Agile Methodologies and the Federal Acquisition Regulation – Part 3

This is the third and final article in a 3-article series on integrating Agile methodologies within the context of the Federal Acquisition Regulation. This article addresses resources, accountability and tracking issues related to contract administration.

This article series is based upon the recently developed TechFAR Handbook for Procuring Digital Services Using Agile Processes. The handbook highlights the flexibilities of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) with respect to procuring IT services and products through contractors who employ Agile methodologies. The Office of Management and Budget is currently accepting comments on the handbook in order to develop a comprehensive guide for Agencies.

The first article in the series focused on Requirements Development and Acquisition Planning. Key suggestions in this early phase of the acquisition lifecycle include developing a Product Vision, creating a description of how Agile processes will be used to fulfill the Product Vision, and understanding how an evolving product definition and product iterations will support the documentation required by an Agency.

The second article in the series focused on the contract types and pricing structures available to a Contracting Officer to fulfill a requirement for Agile software development. Some structures may be more optimal than others in helping each agency achieve its objectives.

Adequate Resources

Once a contract vehicle and pricing structure are determined, it is critical to ensure that adequate resources are available to effectively manage the contract. It is important to note that the Agile process is designed to be highly interactive to support the frequent releases of working software iterations. These frequent iterations result in less overall risk to the Government because required modifications are discovered early in development and integrated into future sprints.

While the overall work for agile software development is not greater than other types of development methodologies, the resources are applied differently during the acquisition lifecycle. The following tips will help to align resources needed:

  1. The project should be assigned a full time Product Owner who is part of a dedicated Integrated Product Team (IPT).
  2. The Integrated Product Team may include the following:
    • A Tester who is responsible for testing features and functionality
    • A Contracting Officer (CO)
    • A Contracting Officer’s Representative (COR)
    • A Product Owner (Also serves as a project manager)
    • A Legal Representative
  1. When Agency resources are limited, the roles of COR and Product Owner may be filled by the same person.
  2. The role of Product Owner is critical and should be staffed by a high-performing individual. Program leadership and appropriate management should develop written agreements about the time commitment and responsibilities of the Product Owner.
  3. Early in the acquisition planning, begin to form the IPT and start to develop guidelines and rhythms for identifying customer priorities and how they might fit into time-boxed sprint cycles.

Accountability

Because the Agile process involves ongoing refinement of product features instead of up front requirements and documentation, it can be difficult to conceive how the Government will hold contractors accountable for producing the required software. Even though product requirements are not pre-determined, there are several other measures that exist within the Agile framework.

Contractors are held accountable for results and working software produced during each iteration within parameters set by the Government. Sprint schedules for releases, the “definition of done” and budget goals are all measures which can be used for contractor accountability.

Contracting Officers are encouraged to use Service Level Agreements and quality assurance plans. If contractors do not meet releases on schedule then discrepancy reports should be completed.

Tracking Progress

Just as accountability can be reformed for the use of Agile methodologies, so can progress tracking. The Government will track project status based on product demonstrations. Following are a few tips to ensure successful project tracking:

  • Each sprint cycle should include product testing
  • The Government “definition of done” should be comprehensive and verifiable
  • Utilize burn-up and burn-down charts to track progress during a sprint
  • Include EVMS data to track progress if required as per FAR 34.2

 

With the right planning and structure for project tracking, contractor accountability and competent resources, Agile methodologies can effectively be used to achieve more successful outcomes for the Government. To continue the discussion about how to use Agile in the context of the Federal Acquisition Regulation, contact us.

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