AFEI DoD Agile Development Conference

23 December 2010

The AFEI DoD Agile Development Conference was held on Tuesday, December 14, 2010 in Alexandria, Virginia (http://www.afei.org/events/1A01/Pages/default.aspx). The purpose of the conference was to promote agile acquisition and IT development practices in the U.S. DoD. AFEI is a non-profit organization who helps the U.S. DoD develop contemporary acquisition, systems, and software practices, among other valuable services.
 
The AFEI DoD Agile Development Conference was rather enlightening. It reinforced the U.S. DoD's commitment to the use of Agile Methods. Furthermore, it was interesting to see that Agile Methods are in widespread use by the U.S. DoD, and that no individual organization, project, group, or person is practicing them in isolation.
 
Prior to AFEI's DoD Agile Development Conference, both the commercial industry and DoD contractors believed the U.S. DoD was not committed to Agile Methods, which is an enormously incorrect assumption. It's a popular urban legend or urban myth that the U.S. DoD uses traditional methods such as DoD 5000, CMMI, PMBoK, and other waterfall-based paradigms to develop IT-intensive systems (and that no one is using Agile Methods in the U.S. DoD).
 
The AFEI DoD Agile Development Conference shattered that myth completely. Furthermore, it served as a forum for reinforcing the use of Agile Methods in the U.S. DoD. Psychological reinforcement or affirmation of a desired behavior is a key ingredient to successful organization change (i.e., adoption of Agile Methods and the abandonment of traditional ones).
 
The OSD/NII(CIO) Office, who is responsible for the acquisition of IT-intensive systems, supports the use of Agile Methods as an alternative to the traditional, waterfall-based acquisition system as characterized by DoD 5000. The DoD's CIO recognizes that IT-intensive systems are not missiles, tanks, airplanes, or ships, and there is a need for Agile Methods as an alternative to DoD 5000.
 
In response to Congressional Directives, the OSD/NII(CIO), NDIA, AFEI, and a variety of defense contractors and commercial consultants have chartered a number of panels to form the basis of a new U.S. DoD policy requiring the use of Agile Methods for the acquisition of IT-intensive systems. The AFEI DoD Agile Development Conference is a continuation of the process for creating a new U.S. DoD IT-acquisition policy based on Agile Methods.
 
The AFEI Agile Development Conference was rather unique in that it brought together U.S. DoD Civil Servants who are currently serving as program managers overseeing the acquisition of IT-intensive systems using Agile Methods. The average conference typically arranges for contractors and consultants to share their experiences on the use of Agile Methods. In this case, however, the Agile experience reports were given by U.S. DoD civil servants (i.e., government workers). There were about 150 people in attendance.
 
The Agenda for the AFEI Agile Development Conference was as follows:
 
1. DoD Keynote: Beth McGrath, who is the Deputy Chief Management Officer (DCMO), described the necessity of using Agile Methods to acquire IT-intensive systems. She said the DoD acquires over $40 billion worth of IT-intensive systems every year and the average delivery time is seven years (for the few that succeed). She urged the community to stop using DoD 5000 for acquiring IT-intensive systems in order to shorten cycle times and increase the success rate of IT acquisitions. (She cited rapid technological obsolescence as a major reason for using Agile Methods.)
 
2. Industry Keynote: Scott Ambler, who is IBM's Agile Practice Leader, urged the U.S. DoD to stop using the waterfall-based DoD 5000 acquisition system. He provided a number of statistics showing that Agile Methods are generally superior to traditional ones in terms of cost, quality, schedule, customer satisfaction, overall success rate, and variety of other performance measures.
 
3. Panel One -- The DoD Environment for Agile:
 
a. Dave Mihelcic, who is DISA's Chief Technology Officer (CTO), described how DISA has fully adopted Agile Methods for the development of IT-intensive systems. DISA has also developed a variety of automated tools and services to help other U.S. DoD components to migrate towards the use of Agile Methods.
 
b. Rory Kinney, who is USTRANSCOM's Chief Enterprise Architect, described how his organization has fully transitioned to the use of Agile Methods for the acquisition of IT-intensive systems. He also described how USTRANSCOM has an enterprise architecture and service oriented architecture to integrate their overall end-to-end systems.
 
c. Dr. Steve Hutchinson, who is DISA's Test and Evaluation Executive, described how they've streamlined the traditional DoD test and evaluation process and reduced it from an average of over six months to only a few weeks. DISA has fully adopted the Agile Methods practice of Continuous Integration (i.e., automated testing) for this purpose.
 
d. Daniel Risacher, Associate Director for Information Policy and Integration (ODCIO), described his experiences developing, deploying, and institutionalizing the use of Open Source Software Development (OSSD), which is a type of Agile Method. Although he was able to draft the U.S. DoD OSSD policy in a few weeks, it took Pentagon lawyers over a year to approve it. He described the use of open source software as a significant cost reduction measure in the U.S. DoD.
 
4. Panel Two -- Getting Agile, Lessons from the Field:
 
a. Kelly Goshorn, AFMC Patriot Excalibur Program Manager, described the U.S. Air Force's Agile Methods journey over the last eight years. Patriot Excalibur, which consists of over 100 developers, is an automated scheduling and workflow system for unit-level aircrew scheduling, training, and evaluation. After adopting Agile Methods in 2002, the AFMC was able to rapidly deliver capabilities to grow their user base by over 10 times.
 
b. Mike Krzysko, OSD Deputy Director, described the Pentagon's efforts to roll out Agile Methods for developing IT-intensive systems.
 
c. Pat Benito, MITRE Agile Practice Leader, described MITRE's efforts to help U.S. DoD components adopt Agile Methods. MITRE is tasked with seeking out U.S. DoD IT development offices, promoting the use of Agile Methods, and aiding them in their transition.
 
d. Maj. Marc Franciszkowicz, DTRA Mobile Field Kit Program Manager, described the DTRA's experiences with Agile Methods. The Mobile Field Kit is a combination of software and services that provide field technicians with on-demand access to information for response planning. Agile Methods have enabled DTRA to scale up and out without the necessity for significantly more resources or loss in acquisition efficiency.
 
5. Panel Three -- Enterprise Services, Infrastructure and Applications:
 
a. Wayne Farmer, DISA RACE Program Manager, described DISA's Rapid Application Computing Environment. RACE is a suite of automated tools to support development, operational, and certification testing; certification and accreditation; and other deployment readiness assessment tasks.
 
b. Robert Viermeyer, DISA Forge.Mil Program Manager, described DISA's Forge.Mil, which is a hosted collaborative environment for developing open source software within the U.S. DoD. Forge.Mil is moving towards a hosted Continuous Integration services for U.S. DoD IT-intensive programs.
 
6. Panel Four -- Ask the Experts Panel:
 
(This was a panel of five industry experts on Agile Methods, hosted by Chris Gunderson of the Naval Postgraduate School. Chris, an outspoken critic of Agile Methods, challenged the panel of industry experts on a variety of flash points. These included organizational change and adoption issues, scalability to large U.S. DoD programs, and empirical evidence to indicate whether they were any better or worse than traditional, waterfall-based methods. The industry experts challenged the moderator to prove traditional methods were any more scalable or applicable to large programs, citing the 67% failure rate among DoD programs using traditional methods over the last 40 years.)
 
(On a side note, Chris Gunderson is the primary author of one of several NDIA reports, which is intended to show U.S. DoD executives "how" to implement and apply Agile Methods on U.S. DoD IT-intensive systems, "Industry Perspectives on the Future of DoD IT Acquisition," http://www.afei.org/WorkingGroups/Documents/TF_804_final_pdf.pdf ...)
 
As a result of the AFEI DoD Agile Development Conference, it now becomes apparent that the use of Agile Methods in the U.S. DoD is in its Golden Age. On the other hand, it is also apparent that the fundamental belief that U.S. DoD IT programs are characterized by the use of traditional methods such as DoD 5000, CMMI, and PMBoK is only an urban legend or an urban myth. That is, Agile Methods are in widespread use by IT and software-intensive programs and projects throughout the U.S. DoD.
 
The same can also be said of most small to medium-sized IT and software-intensive systems throughout the U.S. DoD.
 
The more traditional elements of DoD 5000, CMMI, and PMBoK are required for the largest U.S. DoD programs (i.e., fixed-price contracts, immovable governance boards, earned value management, iron-clad project plans, voluminous requirements specifications, big upfront architectures and designs, late and ineffective test and evaluation, reams of documentation, etc.). Large U.S. DoD programs are known as Acquisition Category (ACAT) I programs and are characterized by multi-decade, multi-billion dollar budgets that are subject to enormous cost and schedule growth (along with substantially reduced delivery order quantities). (We'll call these Big Acquisition or Big-A projects.)
 
However, over 95% of all U.S. DoD projects are not ACAT I programs, but are typically small to medium-sized IT and software-intensive programs. (We'll call these Little Acquisition or Little-A projects.) Acquisition managers of IT-intensive systems typically hire very-skilled and highly-qualified IT workers who are well-versed in contemporary development approaches such as Agile Methods. Therefore, practical experience shows that well over 70% of Little-A projects apply Agile Methods, although hardware-intensive Big-A projects seem to get all of the bad press and fool people into viewing the U.S. DoD as a culture characterized by the use of traditional methods.
 
(This isn't to say that Big-A traditional methods aren't applied to Little-A projects. Traditional methods such as DoD 5000, CMMI, and PMBoK are occasionally applied to IT-intensive projects, which generally causes them to escalate into runaway programs, i.e., a small multi-million dollar projects explode into a $500 million or even multi-billion dollar projects before collapsing under the weight of over burgeoning governance, processes, and documentation ...)
 
Big-A policy makers were conspicuously absent from the AFEI DoD Agile Development Conference, such as representatives of OSD's Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology (DUSD/A&T) and the Defense Acquisition University (DAU). However, members of organizations that promote traditional methods for IT and software-intensive systems were in attendance, such as the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) and Data and Analysis Center for Software (DACS).
 
Agile Methods are not just limited to the development of IT and software-intensive systems. The U.S. DoD has been promoting the use of evolutionary and spiral development for more than a decade. The U.S. Air Force pioneered the use of Agile Acquisition and Systems Engineering as early as 2002. The Stevens Institute of Technology offers a graduate certificate in Agile Systems Engineering.
 
More recently, the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) formed a working group for developing lean systems engineering practices, which have already been released to the public. Lean and Kanban techniques for acquisition, systems engineering, and even software development are quickly emerging. The U.S. Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) has been using Agile Acquisition and Systems Engineering practices to develop advanced air and spacecraft in as little as two years, such as the Liberty, MC-12W Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, and X-37B Operational Test Vehicle (military space shuttle).
 
What's the bottom line? The U.S. DoD needs to finalize its policy on the use of Agile Methods for the acquisition of IT and software-intensive systems (and stop applying Big-A traditional methods to Little-A projects causing them to escalate into runaways). The DAU needs to take a more active role in institutionalizing the use of Agile Methods for Little-A projects. OSD(AT&L) is in dire need of visionary leadership to begin transitioning Big-A projects to the use of Lean and Agile Acquisition and Systems Engineering policies.
 
(There are other nagging little gaps and issues that need to be resolved, such as the integration of security engineering, user experience design, and Kanban principles and practices into Agile Methods, along with a focus on commercial Web services integration vs. programming every system one line of code a time ...)
 
Finally, NDIA and AFEI also need to "continue" taking a leadership role in organizing conferences that bring U.S. DoD civil servants together to share their experiences applying Lean and Agile Acquisition and Systems Engineering practices for Big-A programs as a means of psychologically-reinforcing much needed organization and behavior change within the U.S. DoD acquisition community ...

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