Best Practices in Agile Governance

Exceptional software project governance and accountability are vital to the success of any project, whether in large or small organizations. For Agile projects, governance is now more important than ever as the number of organizations using the Agile methodology is rising fast. Indeed the 9th Global Project Management Survey found that about 71 percent of organizations now use Agile methodologies for their projects.

So why is Agile Governance critical and what are some of the best practices that you need to implement immediately in your agile governance? Let’s find out. 

What Is Agile Governance?

Agile governance is a term used to describe the various management processes and frameworks that agile teams should use to ensure that their project remains on track and aligned with business goals. It generally includes a set of practices and principles that help agile teams to self-organize, manage risk, and make decisions in a fast-paced environment. While agile governance is not a one-size-fits-all solution, it can be customized to fit the needs of any organization. The goal of agile governance is to help organizations improve transparency, communication, and collaboration between agile teams and other stakeholders. It involves understanding the organization's risk appetite and tolerance and giving assurance whether the risk mitigation strategies are working or not. 

As the agile methodology seeks to develop system controls, understand why they exist, and assess whether they support or hinder work. A good agile governance system determines how to design, execute, and control strategies continuously and adaptively.

Agile governance aims to align all agile projects with the organization's goals. An agile project manager will use a governance model that supports the entire organization's architecture. This is a very adaptive and flexible approach to project management. After all, why would you continue to use traditional governance to manage agile projects? It only makes sense that if your projects are running on agile, then agile governance is the way to go.   

Agile Governance best practices

There are a number of reasons why it is important to adhere to best practices in agile governance. First, doing so ensures that the project remains on track and is able to meet its goals and objectives. Second, it allows for greater transparency and accountability among project stakeholders. Third, it helps to ensure that the project team is able to work effectively and efficiently. Finally, it helps to create a more positive work environment and culture. It’s the best approach for organizations that are keen to significantly improve their chances of success.

Sometimes best practices are separated from principles, but both actually tend to address more or less the same aspects.  Here are the most valuable best practices for agile governance. 

1. Alignment to business goals

The most important practice in agile governance is alignment to the organization’s business goals. This requires that the project aligns with the organization’s strategic objectives. Every single agile project has a vision and an action plan, and agile teams must contribute to the vision and plan to incorporate strategic business requirements. The team should also create a document that notes and considers the strategic objectives and alignment with the project.    

All projects require quantifiable objectives that can be measured against empirical performance metrics at the end of the project. The results should also be noted as part of the project documentation, including how the agile project contributes to meeting the objectives.

2. Establish the business value

The project vision and action plan documentation should address how the agile project increases business value. Defining the business value may require the team to include additional steps that regularly report on value addition after every release. The agile project manager must constantly assess which project adds the most value within a given period. 

All the stakeholders must be actively engaged and guide the delivery teams in developing tools to evaluate potential projects. Since the strategic stakeholders will ultimately judge the business value, they should be involved in creating and defining project outputs

3. Performance metrics

The delivery team decides on the performance metrics and the governance standards they will use to monitor progress. These metrics and standards must be clearly defined, and each team member must understand them. Furthermore, they should be easy to access for reference.   

4. Regular and real-time project monitoring 

This can easily be done through daily meetings or stand-ups. The agile project manager should have access to minutes from the daily meetings, which note the progress and any obstacles encountered. 

The project manager can also access the burn-down chart and several project management tools that provide real-time monitoring of the entire project. These tools allow agile projects to provide transparency and ensure that the delivery team is adhering to all the principles.

5. Follow the agile manifesto

Perhaps this is quite obvious? If you are going to use agile in the governance of projects, then you cannot ignore the agile manifesto-you’ve got to follow it.  As you know the agile manifesto is the set of guidelines that outline the best way to manage an agile project. The guidelines are based on the principle of continuous improvement, and they emphasize the importance of working closely with stakeholders and customers to ensure that the project meets their needs. The manifesto also emphasizes the importance of responsiveness, flexibility, and adaptability in the face of change. 

While the manifesto was originally written for software development, it can also be applied to project governance. Delivery teams must meet regularly for the agile approach to be successful. These meetings are short but comprehensive, and each team member explicitly states their task’s progress. The delivery team decides what needs to be done at the end of each meeting.

The first agenda of the next meeting is to determine whether the strategic objectives set in the previous meeting have been met. Every team member’s performance is measured against empirical performance metrics. The team can identify obstacles and errors and deal with them promptly.    

6. Use professional project management tools

The agile governance guide should clearly support the use of professional project management tools to encourage collaborations and streamline workflows. These tools assist with various tasks, such as project planning, meeting management, proper documentation, tracking and monitoring progress, delegating work, and creating workflows. Once these tasks are appropriately coordinated, the delivery teams can complete a project successfully without delays. 

There are numerous project management tools, and you should thoroughly research and evaluate them to determine the right one for your project. Assessing your needs will greatly help you choose a project management tool that is most suitable.  

7. Carefully manage project risks

Like any other methodology, project risk management is vital in agile governance. However, agile project management involves some additional aspects.

The iterative nature of agile development breaks down large projects into smaller tasks that are repeated and refined in cycles. Though this practice allows the development process to be flexible and agile teams identify new features they can add to improve the final product, there is the risk that the delivery teams might not understand some outputs. 

These risks require strategic management that includes sufficient training to avoid failures.

8. Compliance

Agile governance must instill full compliance with all regulatory requirements. All the project teams should understand these requirements. It’s also important that the team incorporates data and security management standards into the vision and action plan documentation, as well as  project output. Take advantage of the regular project monitoring to ensure that the project complies with all regulations at every stage.

9. Focus on practices

Though documentation is vital for the success of agile governance, the agile team should focus more on the practices and less on documentation and organizational bureaucracies. The organizational oversight should essentially focus on the agile team’s behavior. 

10. Reporting and sharing

The agile teams should report consistently to the organization about the outcomes of each iteration. Likewise, the product owner (or project manager) ought to share updates and challenges with the stakeholders. The product owner must also ensure that the burndown chart is always available and accessible to the organization. This is particularly important for organizations that outsource projects to custom software development companies. You want to get constant reports as the iterations are completed. This is the best way to arrest issues early and avoid surprises. 

Also read: Best practices for agile implementation

Challenges in Agile Governance

Look out for these challenges when adopting agile governance:

  • Lack of understanding among top leaders: Some top leaders in the organization may not understand agile well. This can impact the governance. Not everyone actually understands, and some key leaders may get it wrong on governance. Don't blame them, be patient.
  • Documentation: Organizational requirements on documentation can often constrain agile projects. While agile is all about being flexible and responding to change, many organizations often require certain levels of documentation. This can be a challenge for agile teams, since they're used to working in a more fluid environment. In some cases, the documentation requirements can actually constrain the agile process, making it more difficult for the team to respond to changes. One way to deal with this challenge is to try and find a way to get the organization to relax their documentation requirements. Another is to work with the agile team to create a more flexible documentation process that still meets the organization's needs.
  • Output expectations: Let's face it, some organizations can be extremely demanding when it comes to information about the expected outputs. They want to know what you're delivering, how you're delivering it, and when you're going to deliver it. But in an agile environment, this kind of oversight can be difficult, if not impossible. The whole point of agile is to allow for flexibility and adaptation, which means that the final product might not always look the way it was originally envisioned. This shift in thinking can be difficult for some organizations to accept, especially those that are used to a more traditional way of doing things.
  • Culture: It's not easy to get all people in the organization to switch to a new way of governing projects, especially when they're used to doing things a certain way. There can also be resistance to change when implementing Agile Governance, as it can be seen as a threat to existing power structures and ways of working.
  • Roles: Defining the role of the agile governance committee is often a big challenge. This can result in a lack of clarity about who is responsible for what, and make it difficult to hold people accountable. The committee needs to be empowered to make decisions that will enable the delivery team to be successful, but it also needs to be clear what the committee's role is and what decision-making authority it has.

Further reading: Agile compared to traditional project management


Agile governance is much more simpler compared to traditional project governance approaches. There is no doubt that you stand a better chance of achieving greater transparency with agile governance. In contrast, traditional governance models are often bureaucratic and inflexible, making them poorly suited to today's rapidly changing business environment.

The best agile governance model is realized when the organization structures are trusted to make decisions. Remember that it is the organizational leadership, especially the higher ups, that ultimately make the major decisions that drive these projects. So give them the best collaboration, interpret their assumptions and help them to gradually embrace the best practices and principles of agile governance.

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