On the Cusp of Agile Governance



By Greg Saunders[1], PMP, PMI-ACP, ITIL, CSM [2]

Texas, USA

Agile is here and has been here since the end of the dot-com bust in 2001. It is touted as a competitive advantage and culture changing.  All organizations are on the Agile-implementation spectrum—somewhere between “heard of it” and being an Agile enterprise.  It could be a “buzz” word people use for political gain or it could be the core way your people work together. The common question for all organizations: “is this right for us?”

If you say, “yes,” then how are you going to implement it?  Getting lots of people certified in Scrum or Lean is a common starting point.  After that, some projects will succeed while using Agile and momentum could grow.  If successful, then all business owners will demand that their projects be Agile.  At this point your organization has a twofold problem: 1) shortfall in people who can run and spread Agile-based delivery and 2) no means to govern Agile projects, which can follow many different, non-traditional delivery paths.  The shortfall in Agile people is usually solved through either hiring or deciding only limited projects “get to use” an Agile approach.  The governance is a bigger challenge—dealing with your organization’s culture.

My company, an $8B retailer, first considered Agile in 2010, didn’t act on it or train people until 2016, and had its first “Agile” success in 2017.  That first “Agile” project followed about three of the twelve Agile principles and called every major work effort a “sprint.”  This is what launched Agile at my company and drove multiple other projects to be approved for “Agile.”  Most have succeeded and momentum is growing, but problem 2) lack of governance, became prominent as project sponsors wanted speed, company focus, and funding, with little oversight.

The Army and Air Force Exchange Service (The Exchange) is a Department of Defense (DoD) retailer founded in 1895.  Being in the DoD, the Exchange is subject to many Federal laws and regulations and has a bent toward military command and control.  Accordingly, some want a regulation or commander or expert to tell us how to govern Agile projects.  That is partly a desire for a quick fix to the many symptoms of a lack of governance.  One symptom, as a VP put it, was “I feel like you’re asking for a blank check every time someone asks for approval of an Agile project.”

There is no universal approach to Agile governance but there is an approach that can work for your organization, and it is likely different from but similar to others’ approaches and based on Disciplined Agile.  At its core, it needs be based on your organization’s cultural and environment.  It needs to be based on a non-prescriptive toolkit that offers the right approach for your situation today and the ability to adapt at your organization’s pace of change.  The following approach may work for you or be a starting point for you.


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Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English.  Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright.  This paper was originally presented at the 14th UT Dallas PM Symposium in May 2022.  It is republished here with the permission of the author and conference organizers.

How to cite this paper: Saunders, G. (2022). On the Cusp of Agile Governance; presented at the 14th University of Texas at Dallas Project Management Symposium in Richardson, TX, USA in May 2022; republished in the PM World Journal, Vol. XI, Issue XI, November. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/pmwj123-Nov2022-Saunders-on-the-cusp-of-agile-governance-4.pdf

About the Author

Greg Saunders

Texas, USA


Greg Saunders is a Certified Agile Practitioner and PMP serving at the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, the Exchange, which is an $8B international retailer for America’s Soldiers and Airmen. He’s currently the manager of the Exchange’s PMO with a team of 22 leading a $511M portfolio of 90 programs, projects, and initiatives.

Previously at the Exchange he

  • served as the lead PM for the Exchange’s largest program—replacing the accounting systems;
  • worked with PM, governance, and system analyst leads to architect the transformation of the Exchange’s program management approach;
  • served as the portfolio manager of 51 primary HR, payroll, & data warehouse systems; and
  • served as the PMO head for a 16-person team managing a $150 portfolio of 60 projects.

As manager he ran a $2.5M/year business in a top-tier consultant firm. As reserve USAF colonel he re-established the Denver-based Air Reserve Personnel Center’s (ARPC) PMO; led the upgrade to ARPC’s portion of the Air Force Personnel Center’s call center that supports over 6 million reservists, retirees, and their surviving spouses; and at the Pentagon served as both the USAF Reserves Comptroller and the Reservist to the AF CIO Director for Cyberspace Capabilities and Compliance. Over his 30-year career he has also become a Certified Scrum Master, been certified in ITIL Foundation, and been certified by the Air Force as a Lean, Six Sigma Black Belt. He can be contacted at https://www.linkedin.com/in/greg767/ or saundersgr@aafes.com

[1] The views presented in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Defense or its Components.

[2] Note: The author has posted a video so viewers can earn Way of Working and Power Skills PDUs with links to PMWJ and UT Dallas on YouTube at 6:30a CT on Monday, Nov 7th. View at https://youtube/XUMFEAALhB8.