Campus & Community

Mission Critical: Fostering an Agile Systems Development Paradigm for the Complex Government Enterprise

In November, Dr. Richard Turner, Distinguished Service Professor, School of Systems and Enterprises (SSE) and Dr. Suzette Johnson, Certified (Agile) Scrum Coach and Chair of the Northrop Grumman Agile Community of Practice, jointly conducted an Agile Boot Camp as part of the Agile for Government Summit, co-hosted by The Association for Enterprise Information (AFEI) and the Software Engineering Institute. The interactive workshop was well received and attended by key government and industry stakeholders.

Agile development methods, widely accepted as best practice in the software and information technology business sector, have been gaining wider interest for use in government systems. Federal agencies depend heavily on technology to support their critical missions. In the current climate—the volatility of requirements, rapidly evolving technology, and the emphasis on continuous product evolution throughout the product lifecycle have led to several federal agencies adopting agile methods to streamline their information technology activities.

Government systems are large, complex, and involve an array of interacting hardware, software, and human components that are acquired, developed and operated in a highly regulated environment. These systems are supported, funded, developed, tested, used, and maintained by a large and often diverse set of stakeholders. All of these factors, along with the government contracting regulations, make adoption of agile a highly challenging enterprise in the federal sector.

“Agile approaches offer reasonable and elegant ways of evolving systems and software engineering toward handling complex issues. However, as systems become larger and more complex, new ways of dealing with abstraction, concurrency, and uncertainty need to be developed - an agile Systems Engineering approach, a collaboration between the agile framework and traditional systems engineering practices”, said Dr. Turner.

Defining the fundamental principles of agile development and including practices from Scrum, Extreme programming and similar methods, the workshop was an ideal platform to deliver a basic introduction and understanding of the agile process to developers, acquirers, and contracting personnel in federal agencies. Core agile concepts of planning, estimating, and reporting were highlighted in the workshop. Collaboration between customers, stakeholders, systems engineering, and development teams was emphasized as key to enabling well-managed process. 

The session was interactive, collaborative, and a forum for sharing ideas. Participants were divided into small cross-functional teams and assigned tasks to be completed using the agile techniques taught in class – leaving them with a hands on experience of agile values, principles, and practices that provide solutions in their respective complex systems environment.