Custom “Agile” Software Development
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Government agencies and their internal IT shops are considering how to match the private sector in efficient and successful development of information applications and infrastructure. Although government agencies do not “fail” in the sense that private sector companies do (i.e., go bankrupt), the new reality is that with compressed budgets and austerity based scrutiny, agencies are looking to be lean, mean, current and increasingly effective. Where the private sector has best practices, budgets and market signals to inform its IT decision making, the public sector relies on layers of oversight in the form of acquisition programs, engineering lifecycles and multi-level reporting and decision structures against a backdrop of public policy and regulation. Typically, the cost of ramping up a program requires that it be sufficiently significant to justify the machinery used to manage it. Having built a management and production methodology based on the “waterfall” large dollar approach to delivering information technology, the question for government managers – who are constrained by regulation, policy and multi-layered entrenched practices – is how they can be more agile, i.e., use practices that conform to institutional requirements but deliver lower cost, on-time, and on-budget.
At GreenLine Systems our Lean Software Development processes, small company “startup roots,” and successful work in large government IT organizations, have helped shape our views of a better way to build solutions for our government clients. We base our approach on the following pillars:
- Build excellent teams, ensuring that all necessary management and development roles are included and staffed with people with strong skills and the correct philosophy
- Understand and aggressively support agency requirements for the Systems Engineering Life Cycle (SELCs) and Earned Value Management (EVM) structures, but streamlined and tailored to support success as well as oversight
- Use Agile development processes in conjunction with business user oversight to release usable conforming code faster and in rapid iterations
Agile development has gained currency among IT shops in both the public and private sectors. Though it has proven successful in the private sector for rapid and accurate delivery of coding projects, there are significant barriers to implementing agile development practices in government. These barriers can include cumbersome acquisition processes; complex IT development and infrastructures environments; over large and layered management structures; and the need to support policy, regulation and oversight driven department, agency and office program control efforts. At GreenLine, we have experience in successfully addressing these issues.
We are often asked by our customers to explain how Agile Development is different than Waterfall Development at the highest level. Simply put, Agile development methods are adaptive and focus on adapting quickly to changing realities. That is, when the needs of a project change, an adaptive team changes as well.
The Waterfall approach focuses on planning what features and tasks are planned for the entire length of the development process. See the following chart for a visual comparison.
The downside of the Waterfall approach for large development efforts primarily stem from the world changing so much by the time the project is complete (requirements change, customers involved turnover and new people with new ideas are brought in, or technology advances occur) and the result is either an obsolete deliverable or an over budget project that misses the delivery date.
At GreenLine Systems, we understand the Federal Systems Engineering Life Cycle (SELC) and how to effectively incorporate the appropriate aspects of Agile Development into it and have delivered many projects successfully for our government customers. We also understand the need to report progress, track earned value and progress through gates. We also recognize that as desirable as it may be to be “Agile,” the reality is that government ships can be difficult to turn.
If your organization has a true desire to try a new approach, we are happy to discuss with you our experience and approaches to see if we can help. Please ping us at firstname.lastname@example.org.