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Interview - Brian Wernham

Cliff Berg: Brian, what is the new guidance on ‘Agile Governance in Government’ all about?

Brian Wernham: There has been a great deal of work on Agile methods at the developer/team level in Government, but little debate or discussion on either the governance of agile projects, how to govern ‘hybrid’ programs that have a mix of agile and waterfall sub-projects, nor at Secretary of State level, applying ‘agile’ concepts to a portfolio or change.  The recent failure of the UK Government’s 1,500 head, $4bn Universal Credit programme is an example of a major organization not having a framework within which to govern a major programme using Agile methods.  At the recent DOD ‘Agile in Defense’ conference I keynoted at in Washington DC, I emphasized that behaviors will always trump processes – so we need to get the behaviors right first, then the processes.

Cliff Berg: Will this guide on ‘Agile Governance in Government’ simply be a re-hash of an existing agile method like ‘Scrum’ or ‘DSDM’?

Brian Wernham: We are aiming at the Assistant Secretary of State level – the existing agile methods describe detailed processes for implementation. What is needed is an agile philosophy – a set of behaviors that the Main Board should encourage throughout the organization. These behaviors should be common sense and practical – that is the essence of agility.

Cliff Berg: Give an example?

Brian Wernham: Well, one practical behavior is that of not making premature decisions. One should make decisions “at the latest responsible moment”. This allows for the latest information to be taken into account – perhaps from practical feedback from piloting of project outputs which can be incorporated back into designs.

Cliff Berg: How would that manifest in a program or portfolio context?

Brian Wernham: For example: One can face the choice of either setting up a large procurement exercise for a project with the aim of ‘saving money’ that must start very early – or one can buy in services and goods for the project on a ‘just-in-time’ basis. Often the latter approach will actually save money because the suppliers can be more sure of supplying incrementally, and also the latest tech will be available, rather than ‘last year’s solution.

Cliff Berg: So how is the UK Association for Project Management involved?

Brian Wernham: I am on the Committee of the APM ‘Governance Specific Interest Group’. We have previously published a brief guide on ‘Directing Change’, ‘Co-directing Change’ and ‘Sponsoring Change’. These guides are aimed at Director/CxO level rather than project specialists.

Cliff Berg: So the ‘Agile Governance’ guide will be aimed at CxOs who want their organizations to be ‘more agile’ – what does that mean?

Brian Wernham: Organizations with a portfolio of technology innovation change initiatives often find that traditional management approaches result in ‘waterfall’ projects with all or nothing ‘big-bang’ implementations that are risky and often fail.

Cliff Berg: Who is involved in developing the new ‘Agile Governance’ guide?

Brian Wernham: Interest in the subject is high. On 27th November an APM day event on ‘Agile Assurance’ in London booked out well in advance.  The APM Governance SIG held two exploratory evening meetings in May and June on ‘Agile Governance’ with presentations and workshops which were packed.

Cliff Berg: What are the next steps?

Brian Wernham: Further meetings are planned for the rest of 2014 to work on the text. To involve people from across the US and further abroad we will be using Google Hangouts to ‘virtualize’ the meetings.

We are adopting an ‘agile’ approach - by which the guidance is incrementally developed by a self-organizing editorial team reporting progress to the Governance SIG Committee, which will act as the ‘Product Owner’ – prioritizing and guiding development. We have offers of venues around the country, and so every other meeting could be outside of London.

We want the guidance to be method agnostic, and jargon free with compatibility with popular methods.

Cliff Berg: Thanks for your time Brian!

If your readers are interested in getting involved, either in our face-to-face meetings around the UK, or by video conference/Skype or in the email peer reviews later this year, please do contact me at
A free download of Brian’s recent article about Agile in the UK Defense Industry is available here:

Brian Wernham's Bio can be found on his LinkedIn profile:

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