Monday, March 8, 2010

Challenges to Agile in the Federal Government

A short blog for today.  I was recently asked about the challenges of implementing Agile in the government.  My quick response was the following:
There are a number of challenges that one encounters in the government sector and these challenges are even further called out when trying to implement Agile in the government space. 

At its core, Agile is built around delivering results while the government focuses on managing risks.  Let us look at the Agile Manifesto:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

The Agile world focuses on the left over the right.  However, in today’s world the Federal government largely operates on the right side of these statements.

Thus key issues include:
·         Reporting of value.  The government largely uses EVM methods for reporting of value.  While EVM is not necessarily incompatible with an Agile model, most government organizations use EVM in a waterfall type model, which causes problems when mapped to an Agile program.
·         Governance.  Organizations such as GAO and OMB provide oversight to government projects.  There was an old theory that the more paper you provided to these organizations, the better your program looked.  Although it is getting better, there are still issues with resources at these types of governance organizations understanding the Agile model and being able to translate that into what they traditionally have required from projects.
·         Funding and Procurement.  The funding of government programs can have substantial lead time which creates challenges to programs.  In addition, government contracts are generally not written to support Agile methods.  This combined with limited knowledge of Agile by program contracting officers creates challenges for implementing Agile.
·         Misconceptions.  There are many in the government that have been use to running programs in a traditional way.  Often they believe that if a program fails, it is not because the traditional process is flawed, it was that the process was not implemented correctly.  Thus even more process is placed on the program.  Additionally, Agile is still new to many in the Federal government and misconceptions and misunderstandings on what Agile is have slowed acceptance of Agile.
·         Agendas.  In the Federal government there are multiple vendors, contractors, and organizational groups working on any given program.  Since these groups ultimately do not report to the same leaders and do not share the same vision, this can cause conflicts and political issues that can handicap projects.

As a side note, when I first started on my government program, I came to a project that had a nine person PMO overseeing 3 project managers, 4 business analyst, 1 architect and 1 developer.  The team size was probably ok, but I think the makeup of the team may have been a little off.


  1. Hi Richard,
    Great article. Your comment: "At its core, Agile is built around delivering results while the government focuses on managing risks.", prompted me to comment. I see Agile as a process that focuses on delivering results while also managing risks.

    Agile software development methodologies have driven the number of releases radically higher. The increase of release events means increased pressure on release management teams, and further compounding the task of IT Operations to maintain stability while tracking and executing these releases.

    I invite you check out:


    How to Drive Change While Remaining in Control – A recorded webinar with experts from EMA and Evolven


    Alex Gutman
    Technology Evangelist
    Evolven Software, Inc.

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