Government IT and Agile Development
FBI Sentinel a Test for Agile Development
As part of its effort to improve the performance of IT investments, the federal government aims to move from a traditional model of software development, in which everything is developed in one fell swoop, to the modern model of agile development.
With the agile approach, software is developed in small chunks, quickly providing users with incremental capabilities and letting them adapt to adapt to technological changes in closer to real time. This approach makes it possible to identify problems with projects before huge sums of money have been spent
In the wake of the Obama Administration’s decision to halt or review billions of dollars worth of information technology programs, TechAmerica Foundation convened a group of experts from industry and academia to provide recommendations for improving the way the federal government purchases and implements IT systems.
They recommended a 33-step action plan to the Obama Administration for improving federal Information Technology (IT) acquisitions and management.
Recommendations, Obstacles and Actions
We have identified a set of four mutually reinforcing recommendations that we believe
have the highest potential for producing near-term improvements in the way the
Government acquires major IT systems. Key to the development of these recommendations
are the interviews and consultations we conducted with 103 IT executives and managers in
Government and industry.
Our recommendations are:
- Develop a Professional Program Management Capability. Program management
is the single most important skill in the successful acquisition of complex IT systems.
Every major acquisition should start with the full-time assignment of a single,
knowledgeable and authoritative program manager who sees the project through to
completion. The program manager’s top priority should be aligning the acquisition’s
IT strategy with mission/business requirements. To increase the pool of individuals
qualified to step into this role, the Government should, among other steps, make
program management a formal career track and, with support from industry,
establish a Program Management Leadership Academy.
- Promote Agile/Incremental Development. While not a panacea for IT acquisition,
the iterative, incremental and collaborative processes of agile development will
significantly raise the Government’s return on its IT investment. It will do this by
engaging with users more effectively, deploying capability more quickly and keeping
better pace with rapid advancements in such technologies as cloud computing and
software as a service. Making the shift to increased use of agile/incremental
development will be a challenge for industry as well as the Government. Key actions
that we recommend for meeting that challenge are defining a common framework,
sharing best practices and aligning industry capabilities to support the new process.
- Strengthen Risk Management. The consequences of ineffective risk management
are all too apparent when major acquisitions exceed their budgets by hundreds of
millions of dollars or miss their scheduled deployment by many years. To ensure
that this critical discipline has an active “owner,” the Government should establish
an Independent Risk Review role on major acquisitions. This role should be filled by
a third party not affiliated with either the agency managing the project or the prime
contractor supporting it.
- Enhance Internal and External Engagement. The need for better engagement,
collaboration and communication between Government and industry was cited by
78% of the Government-experienced IT leaders we interviewed, more than any
other topic. However, the trend in recent years has been in the opposite direction.
We recommend a number of actions to reverse this trend, including asking OMB to
endorse the value of FAR compliant communication with industry in a memo to
senior personnel across the Government. Equally important, acquisition teams need
to engage more effectively with end users to ensure that the systems delivered meet
the users’ mission/business needs. Moving to more frequent use of agile
development is one way of doing this.