Mainstream Agile

Agile in International Development

Achieving International Development in Africa through Agile Methodologies – Part 1 of 2


Africa faces several developmental issues that need to be addressed, with poverty at its core. Areas in Africa have some of the world’s highest concentrations of poor people.  According to the Rural Poverty Portal website, “In Sub-Saharan Africa, more than 280 million people live in extreme poverty.” This area accounts for 11% of the world’s population, yet it produces a mere 1% of the world’s GDP. There is no justification for so many Africans to be living in such dire poverty in this day and age.

Developmental organizations and NGOs are often blamed for Africa’s problems. Slavery, colonization and post-independence regime changes have been cited as common culprits. However, I challenge this position. I concur with Don Marquis’ view:

“The chief obstacle to the progress of the human race, is the human race.”

Likewise, I have come to the conclusion that the key obstacle to Africa’s development is the African people. That statement may seem harsh and anti-African, but it is grounded in the deep love that I have for my continent and my desire for Africa to realize its true potential. Africa has been blessed with too many talented people and an abundance of natural resources to still remain among the poorest in the world. We need to fix the problems; and not merely rely on the developmental organizations and NGOs.

I propose that we can more successfully address Africa’s developmental problems through the use of Agile methodologies.Agile methodology is a project management approach, typically used with software development projects that can effectively lend itself to international development endeavours. The important question before us now is, how can we (Africa and the West) effectively partner to build a brighter and more positive future together?


Towards More Productive Economic Development

Africa’s developmental issues are far more complex than merely generating ample foreign

financial and practical assistance. Effective economic development strategies and

shared responsibility are critical as well.

NGOs have certainly being doing their part in providing funds to support Africa. However, their interventions have been highly unsuccessful in taking Africa out of the dire poverty still plaguing many of its countries.

William E. and Virginia Clemens, in their lecture series, suggested that to solve the failures of NGOs to help Africa, NGOs should “pay attention to incentives, and reject old theories when they fail.” I couldn’t agree more. When the economic theories that have been applied in the past continue to fail, we should reject them and change our strategy. The strategy I believe we need to adopt is applying “Agile” methodologies. If Africa is to move forward, we need not wait on the NGOs to use this methodology; as a continent, Africa must also share in the responsibility in alleviating poverty. We Africans must stop being BÉNI OUI-OUI (a French colonial term meaning YES-MEN).   Saying YES when it is due and NO when appropriate is a behavior that escapes most African aid recipients for it is believed that becoming saying yes to everything the donors propose will earn them  further admiration and hence more “aid or gift”.Nothing could be further from the truth!

An Argument for New Approach-Agile Methodology

Shared accountability and decision-making is at the essence of Agile methodologies.So The Blair Report echoes my sentiment thatnew methodologies be applied to Africa’s developmental problems. According to the Blair Report2005, Executive Summary,page. 4):

“The IMF and the World Bank need to give higher priority to Africa’s development. They also need to become more accountable both to their shareholders and to their clients, and to give Africa a stronger voice in their decision-making.”

Despite the best of intentions, international development professionals, NGOs and other entities often end up wasting precious time and money, yet not achieving the desired results. This is largely due to their failure to adequately understand what the African people (their customer) want or need.Africa does not have a strong enough voice in the decision-making process. In other words, the job which the international developers and the NGOs have set out to do has not been “done”.


The Concept of “Done” and Acceptance Criteria Explained

In software development, “done” is defined as such.

“The team agrees on and displays prominently somewhere in the team room, a list of criteria which must be met before a product increment, ‘often a user-story’ is considered ‘done.’

In other words, even though timelines may be complete, it does not necessarily mean that the job is “done”. If the acceptance criteria have not been met, the job is not finished. The objectives have not been met, so changes still need to be made.

Acceptance criteria are based on what the end-users want from that particular software product. The end-users are the only ones who are fully able to determine whether the acceptance criteria have been met or not. In a similar manner, the job completed by NGOs and other developmental bodies is not “done” until the acceptance criteriaare met.

Consider this Hypothetical example:

If an international development agency such as the World Health Organization originally sets out on a mission to eradicate malaria within 3 years in a Sub-Saharan village called Kpegolo. They would not be “done” when the 3 years have expired, unless the OKRs (Objectives Key Results), pre-established in collaboration with the beneficiaries, havebeen met. These OKRs may include:

  • Eradication of all mosquito breeding grounds
  • The systematic use of mosquito nets by all
  • No new malaria infections diagnosed during the last 3 months

International development agencies no doubt have project evaluation checklists which they review at the end of every project period. But are they addressing these key questions: Did the project objectives meet the “customers’” needs? Was the project accepted by the end-users?

Until international developers establish and meet appropriate acceptance criteria, it will be very difficult to consider their job as “done”. In Part II, I will discuss the concept of “Acceptance Criteria” and how this can help address Africa’s developmental issues.

K.S. Klu