Category: Agile Adoption in Government

The prevalence of Agile methods in the software industry today is obvious. All major defense contractors in the market can tell you about their approaches to implementing the values and principles found in the Agile Manifesto. Published frameworks and methodologies are rapidly maturing, and a wave of associated terminology is part of the modern lexicon. We are seeing consultants feuding on Internet forums as well, with each one claiming to have the "true" answer for what Agile is and how to make it work in your organization. The challenge now is to scale Agile to work in complex settings with larger teams, larger systems, longer timelines, diverse operating environments, and multiple engineering disciplines. I recently explored the issues surrounding scaling Agile within the Department of Defense (DoD) with Mary Ann Lapham, Suzanne Miller, Eileen Wrubel, and Peter Capell. This blog post, an excerpt of our recently published technical note Scaling Agile Methods for Department of Defense Programs, presents five perspectives on scaling Agile from leading thinkers in the field including Scott Ambler, Steve Messenger, Craig Larman, Jeff Sutherland, and Dean Leffingwell.

The mix of program-scale Agile and technical baseline ownership drives cheaper, better, and faster deployment of software-intensive systems. Although these practices aren't new, the SEI has seen how their combination can have dramatic effects. The Air Force Distributed Common Ground System (AF DCGS)--the Air Force's primary weapon system for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, planning, direction, collection, processing, exploitation, analysis, and dissemination--employs a global communications architecture that connects multiple intelligence platforms and sensors. The AF DCGS challenge is to bring new sensors and processing applications online quickly and efficiently. Other large government software-intensive systems face similar challenges. The SEI has found that Agile cultural transformation--along with strong technical baseline ownership--is critical for programs like DCGS to deliver new capability faster and with greater confidence. These strategies working together can help create incremental and iterative approaches to deliver more frequent and more manageable technical capability. In this blog, I present the SEI's experiences in helping large Department of Defense (DoD) programs, such as AF DCGS, use concepts like owning the technical baseline and Agile software development techniques to deliver new capability on a regular basis.

Organizations and federal agencies seeking to adopt Agile often struggle because they do not understand the adoption risks involved when contemplating the use of Agile approaches. This ongoing series on Readiness and Fit Analysis (RFA) focuses on helping federal agencies, such as the Department of Defense, the Internal Revenue Service, the Food and Drug Administration, and other organizations in regulated settings, understand the risks involved when contemplating or embarking on a new approach to developing or acquiring software. This blog post, the seventh in a series, explores issues related to the technology environment that organizations should consider when adopting Agile approaches.

According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Information Security Continuous Monitoring (ISCM) is a process for continuously analyzing, reporting, and responding to risks to operational resilience (in an automated manner, whenever possible). Compared to the traditional method of collecting and assessing risks at longer intervals--for instance, monthly or annually--ISCM promises to provide near-real-time situational awareness of an organization's risk profile. ISCM creates challenges as well as benefits, however, because the velocity of information gathered using ISCM is drastically increased. Development, operation, and maintenance processes built for a more leisurely pace can thus be overwhelmed. This blog post explores how organizations can leverage Agile methods to keep pace with the increased velocity of ISCM risk information, while ensuring that changes to systems are conducted in a controlled manner.

This is the second installment of two blog posts highlighting recommended practices for achieving Agile at Scale that was originally published on the Cyber Security & Information Systems Information Analysis Center (CSIAC) website. The first post in the series by Ipek Ozkaya and Robert Nord explored challenges to achieving Agile at Scale and presented the first five recommended practices:


1. Team coordination
2. Architectural runway
3. Align development and decomposition.
4. Quality-attribute scenarios
5. Test-driven development

This post presents the remaining five technical best practices, as well as three conditions that will help organizations achieve the most value from these recommended practices. This post was originally published in its entirety on the SPRUCE website.

This post is the first in a two-part series highlighting 10 recommended practices for achieving agile at scale.

Software and acquisition professionals often have questions about recommended practices related to modern software development methods, techniques, and tools, such as how to apply agile methods in government acquisition frameworks, systematic verification and validation of safety-critical systems, and operational risk management. In the Department of Defense (DoD), these techniques are just a few of the options available to face the myriad challenges in producing large, secure software-reliant systems on schedule and within budget.

In 2010, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a 25-point plan to reform IT that called on federal agencies to employ "shorter delivery time frames, an approach consistent with Agile" when developing or acquiring IT. OMB data suggested Agile practices could help federal agencies and other organizations design and acquire software more effectively, but agencies needed to understand the risks involved in adopting these practices.

This blog post is the sixth in a series on Agile adoption in regulated settings, such as the Department of Defense, Internal Revenue Service, and Food and Drug Administration.

"Across the government, we've decreased the time it takes across our high-impact investments to deliver functionality by 20 days over the past year alone. That is a big indicator that agencies across the board are adopting agile or agile-like practices," Lisa Schlosser, acting federal chief information officer, said in a November 2014 interview with Federal News Radio. Schlosser based her remarks on data collected by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) over the last year. In 2010, the OMB issued guidance calling on federal agencies to employ "shorter delivery time frames, an approach consistent with Agile" when developing or acquiring IT. As evidenced by the OMB data, Agile practices can help federal agencies and other organizations design and acquire software more effectively, but they need to understand the risks involved when contemplating the use of Agile. This ongoing series on Readiness & Fit Analysis (RFA) focuses on helping federal agencies and other organizations in regulated settings understand the risks involved when contemplating or embarking on a new approach to developing or acquiring software. Specifically, this blog post, the sixth in a series, explores issues related to system attributes organizations should consider when adopting Agile.

Tension and disconnects between software and systems engineering functions are not new. Grady Campbell wrote in 2004 that "systems engineering and software engineering need to overcome a conceptual incompatibility (physical versus informational views of a system)" and that systems engineering decisions can create or contribute to software risk if they "prematurely over-constrain software engineering choices" or "inadequately communicate information, including unknowns and uncertainties, needed for effective software engineering." This tension holds true for Department of Defense (DoD) programs as well, which historically decompose systems from the system level down to subsystem behavior and breakdown work for the program based on this decomposition. Hardware-focused views are typically deemed not appropriate for software, and some systems engineers (and most systems engineering standards) have not yet adopted an integrated view of the two disciplines. An integrated view is necessary, however, because in complex software-reliant systems, software components often interact with multiple hardware components at different levels of the system architecture. In this blog post, I describe recently published research conducted by me and other members of the SEI's Client Technical Solutions Division highlighting interactions on DoD programs between Agile software-development teams and their systems engineering counterparts in the development of software-reliant systems.

More and more, suppliers of software-reliant Department of Defense (DoD) systems are moving away from traditional waterfall development practices in favor of agile methods. As described in previous posts on this blog, agile methods are effective for shortening delivery cycles and managing costs. If the benefits of agile are to be realized effectively for the DoD, however, personnel responsible for overseeing software acquisitions must be fluent in metrics used to monitor these programs. This blog post highlights the results of an effort by researchers at the Carnegie Mellon University Software Engineering Instituteto create a reference for personnel who oversee software development acquisition for major systems built by developers applying agile methods. This post also presents seven categories for tracking agile metrics.

Federal agencies depend on IT to support their missions and spent at least $76 billion on IT in fiscal year 2011, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The catalyst for the study was congressional concern over prior IT expenditures that produced disappointing results, including multimillion dollar cost overruns and schedule delays measured in years, with questionable mission-related achievements. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in 2010 issued guidance that advocates federal agencies employ "shorter delivery time frames, an approach consistent with Agile." This ongoing series on the Readiness & Fit Analysis (RFA) approach focuses on helping federal agencies and other organizations understand the risks involved when contemplating or embarking on the adoption of new practices, such as Agile methods. This blog posting, the fifth in this series, explores the Practices category, which helps organizations understand which Agile practices are already in use to formulate a more effective adoption strategy.

Government agencies, including the departments of Defense, Veteran Affairs, and Treasury, are being asked by their government program office to adopt Agile methods. These are organizations that have traditionally utilized a "waterfall" life cycle model (as epitomized by the engineering "V" charts). Programming teams in these organizations are accustomed to being managed via a series of document-centric technical reviews that focus on the evolution of the artifacts that describe the requirements and design of the system rather than its evolving implementation, as is more common with Agile methods. Due to these changes, many struggle to adopt Agile practices. For example, acquisition staff often wonder how to fit Agile measurement practices into their progress tracking systems.

Agile projects with incremental development lifecycles are showing greater promise in enabling organizations to rapidly field software compared to waterfall projects. There is a lack of clarity, however, regarding the factors that constitute and contribute to success of Agile projects. A team of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University's Software Engineering Institute, including Ipek Ozkaya, Robert Nord, and myself, interviewed project teams with incremental development lifecycles from five government and commercial organizations. This blog posting summarizes the findings from this study to understand key success and failure factors for rapid fielding on their projects.

In our work with the Department of Defense (DoD) and other government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs and the U.S. Department of the Treasury, we often encounter organizations that have been asked by their government program office to adopt agile methods. These are organizations that have traditionally utilized a "waterfall" life cycle model (as epitomized by the engineering "V" charts) and are accustomed to being managed via a series of document-centric technical reviews that focus on the evolution of the artifacts that describe the requirements and design of the system rather than its evolving implementation, as is more common with agile methods.

The adoption of new practices, such as agile or any new practice for that matter, is a task that is best undertaken with both eyes open. There are often disconnects between the adopting organization's current practice and culture and the new practices being adopted. This posting is the second installment in a series on Readiness & Fit Analysis (RFA), which is a model and method for understanding risks when contemplating or embarking on the adoption of new practices, in this case agile methods.

All software engineering and management practices are based on cultural and social assumptions. When adopting new practices, leaders often find mismatches between those assumptions and the realities within their organizations. The SEI has an analysis method called Readiness and Fit Analysis (RFA) that allows the profiling of a set of practices to understand their cultural assumptions and then to use the profile to support an organization in understanding its fit with the practices' cultural assumptions. RFA has been used for multiple technologies and sets of practices, most notably for adoption of CMMI practices.

While agile methods have become popular in commercial software development organizations, the engineering disciplines needed to apply agility to mission-critical, software-reliant systems are not as well defined or practiced. To help bridge this gap, the SEI recently hosted the Agile Research Forum. The event brought together researchers and practitioners from around the world to discuss when and how to best apply agile methods in mission-critical environments found in government and many industries.

While agile methods have become popular in commercial software development organizations, the engineering disciplines needed to apply agility to mission-critical, software-reliant systems are not as well defined or practiced. To help bridge this gap, the SEI recently hosted the Agile Research Forum, which brought together researchers and practitioners from around the world to discuss when and how to best apply agile methods in mission-critical environments found in government and many industries. This blog posting, the second installment in a multi-part series, summarizes a presentation made during the forum by Mary Ann Lapham, a senior researcher in the SEI's Acquisition Support Program, who highlighted the importance of collaboration with end users, as well as among cross-functional teams, to facilitate the adoption of agile approaches into DoD acquisition programs.

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.

This is a second in a series of posts focusing on Agile software development. In the first post, "What is Agile?" we provided a short overview of the key elements of the Agile approach, and we introduced the Agile Manifesto. One of the guiding principles from the manifesto emphasizes valuing people over developing processes. While the manifesto clearly alludes to the fact that too much focus on process (and not results) can be a bad thing, we introduce the notion here that the other end of the spectrum can also be bad. This blog explores the level of skill that is needed to develop software using Agile (do you need less skill or more?), as well as the importance of maintaining strong competency in a core set of software engineering processes.

If you ask the question, "What is Agile?" you are likely to get lots of different answers. That's because there is no universally accepted formal definition for Agile. To make matters worse, there are ongoing debates over what Agile software development SHOULD mean. That being the case, when answering the question, "What is Agile?" the safest bet is to stick to what people can agree on, and people generally agree on three key elements of Agile. Taken together, these describe the Agile software development method, as well as the software development approach. In this post--the first in a series on Agile--I will explain the foundations of Agile and its use by developers.