Success with agile in a federal environment



Lean and agile concepts, methods, and practices are not new concepts. IT organizations practice many forms of development standards and agile is one of them, whereas non-IT organizations have practiced Lean. Organizations that seek continuous improvement have learned to use these methods; however, these concepts were often considered separately. Most recently, there has been a huge buzz regarding Lean and agile, in which one is not mentioned without the other. The agile and Lean journey require structure, champions, processes, and change management approaches to ensure the implementation success of the Lean and agile approaches as well as their sustainability.

There is a need to cover the adoption of Lean and agile and what it entails, to allow those interested organizations in adopting Lean and agile and to learn from the case study what is required to achieve Leagility, and the challenges and rewards. This contributes to the practicality of the project management field in general, and sheds light on the Lean and agile practices in particular.

This paper presents a case study of an organization in the financial industry in Canada that achieved Leagility through their Lean and agile adoption. While agile was helping their IT organization, the business side of the organization required Lean methods to achieve the desired transformation to its delivery model, which consisted of aligning the organization's product, software development, and project management into a unified model that achieves Leagility through the benefits of both Lean and agile.

KEYWORDS: project management; Lean, agile; Leagility


About the Case Organization

Interac Association (the “Association” or “Organization”) is a recognized leader in debit card services. The Association is responsible for the development and operations of the Inter-Member Network (IMN), a national payment network that allows Canadians to access their money through Automated Banking Machines and Point-of-Sale terminals across Canada. Formed in 1984, the Association is now composed of a diverse group of members, including banks, trust companies, credit unions, caisses populaires, merchants, and technology and payment-related companies. The Association is a not-for-profit organization, governed by a 14-member Board of Directors, appointed annually based on the business sector and the volume of transactions processed. More information about Interac Association may be accessed at . Today, Canadians from coast to coast associate the INTERAC® brand with leading electronic payment services that are trusted, secure, and reliable.

The Organization Challenge

The organization faces external and internal challenges. External challenges: The first external challenge is that the payments landscape is evolving at a fast pace as Canadian consumers increasingly adopt newer mechanisms to pay for products and services. The second external challenge is the speed to market as any company that is challenged to Speed to market: the need to improve speed-to-market for new products/services. Last, the need to increase offering and integrate with external partner increasing project complexity

The internal challenges: First, the organization is challenged to deliver faster, better, and produce quality results. Second, the emphasis on process alignment efficiencies becomes prudent, as Interac seeks continuous improvement and reduced waste, and finally to ensure alignment across the three life cycle models that Interac employs in the various elements of business and operations.


Lean and Agile

What is Lean and Agile?

Lean is an approach that identifies the value inherent in specific products, identifies the value stream for each product, supports the flow of value, lets the customer pull value from the producer, and pursues perfection. “Lean is doing more with less. Use the least amount of effort, energy, equipment, time, facility space, materials, and capital – while giving customers exactly what they want.” (Womack & Jones 2008)

Agility is the ability to both create and respond to change in order to profit in a turbulent business environment. Agility is the ability to balance flexibility and stability. (Highsmith, 2002)

Why Lean and Agile?

Lean thinking focuses primarily on customer satisfaction through quality and speed and, secondly, on improving processes through minimizing defects. Transforming to a leaner organization involves moving the organization through major stages of change. However, becoming lean is not a final destination, but rather a way of approaching and delivering services that becomes integrated into the organization's culture—fostering a high trust culture through transparency, reducing the need to rely on bureaucracy to make decisions. Lean thinking focuses primarily on customer satisfaction through quality and speed and, secondly, on improving processes through minimizing defects. Lean focuses on value stream mapping through VOC (voice of the customer) and process flow (Forrester, 2011).

Agile describes a set of principles and practices for delivering software. Agile business objectives are: Continuous Innovation, Product Adaptability, Improved Time-to-Market, People and Process Adaptability, and Process Adaptability. Every effort should be taken to automate all standardized and repetitive processes and tasks. Agile focuses on innovation, product adaptability, improved time to market, and support business growth and profitability.

The Role of the PMO as a Champion

Reflecting on the role of the project management office (PMO) within Interac, the PMO sits at the enterprise level, helping the organization C-level plan and optimizing their business portfolio connecting with the organization's strategy and annual corporate objectives and, at the same time, overseeing the execution of projects through streamlined processes and standard methodology. The PMO is not involved in either product development or IT build, which made the Interac enterprise project management office (EPMO) the perfect candidate to being a champion, since the function had vested interest in helping the organization function to streamline, optimize, speed delivery through Lean processes and improved agile practices. Additionally, the Interac EPMO was one of the more mature entities in their practice and processes to enable them to lead a huge organization transformation and their approach, which allowed for flexibility in approaches to achieving the desired results.

The PMO leads the initiative as a project ensuring governance at the various levels and an effective C-level steering committee, which included the areas that drive content as in the product group and IT group, where ideas translate into IT builds. The importance of effective C-level steering committee played a huge role in removing road blocks and being in the center of decision making, which facilitated successful results.

The Approach

The approach consisted of a three-step process that took into consideration the people, process, and then the technology and it consisted of:

  • Building people then building products
  • Formal education on the value of Lean and agile and the benefit for their organization at all levels, starting from senior management down to the team members
  • Provide time and support for teams to attend Lean and agile tours and conferences
  • Building process tailored to the organization, which encompasses all cycles from product ideation to operationalization monitored through gates
  • Provide various tools to implement and measure people performance and process performance

Managing the Change

The approach started as early as the initiative started by identifying the vision, validating the vision, then taking action, which meant either pivoting and changing direction or pursuing and accelerating adoption. The approach covered three core areas:

  • Cultural and behavioral change
  • Leadership alignment and communication
  • Process adoption, which included ennoblements, capabilities, and tools to help adoption
  • Starting the adoption through champions and pilot initiatives before mass rollout
  • Continuous evaluations and reflection on pilot performance and adoption of teams

The Learning

The success of Interac's PMO in leading the implementation of Lean and agile resulted in the following:

  • Foster a high trust culture through transparency, reducing the need to rely on bureaucracy to make decisions
  • Focus on people education resulted in better buy-in and minimized the fear of change
  • Include organization layers in designing the process and leaving tools to the end.
  • Build enough slack to deliver fast, instead of maximizing utilization
  • Move forward with imperfect information instead of waiting for the perfect plan


This paper summarized the case study of Interac, an organization in the financial industry in Canada that achieved Leagility through their Lean and agile adoption. The success of this case study and the Leagility journey of Interac are due to the commitment of its leadership team, continuous coaching and support from their EPMO to ensure adoption, education and allowing people to go through the learning curve, and, finally, transparency through visualization tools that are parts of the Lean and agile practices.

Appelo, J., (2011). Management 3.0, leading agile developers developing agile leaders. USA: Addison-Wesley Signature Series (Cohn).

Derby, E., Larsen, D., & Schwaber, K. (2006). The pragmatic programmer series. USA: Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great.

Highsmith, J. (2002). USA: Agile Software Development Ecosystem.

Van Hoek, V. (2000). The thesis of leagility revisited. International Journal of Agile Management Systems, 2(3), 196-202.

Sliger, M., & Broderick, S. (2008). The software project manager's bridge to agility. USA: Addison-Wesley.

State of Agile, Retrieved from

Giudice, D.L., West, D., Gilpin, M, & Anderson, A. (2011). Transforming application delivery. Forrester Report

Womack, J.P., Daniel T., & Jones, D.T. (2008). Lean thinking: Banish waste and create wealth in your corporation, Second edition. USA: Free Press.

About the Author


Waffa Karkukly is currently the President and Managing Director for Waffa has extensive experience in project management, specializing in building PMOs and revitalizing and assessing the value proposition of existing PMOs. Waffa has helped organizations improve their IT and/or project management practices through building standards and proven solutions, which have improved the delivery process of an organization. Waffa is an active PMI member and has held the positions of Director of Communication for the PMOCoP and Regional communication coordinator for the PMOLIG. Waffa has a BSc in Information Systems from DePaul University and an MIT from Northwestern University, and is currently a PhD candidate at SKEMA School of Business in France. She is a Project Management Professional (PMP)® credential holder and is dedicated to improving the understanding and standards of project management practices, especially in the value proposition of building and sustaining successful PMOs. Waffa can be reached at [email protected].

PMI Global Congress 2013 EMEA



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