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Agile and Acquisition – The Match.com of Contracting?

“If you could fix hiring and buying in the federal government, you would fix 90% of it’s problems,” said Bryan Sivak. Sivak is the Chief Technology Officer at the Department of Health and Human Services.

One of the ways the Coast Guard is trying to solve half of that equation is by using more agile acquisitions. Dan Taylor recently retired as a Captain in the Coast Guard. He told me that when it comes to defining and gathering requirements for an agile acquisition we often spend too much time setting them up at the beginning.

“We often spend far more time than we should defining up front requirements. By the time you get started and by the time you get through all the approvals, your requirements have changed. Perhaps if we defined the high level requirements and stopped there to get approval for an investment and then held off doing the detailed requirements until the last possible moment, we would be able to more quickly and cheaply,” said Taylor.

Move to Agile

“I wish I had saw more evidence of a move to agile. There are a few folks that are doing it under the radar at the DAU. But at the government structure level nobody is doing the things needed to encourage it. There has been no change in the way OMB governs investments. If we really want agile to be the default acquisition model it has got to be something that is taught in the school house,” said Taylor.

Culture and Training

  • Part of what we lack as project managers is the training to do things in another way. There are plenty of certifications that can teach somebody to execute in an agile way but until it is part of the core curriculum, it will be external to the program managers.
  • From the senior leaders there does seem to be a desire to get agile outcomes, but changing the culture is a big challenge. From the DHS perspective our high dollar acquisitions are ships and air craft that have been historically executed as big traditional waterfall acquisitions. You know pretty well upfront what that ship is going to look like, so it has to have a requirements shift where someone is looking to buy a ships in small pieces is a big mind shift.

The 3 Part Secret to Agile:

  1. It is impossible to acquire all the requirements ahead of time
  2. Whatever requirements you do gather are guaranteed to change
  3. There will always be more to do than time and money will allow

For more on government acquisitions check out GovLoop and Integrity Management Consulting’s latest guide, “Addressing the Complex Challenges of Today’s Acquisition Professional.”

View Below or Download the PDF

From generating requirements, to planning, obtaining and sustaining capabilities, the acquisition process, if implemented effectively, can contribute significantly to accomplishing an agency’s mission more efficiently. As the largest purchaser of goods and services in the nation, the Federal government’s acquisition process is complex and under more pressure than ever with tightened budgets and a shifting workforce. Review the guide below or download, print, save and share it with your colleagues:

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Robert W. Clarke

It’s understandable that the Federal acquisition community does is not on board in effectively acquiring Agile project management services – Agile’s principles (determining requirements at last possible moment, changing deliverables throughout the project, etc.) are at odds with what many of them were taught were best practices. Hence many Agile services buys are done with close to, or same structure as traditional Waterfall projects, which do not help the agency reap the benefits true Agile can provide.

To aid the Federal acquisition community (CO/KO/COR/PM) we developed a 2 day course, Acquisition for Agile, that explains what Agile is, how Agile can benefit agencies, what the justifications are in the FAR and other regulations for using Agile, and discussions and exercises on best practices in structuring effective acquisitions for Agile services. The course takes advantage of ASPE, Inc.‘s expertise in Agile training along with ASI Government’s expertise in Federal acquisition support and is taught both in open enrollment public and tailored agency onsite sessions. The next public session is October 3-4 in Arlington, VA.

Jaime Gracia

One of the main issues is a lack of focus on using Agile in mandated acquisition and program management training for FAC or DAWIA certification. I often just hit stumbling blocks trying to explain performance based acquisition, and can’t imagine the response I would get discussing Agile techniques.

Innovation is just not something that is encouraged anywhere in government, as leadership does not understand the concept, nor does the government have the skill set necessary to manage this methodology. Further, the risks associated with Agile are unknown, or just perceived too high.

Specific classes might be helpful, but senior leadership needs to be able to understand the concept and motivate technical teams to explore them and experiment with them. Until then, we are stuck with business as usual, which normally entails “Big Bang” approaches to technology insertion.