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.

On February 25th and 26th, I had the pleasure of attending the “Agile in Government” conference put together by AFEI (The Association For Enterprise Information). The theme of this year’s conference was Mutual Adaption – Adapting Agile to acquisition and acquisition to Agile.

While attending the conference, I had the privilege of listening to some great speakers on various topics, including contracting Agile in the government, DevOps use in the government, how cloud computing is the next ‘big’ thing for government agencies, and how EVM plays a role in government projects.

Roger Baker kicked off the event with the keynote talk on day 1 discussing how to ensure the success of Agile projects.  He had 2 very powerful points:  base the solution on solving the mission and not the technology and what he called ‘Success Makers’ for Agile projects.  Mr. Baker pointed out that he is very adamant about keeping program lengths 6 months or less to root the program in deadlines, which helps to keep things moving.  He also discussed that the acceptable rate of success should be more like 80%, instead of the current 16%.  Mr. Baker’s success factors are to ensure prioritization, impose deadlines, force decision making, and involving users in everything; it “takes a village to move things forward” he notes.  My favorite quotable sentence from Mr. Baker was “Agile is not the answer to everything, but waterfall is the answer to nothing.”

There were a number of speakers that touched on how to use contracts in the government for acquisitions; after all, that was the theme of this year’s conference.  Each of the speakers discussed how there are numerous types of contracts that lend themselves to Agile very well.  One that is becoming more and more popular is that of indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity (IDIQ) which allows for changes through task orders.  These speakers concentrated heavily on the FAR[1] which has been shown support Agile acquisitions.

Another topic that was a headliner was that of EVMS, or earned value management system.  EVM is a management tool and not something that is a day-to-day monitoring tool.  EVM helps to track time and budget at a program level.  The one thing that makes the EVM stand out is that it is really about value; as a couple speakers pointed out, you really have as much time as you need but it is about the amount of value that you need to deliver in a set timeframe.  The easiest way to ensure that the value is kept in check, relevant to the time and budget, is to prioritize.  Prioritization is a point that was continually hammered by each speaker, including those that spoke of EVM.

David Linthicum, keynote speaker on day 2, spoke about how cloud computing is the future for the government.  He pointed out how it not only helps to speed things up but also how it is something that really cannot be ignored if government agencies wish to have systems to be more reliable and scalable.  As with a number of other speakers, Mr. Linthicum pointed out that just switching architecture is not the answer to becoming faster, more reliable, and more scalable; there also need to be things such as continuous integration, automated testing, and the ability to spin up environments at the drop of a hat.  All of these concepts lend themselves to points made that it is paramount to adhering to developing on cadence, releasing on demand.  Mr. Linthicum laid out a number of variables that need to be accounted for when moving to cloud computing and noted numerous times that a change of that magnitude takes time.  He hypothesized that if government agencies began planning to move to cloud computing now, and moved forward, they would be there by 2019-2020.  Another point that Mr. Linthicum drove home is that, contrary to what some think, it is not possible to ‘balance out’ the cost with the savings; there will be a cost to moving, but then savings in things like operations and reliability will be seen long term—not immediately.

Another speaker that was of interest was Mr. Victor Page.  He was from the DSDM Consortium and spoke about how DSDM is an Agile method that is becoming more widely used than it has in the past.  Mr. Page talked about how many believe that, by its name Dynamic Systems Development Method, that it is a method that tells you what to do and how to do it; however, he followed this statement by saying that it is more a framework than a method.  DSDM, as a framework, is more about showing what to do but leaving leeway in how to implement the framework.  Many, according to Mr. Page, are starting to ‘rename’ DSDM to “Driving Strategy; Delivering More”.

I was honored to speak to the group on day 1 about how teams are more than resources and they should be treated as such in a talk titled “Teams Are People Too”. In the 30-minute slot, I outlined how most teams are treated in traditional projects and how that treatment should be shifted when looking at teams in Agile.  I tried to point out how teams should be treated inside an agency, as a vendor-based team, and as a team that is split between an agency and a vendor.

In probably the most enjoyable session of the conference, I had an opportunity to participate in playing a round of the Agile Contracting Strategy Board Game developed by FWD Think.  This game is laid out similar to a cross between Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, and Trouble.  Each of 4 teams, of 3 people each, roll a monster set of dice and move their ‘car’ around the board.  With each square the ‘car’ lands on, there are questions or challenges that the team must complete.  When a right answer is given or a challenge is completed, the team is awarded money.  Whichever team has the most money at the end of the game (in our case, the timeframe allowed to play), wins.  I found this game to be very helpful in understanding some of the nuances of Agile and acquisitions.  As an aside, my team of 3 won at our table!

As you can see from this short synopsis, there was a lot to take in and a lot to be learned in 2 days.  In all, there were approximately 120 people in attendance.  All-in-all, it was a very full 2 days!