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.