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By Steve Kelman

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Agile in government is alive (and well?)

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A recent link on Twitter pointed me to a report on agile software development for government called Agile in the Federal Government: Improving Execution, written by a small consulting firm called CCpace. I had never heard of CCpace before, but the firm apparently has one line of business that provides training in agile development -- delivered by agile programmers rather than professional trainers, and now available in the federal marketplace. (I should note that I am a recent Twitter convert, and am finding on the service a large number of links to interesting articles and reports I otherwise wouldn't have seen!)

Agile seems to be alive -- and maybe even well, I don't know enough to judge -- in the federal government. A quick search of the key words "agile development" on FCW.com showed no fewer than 61 references in the last 30 days. One FCW story, on HHS's RFP for a contract for further development of Healthcare.gov, stated that "agile is a key requirement," with the HHS statement of work specifying that the contractor "shall use an iterative methodology to system development that provides the best opportunity to incrementally build and test software functionality."

So it is a good sign that this commercial company offering agile training has entered the federal marketplace.

As a non-techie, I got one big message from the report, repeated in many ways in different places. From one passage:

[Agile uses] iterations of batched work called sprints so that we can receive feedback on that work immediately after it is completed versus waiting for a large User Acceptance Test effort at the end of the project. In sequential waterfall development, each phase provides feedback to the previous phases. For example, the development phase may enlighten the team about a problem coming from the design phase. This may occur many weeks or months after the design phase is completed. The rework that occurs at this point can be very expensive as the cost curve increases over time. Thus it is highly desirable to receive feedback about work as early as possible. This is why all phases of software development (analysis, design, development, testing) happen during the sprint.

Incidentally, the agile approach to software development also corresponds to an approach to managing anything new an organization is doing. Don't try to plan everything in advance. Get started doing something, let users react to what you've done, correct quickly and often.

The report noted that many feds are going for brief agile training sessions, but worried that courses by themselves will not create agile development: "there is a large difference between what was discussed in their training and what is actually occurring during the projects. This is the realization that understanding Agile is easy; whereas, practicing it is difficult."

As the report notes, the culture of waterfall development took decades to become entrenched. Those working on agile in the government need to share notes and learn from each other in order to give this method the chance to do the same.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Aug 08, 2014 at 7:25 AM


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Reader comments

Tue, Sep 2, 2014 Tortillis Group

Agile training is a one stop solution for all your business needs. Right from providing high quality products at low prices to resolving business oriented, it is always beneficial to follow this.

Mon, Aug 18, 2014 Ron Peterson CC Pace Headquarters Fairfax, VA

Steve, We, CC Pace, are the authors of the referenced report and appreciate your comments and observations about what you read. Since we've been developing software using Agile frameworks and principles for some 15 years, our training takes on a real-world depth because all of our trainers and coaches are actually Agile practitioners. Last year alone CC Pace trained over 10,000 individuals in both the private and public sector. The report Agile in the Federal Government: Improving Execution is one of a series of white papers that are attempting to highlight both commercial best practices that can be applied to Federal IT projects, as well as some of the potential obstacles to adoption and how they might be addressed. We would be happy to talk with you off line if you would like a more in-depth conversation around some of these concepts.

Wed, Aug 13, 2014

"Agile" in the government is mostly a buzzword and lip service. People are trained, then ask for "agile" and along with a 40-binder deep shelf of software requirements.

Tue, Aug 12, 2014 Kinzie Wyche

I found your article to be very interesting. The Federal Government accounts for a significant part of our business. The first major Government Agile transformation I was a part of was with the Department of Veterans Affairs. In 2009, there was a mandate for the VA to go Agile by Roger Baker who was the CIO of the VA. During our time working with the VA, we trained over 600 VA employees on Agile. Since then some of the Agencies we have trained include: Office of the Executive President Bureau of Labor Statistics Department of Interior Defense Acquisition University DHS USCIS Office of Transformation Naval Surface Warfare Center US Census Bureau Department of Defense NGA Customs and Border Protection EEOC Consumer Financial Protection Bureau US Postal Service Two of the classes we developed due to Government agency demand are our 2-day Agile in the Government Environment and 3-day Agile Boot Camp for Government. We also work with many Government Integrators such as Deloitte, Booz Allen Hamilton, L-3 National Security, TASC and many more. Government Integrators require their staff to have many certifications such as Certified ScrumMaster, PMP and PMI-ACP to win awards from the Government. While Government agencies have made great strides to convert to Agile, we have found that the Waterfall mentality is very hard to shake. It all starts with one team within an agency having success on a project. Once that happens and the word gets out, other teams are much more likely to jump on board the Agile bandwagon. One of the key’s to Agile success in the Government or the public sector is Executive buy in. Executives and Manager buy in is crucial in a successful Agile transformation. So yes, Agile is alive in the Government and well…… it is getting there. Thanks, Kinzie Wyche ASPE Training

Mon, Aug 11, 2014 Tlc99

There are lots of resources out there for Agile training. We just completed an Agile Project Management with Scrum course last month (I am in DoD). Agile is well known and been around quite some time in the software development community. I have seen a ton of articles about govt communities and contractors moving towards Agile. This is not new.

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