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Adapting Agile Principles Toward a More Nimble World Bank, 2016-2020

Jun 19, 2020


Challenge
Agile Government Center


Tyler McBrien drafted this case study based on interviews conducted by Alyssa Denzer and Jennifer Widner in February, March, and April 2020. The case enables the rapid dissemination of ideas at an important time and rests on fewer interviews than the ISS standard. Case published June 2020.

Introduction

In a 2015 engagement survey, the staff of the World Bank delivered a resounding message to senior leadership: “We love what we do, but we don’t like how we do it.” While 86% of the organization’s roughly 17,000 employees responded positively to the statement “I am proud to work at the World Bank Group,” only 26% responded positively to “The World Bank Group makes institutional decisions in a timely manner.”

In emergencies such as the West Africa Ebola Outbreak, the Bank had shown the capacity to innovate and to act quickly, some of its executives said, but the institution’s rank and file complained about several problems that they encountered in their regular activities. 1) Projects planned to last five or six years took from one to three years to reach the board and secure approval. 2) Redundant reviews slowed implementation. 3) Project documents were extremely long—over a hundred pages—and required multiple meetings and reviews that took time and added cost. 4) There was little collaboration across World Bank teams serving different functions or thematic areas. 5) Large, ineffective meetings had proliferated. 6) In many instances, too many people reported to a single manager, overwhelming capacity.1

The World Bank’s senior leadership, including Jim Yong Kim, who took over as president in 2012, and Kyle Peters, who assumed the role of interim managing director and chief operating officer in 2016, realized the survey results did not simply reflect dissatisfaction among the staff, but revealed a much larger problem. If the Bank wanted to effectively address the world’s complex development challenges, it had to make changes.

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