This post was originally published on the 18F blog. It is the first in a series that will share effective and efficient ways to manage software development, even if one doesn’t have a background in software engineering. As custom software development becomes integral to accomplishing any program’s mission, many managers in government find themselves faced with handling the unfamiliar: overseeing the design and implementation of a digital product that is functional, user-friendly, and necessary for realizing your program’s mission.
If you’re considering “going agile,” one of the critical components of such a transformation will be adopting team structures. In your current, pre-teaming state, your developers are probably working by themselves, and may be engaging directly with stakeholders. Agile will place your developers into teams. Teaming is important, as it will enable your development staff to actively learn from one another, improving the quality of their individual and collective work, and improving the work environment.
It’s been a while since I’ve checked in on enterprise architecture (EA). My last in-depth work with EA was around 2011 when I was on detail to the Office of Personnel Management’s Open Government Team. The EA model I worked with was the top-down organizational design of information technology assets, data assets, and business processes. Many of you are probably familiar with this traditional EA model. Six years later, it is predicted that in 2018 that “half of enterprise architecture (EA) business architecture initiatives will focus on defining and enabling digital business platform strategies.
In March, the team of writers and editors at USAGov adopted some agile principles in an attempt to streamline our content development process. We hoped operating in a more agile manner would help us address some of the challenges we were facing as a team: Being asked to support many new projects Competing priorities Bottlenecks and silos It was a big change in the way we work. Our previous model had been based on a newsroom-style operation where people were clustered together around specific areas of content or “beats” to use the journalism terminology.
Along with the New Year comes new buzzwords. Here are some that you are certain to hear about and see this year. Chatbot Short for ”chat robot,” a chatbot is a computer program that simulates human conversation, or chat, through artificial intelligence. They are commonly found on web sites and used to communicate with a person—you might have seen them on shopping sites as a customer service assistant. One well known example of a chatbot is ALICE (short for Artificial Linguistic Computer Entity), an open source, natural language chatbot that relies on artificial intelligence for human interaction.
A key part of agile development is constantly shipping new features. The team behind the Federal Election Commission’s (FEC) beta website ships new features at least once every two weeks. Sometimes the features are big, noticeable changes, such as the new home page we recently launched. And other times they’re small (a copy edit, an adjustment to a button) or under-the-hood (changing the way a database works). With so many changes happening to the product every two weeks, it can be hard to keep track of how the product is growing and improving.
This past summer, 18F held an agile workshop for the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), part of the U.S. Department of Commerce. An agency with roots going back to World War II, NTIS is facing a future that requires a strategic realignment towards open data and services. This strategic alignment will also require that NTIS operate in a more nimble, proactive fashion when working with partners in the public and private sectors.
Built on the lessons learned during the pilot phase of the Digital Acquisitions Accelerator, the accompanying playbook examines the current acquisition landscape and provides an approach to procuring custom software solutions. Our goal is to make the government a smarter and more informed buyer of digital products and services. The playbook has four main sections: Overview Case studies Process Primers The overview section provides background on digital acquisitions and highlights some ways to lower risk when planning this type of activity.
I recently sat down with Michelle Earley, Program Manager, to discuss the new changes for the 20th anniversary of USAJOBS. 1) What are the three big lessons learned from 20 years of building and managing USAJOBS? I think one of the greatest benefits of being an Agile program is that we are constantly learning. In 2013, our team implemented the first phase of the data warehouse which provided agencies with data that could be leveraged to improve recruiting efforts.
Summary: It’s been two years since we laid out the Administration’s plan to transform the Federal marketplace. Here’s a look at what we’ve accomplished, and what’s next. Over the last two years, we’ve focused on our mission to implement the President’s vision for a modern government– one that leverages private-sector best practices to achieve a Federal Government that is smarter, savvier and more effective in delivering for the American people.
On September 8th, the General Services Administration (GSA) held a Technology Industry Day to talk to industry leaders about the products and solutions developed by our agency and to hear feedback on how we can better engage industry. We’re thrilled that more than 300 members of the technology industry in person and via the live stream were able to join us for this first step towards a closer partnership and more open lines of communication about how we can work together to transform federal technology.
One day, at an unnamed agency, the Outlook server crashed. The server stayed down for the rest of the afternoon. Deprived of email and meeting calendars, employees wandered around trying to remember what meetings they had to attend. Other employees went searching for people who they ordinarily would email. There was confusion that made people realize just how dependent they were on a single software program. As the Federal government moves toward digital transformation, I have been thinking about how agencies can best weather the transition from legacy systems to cloud-based, agile applications.
Private industry and government came together to find best ways to deliver 21st century technology to federal agencies. On September 8, 2016 Administrator Denise Turner Roth of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) hosted the first-ever Technology Industry Day to provide a better understanding of GSA’s path to improve the government’s outdated technology systems. The event featured how GSA buys, builds and shares technology for the federal government. “The General Services Administration has a long history of being a strong leader in adopting technology in government,” said Administrator Roth when giving her opening remarks at GSA’s Technology Industry Day.
Some months ago, 18F started playing with kanban as a way to manage and improve our processes. (It turns out that “DO ALL THE THINGS!” was maybe not the best motto.) Kanban is a methodology that helps you to remove inefficiencies and reduce waste by visualizing workflow. It’s also used to balance capacity and demand by implementing a “pull system” and limiting the amount of work in progress. You don’t have to change anything when you first start to use it, you just put up a board, represent your current work process, put in some work limits, and start tracking what you’re doing and learning from it.
The General Services Administration (GSA) is known for managing federal real estate and leveraging the government’s buying power to get the best deal for taxpayers, but it also drives and leads technology and innovation within the federal government. The Technology Transformation Service (TTS) builds, buys and shares tech to help federal agencies achieve their mission. They create better services for citizens everyday. TTS works closely with the Federal Acquisition Service (FAS) and the GSA CIO to be first movers in and apply agile technology in a meaningful way.
The CALC team is an agile team of four — six if you count the Scrummaster and the Product Owner — building a simple means to load price data into the original CALC tool. They’re an Agile team, which means everybody pitches in on everything to some degree, and here, in their own words, is some reflection on what happened when they all scrubbed in on the Discovery phase. How have you been conducting the Discovery phase?
Business processes have fascinated me since I took an undergraduate philosophy course in modern business management. A part-time professor who was a management consultant by day taught this unusual class. Perhaps business management thinking was first experimenting with ideas that would later lead to the agile and lean movement today. From this class I learned that nearly all organizational issues could be traced back to bad processes rather than poor workers.
Much of our work with government partners to deliver better digital services has resulted in full websites, applications, and embarking on large-scale transformation efforts. In addition to those types of projects, we also work on shorter, faster, smaller-scale projects designed to show our partners different points of view and different techniques to approach their most challenging problems. Recently, we partnered with the Office of Integrated Technology Services (ITS) here within the General Services Administration (GSA) on a four-month effort to develop a plain language guide, informed by research and interviews, to help technology companies interested in doing business with the federal government better understand how to join IT Schedule 70.
So, you’ve recently joined an agile team — congratulations! Here at 18F, we work in an agile way — in other words, we base our designs on user needs, conduct usability testing, iterate quickly, and release MVPs (minimum viable products) rather than highly finalized releases. We take an agile approach to content too. While there’s really no “ideal” project or process most of the time, we’ve found that these guidelines help us develop useful services for millions of people.
The agile transformation at the Census Bureau started several years ago after GAO recommended Census implement a standard Systems Development Lifecycle (SDLC). Around the same time came the newly released Digital Services Playbook as well as a general shift in the industry to using a more agile approach in software development to improve product delivery and business customer satisfaction. Along with the clear benefits, there was a general appetite from individuals and teams to introduce agile concepts into their project.
Armed with the knowledge that ‘most studies suggest that losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains,’ federal change agents can better prepare for possible cultural resistance as they begin to implement agile practices at their agencies. There are a variety of resistant-to-change personas (change is painful for most of us, but we dislike it in different ways) those seeking change will need to understand to be successful. Bill Brantley, ‘agile OG,’ from the U.
Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.—Agile Manifesto My team has experienced a lot of change in the past few weeks. We were a team of seven, and now we’ve been reduced to two. We’re off-boarding two developers, a content specialist, and the product owner, and we’re onboarding a new content specialist and another developer. This is a lot of change to absorb at once.
The concepts of agile may not be new, but there is a renewed push across government to embrace this customer-feedback driven methodology, in everything from software development to project management. A government community has even sprung up to help feds learn from one another what it takes to incorporate agile into more efficient and effective government services. So this month we’re throwing the spotlight on what agile looks like in the federal government right now:
The Office of Personnel Management released a new look and functionality to USAJOBS in February. I recently contacted Michelle Earley, the USAJOBS Program Manager, to ask about the changes to USAJOBS and the data it provides. 1. What are the priorities this year for the USAJOBS team and the site? “The priorities for this year include: Unifying the experience Incorporating a comprehensive content strategy to transform the readability of the website Improving the Job Opportunity Announcement (Represents the agency) Improving the User Profile (Represents the job seeker/applicant) Improving Search, which is the mechanism that brings together the job seekers and agencies USAJOBS hopes to continue to act as a trusted public service career platform that creates a responsive and transparent experience for its users.
Three recent stories demonstrate how opening up federal government data and using agile methods to create federal government software can spur innovation while saving tax money and helping the American public. In its Second Open Government National Action Plan (PDF, 639 KB, 5 pages, September 2014), the White House called for a government-wide policy on open source software. Recently, the Office of Management and Budget released a draft policy “to improve the way custom-developed government code is acquired and distributed moving forward.
I feel as though I have ignored the beast in the room lately, and since I began my tenure on The Content Corner introducing that concept, I felt I needed to wrestle with it one last time before I depart. Previously, I discussed the concept of pair writing. Today I want to investigate how another software development concept can be leveraged to improve the quality and quantity of the content we create: Agile content development.
_Author’s note: Anyone can contribute to the development of the Open Opportunities platform via the project’s GitHub repository. The Open Opportunities program itself is only open to federal employees. _ Open, agile software development projects can improve government initiatives. As discussed in last week’s article on agile projects in government, the Open Opportunities platform has benefited from increased collaboration within government as well as from contributions from outside of government.
Agile methods help agencies deliver projects and products more efficiently and effectively. The benefits aren’t limited to deliverables: Going agile can break down the silos that exist between and within agencies. And collaboration doesn’t need to end at the federal level—agile projects done in the open provide a way for the public to contribute to government initiatives. Transitioning to agile development has benefited Open Opportunities, a platform that helps agencies tap into federal expertise and provides professional development opportunities to federal employees.
Fresh from last week’s article about workflows and their importance in the content creation process, I stumbled upon a new twist in content production known as pair writing. Many of you familiar with agile methodologies or software programming in general should know the term pair programming. Pair writing hopes to take some of the same efficiencies found in pair programming and apply them to content creation. Two Heads Are Better Than One Pair programming gained prominence in the early 2000s as a method to improve the quality of software by having two programmers work together while coding.
At 18F Consulting, we experiment with ways to empower agencies to build cost-efficient, excellent digital solutions. Recently we partnered with the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) to run a two day “Design/Dev Agile Sprint.” Background: Investigators in Wage and Hour Division The Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division is responsible for enforcing a wide variety of federal labor laws, including those requiring the minimum wage, overtime, child labor protections, and family and medical leave laws.
Summary: How the U.S. Digital Service worked with students, families, schools, developers and teams across the federal government to rebuild the new College Scorecard tool. My niece is a smart kid. I’m biased, but I swear she is. And just as I started working on the College Scorecard project as the U.S. Digital Service’s new Chief Digital Service Officer at the Department of Education, I got a call from her—she was trying to decide where to go to school.
Earlier this year, we published 15 Government Customer Service Trends for 2015. We’re halfway through the year now—how are these trends holding up? 1. Centralized Customer Offices A few agencies have created centralized customer offices, while others question the need for a single organization that focuses on the customer. As the public’s overall satisfaction with the federal government continues to fall, a single organization can monitor customer feedback from across the enterprise to identify and address problems with the customer experience (CX).
DigitalGov Citizen Services Summit: Reflections from Our Livestream Host, and Full Recording Now Available!
The second annual DigitalGov Citizen Services Summit was held at GSA headquarters in Washington, DC on May 21. This year’s Summit sold out early to in person attendees, attracted nearly 1,200 folks to sign up, and for the first time a live stream was offered for online viewers across the country. I was honored to serve as this year’s virtual livestream host for the Summit. We’ve kicked off the #DigitalGov15 Summit with @USCTO @jakegab @gwynnek @PSChrousos!
Content is one of the most important things about your site. After all, it is what keeps your users engaged and keeps them coming back to your site. Depending on the type of website your agency manages, you should always think of ways to best deliver your content to your end users. If the content you provide is constantly changing or evolving, then you should present this content in a way that is as equally dynamic and allows for the end user to easily manipulate the data to find what they need.