Agile Project Management and Human-Centered Design (HCD) 

Agile + Empathy: The Formula to Government Innovation 

Government projects must strike a balance of efficiency and impact to deliver meaningful services and solutions that meet public needs. At Jefferson, we recognize that a successful strategy for achieving this balance is to combine agile project management — an iterative approach emphasizing continuous releases and incorporation of customer feedback — with Human-Centered Design (HCD) principles — a creative approach to developing a service or solution that centers on the end user’s perspective and needs. This strategy not only streamlines and speeds up the delivery of services and solutions, but it also ensures that these services and solutions are designed with a focus on the end user, making sure their needs are met in every step along the way. Agencies that leverage agile project management and HCD can expect to improve adaptability and responsiveness to changing demands and realize outcomes directly aligned to the needs, and expectations of the citizens and individuals that they serve.  

Blending Agile and HCD 

In the digital age, government agencies must move quickly to adapt and respond to rapidly evolving changes while still delivering impactful services, which is where agile project management comes into play. Agile breaks large projects into smaller, manageable tasks, in which teams can focus on iteratively delivering specific features or services, allowing for regular feedback and adjustments during short sprints. This is particularly valuable in the context of reducing the risk of project delays and budget overruns in government projects.  

By adding HCD into the mix, agencies can understand their actual users’ needs to not only move projects forward faster but also ensure those projects really make a difference to the public. Just as its name suggests, HCD is a project approach that puts the people who will be using a service or solution at the center of its design to develop something tailored to their needs. When combined with agile project management, HCD is the driving force behind each iteration to align the service or solution with the user’s experience and feedback. As a result, the project team is continuously validating and refining their approach based on real user insights instead of proceeding based on the team’s assumptions. 

How to Embrace Agile-HCD Approach 

To integrate HCD into agile processes, it is key to involve the end-users early and often to create solutions that are useful, useable, and desirable. For instance, the team could conduct user research before the first sprint or incorporate user feedback directly into the sprints. HCD tools such as personas, empathy maps, and user journey maps help keep the user’s perspective at the center of every decision and iteration. Embracing this combined strategy also requires a culture shift towards continuous improvement and user engagement, which can be fostered with the support of expert partners. 

At first pass, it may seem as though these concepts fit well with major development efforts. However, at Jefferson, we have seen the significant impact of applying HCD in its agile projects through our support of “low code” solution development and business process automations for federal agencies.  We “begin with the end in mind”, as Stephen Covey would say, first forming integrated project teams and listening to our clients and their customers regarding their pain points or administratively burdensome tasks. We pair this with conducting research, shadowing the “as-is” process, and brainstorming ideas for solving these challenges as ultimately, these clients and customers will be the ones working the solution. We meet frequently to observe and ideate on the current processes and possible “to-be” solutions, to see things through their point of view, and we embrace the opportunity to learn together what works and what does not work. As a team, we then determine the solution, work together on how the solution will be developed, tested, deployed, and communicated, while identifying and documenting additional ideas and possible enhancements throughout. By utilizing this combined approach of agile management and HCD, we can quickly produce results that our clients and their customers benefit from and feel positive about and proud to support. 

Jefferson is committed to continue this work, to collaborate with government agencies to not only improve their operational efficiency but also to gain a better understanding of the citizens and individuals they impact.  

About the Author:

Michelle Straughn is a Senior Vice President and leads Jefferson’s Infrastructure and Natural Resources Portfolio.  Michelle has a Master’s of Public Management (MPM) in Finance and a Bachelor of Art degree in Government and Politics, both from the University of Maryland, College Park.  Michelle has over 25 years of management consulting, operations, and Information Technology experience supporting federal, state, and non-profit clients.  To contact the author or learn more about Jefferson’s solutions, please email

More Insights

Share This: