OMB promotes agile IT development in new guidance

Incremental approach to IT project management is intended to save money and move IT projects ahead faster.

Lengthy, drawn-out federal IT projects could soon be rare. The Office of Management and Budget has unveiled new framework that will encourage agencies to abandon multiyear IT development methods for a more agile approach.

U.S. CIO Steven VanRoekel and Joe Jordan, administrator for federal procurement policy, announced the Contracting Guidance to Support Modular IT Development on June 14 on the OMBlog.

For too long, the OMB officials wrote, federal IT has been marred with runaway IT projects that squandered billions of dollars and lagged behind schedule. Even by the time some of these initiatives were rolled out, they were often over budget or had become obsolete.

“In many cases, these failures can be traced back to lengthy acquisition and IT development efforts that aimed to deliver massive new systems over years, rather than providing new functionality in an incremental manner – as the private sector does,” VanRoekel and Jordan wrote.

The idea is not without its critics, however. In an earlier FCW article on the topic, several readers expressed skepticism.

One, commenting under the name "Old Sarge," wrote, "Sorry, agile is just hacking by developers with no parental oversight."

Another, commenting with no name, wrote, "I have a great idea. Let's throw away decades of software engineering theory and do so at the expense of taxpayers. The principles of agile development make sense if you are only interested in the short term results."

The new blueprint lays out how departments, including acquisition, finance and IT, as a program management team can break investments into more manageable pieces. This more nimble approach would save money and speed up the process of an IT project following a contract award. Additionally, agile development would also allow agencies a better way to hold contractors accountable for keeping projects on track and delivering solutions.

Also, by breaking investments into smaller chunks, agencies may be able to spur more competition, resulting in better value for the citizens, VanRoekel and Jordan suggested.

“Changing agency culture to regularly take advantage of modular principles will take work, but the payback – in the form of improved investment manageability and budget feasibility, lower risk, more responsive contracts and reduced time to value – is well worth the effort,” they wrote.

 

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