Agile – Like a Super Tanker

Full Steam Ahead

A crash stop manoeuvre (from ‘full ahead’ to ‘full reverse’) can stop a fully loaded super tanker within approximately three kilometres, which takes about 14 minutes. If the ‘tanker’ is a plan set into motion by an organisation it can take a good deal longer. In fact, if the organisation is a local authority the likelihood of a plan being revisited with a view to being radically changed on the basis of new evidence is not just slim it’s practically non existent. Okay, that’s a cynical view but there are external and internal factors at play here that are worth considering in the light of the current climate. Catherine Howe explores the potential of Agile in the public sector in her blog. The political rhetoric of the last few decades has done little to help the cause of common sense and agile behaviour. Margaret Thatcher’s ‘U-turn if you want to’ speech played to the gallery and reinforced the notion that strong government doesn’t wobble.  But that approach flies in the face of what we know about the world. As Emer Coleman of the London Data Store pointed out during her presentation at Local By Social South West, the State is pereceived to be rational, technical, strategic, closed, broadcast, contextualized & ordered whereas people are human, adaptive, communicative, generous, open, interactive, raw & messy.  For the State we could read Local Government and nowhere in the list do we find the word agile. The press demands that we steer the course we set regardless of the looming iceberg and any deviation is reported to the populace as weakness or uncertainty. And there’s the pity of it all. If we continue to play to the press gallery and to sterotype there’s little room for manoeuvre. Local Authorities identify objectives and create plans to deliver them but as Catherine Howe reminds us, ‘the plan is not the objective’. If, through changing circumstance and a reappraisal of the plan, we find it won’t deliver the objective we should be trusted to change the plan. That course of action will be difficult to adopt so long as any change of course is labelled a u-turn. When we can proudly include  agile  in the list of public sector attributes, we’ll have more options. So long as we focus on the objective and don’t use ‘being agile’ as a get-out-of-jail card for failed projects, we can begin to build a level of trust with citizens and spend less time playing apologist for a process we don’t believe in anymore.