When agile development is change management in disguise

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The secret power of agile development for federal agencies' citizen-facing services and capabilities isn't so much getting projects done more efficiently and possibly saving money, according Environmental Protection Agency CTO Greg Godbout. It's really about seeding the government with new ideas that will take hold and steer it in a new direction for planning and acquisition and ultimately serve the public's needs, he said.

"The secret isn't agile and adoption," said Godbout, who was the first executive director of the General Services Administration's 18F innovation lab before moving to EPA. It's about the ability to learn more flexible ways to handle the ever-quickening march of technology.

Aaron Snow, another co-founder of 18F who succeeded Godbout as executive director, agreed. 18F, he said, is "really a change management office disguised as a digital services office."

"It can be hard to ask change managers for help," Snow said -- there's a sense of stigma or change that such a request means an agency has been "doing it wrong." But "it's easy to ask computer people for help," he said.

Godbout and Snow both made their remarks at FCW's March 2 Citizen Engagement Summit in Washington, Godbout, who opened the event with a wide-ranging discussion with his boss, EPA CIO Ann Dunkin, urged attendees to "embrace early adopters" who have seen the results of agile development projects first hand. Those adopters, who may drawn on 18F or the U.S. Digital Service, "can replicate our results on their own," he said, and pave the way for still more adoption.

The push for agile is sometimes met with resistance that gives way once their results are experienced first-hand, Godbout said. Some managers can be "upset because someone is in their territory," he said, but "they eventually come around."

Snow, meanwhile, said implanting agile expertise in agencies is at the heart of his group's work, not so much doing all the heavy lifting of development work.

GSA's recent announcement, that 18F plans to expand its consulting and acquisition services to help federal agencies that provide grants to state and local programs, falls in line with that, he told FCW. The announcement isn't about 18F building a system for those agencies, he stressed -- it's about helping those agencies discern what they need, and possibly helping them draft a competitive agile request for proposal or work statement.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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