Agile expert rejects NAO report: Methodology not to blame for failed DWP project

A leading figure in the agile development movement has rejected National Audit Office claims that its methodology was to blame for the failings of a Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) project.

The recent post-mortem by the NAO found that the DWP had overspent on an IT initiative designed to implement a Universal Credit system to automate benefit payments and tax credits.

"The Department took risks to try to meet the short timescale and used a new project management approach [agile] which it had never before used on a programme of this size and complexity," the NAO reported.

Speaking exclusively to ITProPortal at the recent Agile on the Beach conference, Toby Parkins - co-founder and director of software development specialist Headforwards - rejected claims that the methodology was to blame, arguing that the project had been off-course well before turning to agile processes.

"The question is: why did they switch to agile? Because the previous approach was not working. There was a smell that something was not being done right [and] that they were not going to end that project successfully. If they had not switched to agile, it would have been a complete failure. They brought in agile to try and mitigate and it didn't save the day, but was it actually ever possible to, considering the internal expertise and knowledge and experience within the department? They weren't completely agile with it. Reading between the lines, they partially introduced agile but haven't solved some of the root cause problems - [a] huge organisation that doesn't know what it wants in detail," he commented.

Parkins added: "They started off with a waterfall project [and] when they realised they were behind and things were going wrong, that's when they switched to agile."

Estimated spending on the DWP's Universal Credit project skyrocketed from £396 million in May 2011 to £637 million at present, though Iain Duncan-Smith - the Cabinet Minister responsible for the DWP - contends that the project is now on track and will be delivered within budget by 2017.