What is Agile Governance?

ATTENTION: If you use any content of this website, please cite:

Luna, A. J. H. de O., Kruchten, P., Pedrosa, M. L. G. E., Almeida Neto, H. R. de, & Moura, H. P. de. (2014). State of the Art of Agile Governance: A Systematic Review. International Journal of Computer Science & Information Technology (IJCSIT), 6(5), 121–141. doi:10.5121/ijcsit.2014.6510. Available at: http://arxiv.org/abs/1411.1922


Luna, A.J.H. de O., Kruchten, P., Riccio, E.L., Moura, H.P. de, 2016. Foundations for an Agile Governance Manifesto: a bridge for business agility, in: Nagawa, V.T. (Ed.), 13th International Conference on Management of Technology and Information Systems. FEA-USP, São Paulo, SP, Brasil. doi:10.5748/9788599693124-13CONTECSI/PS-4228

If you prefer you can download the citation in BIBTeX format here.

Before proceeding, it is important to differentiate the well-known (1) specific agile approach widely held on organizations, such as agile software development or agile manufacturing; from the (2) agile governance approach proposed by this work. While the former has its influence limited to a localized result, usually few stages of the chain value [3] of the organization. Our proposal introduces the application of agility upon the system responsible for sense, respond and coordinate the entire organizational body: the governance (or steering) system. Figure 1 depicts the difference between those approaches, in order to facilitate understanding: on part (A) we use an analogy that illustrates the anatomy of an organization as a human body; meanwhile part (B) relates those approaches to the chain value concept proposed by Porter [3].
Figure 1. Organization’s anatomy: an analogy. Source: Part (A), own elaboration; Part (B), adapted from [3].

Figure 1. Organization’s anatomy: an analogy. Source: Part (A), own elaboration; Part (B), adapted from [3].

We are also compelled to clarify the meaning of agility adopted by this work. In fact, we are adopting the agility definition proposed by Kruchten (2011) as: the ability of an organization to react to changes in its environment faster than the rate of these changes.  This definition uses the ultimate purpose or function of being agile for a business, unifying and standardizing agile and lean approaches as simply "agile", rather than defining agility by a labeled set of practices or by a set of properties defined in opposition to the Agile Manifesto approach. Due of this simplified and objective approach, this will be the definition of agile adopted for this work.

To tell the truth, we recognize that while agility is focused on reacting rapidly to changes, lean is focused on combat the wastages. Although those approaches sometimes may seem confrontational if analyzed in its essence, we believe that the rational balance between those approaches can result in a unified "agile" approach that can achieve a better result than if they were applied separately, in consonance with Wang, Conboy and Cawley (2012).

Truth be told, when we look at the application of agility on governance it may seem like antagonist ideas (an oxymoron[1]) or counter-intuitive, because governance denotes the idea of mechanisms, control, accountability, and authority, while agility conveys the idea of informality, simplicity, experimentation, and for some observers (maybe) “almost anarchy”. Nevertheless, if the goal of the enterprise is to achieve business agility, it cannot be reached without the commitment from all sectors of the organization, which in turn cannot be achieved without governance.

Based on those previous works, considering the ultimate Luna et al. (2014) definition for “agile governance” and the Kruchten (2011) definition for “agility”, in order to depict this phenomena in a more comprehensive, inclusive, and businesslike terms, Luna, Kruchten, Riccio and Moura (2016) are also proposing as emerging contribution of this paper, a new “lean definition” for agile governance as:

“the capability[2] of an organization to sense, adapt and respond to changes in its environment, in a coordinately and sustainable way, faster than the rate of these changes.”

When we mentioned the term “human societies, we try to encompass any kind of organizations, such as companies in any industry, non-profit institutions, as well as governments in any level or conjunction (cities, provinces, countries, or even governments associations, e.g. The United Nations). 

In turn, “core business” is the raison d'être of any organization, the cause of its existence. When the organization identifies its customers and recognizes which kind of benefit or value (by means of products and services) they are delivering to customers in order to achieve its institutional mission, they are addressing their core business. As a matter of fact, this concept can be applied for any kind of organization, for instance: in case of a company may be the target activity to achieve profit, for a NGO[4] might be a variety of service and humanitarian functions, concerning to governments should be initiatives to accomplish the welfare of its citizens.

Gradually, business agility has become an expression that is not restricted to the universe of for-profit organizations. In consonance with the proposed definition, we distil a new definition to business agility as:

“the ability to deliver value faster, better, and cheaper to the core business”.

This new agile governance definition is being presented in order to be comprehensive enough to cover all areas identified by this research, at the same time that it is still specific enough to be useful and applicable in each of these contexts, avoiding being another definition disconnected from the multidisciplinary nature of this wide field of study.

In spite of many of scholars can criticize the absent of the "process" concept on the aforementioned definition, we would anticipate in saying that agile governance is related much more to behavior and practice than anything else. Even because processes and procedures are already well established in governance context, and they “need to be followed", many of them needing to be audited or regulated by laws, or else certified as international standards.

At this point, we would like to clarify that agile governance does not come replace the conventional models, frameworks, and methods, such as ITIL, COBIT, among others. Our proposal is just come shed a fresh look about governance, bringing enablers elements from agile philosophy to extend it for a more resilient and flexible paradigm.

[1] “A figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction.” [37]

[2] Capability is the ability to develop competencies, as a collaborative process that can be deployed and through which individual components can be applied and exploited in benefit of the team, in keeping with Vincent (2008).

[3] “An informal term that includes all forms of value that determine the health and well-being of the firm in the long run.” [41]

[4] A non-governmental organization (NGO) is any non-profit, voluntary citizens' group which is organized on a local, national or international level.” [40]