Five Questions About Productivity in Government

Metal Wheel Concept

By Dick Stark

Last Friday, I was interviewed by the Federal marketing firm GovLoop, that is putting together a productivity guide, (think multi-page illustrated handout for a Federal IT audience). Sponsored by Atlassian and Carahsoft, the guide examines the tools and strategies that public servants are adopting to increase productivity, such as Agile project management, ways to enhance collaboration, and the role of automation. The following are the five questions asked and a synopsis of my answers.

What new strategies or tactics are you seeing government agencies adopt, as it relates to project management? Agile vs the traditional waterfall approach of project management. And almost all agencies are moving in this direction and using tools such as Jira to help them get there (along with RightStar consulting services of course). One challenge with government Agile projects is the government contract process. A government agency doesn’t normally contract to provide an open ended, “we’ll know it when we get there,” approach which could be a typical Agile project. Instead we have a contract with fixed requirements and deliverables. This is often not ideal, because neither the customer nor RightStar have a very good idea about what the customer’s real needs are until we begin the project.

RightStar, “eats its own dogfood,” and delivers its Atlassian projects on an Agile basis. We begin by understanding that the limiting factors are time and cost. Scope is variable factor. The key is to ensure that we have quoted sufficient hours to the customer so we can implement most if not all of their business requirements in the allotted time.

As a long-time Project Management Professional (PMP), I try to live up to the PMP mantra of “no surprises ever,” and an Agile approach of frequent releases and quick wins helps keep the customer up-to-speed project status and helps ensure a successful project outcome.

Can you offer any successful examples of Agile in government? Once recent excellent example is the widespread cloud migration what is sweeping through the government. Cloud migration is not about selecting a Cloud provider and “flipping a switch.” It will take a long and concerted project management effort to get even just a few of an agency’s legacy application to the cloud. The good news: DHS is the poster child for Agile in government and has an Agile plan for “lift and shift” cloud migrations. Known as the Cloud Factory, it provides a highly automated, secure, reliable set of managed services that allow for DevOps flow, feedback and innovation of various applications.

DHS writes in its 2019 budget justification to congress: “The platform supports the build, test and deploy aspects of DevOps as well as the operational (production) support needed to host and secure the application and its mission. The system will ingest user code, assemble the desired machine images (MI), customize the MI configurations, validate security configurations, and deploy the environment in hours as opposed to months. It will utilize account monitoring tools which the business owner will be able to view usage statistics, costs, utilization data and various at hand dashboards to ensure they are meeting mission objectives.” The end result—rapid application deployments to the Cloud.

Specifically, what role is automation playing in project management and software delivery today? Mark Schwartz, former CIO as USCIS, at an ATARC DevOps conference confirmed that agile government is a reality. USCIS is a big agency with lots of programs. Despite that, USCIS manages one release per system per day. To do this, they use a fully automated system with end to end traceability and automated testing. Thanks to the use of micro services, Mark bragged that it takes just 19 seconds to build a new system.

Mark discussed the potential to reduce lead time to almost nothing. He said that the obstacle to reducing lead time is too much work in process. DevOps takes one requirement at a time and moves on to the next. (Which is a good way to reduce work in process.) Additionally, a large team can work on one thing until it is done (swarm) and get it to production quickly.

Mark pointed out that because most government projects are so large, when they fail, they fail big. Government does this because the approval process to get a project started is so extensive, that there is a tremendous incentive to only get approval once. DevOps can make programs as small as one requirement. The results are so good, that Mark said he “will keep at it.”

What do agencies need to adopt better strategies for project management? I had a conversation this morning with a DevOps engineer at FEMA and asked him how he became so knowledgeable. His answer? Mostly on his own time as his agency had a limited training budget. What is trending now are DevOps training certifications like DASA and Scrum Master.

How can RightStar help agencies adopt better, innovative strategies to service delivery and project management? RightStar follows a process for new business development that begins by working with prospects that have pains, like poorly defined code version control, release management, and testing processes. We propose a solution consisting of software such as Jira, Bitbucket, and Bamboo, combined with RightStar consulting services.

RightStar then offers an Agile/DevOps assessment which is scorecard based. Just recently, one customer complained that it was the first time he had received a C grade since elementary school.

We also offer Agile training and do DevOps simulation training. That is a fun way to get improved user adoption

What can other agencies learn from these examples? How to be more agile and how to use DevOps to speed up the development process. As we all know, just getting an authority to operate can take 18 months or longer. By automating the delivery process, agencies can speed up the development process, minimize risk, heighten the quality, and reduce operational costs and improve their reputation as an Agile agency.

About dick1stark

I am the President and founder of RightStar, Inc, an XTIVIA company. RightStar is a leading ITSM and DevOps consultancy and BMC Software Elite Solution Provider and Atlassian Gold Partner. My passion is customer success—whether it’s reducing the cost of service management, improving overall efficiency, or increasing end-user or employee satisfaction. Since founding RightStar in 2003, RightStar has made the INC 5000 list four times. In 2011, RightStar was awarded the prestigious National Capital Business Ethics Award (NCBEA) by the Society of Financial Service Professionals based upon RightStar’s foundation of honesty, ethics, and integrity. And in 2014, RightStar was selected by Forrester Research as one of 13 North American companies profiled in its ITSM Consultancy Wave Report. In 2019, BMC selected RightStar as its DSM North American Partner of the Year for its sales and partnership excellence. Finally, in November 2020, RightStar was acquired by XTIVIA, an innovative IT Solutions Provider. Dick is a graduate of Stanford University and a Project Management Professional (PMP).
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