18F to launch consulting group and project dashboard

The consulting service arose from the ongoing challenge of being called in to fix IT projects long after they were funded, scoped and set in motion.

18F, the digital delivery team housed at the General Services Administration, plans to launch an agile development and acquisitions planning group called 18F Consulting that will serve as an agile coach and solutions architect for agencies.

Greg Godbout, 18F's co-founder and executive director, told FCW that 18F Consulting will help agencies break down and simplify the replacement of legacy systems into discrete, deliverable projects that can be executed according to agile development principles.

The approach is being tested at the Labor Department and two other agencies, which Godbout did not name. Eventually, 18F Consulting could spin off as its own business unit.

The consulting service arose from the ongoing challenge of being called in to fix IT projects long after they were funded, scoped and set in motion.

"By the time something becomes a procurement for vendors to get involved so we can bring in ideas, in the vast majority of cases it's too late," Godbout said during a panel discussion at the ACT-IAC Executive Leadership Conference in Williamsburg, Va.

18F is growing rapidly. It launched in late May with 14 staffers and has since hired new technologists and absorbed the Presidential Innovation Fellows program, to bring the total headcount to 95. More growth is anticipated in 2015.

Addressing the contractors in the audience, Godbout said, "I can't tell you how many projects we've seen where the whole project team knows they're going in the wrong direction, and they're going to walk off that cliff because contractually they have to nail these pieces of functionality and they'll be OK. They'll legally be OK. They won't get fired. We've got to get away from that mentality."

The problems frequently arise from program managers and business owners relying on senior stakeholders rather than users for input into design and functionality decisions.

"What we need to figure out how to do for the procurement side is: Can we have a conversation early on with the people who approved the budget?" Godbout said. The new model is to "contract and expect change."

The 18F Consulting process begins well before a solicitation. "Before we go to procurement, we're going to really make sure we're getting it right," he said. "And all the contracts you engage in are going to allow for pivots and allow for real agile work to occur."

18F is also getting ready to release a dashboard with status information on its projects and links to code repositories and other information on GitHub.

The goal is to give taxpayers a real-time look at ongoing IT projects and whether they are hitting the metrics used by GSA to measure success. The 18F dashboard will likely launch this week or next, Godbout told FCW, but client agencies will be given the opportunity to decide whether their projects are represented.

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