“Agile” is dead?

Universal Credit – the plot thickens:

In a programme as complex as universal credit, which includes new IT developments and changes to existing IT assets, both agile and waterfall methods may be appropriate at different times. As examples, initial development used agile techniques while, in its final stages of testing for the pathfinder from April 2013, the programme is using the waterfall approach—a standard DWP testing methodology.

This is the answer of Mark Hoban, Minister of State at the DWP, in a written answer to a parliamentary question delivered on 12 March and seemingly unnoticed by most people except Computer Weekly – who have hit the nail very firmly on the head:

The DWP gave up using the “agile” method of software development for Universal Credit, the coalition government’s flaghsip reform programme, last month.

It had before now repeatedly claimed agile was the way it would keep Universal Credit on track. The coalition government had meanwhile singled agile out as a major part of its flagship strategy to stop IT projects going calamitously and expensively wrong.

The Major Projects Authority – part of the Cabinet Office – was going to press-gang government departments to use agile methods on big software builds. Universal Credit was the government’s first – and immensely ambitious – big stab at agile…

…The u-turn raises questions about whether the government was wrong to pin its hopes on agile as the way to crack the government IT problem: did DWP ditch agile because it didn’t work? Was agile not all it was cracked up to be?

Or did DWP make such a bodge of agile that Universal Credit is now likely to be a bodge as well. Did failure compel it to fall back quickly to the well-worn waterfall path in an attempt to get things back on track?

A DWP spokesman said neither case was true.

“Just because we are not using agile doesn’t mean agile is inherently flawed, or that Universal Credit is inherently flawed,” he said. “It probably means agile is at a point where agile is not appropriate.”…

…Then last year it started to look like DWP was going to manage only a token roll-out of Universal Credit in October 2013. That’s when Duncan Smith came out with the most complete description of to agile software development, and the most clear commitment to it that, really, anyone in the software community could ever hope to imagine. Universal Credit wasn’t just agile. It really was agile. And it would remain so to the bitter end of the roll-out in 2017.

“There is a lot of ignorance at the moment in the media… saying, ‘You are not going to be ready on time’. The truth is the time that we deliver this is 2017. So that is over four years. We start that process in October,” Duncan Smith told the Work and Pensions Committee on 17 September 2012.

“The whole point about the agile process – which I find frustrating at times, because we cannot quite get it across to people – is to understand that agile is about change.

“It is about allowing you to get to a certain point in the process: one leap – check it out, make sure it works.

“And as you go into the next leap, you come up with something that says, ‘We can rectify some of the issues in this, and make that even more efficient’.

“You are constantly rolling forward, improving and making more efficient things. There is a constant retrospective change that goes on to complete that system, and that is what will happen all through those four years,” he pledged.

Read all of it.