Posted on by Acquisitionin
Over the past several years, the SEI has explored the use of Agile methods in DoD environments, focusing on both if and when they are suitable and how to use them most effectively when they are suitable. Our research has approached the topic of Agile methods both from an acquisition and a technical perspective. Stephany Bellomo described some of our experiences in previous blog posts What is Agile? and Building a Foundation for Agile. This post summarizes a project the SEI has undertaken to review and study Agile approaches, with the goal of developing guidance for their effective application in DoD environments.
The SEI's Agile project began in 2009 in response to our recognition of the growing awareness that Agile methods help alleviate key challenges facing the DoD, such as providing competitive capabilities to warfighters in a timely manner that minimizes collateral damage and loss of lives and property. We also observed an emerging consensus that Agile methods can be applied to create systems who functionality and quality attributes can be adapted more readily over time, which may help reduce total ownership costs over long acquisition program lifecycles. Within this context, the primary activities of our project included reviewing relevant literature, interviewing programs that are using or have used Agile methods, identifying criteria to be used to determine if a program is a candidate for Agile methods and what risks exist for implementing the Agile methods, and creating guidelines to be used in implementing agile methods.
We initially focused on the question of whether Agile could be used in DoD acquisition programs, which historically follow the DoD 5000 series of guidelines that have been associated with so-called waterfall methods. An early finding of our project was that no prohibitions preclude the use of Agile in the DoD 5000 series. This result is important since some skeptics have asserted that Agile is not suited for the DoD due to inherent conflicts between Agile methods and DoD policies and regulations.
Given that there is no one size fits all Agile method, however, we also found that implementations of Agile methods must be tailored to fit the situation and context. In other words, Agile is not a silver bullet. Transitioning DoD systems--and their associated socio-technical ecosystems--to Agile therefore requires considerable work from DoD agencies and the defense industry base, and is not without hurdles.
For example, we found that adapting Agile into the DoD acquisition life cycle presents unique challenges and opportunities. The challenges are in meeting existing DoD milestone and regulatory criteria when there is little if any guidance available on how to do so when using Agile methods. The opportunities, however, provide the capability to accomplish development with frequent results. Other hurdles identified by DoD programs we interviewed include
These hurdles are due to a different approach than business as usual and a general lack of specific training and guidance on Agile concepts and approaches within the DoD. Overcoming these hurdles requires changes to the waterfall-centric organizational culture that is common within DoD acquisition programs. These culture changes also require mindset changes because the underlying paradigm for implementing Agile methods is different from that used for the waterfall method.
After studying the topics described above to gain a preliminary understanding of the use of Agile within the DoD, we then studied other management, acquisition, and technical topics, as described below.
Agile Management and Acquisition Topics
- Found and nurtured good sponsors for Agile adoption
- Understood the adoption population they were dealing with
- Conducted a readiness assessment that addressed organizational and cultural issues
- Analyzed what adoption support mechanisms were needed for a particular context and built or acquired them before proceeding too far into an Agile adoption
SEI Agile work continues and the following additional documents are--or will soon be--available:
In addition, the SEI has created an Agile Collaboration Group to advise, review, enhance, and validate SEI acquisition work. The SEI is working with this group to create, calibrate, and validate a contingency model that will help acquisition professionals determine when to use Agile techniques, as well as how to identify potential risks if Agile methods are adopted. We are also creating guidelines that summarize best practices and instruct users of Agile methods on how to apply these methods effectively in DoD environments.
Agile Technical Topics
Agile software development has historically succeeded in small-scale (largely IT-based) commercial environments due largely to its easy-to-apply practices for tracking project status and allocating the development resources to those activities that deliver the most potential customer value. A key technical challenge for DoD projects, however, involves balancing the short-term and long-term needs. In particular, the cliché "You aren't gonna need it (YAGNI)" is a principle in eXtreme Programming (XP) that implies developers should not add functionality until it is necessary, thereby eliminating a considerable amount of unused code in a system. The YAGNI principle rarely seems to apply, however, in large-scale DoD environments, where systems must operate for decades with continual flux with respect to evolving requirements, technology upgrades, new partners, and different contractors.
The SEI is conducting the following technical work on successfully creating and applying Agile methods for the DoD:
In summary, our projects have found that Agile methods can indeed provide both tactical and strategic benefits in the DoD. The tactical benefits of lower cost, on-time delivery, and increasing quality are clearly important as the DoD places a growing emphasis on greater efficiency in its acquisition processes. The strategic benefits of responsiveness and more rapid adaptability to the current situation, however, may be of even greater value in today's world, where the DoD must get results faster and be better aligned with changing needs to prepare for an uncertain future. As our work progresses, we will periodically post our progress, ask questions, and request feedback. If you have any questions or feedback on the current work, please post in the comments below.
Please see the following SEI technical reports and notes for more on Agile development:
Considerations for Using Agile in DoD Acquisition
Agile Methods: Selected DoD Management and Acquisition Concerns
Documenting Software Architectures in an Agile World
CMMI or Agile: Why not Embrace Both!
Incorporating Security Quality Requirements Engineering (SQUARE) into Standard Lifecycle Models
Secure Software Development Life Cycle Processes--A Technology Scouting Report
Integrating Software-Architecture-Centric Methods into Extreme Programming (XP)
Visit the SEI Digital Library for other publications by Mary Ann.