Agile Crosses the Chasm to….DoD?

I recently received an email from Dr. David F. Rico, (PMP, CSM) regarding the recent AFEI DoD Agile Development Conference, held on Tuesday, December 14, 2010 in Alexandria, Virginia. “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.” Dr.  Rico (author of “Business Value of Agile Software Methods) wrote a synopsis of the conference and sent me a copy (permanent link: Thanks David!

It is clear from his notes that agile is making an increasing impact on the acquisition of software within the DoD. A few excerpts below:

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).

Of course, agile has its critics within DoD (don’t we all?) as this little vignette illustrates:

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.

I suspect that many of us considered the DoD to be the last bastion for rigorous and mandated waterfall development. If the DoD can move on ( at least in some instances) to more effective, agile methods for development of high assurance software systems, I’d guess most everyone else developing such systems should be able to move on too!

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