Agile Software Development:

DHS Has Made Significant Progress in Implementing Leading Practices, but Needs to Take Additional Actions

GAO-20-213: Published: Jun 1, 2020. Publicly Released: Jun 1, 2020.

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Carol C. Harris
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Many of the Department of Homeland Security’s IT acquisitions have taken longer than planned or failed to deliver desired results.

In April 2016, DHS started transitioning to Agile software development to help improve its IT acquisitions. Agile focuses on collaborative processes and workflows to quickly and frequently deliver working software.

DHS has made significant progress implementing leading practices during this transition but needs to take additional steps. For example, it needs to ensure all staff are trained in this new approach.

We recommended that DHS fully implement leading practices in its transition to Agile software development.

Homeland Security building

Homeland Security building

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Carol C. Harris
(202) 512-4456
harriscc@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has taken steps to implement selected leading practices in its transition from waterfall, an approach that historically delivered useable software years after program initiation, to Agile software development, which is focused on incremental and rapid delivery of working software in small segments. As shown below, this quick, iterative approach is to deliver results faster and collect user feedback continuously.

Comparison of Agile and Waterfall Methods for Developing Software

Comparison of Agile and Waterfall Methods for Developing Software

DHS has fully addressed one of three leading practice areas for organization change management and partially addressed the other two. Collectively, these practices advise an organization to plan for, implement, and measure the impact when undertaking a significant change. The department has fully defined plans for transitioning to Agile development. DHS has partially addressed implementation—the department completed 134 activities but deferred roughly 34 percent of planned activities to a later date. These deferred activities are in progress or have not been started. With respect to the third practice, DHS clarified expected outcomes for the transition, such as reduced risk of large, expensive IT failures. However, these outcomes are not tied to target measures. Without these, DHS will not know if the transition is achieving its desired results.

DHS has also addressed four of the nine leading practices for adopting Agile software development. For example, the department has modified its acquisition policies to support Agile development methods. However, it needs to take additional steps to, among other things, ensure all staff are appropriately trained and establish expectations for tracking software code quality. By fully addressing leading practices, DHS can reduce the risk of continued problems in developing and acquiring current, as well as, future IT systems.

Why GAO Did This Study

Many of DHS's major IT acquisition programs have taken longer than expected to develop or failed to deliver the desired value. In April 2016, to help improve the department's IT acquisition and management, DHS identified Agile software development as the preferred approach for all of its IT programs and projects.

GAO was asked to examine DHS's adoption of Agile software development. The objective of this review was to assess the extent to which DHS has addressed selected leading practices for its transition to the use of Agile software development.

GAO identified leading practices for planning, implementing, and measuring organizational change that apply to DHS's transition to Agile through its review of guidance published by the Project Management Institute and GAO. GAO also reviewed work it performed to develop leading practices for Agile software development adoption. GAO analyzed DHS documentation, such as policies, guidance, plans, and working group artifacts and assessed them against the selected leading practices. GAO also reviewed the implementation of selected practices within individual IT projects. Finally, GAO interviewed DHS officials to discuss any practices that were not fully implemented.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making 10 recommendations to DHS to implement selected leading practices for its transition to Agile software development. DHS agreed with GAO's recommendations and described actions taken and planned to address them.

For more information, contact Carol C. Harris at (202) 512-4456 or harriscc@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary should ensure that the Director of Strategic Technology Management (STM), in collaboration with other members of the Information Technology Program Management Center of Excellence (ITPM COE), identifies the skills and resources needed to complete the work intended for the upcoming fiscal year, including the availability of supplementary staff, such as subject matter experts. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary should ensure that the Executive Steering Committee overseeing the activities of the ITPM COE establishes target measures for the department's desired outcomes of its transition to Agile development. (Recommendation 2)

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary should ensure that the DHS Chief Information Officer (CIO) defines a process and associated set of controls to ensure that Agile programs and projects are reporting a set of core required performance metrics for monitoring and measuring Agile adoption. (Recommendation 3)

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary should ensure that the ITPM COE, in coordination with the CIO, begins measuring results associated with the transition to Agile and the success of the transition based on its impact on the department. (Recommendation 4)

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary should ensure that the CIO, in collaboration with the Chief Procurement Officer, through the Homeland Security Acquisition Institute, establish Agile training requirements for senior stakeholders. (Recommendation 5)

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  6. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary should ensure that the Chief Human Capital Officer, in collaboration with the CIO, consider modifications to the current employee recognition and performance management governance to ensure that teamwork and team performance of Agile programs and projects are incentivized. (Recommendation 6)

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  7. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary should ensure that the CIO, in collaboration with the Chief Procurement Officer, through the Homeland Security Acquisition Institute, establish Agile training requirements for staff outside of the acquisition workforce but assigned to Agile programs. (Recommendation 7)

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  8. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary should ensure that the CIO, upon establishing a set of core performance metrics, tracks and monitors the pace of Agile team development. (Recommendation 8)

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  9. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary should ensure that the CIO, in collaboration with the Executive Director of the Office of Program Accountability and Risk Management (PARM), update or develop new guidance on Agile methodologies to describe how Agile teams can estimate the relative complexity of user stories. (Recommendation 9)

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  10. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary should ensure that the CIO, upon establishing a set of core performance metrics, sets expectations for automated testing and code quality, and tracks and monitors against those expectations. (Recommendation 10)

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

 

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