Software Development

Agile software: Stand and deliver

programmer

Agile software development places a strong emphasis on deliverables. (Stock image)

In the 18th century, English highwaymen commanded us to stand and deliver. Three hundred years later, we don't have to be commanded; we just do it. At daily 10 a.m. agile stand-up meetings, one can find teams all over the federal government reporting on their deliverables and signing up for the next set.

The move to agile methodologies is disruptive even in the most process- and methodologically mature organizations. Agile shifts control and visibility of the work being done closer to the doers and away from the managers. It changes the cadence of the delivery process and the size of the deliverables. It forces a new focus on priorities and changes the emphasis on requirements. Teams take a new look at how they test, how they integrate, how they release and how they deploy. Agile changes everything.

And whether you are an agile advocate, an agile agnostic or an agile avoider, one thing is consistently true: Agile development places an emphasis on deliverables unlike any other methodology. That is good for software development and great for tracking in the federal contract environment.

And what, exactly, is agile development? At its heart is the self-organizing team whose members approach the development task informed by organizational priorities. Those teams are drilled in measuring work effort in manageable units and disciplined by the daily routine of activities that are never more than 24 hours from review. Progress is tracked, and deviation from the project plan is detected within a day — then remediated by the team within their sprint window of two or three weeks.

That focus on deconstructing the requirements into smaller and smaller chunks has a beneficial effect on our ability to keep to the contracted needs. It becomes very easy to track the delivery of the contracted deliverables, and we can do this very finely. Unexpected variances are easy to spot, and the detailed change orders that result also have a fine granularity of time and cost impact.

But beware: Most agile teams like to manage what they do with the least amount of bureaucracy and the minimal use of tools. Part of the delight in using agile methods is the ability to escape from the boundaries of process, procedure, policy, practices and politics and do what is needed in whatever way makes the most sense to get the job done. For managers of agile teams, this is very hard to accept. The loss of direct visibility and the ability of the team to shift priorities and deliverables are sometimes too much for project management offices.

The good news is that there are numerous tools on the market today that enhance agile teams' effectiveness. Many of the tools even take away some of the tasks that agile teams dislike doing, make agile something that can be effective even when the team is dispersed, and — of critical importance for federal projects — give managers the visibility they need to ensure that contracts are being complied with and deliverables are being met.

The public does not want to stand in line to receive their services; now they want to access those services online from their smart phones. "Online not in line!" is the 21st century slogan. As consumers, we all expect the rate of change to be fast in our 24/7 mobile lives, and that means we have to reinvent federal IT to match. Embrace agile and see the team stand and deliver every day.

About the Author

Kevin Parker is vice president and chief evangelist at Serena Software.

The 2015 Federal 100

Meet 100 women and men who are doing great things in federal IT.

Featured

  • Shutterstock image (by venimo): e-learning concept image, digital content and online webinar icons.

    Can MOOCs make the grade for federal training?

    Massive open online courses can offer specialized IT instruction on a flexible schedule and on the cheap. That may not always mesh with government's preference for structure and certification, however.

  • Shutterstock image (by edel): graduation cap and diploma.

    Cybersecurity: 6 schools with the right stuff

    The federal government craves more cybersecurity professionals. These six schools are helping meet that demand.

  • Rick Holgate

    Holgate to depart ATF

    Former ACT president will take a job with Gartner, follow his spouse to Vienna, Austria.

  • Are VA techies slacking off on Yammer?

    A new IG report cites security and productivity concerns associated with employees' use of the popular online collaboration tool.

  • Shutterstock image: digital fingerprint, cyber crime.

    Exclusive: The OPM breach details you haven't seen

    An official timeline of the Office of Personnel Management breach obtained by FCW pinpoints the hackers’ calibrated extraction of data, and the government's step-by-step response.

  • Stephen Warren

    Deputy CIO Warren exits VA

    The onetime acting CIO at Veterans Affairs will be taking over CIO duties at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

  • Shutterstock image: monitoring factors of healthcare.

    DOD awards massive health records contract

    Leidos, Accenture and Cerner pull off an unexpected win of the multi-billion-dollar Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization contract, beating out the presumptive health-records leader.

  • Sweating the OPM data breach -- Illustration by Dragutin Cvijanovic

    Sweating the stolen data

    Millions of background-check records were compromised, OPM now says. Here's the jaw-dropping range of personal data that was exposed.

  • FCW magazine

    Let's talk about Alliant 2

    The General Services Administration is going to great lengths to gather feedback on its IT services GWAC. Will it make for a better acquisition vehicle?

Reader comments

Thu, Jul 18, 2013

I work on a government Agile Development project, my biggest problem.... fighting government bureaucracy! We are able to quickly address warfighter needs, unlike many other projects that deliver out-dated and ineffective products.

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above