In our last blog, we addressed three steps your agency can take to get a better MEGABYTE grade on the FITARA scorecard. In the second installation of this series, we address steps your agency can take to improve your Incremental Development score.
Agencies have historically struggled to implement IT projects on time and on budget. Recent research suggests this is due to agency’s use of waterfall development practices, where complex IT systems are developed over the course of several years and then released to users “all at once”. Commercial firms have found that this approach is inherently risky, and often leads to cost-overruns and systems that do not keep pace with changing user needs.
Instead, the commercial sector has embraced Incremental Development (which is a key tenant of Agile Software Development). With incremental development, value is delivered to end-users on a regular basis, giving IT teams a chance to test their solutions, speed time-to-value, and quickly course-correct if something goes wrong (which is almost always does). These principles are the basis for the “Incremental Development” dimension of the FITARA scorecard.
GAO (The U.S. Government Accountability Office) recently reviewed the incremental development processes of 24 federal agencies. They found that 21 out of 24 agencies had major challenges which hindered their ability to successfully deploy incremental development principles. In fact, only four of the 24 agencies had a well defined incremental development processes in place.
And although fully implementing incremental development is a major undertaking, Censeo has identified a few steps your agency can take to improve your incremental development grade on the next FITARA scorecard.
Step 1: Identify Major IT Investments
The first step is to analyze your IT Investments and determine which projects are the best candidates for incremental development:
- Project Census: Build a central repository of current and planned IT investments / projects.
- Define Goals: Set specific business goals for each project, including both financial (cost savings) targets and quantitative mission improvement targets.
- Identify Candidates: Select the projects to be developed incrementally. For example, this could the projects with the most delivery risk, or the projects where incremental functionally can benefit users the most.
Step 2: Plan in Six Month Increments
Once you have selected your projects, you need to deliver value to users on a regular basis. Here are some best practices to follow:
- Incremental Milestones: Build your development plans so you release new functionality to users at least every 6 months
- Manage Contactors to Your Incremental Milestones: Since most IT systems are developed via contractors, you will need to align your align your vendor performance management plans (and ideally your vendor’s incentives) and with your new milestones. Remember, it’s okay to re-negotiate contracts if your needs have changed.
- Iterate with Users: Collect feedback from users when you release new functionalities to improve your plans and better meet their needs.
Step 3: Track and Report Progress
Finally, figure out how you and your team can track and report progress. Here are a few ways to stay on top of this:
- Simplify Project Tracking: Develop a simple template project managers can use to track progress to milestones. Complex templates fall out of use quickly.
- Aggregate & Analyze: Identify trends, best practices, and lessons learned to continuously improve your incremental development process.
- Report to OMB: Remember, your FITARA grade is based on what you report to OMB. So, every six months, be sure to upload all required information, including all changes you have implemented over the last six months.
If you are interested in receiving more details on how Censeo can help your organization get more Agile, contact us today to set up a consultation.
Interested in seeing Iterative Systems methodology in action? Read our case study about how Censeo used an iterative process to be more effective and efficient.