Agile in Government Summit 2016

Agile in Government Summit 2016

On May 10-11, the Association for Enterprise Information (AFEI) hosted their 2016 Agile in Government summit.  CC Pace is proud to have been a Bronze Sponsor once again at this event.  The two days featured outstanding speakers and experts on various disciplines under the Agile umbrella including some of the basics, Agile testing, scaling Agile, and most notably DevOps.  There were numerous Federal case studies that helped dismiss the notion that some still espouse, that Agile is just the latest buzzword that will never take root in government.  Outstanding speakers, and more importantly, implementers of business and technical agility in their agencies showed how this approach is working for them now. AFEI’s inclusion of private sector subject matter experts helped to round out the discussions.

Matt Kennedy, Program Manager in the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency US Treasury, spoke on the topic of Agile Contracting – Making the Contract Work for You.  He encouraged acquisition and contract professionals to take a fresh look at the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) in order to see that the Federal regulations are indeed much more open to designing contracts for Agile digital services than one might think.  He pointed out that quality contracts that are designed in such a way so as to achieve the required business solutions that an agency needs to support their mission don’t come about by copying and pasting from previous contracts that might appear on the surface to be similar to current requirements.  He also talked about some innovative ways to think about formulating contracting strategy and wording.  He cited the fact that at DHS, Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) uses Firm Fixed Price contracting to buy Agile teams of a definite size and makeup.  He suggested that Time and Material (T&M) contracts can be designed to include a percentage reduction in the payment rate to a contractor that misses specific agreed upon milestones, etc. What I took away from his presentation was that thinking in the box is okay, but thinking is essential.

Gene Kim, Author, Researcher and Founder of Tripwire and IT Revolution was one of the keynote speakers on the subject of DevOps.  Gene has authored some great books on the subject: The Phoenix Project, The Visible Ops Handbook, and the soon to be released DevOps Handbook. I thought that there were four major takeaways from Gene’s discussion:

  1. DevOps is more valuable than we thought because smaller deployments done more frequently actually improve quality and tend to reduce technical debt. He said that one performance indicator could be the number of deployments per day per developer, because low performing teams have to use more developers which often equates to lower overall productivity.
  2. Do deployments in the middle of the day instead of Friday afternoon when you can’t address any issues until the following week.
  3. Measure code deployment lead time, which in Gene’s opinion is “the most accurate measurement of quality, productivity and employee happiness”. The degree to which we do or do not fear deployment is a great indicator of our level of confidence in, and satisfaction of our work.
  4. DevOps contributes to a learning organization. We see problems as they occur, can swarm on resolving those problems immediately and learn from our mistakes in real time in harmony with the Lean manufacturing principles of the Toyota pull cord approach.

Mark Schwartz, CIO of DHS’ Citizenship and Immigration Services, was the final keynote speaker with a very interactive audience discussion on Agile in government.  Mark suggested that it’s time to move beyond the Waterfall vs Agile argument.  Agile is finding a stable footing in government and it is being adopted by more and more agencies because of the improved results that are being realized over a Waterfall approach.  Mark would like to see the discussion move to the next level:

  1. Technical Excellence – Employing automated testing, not being afraid to deploy, having excellent UI design
  2. Servant Leadership approach to the management of projects – Management should take the first step of hiring excellent people and then fill the role of removing obstacles to successful delivery
  3. Success should be measured by delivering business value to the customer (agency/business unit) and not by how many requirements were met by a certain date
  4. Oversee programs by funding release trains or capacity and start with a set of desired outcomes instead of a set of requirements
  5. Moving toward a community model leveraging Open Source, and interacting with that community to the point of looking to its members as a potential hiring source for government

To be sure there were many other fine speakers, discussions and interactions.  The event was well organized as always and provided me with a good mix of education and insight into the current  thinking of some of the thought leaders within the Federal government as well as the opportunity to network with other contractors in this space and a number of our government clients and partners.  I’m looking forward to next year’s summit.  It will be interesting to see how this trend of Agile adoption in government develops and matures.

Although our headline says Workshop VI, this is actually our seventh engagement with Art Chantker’s Potomac Forum on Agile in Government.  I love being part of these workshops on so many levels.  The historical Willard is so elegant and Art is a gracious host.  But the real value of the Potomac Forum Agile workshops is the in-depth expert knowledge provided by the trainers, guest speakers, panelist and interactive audiences in attendance.  For this latest workshop our instructors were David Patton, Government Practice Director, and Ashok Komaragiri, Senior Technical Consultant, both from CC Pace.  Our keynote speaker and panelists included senior officials from the Department of Homeland Security and the United States Patent and Trademark Office.  A very diverse audience included some people from industry and government representatives from NIH, National Science Foundation, Department of Agriculture, Library of Congress, Social Security Administration, FDIC, and other Federal agencies.

We kicked off our 2016 series with the topic DevOps – Taking Agility in Government to the Next Level.   Now that more and more agencies are starting to employ some Agile principles and seeing good results, the concept of better integrating the development teams with the operations teams is starting to garner more interest. David Patton took us through the basic precepts of DevOps, and painted a clear value proposition for considering this approach.  He helped the attendees to understand that both DevOps and Continuous Delivery are part of Lean Thinking, which has its roots in the manufacturing industry, and which has long been recognized as essential for process efficiency improvements.

Our keynote speaker posed the question that our government attendees were anxious to hear the answer to – Can DevOps Work Here?  His agency is proving that it can, with a combination of specific Lean-Agile practices combined with innovative procurement methods for facilitating the acquisition of the necessary resources to make it work “here” – in government.

An intriguing all-graphics presentation was the delivery approach of one of our other senior government officials.  In speaking about Lean-Agile architecture she highlighted the importance of keeping it simple, emergent, modular and loosely coupled.  This approach builds the framework for changes that we know will come.  She also emphasized the importance of using seasoned coaches for knowledge transfer as a key part of the successful implementation of these concepts.

After our working lunch David Patton facilitated our government panel of experts on how they are making DevOps work in their respective agencies.  He then continued with a presentation on the Lean concept for managing the flow of work and identifying bottlenecks and constraints in processes known as Kanban.  Finally, Ashok Komaragiri, Senior Technical Consultant for CC Pace, took us through a DevOps roadmap in his presentation A Guide to Your DevOps Journey.  He encouraged the attendees who want to begin adopting DevOps practices to break knowledge silos, integrate code continuously, and automate deployments as much as possible.

Reviews of the workshop coming in from government attendees have been outstanding.  One government official said that it was “One of the most informative training workshops I have attended”. If you haven’t attended on of these Agile in Government workshops, you should.