Agile moves up to project management

This content is sponsored by FCN/CA Tech

Consider these federal agency project scenarios:

  • An agency operates a set of legacy applications, each hosted in its own system. They lend themselves neither to cloud deployment nor digital services. The agency must re-do their logic in more flexible, modern systems, but where does it start?
  • A new statute or management directive may require an agency to build new applications that use Internet of Things data or that could benefit from the automated, efficient trust available with blockchain.
  • Agency management believes an artificial intelligence system could enhance program monitoring and evaluation, fraud reduction. Or the lethality of U.S. forces. How does ensure this ambitious project doesn’t take over the portfolio?

These are real scenarios. They involve new information technologies and in some cases requirements from executive orders or statutes. Equally important, they exist amid what is typically a bundle of projects that, as a group, make up an agency’s portfolio.

Yet many agencies still pursue their projects as separate, stovepiped efforts. They’ll use traditional, waterfall approaches with functional stakeholders operating in their separate domains. Given the multi-bureau structure of most departments, senior management often has trouble seeing the totality of efforts. That makes risk management and efficient deployment of resources difficult.

Just as the agile approach has enhanced individual application development efforts, agency projects and portfolio management could be enhanced with an agile approach. Agility the individual project level enhances agility at the portfolio level.

In agile development, work is done in small increments. Agile ensures the needs of all stakeholders – finance, quality control, security, business process owners and system users – are met in each scrum. In the DevOps model, agile development occurs in an automated environment. This reduces the administrative burden and keeps finished code flowing on schedule.

In a growing number of organizations, agile development is migrating to acquisition. With the ultimate goal in mind, agency procurement teams break requirements into smaller deliverables, with matching vendor and acquisition vehicle strategies that keep things moving. The key to migrating agile up to portfolio management is a reporting overlay that ties software development, project funding and acquisition into a single, transparent portfolio view.

Agile at scale

At the portfolio level, agile can bring two crucial benefits.

First, a process of constant review makes sure developments remain aligned with organization requirements, which can shift over time. No longer simply set-and-forget, plans become living processes so individual projects don’t veer off course.

Second, agile project managers give management the insight they need to move fast, whether starting new application developments, moving critical ones to the front of the line or stopping and re-evaluating a project that has moved out of band. Assets – people, money, time – move to where they bring the most benefit for the most pressing requirements.

Agile project management at this point tends to center at the team or single project level. Not many standards exist yet for agile at scale. And multiple disciplines simply find it easier to talk to one another at the project rather than the portfolio or organizational level.

Again, agile software development provides an analogy. Agile happens when business or process owners, end users, and the functional stakeholders such as finance, security and compliance all actively collaborate. Agile at scale takes the virtues of small increments, frequent review and collaboration to the department level.

Integrated portfolio management

A growing number of agencies are doing agile at the project level. Now the imperative to do agile at scale – at the strategic level – has moved from the “should we” to “how do we.”

How do agencies get to agile project management?

A product such as CA’s Project and Portfolio Management suite enables this transparency at the department level. It brings the virtues of agile to scale, and enhances agility at the project level. It works by bringing together data from pockets of agility at the application development level into an enterprise picture.

Certified under the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) CA PPM deployed in the cloud gives widely scattered stakeholders a convenient way to view project data.

With such a tool, management is more readily able to answer three crucial questions:

  • Was this the right initiative for the policy framework and program goals?
  • Did we deliver the right functionality on time?
  • Are we able to track the funds and employee and contractor hours devoted to it?

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