At DHS, 'agile' is the watchword, CIO says

The Homeland Security Department is embracing agile development practices and working on an acquisition strategy for agile projects as well, Chief Information Officer Richard Spires said on May 15.

Agile software development is a method in which functionality is developed in a modular, incremental form in a relatively short period of time. It has gained a following in a number of federal agencies in recent years.

Spires, who spoke at a conference sponsored by the Small and Emerging Contractors Advisory Forum, said the department is enthusiastic about the approach.

“I am very big on agile or modular development,” Spires said. “We are really pushing agile. I have half a dozen agile projects going on today.”

The advantage of agile is that it “lowers risk and delivers capabilities in an incremental fashion,” Spires added. “Agile is proven and many people are using it.”

DHS has an integrated program team led by Mark Schwartz, CIO at the US Citizenship and Immigration Services agencies, developing policies and strategies for implementing agile practices, he said. The team is currently working on an acquisition methodology for agile.

“We want to work agile into our acquisition and systems engineering lifestyle – What are the gates? What are the documents needed?” Spires said.

Initially, implementing agile development was difficult, because it is so different from the traditional information technology development method, Spires said. But it has recently become easier with practice.

“We are on the third sprint with this, and we have shown it can work,” Spires said.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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Reader comments

Thu, Jul 25, 2013

Yod do know that part of the Agile methodology is "peer reviews"

Tue, Jun 19, 2012 Susan Atkinson, Gabrielle Benefield London, UK

The earlier comments demonstrate the common misunderstandings surrounding Agile. Agile is in fact a highly disciplined methodology, designed to reduce the various risks surrounding the IT project, improve the quality of the ultimate solution and improve the return on investment. In terms of years of software engineering discipline, what exactly are we throwing away? It has been found that about three quarters of all software projects are delivered late, over-budget or fail outright. Not only that, but one in six IT projects has a cost overrun of 200% on average and a schedule overrun of almost 70%. These statistics are based on traditional (waterfall) projects. The figures are more-or-less the same for both the public and private sector. Please refer to: The Standish Group, Chaos report, and Said Business School, working papers, Oxford University, amongst others. These figures are part of the driving reason for the US government to find a better approach. Even the person credited with popularizing the waterfall method (Winston Royce), cautions that this method should only be used for simple projects with high stability of requirements. For complex, dynamic projects, Royce recommended that an iterative approach should be used. Most software projects fall into the latter category.

Thu, May 17, 2012 Old Sarge DC

Sorry, agile is just hacking by developers with no parental oversight. Before a single line of code is written (granted most is now drag-n-drop results spewed by some IDE), the author should be required to do due diligence and prove his use case meets a minimum set of requirements. Agile "scrums" etc. do not take the place of peer reviews and design reviews. And who, pray tell, is ensuring there is an acutal requirement behind the project?

Wed, May 16, 2012 Steve Alexandria, VA

The problem with "decades of software engineering theory" (i.e., the waterfall approach espoused by PMI) is that by the time the software is written, the original specifications are long out of date. Technology moves too quickly to follow the same project management philosophy that works for building a bridge. I'm glad to see Mr. Spires embracing Agile.

Wed, May 16, 2012 RT

The DHS version of Agile is to watch the shine on their shoes rather than the path when walking.

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