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10 critical factors for agile delivery

Jan. 27, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By DAN CHENOK   |   Comments
Dan Chenok is the executive director of the IBM Center for The Business of Government. He has held multiple government positions, including service as OMB's SES Executive in charge of IT policy and budgeting.


Many complex IT programs are encumbered by requirements that continually change over lengthy timeframes. This can result in frequent cost overruns and schedule delays that lead to missed deadlines and missions

Numerous studies and years of implementation experience show that agile approaches, when executed correctly and tailored to the need of the project and the organization, improve the delivery of software and large system integration projects. Today, Jan. 27, the IBM Center for the Business of Government is releasing a new report – A Guide to Critical Success Factors in Agile Delivery – that demonstrates how federal agencies can leverage agile development methods to achieve success.

Agile is a set of values and principles based on best practices for delivery of software and other IT projects. When implemented correctly, agile values and principles help create effective working solutions for stakeholders and provide flexibility to adapt to changes over time. Agile delivery approaches can support the federal government’s goals of doing more with less and improving the agency’s ability to manage their budgets and delivery dates.

While the agile movement remains young – it started officially in 2001 – most agile concepts and practices have been applied to projects for decades. They are still popular because they have been proven to work. A prior report from the IBM Center outlined key values of the agile approach, which include:

■ Individuals and interactions over processes and tools;

■ Working software over comprehensive documentation;

■ Customer collaboration over contract negotiation, and;

■ Responding to change over following a long-term plan.

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Today’s release of A Guide to Critical Success Factors in Agile Delivery is intended to help leaders understand how best to leverage agile values and benefits. Agile can be used as a tool to leverage IT in a way that minimizes time and cost and maximizes mission and operational effectiveness. The Guide sets forth 10 critical success factors for implementing agile, which are based on lessons learned from delivering large, complex projects and programs, as well as formal assessments of troubled agile initiatives.

These 10 factors are:

■ Changing the Acquisition Process to Support Agile Delivery

■ Integrating Executive Champions and Stakeholders into an Agile Initiative

■ Using Existing Knowledge and Not Reinventing the Wheel

■ Implementing More Verbal Communication and Dashboards

■ Including the Right Product Owner and Mission Subject Matter Experts

■ Implementing Reviews that Support Agile Delivery

■ Selecting Top Staff for Lead Roles in the Agile Project

■ Planning for IT Infrastructure and Tooling Needs

■ Conducting “Just Enough” Upfront Work Before the Start of the Agile Project

■ Integrating Critical Specialty Skills to Support Agile Teams

Agile approaches, when well-planned, implemented with discipline, and tailored to the scale of the project or organization, can produce better-quality software faster, and at an overall lower cost. Agile presents an oppor­tunity for tangible benefits and cost savings to the federal government but must be balanced by governance models that are adapted to support lighter deliverables, fixed resources and time, and variable scope. The benefits to this approach are powerful and important for government: on-time project completion within budget, fewer defects, flexibility to adapt software to an organization’s evolving priorities, and adoption of emerging technology.

This Guide is intended to be help executives throughout the federal government achieve these benefits as they move toward implementing agile projects.

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