Discovery: a short phase in which you find out which department(s) have a gullible minister desperate for publicity and/or a permanent secretary who wishes to appear “trendy” before he takes early retirement into academic life: to run a quango or to advice the private sector on how to sell to government.
Alpha: a love-in with the latest generation of enthusiasts who believe they can use new technology to change the world were it not for the users, who must therefore be “educated”.
Beta: experience, when you begin to test the service and discover that it is unusable by those whose needs it supposedly addresses because they do not have the skills, dexterity or broadband access, or is wide open to fraud and abuse, or both.
Live: disillusionment and recrimination as a compromise, “CESG approved”, system limps into operation, with its limitations blamed on some-one else, in order to save the face of the minister who announced it prematurely.
Retirement: a spell on the conference circuit, boasting of success, before joining the private sector as a consultant, a year or so before the National Audit Office report finally reaches the Public Accounts Committee .
I have actually been a strong supporter of agile methodologies since I was tasked to use one to merge, decimalise and re-write (including for Y2K) the ICL group sales ledgers back in 1971. I learned the virtues and vices of the “agile” approach in an environment that was well used to structured programming, with an intelligent user who encouraged me to talk direct with his staff as to how they really did their jobs, as well an equally intelligent boss and colleagues, who let me continue when they discovered that my trial system used a piece of well-documented custom code to do what could not be done using the “agile” tools I was supposed to use. That was when I came to believe in “structured evolution”, as opposed to big bang or delayed big bang (alias Waterfall). It was also when I came to realise, even before I went to the London Business School, that the people processes are more important than the technology.
Agile can work but in the context of the Government Data Service and Digital by Default, it is not enough. Success requires an agile mindset towards policy formation. It also requires that central and local government, business and consumers all have the ubiquitous broadband (speed, resiliance and security) necessary. In practice that means fibre to the femto, if not necessarily to every farmhouse: to Smithfield as well as to Dolphinholme.