by Phillip Lew
Government contracting and agile software development would, on the surface, appear to be as compatible as oil and water. Yet government agencies are not immune to the allure of the agile process and have been embedding it as an option in recent contracts.
However, as PNSQC board member Phil Lew writes in a blog post, the attempt to include agile development as an option for government contractors has been challenging to date. The requirements of most government contracts are so voluminous and inflexible that integrating the agile process into the contracting system has been “disastrous,” according to a conference speaker cited by Lew.
The desire to include agile as an option for contractors was a natural one, Lew writes. “To stay relevant with what they saw as an overriding industry trend, the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) created Agile CMMI. The problem is that most government procurements are very large and even with Agile CMMI, still require a firm set of requirements. Yet, on the other hand, most commercial projects and products are now implemented much faster within months, not years.”
Lew’s post discusses the challenges faced by agile government vendors in some detail. One hurdle in particular must be overcome if agile development will truly find its place in government contracting.
“The whole crux of the problem lies in trust, another Agile principle,” Lew writes. “How can you specify a time box to get something done, and at the end of the time box, if what gets done is less than you wanted or need, still pay for whatever was delivered?”