The Need for Agile in Government

The Need for Agile in Government


It’s a balancing act. We all know what we want, capable and effective systems which meet or exceed all requirements, built on smaller budgets and tighter schedules. But, how do we get there?

Government work requires using Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System (JCIDS) processes, but that can be slow and cumbersome.   Non-Government work often uses Agile processes which are typically more streamlined and produce results in more timely manner.   So, are JCIDS and Agile processing diametrically opposed, or are they processes that can be used together in order to take advantage of the benefits of each?

Elbridge Colby, deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy and force development, expressed his frustration recently at the annual Directed Energy Summit, co-sponsored by Booz Allen Hamilton and the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. As reported by Paul McLeary in the Breaking Defense Blog, Mr. Colby said that for the past two decades, Americans have used overpowering might to fight wars, but “the Chinese and the Russians have been working to undermine that model,” Mr. McLeary believes that by spending billions on modernizing their militaries and fielding new technologies like artificial intelligence and hypersonic missiles at a faster clip than the Americans, the two countries have changed the way the United States must approach future conflict.

Mr. McLeary states that Colby underscored the view that Washington has entered an era of “long-term strategic competition” with Moscow and Beijing, and Colby used his remarks to lay down a series of challenges for defense industry types in the audience.

The traditional method of slowly testing and evaluating new technologies for year, or even decades, “ain’t gonna work any more…we need to change,” Colby said. He then went on to say that Chinese and Russian defense officials don’t keep such long development schedules, and the U.S. tech industry has scoffed at working with the Pentagon thanks in part to the cautious, time-consuming schedules so anathema to tech Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. Taking decades to field aircraft like the F-35 or Ford-class carriers might provide long-term stability, but “it doesn’t matter if we’re stronger in the global context if we lose in the Pacific or Europe” tomorrow, Colby warned.

To the defense industry, Colby said bluntly, “we’re not interested in something that’s kind of a whiz-bang thing that’s not connected to a plausible deployment or not nestled within operational concepts. We do want to encourage breakthrough and creative, kind of, activity and investment in technology, but it’s got to be something that we can actually use.”

 So, how do we deliver on the challenges proposed by Mr. Colby. This author believes that the JCIDS process is an effective one, and that it should continue to be used.   In fact, such an assertion is essential because there are no signs that the JCIDS process requirements are going anywhere soon.   We must, however, smartly integrate Agile Processes within the JCIDS methods, so that the JCID timeline can be shortened so that we are producing technology for the fleet that “they can actually use.” 

The U.S. Federal TechFAR Handbook highlights six key reasons why government should adopt agile for IT project management and development. They are as follows.

  1. Improvement in investment manageability and budgetary feasibility
  2. Reduction of overall risk
  3. Frequent delivery of usable capabilities that provide value to customers more rapidly
  4. Increased flexibility
  5. Creation of new opportunities for small businesses
  6. Greater visibility into contractor performance 

To learn more about how you might incorporate Agile Processes into your government projects, consider taking ATI courses found at the following link.


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