Homeland Security Tackles Agile Development

DHS plans a big push toward more agile development, where software is developed over a series of one- or two-week sprints.
Federal Data Center Consolidation Makes Progres
Federal Data Center Consolidation Makes Progress
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The Department of Homeland Security is increasingly embracing agile development, several top DHS IT officials said Tuesday at the agency's 2012 IT Industry Day in Washington, D.C.

The move is part of a larger effort at DHS to ensure that IT projects are delivered quickly, on time, and on budget. "Our reputation for delivering on time and on budget--let's just say we haven't historically gotten an A grade for that," DHS CIO Richard Spires said at the event.

DHS doesn't stand alone in its shift to agile. There are a number of agile efforts underway in government, including at the FBI and the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel has also trumpeted agile development's virtues.

The move to agile development won't happen overnight at DHS, according to officials, as legacy processes are still entrenched. "There's still a lot of work to be done because this is different than the way things have been done in the past," said Transportation Security Agency CIO Emma Garrison-Alexander.

[ The Feds are developing a national mobile strategy as part of its efforts to improve IT efficiency. Read more at Federal Agencies Prepare For National Mobile Strategy. ]

However, it's clear that DHS CIOs believe that agile is definitely the development modality of the future for many scenarios. "Historically, we have had a contract that has some huge chunk of functionality included, and then five years later we don't understand why we're not there yet," said Charlie Armstrong, CIO of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. "We really think this is going to be our future, to help our programs be more successful."

DHS is looking to tailor its enterprise software development policy specifically for agile development to account for how significantly agile development differs from traditional development. For example, DHS deputy CIO Margie Graves said, the agency will need to build testing into the short, few-week "sprint" development cycles for which agile development is known. These sprint cycles are designed to deliver functionality quickly, so testing must be a part of each sprint, according to Graves.

DHS is also looking at rethinking how it contracts for IT services to support more agile development, according to Spires. That thought process is playing out at an agency level as well as a component organization level.

For example, U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services (CIS) will soon be awarding contracts on CRM and customer service initiatives and is working through how to integrate agile development into those contracts. One thought, according to CIS CIO Keith Jones, might be to award separate awards for different sprint cycles.

Agile development isn't the only thing DHS is doing to ensure that more of its projects come in on time and budget. For example, numerous CIOs at the event Tuesday also pointed to improved IT governance at DHS and touted their increasing use of cloud computing and service-oriented architectures as a way to help accomplish this task.

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