Guy Martin empowers DOD's community of software superheroes

Forge.mil breaks away from traditional DOD development programs by emphasizing community and agility

Guy Martin is the open-source community manager and guru for the Defense Information Systems Agency’s Forge.mil, which was designed for cooperative software development. The program is revolutionizing information sharing at the Defense Department by enabling faster development and deployment of new capabilities that support the department's emphasis on network centricity.

When I came on board for Project Forge, I consulted on how to build a DOD community based on open-source technology. Building the project hinges on two tenets: collaborative development and the establishment and maximization of the community.

It was roughly 180 days from conception to the initial capability execution of Forge.mil’s first component, SoftwareForge. That unusually quick turnaround got a lot of people excited. To achieve such a fast cycle, we took a different approach, which has become a hallmark of Forge.mil. We used an agile development environment, meaning it was built collaboratively. We got our stakeholders — including an information assurance person – involved from the start. That way, the development was done as a team and in parallel instead of serially, as in the traditional model.

I think this approach could be a game changer for the federal government. It’s very much in tune with the Obama administration’s goals for transparency and making data available. The traditional model still works well for things such as acquiring tanks, but software evolves on a faster scale.


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But now we have this tool for creating a collaborative work space, and it’s helping to change the culture, which has been a challenge – in a good way. It’s creating the community needed to make the collaborative development platform work.

It’s been said that you can’t forklift a revolution. We need an evolutionary approach, one in which we work together and create a hybrid that bridges the gap between traditional, hierarchal DOD development and the agile approach. We also need the talents of both the federal IT veterans and the rising stars.

Another part of creating the community was having the vision. We knew what we wanted to do, but we also had to deal with logistics. We needed lightweight governance that was flexible enough to allow us to talk through cultural challenges and react accordingly. We also had to get the technology up and running and make it accessible by Common Access Cards. Then there was the practical side — for instance, what would the front page look like? Over time, that has all evolved, and it’s been facilitated by the agile approach.

The community also thrives from the inclusion of partners who bring in tools and capabilities from the outside. We need the contractors who can come plug in and play and contribute, rather than trying to build everything ourselves.

As a community manager, I work with every level of the Project Forge enterprise, from the high-level strategies to the questions and concerns of the users. Helping users is critical to building the community. At the same time, strategic involvement is critical to cultural change. And we need to foster community expertise. Right now there are only three community managers for the 4,400 users of SoftwareForge.

In the end, we hope to move all projects toward agile development. With that collaborative approach, we can do things better, quicker and cheaper. And we can compete with an adversary that understands how to take advantage of this new, networked environment.

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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