It’s official. The government has woken up to the need to run technology projects differently, and I’m not just talking about HealthCare.gov.
Riding on the heels of last-week’s retrospective meeting on HealthCare.gov, last week the AFEI association hosted over 150 federal project professionals to discuss the use of modern management methods on government technology projects. Both the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) and the Citizenship & Immigration Service (USCIS) shared some informative case studies, but there was one game-changing new development that weaved throughout the event.
First, the Case Studies:
National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s Karyn Hayes-Ryan, was the opening guest speaker and talked about her departments use of Agile methods to deliver technology projects. Among other things, the said,
- There’s no more endstate. The evolution of technology won’t let us settle on a defined end state. Each agency’s respective missions won’t let us do that either . In a world of perpetual change, Government capabilities need to be perpetually evolving.
- The mid-level managers need the most support. Hayes-Ryan shared that her senior executives are on board with the idea of delivering more often, and the junior staffers are on board with self-organizing amidst more frequent change. However, the 10-15 year professionals who have established in stable environments, are struggling to operate under a different set of expectations. To be successful requires a holistic plan, such as…
- Working to change the contracting rules. Hayes-Ryan explained that she’s working Dr. Matt Kennedy at DAU to pioneer a curriculum for agile-friendly acquisition.
- Aggressive workforce training. The group brought in certified trainers to educate managers, policy makers, and even lawyers. They also installed their own secured copy of the Scaled Agile Framework, to make it easier for people to get answers within their own classified networks.
Then, NGA’s Jonathan Mostowski enlightened the crowd with his wit and kung-fu mastery of Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) rules.
“I like sunsets, walks on the beach, and reading the FAR”
– Jonathan Mostowski
In particular, to address the concerns around changing program requirements on fixed-price projects, he explained:
“You already know all the program requirements.” You know you need 2 week sprints, acceptance criteria, 90 day releases. You know your high level statement of mission objectives (e.g. “human geography”), which require these stated skillsets. You know you need ScrumMasters and Product Owners as key personnel. Heck, we’ll even give you an existing Backlog of work as a sample reference. These are all the parameters an agency or a contractor should need to craft an engagement.
Then, he started citing chapter and verse of the FAR, providing regulatory support for his approach. Amazing.
The Citizenship and Immigration Service agile journey was illustrated by CIO Mark Schwartz and Section Chief Joshua Seckel. Specifically, agile methods have yielded
- Higher quality, and thus, more reliable capabilities. One of the agency’s programs improved from a delivery cycle of 6 months development + 7 months remediation to a cycle of 4 months development +0 months remediation. The higher quality allowed the program to follow that with another 4 + 0 cycle, and another.
- The emergence of a new field, DevOpsSec. Traditional governance does not work for fast delivery. The agency is moving to more automated test and verification, more electronic approvals, and more technical management on the government side. All of this has to be done with increasing demands and concerns around security.
Second, the game-changing development is the increasing involvement by contracting officers.
There have been several Agile Government events in the last few years, including Agile Defense conferences and the regular ADAPT meetings.
However, this is the first event I’ve been to where the acquisition and procurement community was fully engaged
Deputy Assistance Secretary of Defense Steven Welby talked about incremental acquisition; Mostowski explained how he actually did agile government contracting, and the DAU is now involved.
Granted, there were common themes around the value of workforce training and the need for wholesale adoption of modern engineering practices, especially on the Government side. But, everyone agreed the new discussions around agile contracting are a very real inflection point.