Agile and Acquisition – The of Contracting?

"If you could fix hiring and buying in the federal government, you would fix 90% of it's problems," said Bryan Sivak. Sivak is the Chief Technology Officer at the Department of Health and Human Services. 

One of the ways the Coast Guard is trying to solve half of that equation is by using more agile acquisitions. Dan Taylor recently retired as a Captain in the Coast Guard. He told me that when it comes to defining and gathering requirements for an agile acquisition we often spend too much time setting them up at the beginning.

"We often spend far more time than we should defining up front requirements. By the time you get started and by the time you get through all the approvals, your requirements have changed. Perhaps if we defined the high level requirements and stopped there to get approval for an investment and then held off doing the detailed requirements until the last possible moment, we would be able to more quickly and cheaply," said Taylor. 

Move to Agile

"I wish I had saw more evidence of a move to agile. There are a few folks that are doing it under the radar at the DAU. But at the government structure level nobody is doing the things needed to encourage it. There has been no change in the way OMB governs investments. If we really want agile to be the default acquisition model it has got to be something that is taught in the school house," said Taylor. 

Culture and Training

  • Part of what we lack as project managers is the training to do things in another way. There are plenty of certifications that can teach somebody to execute in an agile way but until it is part of the core curriculum, it will be external to the program managers.
  • From the senior leaders there does seem to be a desire to get agile outcomes, but changing the culture is a big challenge. From the DHS perspective our high dollar acquisitions are ships and air craft that have been historically executed as big traditional waterfall acquisitions. You know pretty well upfront what that ship is going to look like, so it has to have a requirements shift where someone is looking to buy a ships in small pieces is a big mind shift.

The 3 Part Secret to Agile:

  1. It is impossible to acquire all the requirements ahead of time
  2. Whatever requirements you do gather are guaranteed to change
  3. There will always be more to do than time and money will allow

For more on government acquisitions check out GovLoop and Integrity Management Consulting's latest guide, "Addressing the Complex Challenges of Today's Acquisition Professional."

 View Below or Download the PDF

From generating requirements, to planning, obtaining and sustaining capabilities, the acquisition process, if implemented effectively, can contribute significantly to accomplishing an agency’s mission more efficiently. As the largest purchaser of goods and services in the nation, the Federal government's acquisition process is complex and under more pressure than ever with tightened budgets and a shifting workforce. Review the guide below or download, print, save and share it with your colleagues:



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