Project Management

Agile government?

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I had a chance to read the US GAO report on the use of Agile in the government sector in its entirety.  It has some pretty eye opening facts.  Apparently (and not surprisingly) the government is waking up to the incredible waste that goes on with procuring software for the Federal government.  A good example would be the FBI's "Virtual Case File" system project that was cancelled after five years of effort and spending $170M dollars.  So in 2010, they decided to pass a law requiring the DOD to adopt agile practices when procuring software and the report details what they did and the results they found.

As the GAO site states:

Federal agencies depend on IT to support their missions and spent at least $76 billion on IT in fiscal year 2011. However, long-standing congressional interest has contributed to the identification of numerous examples of lengthy IT projects that incurred cost overruns and schedule delays while contributing little to mission-related outcomes. To reduce the risk of such problems, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) recommends modular software delivery consistent with an approach known as Agile, which calls for producing software in small, short increments. Recently, several agencies have applied Agile practices to their software projects.
Federal agencies depend on IT to support their missions and spent at least $76 billion on IT in fiscal year 2011. However, long-standing congressional interest has contributed to the identification of numerous examples of lengthy IT projects that incurred cost overruns and schedule delays while contributing little to mission-related outcomes. To reduce the risk of such problems, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) recommends modular software delivery consistent with an approach known as Agile, which calls for producing software in small, short increments. Recently, several agencies have applied Agile practices to their software projects.
 
From the report it seems the federal government encountered the same issues and problems that would be found in commercial software development.  Here's list of what they found:
  • Teams had difficulty collaborating closely.
  • Procurement practices may not support Agile projects.
  • Teams had difficulty transitioning to self-directed work.
  • Customers did not trust iterative solutions.
  • Staff had difficulty committing to more timely and frequent input.
  • Teams had difficulty managing iterative requirements.
  • Agencies had trouble committing staff.
  • Compliance reviews were difficult to execute within an iteration time frame.
  • Timely adoption of new tools was difficult.
  • Federal reporting practices do not align with Agile.
  • Technical environments were difficult to establish and maintain.
  • Traditional artifact reviews do not align with Agile.
  • Agile guidance was not clear.
  • Traditional status tracking does not align with Agile.

But then here are some of the items they had success with:

  • Start with Agile guidance and an Agile adoption strategy.
  • Enhance migration to Agile concepts using Agile terms, such as user stories (used to convey requirements), and Agile examples, such as demonstrating how to write a user story.
  • Continuously improve Agile adoption at both the project level and organization level.
  • Seek to identify and address impediments at the organization and project levels.
  • Obtain stakeholder/customer feedback frequently.
  • Empower small, cross-functional teams.
  • Include requirements related to security and progress monitoring in your queue of unfinished work (the backlog).
  • Gain trust by demonstrating value at the end of each iteration.
  • Track progress using tools and metrics.
  • Track progress daily and visibly. 

Despite the initial setbacks, the GAO recommends "that the Federal CIO Council, working with its chair, OMB’s Deputy Director for Management, include practices such as those discussed in this report in the Council’s ongoing effort to promote modular development".  Some facts to back this up is the FBI's Virtual File Sytem that got ressurected as the "Sentinel" case management system, where an in-house agile team of the FBI finished over 80% of the work in 10% of the budget after Lockheed Martin was issued a stop work order for their horrendous waterfall performance.

It will be interesting to see how well the goverment does Agile indeed!

Posted on: August 10, 2012 08:10 PM | Permalink

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