Albert: Agile development keeping projects on track for success

Friday - 10/22/2010, 1:56am EDT

Larry Albert

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OMB is looking over your agency's shoulder. They're watching how your agency's projects - especially IT projects - are progressing, and if those projects get off track, OMB will want you to get them back on track right away.

Some companies are promoting agile development as a way to keep you on target with your agency's projects. One of the biggest thinkers about agile is Larry Albert, Executive Vice President of Agilex Technologies. Larry told me today that project management problems in government get mixed up and bogged down because they can sometimes take too long.

"For me the most challenging, and frankly most frightening thing has always been answering the question, 'where are we?'" Larry said. "Especially in big projects, the longer they go on, the harder it is to have a strong answer to that. We go through management schemes like EVM, and you have great documentation, but do you really know where you are?"

I asked him about requirements creep, the idea that requirements change too many times, even after the project has begun. "No question, in an ideal world you want to be able to lock down the requirements," Larry agreed. "I just don't think that's entirely realistic. There are no absolutes, and there are some communities where you can say 'this is it - it's frozen.' But if you even look at manufacturing, [they] are softening up their whole process, and trying to give themselves more flexibility. So if we want more flexibility in bending steel, we certainly need to look at how we do it in software."

"What [the agile approach] really does, is tries to sit there and say, 'what do I know absolutely I can lock down if I want to?'" Larry responded when I asked him about the first step. "It says, 'let's lock down our schedule, and our cost.' You're not ignoring having any kind of regiment in the definition of your requirements. But [you say] 'I want to take a look at this large system, and I want to start breaking it down into digestible chunks, that I can work and deliver."

But Larry says it's not as easy as it sounds. "There are a couple nuances that really start, in my opinion, releasing the real power of an agile approach. [For example,] I've got this large system I want to build, here's my list of requirements, as well defined as I can get them at this point in time. What I want to do is prioritize them, because all requirements are not created equal. I want to make sure I start with my most valuable requirements at the top of my list. What this suddenly starts allowing me to do is generate value in this journey of building this system very early on."

Larry detailed the process of applying agile project management techniques in the remainder of our conversation. To hear the entire discussion, click the audio link.