Case Study: Delivering a Public-Private Partnership using DSDM

I’m blogging the conference Agile Approaches for Delivering Business Value

National Packaging Waste Database – a DSDM Case Study

Steve Watkins, Head of IT Portfolio Office, Environment Agency and Jeremy Renwick, Kubernetes Ltd


  • Delivering the National Packaging Waste Database (NPWD) on time and to budget
  • Facilitating a very diverse stakeholder community drawn from industry and the 4 regulators
  • Managing the culture shock of imposing agile on a waterfall community
  • Managing an agile project with a geographically distributed team
  • Learning the lessons


Agile process was deliberately imposed on a traditional waterfall environment.

Packaging Waste regulation revolves around market in Packaging Recovery Notes – buying and selling of “evidence”.

At least 12 major stakeholder groups, including 4 agencies!

Project started in 2003 to replace paper-based system. Tight deadlines, so DSDM chosen as approach.

A single system for both the regulators and the regulated industries – first time in UK Government!

Success – users, industry and regulator like the system, time deadlines hit, budget met.

Challenges – Variation in stakeholder views, resentment, relocation, geographically distributed, very few people dedicated to the project.

Tight regulatory deadline, combined with a “proof point” meant that early stages were accelerated – lots of issues not sorted and which came back to bite later…

The view from the Environment Agency IT organisation – government – used to very structured process with rigid processes. Industry had said “here’s the money, get on with it”. Different technology. Tight deadline. Ouch!

As a regulator, the Environment Agency found it hard to cope with the idea of an outside body doing regulation, managing data protection, security etc.

Lots of confusion over roles – who was running this project? Two project boards – one inside Environment Agency, one across Environment Agency and the industry. Half were running with DSDM, half were in BRUF-land.

Resolved to one steering group, one PM, focus on who has skin in the game.

No end to the polititics – more discord over the future of the system and the implementation of regulation – the system forced clarity on a process with some discretionary ambiguity…

Another row before go-live – Environment Agency testers wanted to defer go-live for a collection of non-critical issues… Sometimes you have to just make a commitment! (note that code quality was good)

Culture/philosophy clash between DSDM and Government Waterfall…

Had uneasy hybrid of two approaches – effectively two sets of testing. Key learning point – sort out approach to testing early – without compromise. Go with Agile or waterfall – don’t try to do both.

Further row over support, hosting etc. In the end needed forced collaboration – lock the three sets of lawyers in a room until they agree!

Fundamental problem was conflicting attitudes to risk. Public-sector risk-averseness conflicted badly with MoSCoW.

If you want to procure agile services or projects you need to think carefully about procurement appraoch – most public-sector procurement approaches assume fixed requirements up front! Need to apply timebox and iterative disciplines to the procurement phase too…

Key learning for Environment Agency:

  • One size (of process) doesn’t fit all
  • Let go of some risks
  • Learn to give up control and trust
  • Effective and efficient are different things.
  • Keep your eyes on the end goal

Key learning from project manager:

  • Keep focused on deadlines and business requirements
  • Just in time resolution of politics
  • Communication – regular, frequent, face-to-face if possible, everyone to everyone. False economy to talk on the phone.
  • Prototypes as early as possible
  • Effective team-building

Update: Link to presentation on Jeremy Renwick’s site.

Proactive application of technology to business

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