How Agencies Can Adopt Agile Practices

This interview with Dick Stark, President and CEO of RightStar Systems is an excerpt from our recent guide, Your Guide to Productivity in Government.

Government organizations at all levels are increasingly adopting agile development approaches like DevOps. Not only do these iterative, collaborative processes speed up delivery times for critical digital services and applications, they also meet unique public sector needs.

To learn why agencies are adopting agile approaches, as well as what they need to succeed, we interviewed Dick Stark, President and CEO of RightStar Systems. RightStar is an ITSM/ DevOps consultancy and Atlassian solution provider.

Stark said his consultancy often gets pulled into government projects where entire legacy systems, with extensive customizations in place, need to be replaced in a limited timeframe. In many cases, those agency projects begin with a waterfall approach only to determine that the process won’t fit the large and complex scale of the task.

“That approach can’t succeed,” Stark explained. “We have to take it one piece at a time, go live, and then take another piece and go live again. People’s budgets and circumstances are going to change, but we can still manage a big win if we take it one small win at a time.”

Another scenario in which Stark sees agile playing a key role is cloud migrations. “If you were to ask anyone what their most urgent need is today, they would probably say to move everything to the cloud. That’s a big project. It’s not just a lift and shift; it takes a lot of work and ongoing project management,” Stark said.

In cloud migrations, legacy system updates and other complex IT projects, agile workflows can dramatically increase time to service delivery while also ensuring that each incremental change doesn’t disrupt the larger ecosystem of services and technologies.

But while agile can be a gamechanger for government, Stark advised against simply changing agency development schedules and assuming they will reap the benefits of iterative design.  Instead, he explained that agencies must take the time to carefully assess their current people, processes and tools before adjusting to new methodologies.

For any new approach to succeed, Stark emphasized that the practitioners – whether they are developers or program managers – must be trained in the strategies, rationales and techniques associated with it. “Some agile practices can be gained through experience,” Stark said. “But some parts can really only be taught in a classroom.”

This training not only educates, but it also helps safeguard against early failures in agile adoption by equipping personnel with the skills and tactics they need to be successful.

Additionally, Stark explained that these practitioners must be equipped with necessary technologies, like Atlassian’s Jira, Confluence, Bitbucket, and Bamboo, to fuel iterative development. Collaboration tools are required to keep developers, operations teams and other personnel in constant communication, while agile project management tools like Atlassian’s Jira Portfolio ensure everyone is up-to-date on current progress. Moreover, automation plays a critical role in enabling agile sprints and processes to move quickly without sacrificing quality.

All of these technologies must be thoughtfully deployed to integrate with current IT systems. Additionally, they must be adopted in a way that doesn’t disrupt current processes – even as they fuel new agile workflows.

Deploying the right Atlassian training, tools and processes to fuel agile adoption is a complex undertaking for most government agencies. To gain a better understanding of their agile or DevOps readiness, agencies turn to consultancies like RightStar for the best Atlassian solutions in conjunction with Carahsoft Technology Corp., Atlassian’s exclusive public sector aggregator.

As an Atlassian solutions provider, RightStar conducts in-depth analyses of agencies’ current processes and tools, assessing the effectiveness of capabilities like configuration management, system testing, application deployment and performance monitoring. For each stage of the development lifecycle, Atlassian partners consider the culture, organization, processes and tools that are currently in place – and how each is or is not facilitating agile tactics.

“Based on our findings, we provide agencies with practical and actionable steps that can dramatically improve application development and IT operations systems. We’ll lay out what tasks you should tackle first and which can be addressed at a later time. You’ll be prepared to decide on which initiatives to move forward with and which are not worth the investment of your time and resources,” Stark said.

Agile and DevOps processes are a must for agencies seeking to deliver better services quicker and tackle large-scale IT projects without sacrificing performance or security. But to reap those benefits, agencies must take a thoughtful and guided approach to how they adapt the skills, processes and tools that enable their strategies.

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