What is Agile Governance?

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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

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Before proceeding, it is important 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 illustrate the anatomy of an organization as an human body; meanwhile the 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 [S92][1] 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 [4]. 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 react 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 [S165].

Truth be told, when we look at the application of agility on governance it may seem like antagonist ideas (an oxymoron[2]) 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 enterprise is to achieve business agility, it cannot be reached without commitment from all sectors of the organization, which in turn cannot be achieved without governance.

The emerging evidence of the systematic review lead us to believe that agile governance can be broad and holistically defined, as:

“is the ability[3] of human societies to sense, adapt and respond rapidly and sustainably to changes in its environment, by means of the coordinated combination of agile and lean capabilities with governance capabilities, in order to deliver value[4] faster, better, and cheaper to their core business.”

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[5] 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 distill 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 [33], or regulated by laws [26], or else certified as international standards [S90].

At this point we would like to clarify that agile governance do not come replace the conventional models, frameworks and methods, such as ITIL [2], COBIT [1], 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] The citations highlighted as [S*] are studies included in this review, and their complete references are available at APPENDIX A. The citations in numeric format can be accessed at the REFERENCES section of the original paper mentioned at the HEADER of this page.

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

[3] “A natural or acquired skill or talent.”[39].

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

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

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