10 ways to make agile development work for you

GAO has identified 32 best practices for agencies to implement and manage agile software development. We showcase 10 of the best and point you to the rest.

Need a tip or two for how to make the best of an agile approach? How about 32?

The Government Accountability Office has released a report of best practices and approaches for applying agile software development methods to IT projects.

Agile development has been touted as a remedy to drawn-out IT projects that go over budget and lag behind schedule. The Office of Management and Budget recently began advocating for an agile approach, which calls for producing software in increments. The idea is that agile will improve the way in which the federal government develops and implements IT.

Several agencies have already started trying agile development. The Veterans Affairs department, for example, used agile to develop software to support a new benefit for veterans. The Defense Department developed the Global Combat Support System-Joint using agile.

In its newly released report, GAO identified best practices and approaches as effective for taking an agile approach. The practices align with five key software development project management activities: strategic planning, organizational commitment and collaboration, preparation, execution and evaluation. Ten practices were identified as particularly effective:

1. Start with agile guidance and an agile adoption strategy.
2. Enhance migration to agile concepts using agile terms and examples.
3. Continuously improve agile adoption at project and organization levels.
4. Look to identify and address impediments at the organization and project levels.
5. Get stakeholder/customer feedback often.
6. Empower small, cross-functional teams.
7. Include requirements related to security and progress monitoring in your queue of unfinished work.
8. Gain trust by showing value at the end of each iteration.
9. Use tools and metrics to track progress.
10. Track progress daily and openly.

The report also found more than a dozen challenges with the agile approach for federal agencies, including collaboration issues, mistrust in iterative solutions and unclear agile guidance. Other concerns entailed how projects are managed differently in an agile approach as opposed to a more traditionally used waterfall development environment.

But those challenges could potentially fade away as agile becomes more a standard. Agencies in the early phases of adopting this approach can then draw from the knowledge of those with more experience. The Federal CIO Council is currently working to create a policy on modular development, which the GAO report said will provide an opportunity to share experiences. 

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