Management

18F builds agile contract for agile development

Solicitations close June 26 for 18F's agile delivery services blanket purchase agreement (BPA), which, when finished, will enable agencies to buy services for agile development projects in an agile way.

The Agile BPA being piloted at 18F — a division of the General Services Administration created to help agencies with software development — will include some 20 vendors with a proven ability to facilitate rapid code development and deploy functional software through an iterative approach.

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When 18F was stood up in March 2014, demand for the team's services skyrocketed, according to David Zvenyach, director of acquisition and management, who is leading the Agile BPA process.

"We started to realize, as a practical matter, there was no way we could manage all of the volume internally," he said. "In order to properly scale some of the things we do well, we'd have to leverage the private sector. That meant we'd have to move into the acquisition space."

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Since the 18F group was designed around the agile approach, their contract vehicle will reflect agile principles, as well.

"It is agile in a sense that these are agile delivery services but it is also agile in the sense that we are approaching the procurement process with an agile method," Zvenyach said.

Rather than focus on past performance or other metrics generally used by contracting officers when making awards, 18F put the priority on working code.

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In order to qualify, vendors had to demonstrate an ability to quickly write a software prototype that meets all the requirements and, most importantly, works.

In agile development "you prioritize working software over everything else," Zvenyach said. "We're not asking for past performance, we're not asking for a lot of management narrative; we're asking for working software."

The vehicle will also have on- and off-ramps for vendors in order to keep the BPA up-to-date with the latest available.

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"It's tailored to our experience and what we do here at 18F," Zvenyach said, citing different acquisition roles and procurement needs specific to his organization. "We view this as an opportunity to validate what we think we know about agile procurement."

Things they 'think they know' include the importance of using open source from day one and focusing on development sprints, rather than a traditional waterfall approach.

Zvenyach likened the pilot at 18F to an alpha stage in software development — testing the BPA internally before rolling it out across the government.

How the Agile BPA evolves and transitions to other agencies is still up in the air, he noted.

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"I have no idea about what this looks like in two to three years," Zvenyach said. "We don't know enough about what the entire federal government looks like to anticipate what the entire federal government's needs are."

But 18F does expect the idea of agile procurement will be able to spread across the public sector, as the elements of the BPA all conform with regulations in the TechFAR.

After solicitations close Friday, 18F will begin sorting through the responses and expect to make awards by late summer, early fall.

"We want to buy digital services in a different way than we bought them before," Zvenyach said. "We want the experience that we've had at 18F to scale beyond just building it internally."

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