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People: The Key to Agile Agencies

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how desperately agencies need more agility. Nationwide, public health depends on agencies swiftly meeting citizens’ needs.

Despite this, some agencies are struggling on the road to agility because they haven’t fully addressed the most important aspect of being agile: people. Whether it is working remotely, software development or something else, agencies can’t become more agile without making their workforces a key part of the solution.

“This is where an empathetic culture will work best,” Bridget Fields, Director of Acquisitions for the Centers of Excellence (COE) at the General Services Administration (GSA), said Wednesday during GovLoop’s latest fireside chat.” Adopt the idea of using feedback from your employees. They can communicate with each other clearly and collaboratively.”

Agile software development involves collaboration between self-organizing, cross-functional teams to quickly create and release software. When fully implemented, agile software development can enable agencies to continuously adapt, improve and upgrade their software products and services. But agile practices can and should extend beyond the IT shop.

According to Brad Sollar, Presidio’s Business Development Manager, Digital Transformation group, agile software development requires getting everyone on the same page agencywide. Presidio is an IT solutions provider.

“Every role has to be involved to support agile no matter what it is they’re doing,” he said. “Every piece should be just as important and should be given equal weighting.”

For instance, cybersecurity or human resources personnel are best equipped to understand how agility will impact their work. By including stakeholders from as many teams as possible, agencies can understand how agility will transform their operations agencywide.

GSA’s Center of Excellence, meanwhile, can accelerate IT modernization for agencies by tapping private-sector innovations and government services while centralizing best practices and expertise. According to Fields, leveraging employees’ experiences are another crucial component agencies must consider while becoming agile.

“True bureaucracy hacking occurs when you find the person who has been around a long time,” she said as an example. “They know the unique pain points that have to be addressed for success.”

Sollar explained that another challenge agencies often encounter on the road to agility is biting off more than they can chew. “Starting small is a great way of dipping your toes into agile,” he said. “Try and come up with at least some goals you’d like to achieve.”

So how do agencies stick the landing once they make the leap to agile? According to Sollar, one way is building off others’ successes.

“Try to make the most of reuse as possible,” he said of security standards such as the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP). “Utilize those and start building on top. That is a much smaller delta than having to accredit the whole thing from start to finish.”

Fields also shared that her team is a proponent of documentation and sharing code and processes via GitHub for innovative acquisition approaches. GSA also has templates for creating agile contracts.

Remote work is another area that agility can benefit. In an age where quarantining and social distancing can help fight COVID-19, it’s a capability that’s increasingly important.

“For government to adopt this work-from-home mentality – I think it is a good thing,” Sollar said. “We have these proven ways of working remotely that are going to be the new norm.”

For more insights and best practices around agile processes in government, make sure to reserve your free copy of our upcoming guide, “Agile for Everyone: How to Improve Everyday Work Processes.”

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