What is Agile Governance?

Personally I think good governance is essential for successful delivery, either within a programme or project, or part of on-going product development.

The recent publication of Governance for Agile delivery: Examples from the private sector July 2012 by the British National Audit Office suggests the UK government is also very interested in Agile and how it can be used to deliver value. But within the constraints of good governance.

However the term “governance” is rarely used along side “Agile”. As a agile programme manager I thought I’d try to answer the question “What is Agile Governance?”

MSP Governance

The book Managing Successful Programmes 2011 has a lot of material on governance. In fact half of the 301 pages are devoted to governance of a programme.

MSP defines governance as:

The functions, responsibilities, processes and procedures that define how a programme is set up, managed and controlled (p. 285)

Unfortunately, as a definition, I find that one sort of true but useless. It describes what governance activities occur without any indication of why they occur.

Creating value

In terms of why governance is important I like Ole Jonny Klakegg‘s observation that that governance is the "alignment of projects with the organization’s goals. Above all, governance is about creating value".

OJK’s definition appeals to me because Lean-Agile is very interested in creating value. But this definition is missing the “what” of governance.

Definition for Agile governance

I think a combination of the OJK and the MSP definitions, with a touch of Lean-Agile, gives a good, robust definition of Agile governance. My combined definition would be:

Governance is the alignment of an initiative (project, programme or product development) with organisational goals to create value. Governance defines how the initiative is set up, managed and controlled.

Agile governance is the application of Lean-Agile values, principles and practices to the task of governance.

Aspects of that my Agile Governance definition should resonate with other Agilistas. After all creating value is the focus of the Lean-Agile values, principles and practices.

The slightly more controversial bit of my Agile Governance definition, at least in the Agile world, is the bit about defining how an initiative is set up, managed and controlled. Many agilists object to any suggestion of management or control, for example the general refrain of "We don’t need no stinking managers " (Esther Derby) and the specific comment that "Project Management is a mindset that needs to be torn down" (Tobias Mayer).

Personally I see it differently. I believe a lot of governance is baked into the Lean-Agile methods – I wrote about this in my post for the PRI A Lean-Agile Perspective on Project Governance. The books about the methods, and utterings of the gurus, specify much about set up, management, and control. The disinclination of Agile folk to use those terms doesn’t mean the these things are absent. Having said that, you do have a apply some judgement and filtering when reading the Agile material to find governance.

I’m interested to know what you think about my definition of Agile governance. Please drop me a line or leave a comment.

In subsequent posts I’ll explore the functions, responsibilities, processes and procedures that make up good Agile governance.


Best Management Practice. (2011). Managing Successful Programmes (MSP) [4th Ed.]. London: TSO.

Derby, E. (2011, August). Rethinking Managers Relationship with Agile Teams. Author.

Klakegg, O. J. (2011). Clarity in the governance of projects: is it possible?. PRMI.

Mayer, T. (2011, 25 April). Tobias Mayer. Agile Anarchy.

National Audit Office. (2012, July) Governance for Agile delivery: Examples from the private sector July 2012. Author.

Thomas, S. (2012, 3 February). A Lean-Agile Perspective on Project Governance. Project Research Institute.