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Adopting an Agile Warrior Mindset Toward Software Development

Building software quickly equals success for the government and contractors.
Software developers win an agile warrior mindset can slay the government procurement process, says Mark Ettrich, vice president for NCI Inc., Reston, Virginia.

Software developers win an agile warrior mindset can slay the government procurement process, says Mark Ettrich, vice president for NCI Inc., Reston, Virginia.

In our real-world, show-and-tell environment, an ability to develop agile software solutions won't guarantee wins in the latest government programs. Companies and individual tech teams must tailor their approaches to meeting customer needs by using open source practices and assuming an agile warrior mindset: a single-minded determination to achieve goals and declare victory on the battlefield of government procurement.

Companies and individuals must collaborate with government procurement officers and customers, using public forums such as industry events and requests for information to define innovative ways of procuring highly skilled agile teams. However, these actions are only first steps. Both industry and government should embrace open source principles to create proposals that are open to industry and public feedback; require an online technical demonstration and presentation; and are fixed-price, allowing companies to provide industry-leading subject matter experts as required.

U.S. citizens have grown accustomed to obtaining information at the touch of finger and screen. This phenomenon even has a name: the Google effect. Government agencies are facing increased pressure to deliver information conveniently and move away from paper to digital services. These service delivery needs are often referred to as business outcomes or more accurately citizen outcomes that cut across agencies and existing legacy software systems, such as mainframes from the 1960s and 1970s, client server systems from the 1980s and 1990s and paper forms.

These "citizen outcomes" require an open source approach and the federal government has made strides in using open source technology. In August 2016, the government adopted an official open source policy. Agencies, including the Departments of Homeland Security, Defense and Education, along with the General Services Administration, have rolled out open source software projects and programs. To date, many of these projects have been successful, but expanding these digital modernization efforts requires close collaboration between the government customer, the supporting procurement officials and the companies performing the work.

Government agencies are continually changing the way they evaluate capabilities in competing bids. A 200-page proposal is time consuming and inefficient for both parties.

Innovation will be the key to ensuring skill wins the day in a fast-paced technology world. The federal government should follow the direction set by General Service Administration’s 18F by publishing upcoming proposals publicly in an open source repository such as GitHub, and asking for feedback from the public and industry.

Once a proposal is ready for competition, bidding companies should perform a technical demonstration to highlight agile skills and technical competency. But the federal government has seen that tech demos involving scores of companies are costly and difficult to evaluate. The key to future "show and tell" is to tap into crowdsourcing platforms like topcoder.com that meet federal agile procurement standards and hold contests to demonstrate software development and agile practices in a transparent public forum.

Furthermore, the government can solve some of the larger digital transformation problems, including replacing paper-based forms and systems by holding Google Lunar X-style contests to inspire engineers and entrepreneurs to solve complex IT solutions using low-cost open source platforms and solutions while getting real-time feedback from citizens.

In agile software development, success comes down to an ability to both build the software and demonstrate how to build it in a relatively short period. For government agencies, it means simplifying the purchase of services by creating fixed-price contracts with citizen outcomes and running competitive bids online in a public forum. Both government and contractors should embrace an agile warrior mindset so the most skilled practitioners win the day and adopt technology, data and business practices to improve the services they provide to the American people.

Mark Ettrich is a vice president for NCI Inc. of Reston, Virginia.