting and resource allocation.
  2. Relative newness compared to waterfall: Government organizations have not been exposed to the Agile methodology at the same rate as some other industries, and implementing Agile can require significant cultural and organizational change. This can be challenging in government projects, where stakeholders may have different expectations, priorities and goals or are resistant to change from the way they have always done things.
  3. Regulatory compliance: Government IT projects must comply with a range of regulations, policies and standards, which can be more difficult to achieve with Agile methodologies. The frequent change in Agile can make compliance more difficult to achieve.
  4. Lack of documentation: Because Agile methodologies prioritize working software over comprehensive documentation, government teams may face the challenge of ensuring compliance, accountability, auditability and transparency.

Agile can be a valuable approach to software development in government IT projects, but it also has its limitations. The benefits of Agile that have been derived from smaller-scale efforts do not naturally transfer to Agile projects at scale. To implement Agile successfully in government projects, project teams must carefully weigh the pros and cons and develop a customized Agile methodology that meets the unique needs of the project and the culture of the organization. Research shows that “the people dimension,” especially culture, is the most difficult to get right when using Agile for transformation.

ISG helps government agencies ensure they have the right resources, skills and tools to support Agile methodologies and address any regulatory or compliance challenges. Contact us to find out how we can help.


About the authors

Alex Perry

Alex Perry

Alex Perry is a thought leader in identifying, sourcing, implementing and sustaining pragmatic technology solutions in the public sector industry. He is passionate about leveraging emerging digital solutions to improve services for stakeholders across state and local governments. Focusing on processes before technologies, Alex works with public professionals to identify impactful and lasting process optimization opportunities to unlock the true potential of IT investments. His experience includes strategic planning and development, business analytics strategy, solution development and adoption, ERP planning and optimization, project management, and transformation management. Though he began his career in the public sector as a Business Analytics Director for a large state agency, prior to joining ISG Alex transitioned to consulting as a Director for one of the world’s largest IT and business consulting firms. At ISG, he continues to further his reach and impact by serving government clients across the nation.

Jill Anderson

Jill Anderson

Jill is an ISG Director and experienced Project Management Professional (PMP) who specializes in providing information technology, governance, project management, strategic advisory services and oversight services to public sector organizations. Her experience includes 20+ years, with 15 years focused on state governments.  Jill helps her clients assess their portfolio of complex legacy systems with a myriad of integrations and develop a digital strategy and roadmap to facilitate HR digital transformation and successful service delivery strategies.

She possesses extensive experience working with leadership teams to assess business and organizational needs, formulate strategy, implement technology, facilitate system adoption, reorganize resources and achieve the goals necessary for delivering results. She has managed multiple large, complex initiatives and has worked closely with business executives and government leaders to improve operating efficiency and supportability, reduce costs and enhance revenue and compliance through technology-related initiatives.

Jill is a thought leader and a problem solver. She is passionate about HR, technology and talent management. She listens, seeks to understand, assesses opportunities and works with her clients to strategize, collaborate, instil transparency and empower to achieve their goals and objectives while aligning with their organizational vision and culture transformation.