This week marked the latest annual Agile in Defense conference, in the outskirts of Washington DC. There were about 100 attendees, and strong support form the agile community. As with any conference, the real value was the conversations that happen between the talks, but the talks themselves are also worth mentioning…
Warnings From the Past
I showed up a little, but just in time for Dr. Robert Charette’s talk. He gave a hard warning about the pitfalls of NASA’s Faster, Better, Cheaper program in the 1990′s might be repeated once more in the Defense community. Specifically, the program met with some initial triumphs such as the Mars Pathfinder project. But the continued pressure for “cheaper” began to create a culture of compromise, which some say led to the Challenger disaster. The response was to swing the pendulum all the way back to the extreme opposite end: never ending budgets. He warned us that mentality could bankrupt the military.
Agile EVM for Defense
Scrum expert Brent Barton then gave a tutorial on how to calculate Earned Value Management (EVM) in an Agile environment. Easily the most practical talk of the day, it was based on his original white paper, which you can download here.
The Agile Virus Spreads
Ronald Pontius, the Director of C2 Policy for the DOD CIO, gave an update on specific agile initiatives in the DOD. First, the Section 804 of NDAA 2010 and Section of 933 of NDAA 2011 are formally closed. The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) completed its report for developing a strategy for rapid acquisition. That report included a proposed a modification of the DOD 5000 acquisition standard to be more iterative. But that was just the beginning. Not only did he cite 9 active programs seeking to be more agile (e.g. streamlining for “integrated test” initiative at Department of Test and Evaluation, but he gave a few pointed assertions:
- “The latest acquisition guidelines are encouraging concept of “time certain” delivery” (aka “timebox” in Agile speak)
- You can’t execute in smaller chunks if the requirements guys aren’t on board”
- “The CIO of DOD, Ms. Takai, is absoletly embracing agile”
- “Agile is consistent with Under Secretary Ashton Carter’s “Better Buying Power” defense memo“
- “All the C4SI senior project officers “get it”. The problem is at the middle management level.”
It was an encouraging list of the seeds of positive cultural reform.
Agile By the Numbers
The most enthusiastic talk of the day came from Dr. David Rico’s talk featuring some shocking statistics.
- Large systems are risky. When systems approach 400 millions lines of code, bad things happen
- The average productivity for a DOD system is under 1 line of code per hour
- Of the world’s $1.7 trillion in IT expenditure, $858 billion is lost
- Today 60-70% of DOD projects are using #Agile methods, including the F-35 and F-22 (My guess is all those projects may have at least one agile teams, but very few full program-wide implementations of Agile/Lean methods)