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Snapback To “Business As Usual”


Over the years, I’ve read quite a few terrific and insightful reports from the General Accountability Office (GAO) on the state of several big, software-intensive, government programs. The GAO is the audit, evaluation, and investigative arm of the US Congress. Its mission is to:

help improve the performance and accountability of the federal government for the American people. The GAO examines the use of public funds; evaluates federal programs and policies; and provides analyses, recommendations, and other assistance to help Congress make informed oversight, policy, and funding decisions.

In a newly released report titled Software Development: Effective Practices And Federal Challenges In Applying Agile Methods“, the GAO communicated the results of a study it performed on the success of using “agile” software methods in five agencies (a.k.a. bureaucracies): the Department of Commerce, Defense, Veterans Affairs, the Internal Revenue Service, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The GAO report deems these 10 best practices as effective for taking an agile approach:

Yawn. Every time I read a high-falutin’ list like this, I’m hauntingly reminded of what Chris Argyris essentially says:

Most advice given by “gurus” today is so abstract as to be un-actionable.

The GAO report also found more than a dozen challenges with the agile approach for federal agencies:

Again, yawn. These are not only federal challenges…. they’re HUGE commercial challenges as well. When the whole borg infrastructure, its policies, its protocols, its (planning, execution, reporting) procedures, and most importantly, its sub-group mindsets are steadfastly waterfall-dominated, here’s what usually happens when “agile” is attempted by a courageous borg sub-group:

D’oh! I hate when that happens.

  1. August 4, 2012 at 9:31 am

    Very true. I read a quote a few weeks ago that said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” And if that’s true, “Culture eats organizational change for lunch.” And if those two things are true, then our current bureaucracies need to change their diets soon, quit smoking and start exercising else serious and potentially fatal problems loom.

    In molecular chemistry, we know that the same protons, neutrons, electrons (and their sub-atomic particles) make up oxygen and gold. The huge difference in properties between these two elements is due to the number of protons, neutrons and electrons that make them up.

    I’ve always wondered what caused some atomic particles to bond together to form hydrogen, nitrogen, carbon, and oxygen, while others bond together to form plutonium, lead, uranium and gold. Numbers of atomic particles explain what, not why.

    Do elements have their own cultures? If they do, then why is it that the good qualities of an element seem to decline as the atomic number rises? Just sayin’

    • August 4, 2012 at 10:45 am

      Thanks for the comment and interesting chemistry anecdote Charlie. Ackoff said that the “why” of a system can never be found by looking “within” the system. Via reductionism, the “what” and the “how” can though.

  2. August 5, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    That he did. And he was right, of course. When executives analyze their own organization (system) for increased margins and profits, all they get is “whats” and “hows”. Unfortunately, while contemplating their navels, they lose touch with the most important whys:

    “why their customers needs are changing”,
    “why technology is evolving”, and
    “why their competitors who figured this out are eating their lunch”?

  1. August 7, 2012 at 5:53 am

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