Agencies get a boost from agile development

Agile development, a software development methodology that has been making inroads in the federal government in recent years, could get a big boost from the impending era of budget austerity.

“Clients want to see results within a six-to-nine-month timeframe, if not sooner,” said Cheryl Campbell, senior vice president at CGI Federal, speaking at the March 29 panel at the Acquisition Excellence conference in Washington, D.C.

Agile development, used by agencies such as the General Services Administration and the Defense Department, allows continuous development, accumulative releases of capabilities, and tight-knit collaboration between developers and users. The purpose of this modular approach is to ensure that IT initiatives are completed fast, on deadline and on budget, all elements of increasing importance amid crunched budgets.

Agility also plays a part in the White House's effort to innovate and harness technology to help build a better government. When U.S. CIO Steven VanRoekel announced his “Future First” plan, he mentioned how the public sector had learned to adapt its business models to leverage new technologies, including agility.

Campbell said her firm responds frequently to congressional mandates in supporting the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services where a substantial part of the activity involves legislative mandates that say the end date doesn’t change but requirements are moving and evolving through that whole process.

“Agile will allow us the flexibility to continue to develop in that environment and be able to come to the end results in a timely fashion with the appropriate solutions,” she added.

At the Veterans Affairs Department, strategies to stretch the agency’s budget include standardizing and consolidating its spend, said Jan Frye, deputy assistant secretary for acquisition and logistics. Part of that effort, he said, is the Fredericksburg, Va.-based Strategic Acquisition Center, which works with VA customers to identify opportunities to standardize or to combine VA’s spend.

“We have to attempt to buy like Walmart does – buy by the trainload instead of the carload,” Frye said. That approach, however, he stressed, doesn’t mean that VA is giving inferior products but instead is working to identify how it “can get a better deal for the taxpayers so we can support the veterans the way they deserve to be supported.”

When agencies are asked to do less with less, officials have to determine which programs or functions get eliminated from the equation. That could be particularly challenging at agencies such as DHS “where I have not found a single program that isn’t delivering some value to our operators in the field,” said Dr. Cedric Sims, executive director at DHS’ Office of Program Accountability and Risk Management.

Smart purchasing is “very important,” Sims said, and DHS is looking at enterprise purchases and capabilities across the department and how it can leverage its spend agencywide.

“In the aggregate, it means we’re doing less but the reality is that we’re doing the better things we need to do to work across the enterprise,” he said.

The American Council for Technology  Industry Advisory Council and GSA hosted the Acquisition Excellence. 

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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Reader comments

Mon, Apr 2, 2012 Roger Baker

VA has over 100 ongoing projects, all of which deliver releases to customers in six month or less increments. Some of them are using Agile with 2 week sprints. You can do real agile in government.

Mon, Apr 2, 2012

The definition of the word agile becomes important when discussing 6-9 month delivery cycles. Agile development life cycles mean continuous delivery of "finished" products for evaluation by the end-user and stakeholders. However, in many cases that is not possible in the Federal Government. It is possible to develop IT using traditional waterfall SDLCs but incorporating 6-9 month "measurement intervals". Therefore creating an "agile" waterfall approach, and being able to keep closer control over a waterfall project management approach.

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