February 23, 2015

CC Pace at the Potomac Forum – Agile Development in Government Training Workshop

Written by Ron Peterson

On January 28, CC Pace and the Potomac Forum collaborated once again to present their latest in the series, Agile Development in Government Training Workshops.  In addition to CC Pace’s presentations and training sessions, speakers and panelists included officials from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), and the Government Accountability Office (GAO).  Several other Federal agencies were represented in the audience.  The workshop participants were challenged to take a fresh look at what agility, “being agile”, really means.  One top Federal official posed five questions for us to consider:

  1. Can we have a Lean bureaucracy? If you had one more incremental dollar for your project, what would you spend it on? Right now we’re spending that dollar on oversight and documentation instead of valued results.
  2. Shouldn’t we be looking at best practices, cutting edge approaches instead of arguing about Waterfall vs. Agile?
  3. Why not benchmark to leaders in Industry like Netflix and Amazon?
  4. Why doesn’t top IT talent think the Federal government is the best place to work?
  5. Why is it acceptable to spend billions of dollars and take forever to build software?

One of the key Agile principles that was emphasized throughout the day, both by CC Pace and the government officials, was the value of empirical learning.  By building software incrementally and taking advantage of short feedback loops facilitated by continuous communication with end users and other stakeholders, the developers can apply what has been observed and commented on to improve the process and more accurately inform the schedule, requirements and production as they go forward. This approach greatly reduces project risk while improving quality and usability of the finished product.

Officials from some agencies that are successfully implementing Agile practices already, cited recent initiatives like the publication of the TechFAR, and the Digital Services Playbook, as well as the establishment of GSA’s 18F (a Federal Agile services group), that are beginning to remove some of the roadblocks to agility in the Federal Government.  Since there were a number of workshop participants who were new to Agile and Lean Thinking, CC Pace included an excellent session on Agile Basics, laying the foundation for our working lunch session,  What challenges will your agency face when trying to implement Agile?  The working groups came up with five common challenges: 1) Cultural resistance to change, 2) Regulatory issues (all the way up to Congress), 3) Old measures that may not be relevant in the new environment (EVM), 4) Need for training of executives and middle managers, and 5) Inability to attract top talent to government from the private sector.

Our panel discussion included comments on these five issues as well as on the fact that Waterfall project failures have soared into the billions of dollars over time.  There has to be a better way.  However a note of caution was sounded since many vendors are claiming “agile” when there is nothing agile at all about their approach. Agile is not a “silver bullet”.  Agile is not going to fix a poorly managed project.

CC Pace wrapped up the day with a presentation by their Federal Practice Director on cutting edge practices in Lean and Agile in the session What’s on the Agile Horizon and Why it is Important for Government, followed by the final presentation Putting it All Together – An Agile Roadmap, by CC Pace’s Managing Director.  The workshop received excellent evaluations from the participants.  We hope you can join our next Agile in the Federal Government Workshop at the Potomac Forum this coming spring.

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