Business Transformation for the 2021 Census

Scaling agile for delivery of the ABS flagship program

The Situation

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) was in the initial stages of planning its Census 2021 program. Traditionally, the program was delivered in slow moving, waterfall stages heavily weighted towards up front planning an design. To adapt earlier to emerging issues, and plan in a more responsive way, Executive looked to ZXM to transform its program and decrease program risks.


Adaptive, iterative planning

Reduce time to adapt to change through smaller tactically aligned planning/delivery cycles.


Workforce effectiveness

Increase productivity, decrease re-work, and decrease costs.


Resilience to change

Build-in improved ability to adapt to change in an iterative and low-risk way.

Specifically, an agile operating model was seen as a key enabler regarding its change in focus for Census 2021, including:

  • Adopting a customer-centric approach and aligning to the Digital Transformation Agency’s (DTA) Digital Service Standards (DSS).
  • Improving the way the whole program operates – from strategic and inviting innovative thinking through to its tactics and operations.
  • Identifying opportunities for creating horizontal integration between teams and improving collaboration across major streams of work to understand the value streams across the program.
  • Providing quicker feedback loops to support economic decision making on value and investment of people’s time.

The Solution

ZXM’s approach was to consider the risks in agile adoption with the Census Executive for the 2021 Census. The cultural change and management support were identified as key risks, and so ZXM worked with the executive and the Directors to practice Scrum to understand and experience agile for themselves so that they would be in the best position to support and promote agile adoption in their own teams.

We helped them visualise their backlog of work and prioritise based on value. ZXM developed an implementation roadmap and assessed baseline agile capability and maturity. ZXM coaches then helped form and roll out agile teams across the Census program.

Over a period of 12 months working with the 2021 Census program for a year into its 5-year program., ZXM helped them to implement:

  • Coached the program on effective mechanisms for visual management across the 12 workstreams.
  • Improved dependency management.
  • Program-wide, value-based prioritisation for iterative delivery.
  • A transition from capability silos to networks of teams to improve communication, collaboration and transparency.
  • Delivered training across the country in other program areas in the ABS, such as Geospatial Data, to work in agile ways to enhance their interaction with the 2021 Census program.

The Results

ZXM’s experience in agile at scale across government enabled the 2021 Census program to quickly establish mechanisms to prioritise and visualise work and to create feedback loops between the strategic, the tactical and delivery layers of the program.

The patterns and practices introduced to the 2021 Census with respect to prioritisation of work and establishing a cadence of planning and review across all layers of the forward work program helped them identify where they could potentially iteratively and incrementally developed work products for the program earlier than previous years. The initial success of this agile implementation saw the adoption of agile as their approach of choice to deliver the Marriage Law survey in 2018.

Improved alignment

Single prioritised list of initiatives from the strategic vision through to execution across the numerous streams of Census work.

Improved transparency

Improvement in transparency and visibility of the entire program of work.

Decrease in rework

50% higher quality through replacing "stage gates" with agile "Definition of Done" from executive work through to teams.

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