There's lots of ambiguity in agencies' embrace of agile

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Although agencies have expanded their use of agile development techniques, they need better reporting on the status of those projects and must ensure that CIOs can certify adequate use of incremental development, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report.

GAO said that for fiscal 2016, "22 agencies reported that 64 percent of their software development projects would deliver usable functionality every six months [via] the IT Dashboard, as mandated by the Office of Management and Budget."

However, GAO auditors questioned the accuracy of those numbers.

OMB released guidance last year that outlines CIOs' roles and responsibilities in implementing key provisions of the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act, including the use of incremental development to drive down costs and speed results. GAO found that the guidance lacks clarity about what types of projects are not amenable to agile development techniques and how agencies should report on the status of such projects.

Those shortcomings have skewed the information on the IT Dashboard, according to GAO.

Auditors reviewed software projects at the departments of Commerce, Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Transportation and Treasury, and said approximately half the projects reported delivery of functionality every six months.

"However, there are significant differences in the data reported to GAO and on the IT Dashboard due to inconsistencies in reporting non-software projects, the timing of reporting and a lack of support for reported delivery, which affects the accuracy of reported rates," auditors wrote.

Furthermore, agency officials told auditors that "management and organizational challenges and project complexity and uniqueness impact their ability to deliver incrementally."

Only three agencies -- Commerce, DHS and DOT – "had policies and processes to ensure that the [CIO] would certify IT investments are adequately implementing incremental development," the report states.

GAO said OMB is developing additional guidance on agile software development that could help clear up the confusion at agencies. However, OMB has not determined when that guidance will be completed.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a staff writer at FCW.

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, tele.com 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 mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

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