Work differently, start now

Elabor8 was honoured to host Dr. Stephen Mayner in this month’s webinar where he presented key industry insights for ‘Applying the SAFe Dual Operating System to Enable Agility in Government’. In this blog, we revisit some of the highlights. Today, let us revisit some of the highlights in this article.

As an attendee, Dr. Mayner resonated with my own experiences within government service. There were so many lessons in the presentation the audience can use immediately. 

The prospect of iterative development with fast-feedback cycles may seem not only foreign but almost impossible.  Dr. Mayner served in state government for more than 15 years across areas such as endangered wildlife field research, transportation, health, and IT, but perspectives can change. A mentor once looked me straight in the eye and said,


You don’t need to ask permission to do the right thing
Donald Gould


Lean-Agile is the right thing to do for our citizenry. As Dr. Stephen Mayner eloquently explained, it’s a matter of recognising that traditional methods take years to fully realise value, if ever.  Dr. Mayner outlined the critical moves to work differently and start now.

Let’s recap those steps:


Lead the new way of working

First, we must understand who will be responsible for understanding the customers’ needs? For that matter, who is the customer?  Serious Lean-thinking leaders will need to dedicate time and go see what, where, and how services are being delivered and utilised.

Next, be a scientist. Define and articulate your hypothesis. As a leader, encourage experimentation. Funding the Minimum Viable Product with the assumption that the set of Features are correct is daunting.  Dr. Mayner astutely provided the “catch.”  If you were at the webinar you may have heard it. To hear it from him again (or for the first time) click the link to the recording at the bottom of this article.



Enable agility with Lean Portfolio Management

Organising and funding around value starts with the customer.  Implementing Agile Product Management fueled by value streams leads to change.


Implementing Scaled Agile at GSA enabled all features to be delivered on time, under budget by 25%, defect containment (into production) rate of 96.7% and data migration success rate of 99.82%.

Elizabeth Reed, Techflow, GSA Billing and Accounts Receivable Program


Agencies need to give themselves the ability to adjust their planning. Too much detail and planning upfront leaves no room for new knowledge to influence a pivot to a different path.  Some of the specific takeaways for government in the webinar included:

  • Constantly look to remove legacy policies that inhibit flow of development
  • Remove oversight meetings that are inherently a part of backlog refinements, WSJF, and attendance in System Demos



Train the network and the hierarchy

Agile Release Trains by nature of their networked collaboration know how to get the work done.  Some of the takeaways to clear the path and support them as a leader and an agency were: 

SAFe has transparency for governance and oversight built in:

  • At the portfolio level – LPM defines strategic review and sync meetings for feedback
  • At the development level – SAFe provides oversight through participation in backlog refinements (WSJF), attend System Demos to provide feedback, participate in PI planning
  • We make governance part of the regular flow of development instead of stopping development to apply governance.


In Dr. Mayner’s words,


This is a large change. It takes a different type of leader to lead this change.


Government has a long history of instilling a traditional “command and control” leadership style. However, for knowledge work that is required for the systems we build, leaders are not the ones who know how to do the work, the workers are. That old leadership style is wrong for this type of work.

Instead, we want to give control and create leaders within our organisation. We have training for this purpose – Leading in the Digital Age & Leading SAFe.

We leaders need to know this new way of working. It is vitally important to a transformation that the organisation as a whole knows what good Lean-Agile development looks like.



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