Malcolm Turnbull – The Agile Australian Government

Malcolm Turnbull

Malcolm Turnbull

The Australian Government took a pivot 2 days ago with a new Prime Minister after a leadership spill.  In his acceptance speech, Malcolm Turnbull talked about a more ‘agile Australia’ and urged Australians to ’embrace disruption’.  He said his government would be “focused on ensuring that in the years ahead as the world becomes more and more competitive and greater opportunities arise, we are able to take advantage of that.”

The Australia of the future has to be a nation that is agile, that is innovative, that is creative. We can’t be defensive, we can’t future-proof ourselves.  We have to recognise that the disruption that we see driven by technology, the volatility in change is our friend if we are agile and smart enough to take advantage of it. – Malcolm Turnbull

I have been following from afar the evolution of UK Government’s Digital Service Design Principles.  In summary the 10 principles are:

  1. Start with needs – Talk with customers, have empathy with users
  2. Do less – Government should only do what only government can do, for all else link to others
  3. Design with data – Let data drive decision-making, not hunches or guesswork, take a a Lean Startup approach.
  4. Do the hard work to make it simple – Don’t take “It’s always been that way” for an answer. The right thing to do is make things simple although that is hard to do
  5. Iterate. Then iterate again. – MVPs and agile, do I need to say more?
  6. This is for everyone – Build for needs, not audiences. Everything built should be as inclusive, legible and readable as possible
  7. Understand context – Don’t design for a screen, design for people.
  8. Build digital services, not websites – Uncover user needs, and build the service that meets those needs.
  9. Be consistent, not uniform – Use the same language and the same design patterns wherever possible. Make sure the approach is consistent (but this is not standardisation).
  10. Make things open: it makes things better – Use open source, but return the favor by sharing with others too.

In hindsight these principles were quite advanced for a Government given these came about 3 years ago.  More recently the UK Government has released the Digital by Default Service Standard.  In particular, one of the standards is very explicit:

Build the service using the agile, iterative and user-centred methods set out in the manual.

Both these principles and standards are wonderful and you will notice there a lot of modern delivery and management thinking behind them.

If you go from the UK across the North Atlantic Ocean you will find that the US digital services projects do not work well, are delivered late, or are over budget. To increase the success rate of these projects, the U.S. Government created a new approach with the U.S. Digital Services Playbook:

  1. Understand what people need
  2. Address the whole experience, from start to finish
  3. Make it simple and intuitive
  4. Build the service using agile and iterative practices
  5. Structure budgets and contracts to support delivery
  6. Assign one leader and hold that person accountable
  7. Bring in experienced teams
  8. Choose a modern technology stack
  9. Deploy in a flexible hosting environment
  10. Automate testing and deployments
  11. Manage security and privacy through reusable processes
  12. Use data to drive decisions
  13. Default to open

There are striking similarities between the UK Government Design Principles and Standards and the US Digital Services Playbook with both taking a citizen-centric view of customer needs as their first point.

When I last worked on some initiatives for the Australian Government there was no such principles and agile approaches were not widely adopted.  A search on Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) website revealed only one reference related to agile – Behold the Power of Agile.

Early this year (2015) the Australian Government established the Digital Transformation Office (or DTO) to lead the government in transforming their services to improve customer experience.  The DTO has come up with their own Digital Service Standard.  A close look at these standards will reveal that it has been adapted from the UK Government’s Digital by Default Service Standard (almost exact word for word), and it includes the similar statement:

Build the service using agile, iterative, collaborative and user-centred methods

I would recommend you spend 30mins of your time to review the various governments Digital Standards and Principles.

Being a customer and citizen of the Australian Government I am eager to see the government put an agile value and principles approach on the agenda so that products and services are delivered faster and meets my needs.  The future will judge Turnbull’s comments of a more ‘agile Australia’ – is there going to be real change? or are these just buzzwords?

2 Comments on “Malcolm Turnbull – The Agile Australian Government”

  1. Hi Chris, I just touched base with Phillip on this. SoftEd has done training for the government in Canberra in Agile, Malcolm has been heading the DTO which is seeking to be Agile, a good reason why he referenced to this.

    • Hi Bernd,

      Thanks for dropping a note. Yeah I heard some pockets of agile was occurring in Canberra. I did some work taking an agile approach a while back, but at that time it was not widely adopted. Thanks for pointing out the DTO – I was not aware of the creation of this – do you know how long it’s been running?

      I will update my post about the DTO. Cheers!


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