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InfoQ Homepage News Agile Adoption in the Public Sector: FBI and Port of Rotterdam

Agile Adoption in the Public Sector: FBI and Port of Rotterdam

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The public sector is increasingly using agile to satify their needs to develop software within the available budgets and on time, and to become more flexible and adaptive to changing requirements. An exploration how adopting agile can be a solution for needs of the public sector, and two case studies showing how agile development has been used for the FBI and at the Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands. 

In the article feds turn to agile development as budget cuts loom from Government IT news on Computerworld, senior editor Patrick Thibodeau states that there is a need for US federal agencies to use agile software development methods:

IT managers are turning to agile development to speed up projects and to quickly show their value. The days of the big, lumbering, multi-year government IT project may be slowly ending.

IT budgets are reduced in agencies, and they have to operate with short-term budgets as yearly budgets are not yet approved. These uncertainties in the budgets drive the government agencies to look for new ways to plan and manage their IT projects:

Agile methodology emphasizes collaboration with developers, managers and customers -- anyone with a stake in a project outcome -- as well as iterative development cycles that produce deliverables in short increments.

Matthew Weigelt and Camille Tuutti describe on FCW how agile development can help the public sector to manage evolving requirements. The article Going agile? Get your IT managers ready starts by explaining the problems they see that have to do with the traditional "waterfall" approach:

For too long, the government has been hampered by runaway IT projects that squandered billions of dollars and lagged behind schedule, Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel and Joe Jordan, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, wrote in July 2012 on the OMBlog. By the time some of the technology initiatives were released, they were obsolete.

"In many cases, these failures can be traced back to lengthy acquisition and IT development efforts that aimed to deliver massive new systems over years, rather than providing new functionality in an incremental manner — as the private sector does," VanRoekel and Jordan wrote.

Agile development can help government agencies to better manage their software projects:

Agile releases a project faster "instead of analyzing it to death and building something that the customer doesn’t need,"

Another important aspect of agile development is the opportunity for users to identify problems within a project while there is still an opportunity to correct them. By choosing agile development, officials are accepting the importance of constantly communicating with stakeholders inside and outside government to incorporate changes and resolve any issues that arise along the way.

The article how the FBI proves agile works for government agencies by Jason Bloomberg on is an example of the usage of agile in the public sector. It describes how the FBI’s sentinel project has been turned around and put back on track by using an agile software development methodology:

[FBI CIO Chad Fulgham] switched to an iterative Scrum approach that leveraged two-week sprints, a core scrum best practice. Fulgham's team got the project under control, came in under the revamped $451 million budget and, though it missed its initial September 2011 deadline, credits agile for getting the project done.

Jason refers to a report in which the Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigated several agile initiatives of US government agencies. This report has previously been covered on InfoQ in government guidelines for agile adoption.

Also John Foley describes in FBI's sentinel project: 5 lessons learned how agile development has helped the FBI. One of the lessons learned from the FBI sentinel projects is that “Agile development gets things done”:

The thinking was that a hands-on, incremental approach would be faster because functionality would be developed, and adjustments made, in two-week "sprints." The FBI missed its target date for finishing that work--September 2011--but it credits the agile methodology with ultimately getting the job done.

Another lesson learned from the FBI project is that agile development saves money for the government:

[Fulgham and Johnson] stayed within the budget they were given. (…) Agile development wasn't only faster, but also cheaper.

Another example of agile adoption in the public sector comes from the Netherlands. The article CIO Lourens Visser keeps port of Rotterdam's systems ship-shape from Mark Chillingworth on shows how agile has been used to develop software for  managing the Rotterdam Harbour. He quotes the CIO Lourens Vissers, who explains the need for changing the way that IT is managed:

“When the port vision plan came out I felt that we had to have an IT strategy to go with it and it was needed. Previously projects were on a first-come, first-served basis. Also the maintenance budget was growing and I wanted innovation,”

Based upon requirements from the business, the decision was made to adopt agile for the in-house development of a new information system: 

Probably the biggest outcome from Visser’s transformations has been the development of the Harbour Master Management and Information System (HaMIS) which replaces a 19-year-old solution. HaMIS is being developed in-house by Visser’s own team. (…) the development team adopted Agile development practices and, to ensure that the product quality was high, the Port of Rotterdam struck a relationship with the Software Improvement Group (SIG) to act as independent assessors of the Java code during development.

Adopting agile has supported the IT division of the port of Rotterdam in collaborating with their internal customers:

One benefit, says Visser, is that the IT division now interacts far more with the rest of the organisation. “We have a cultural mix of being like a government department and a consultancy and we are also like a utility company with a lot of assets,” Visser adds.

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