Agile Development and Government Contracts

So I attended our SLC-based agile development forum yesterday.  Alistair Cockburn was there, along with some other associates from around the valley. We discussed various successes and challenges with using the Agile Development Model for software development. 

One particular topic that became a main discussion point was how to get government agencies to accept Agile Development Model contract bids. Fortunately, executives from several companies were represented in the room that use the Agile Development Model and pursue government contract work.  They gave us some insight on how to proceed. The challenge is that the Waterfall Development Model (SDLC) is the traditional project development process for government contract submissions.  They like it because it expresses a project in terms of scope, components, time-lines, and milestone dates.  All of this is measurable, so it works very well with the government procurement types.

Agile is a less structured methodology--where you build requirements and code more in a module, by module format.  These modules, called user-stories, aren't spec'd in detail until they are actually being worked on.  Because of this, milestones and time-lines for an Agile project are not as predictable.  The Agile Development Model accepts this reality, and suggests that most projects are not really so predictable anyway.

The trick with the Government is to bid your first project as a waterfall project.  Then, after you have a relationship, suggest that forthcoming projects have an Agile model. You can also submit a Waterfall project with some additional requirements listed on the contract.  ie: "Requirements base-lined at a high-level" or "Progress reported via Project Backlog" or "Prioritization by Need" or "Daily Scrum" or all of these things.

Mike J Berry

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