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Agile Assessment Guide: Best Practices for Agile Adoption and Implementation

GAO-20-590G Published: Sep 28, 2020. Publicly Released: Sep 28, 2020.
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Fast Facts

Agile is an approach to software development in which software is developed incrementally and is continuously evaluated for functionality, quality, and customer satisfaction. Agile can reduce the risks of funding a program that fails or produces outdated technology.

This guide presents federal auditors and others with best practices to assess the adoption and use of Agile in federal agencies and elsewhere. The federal government is planning to spend at least $90 billion on major IT investments in FY 2021. It has struggled in this area. The government's management of IT acquisitions and operations remains on our High Risk List.

[March 2021 update: To see our 4 videos on Agile click here. Topics include DevOps, Continuous Integration, Software Bottlenecks, and Daily Standup Meetings.]

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Why GAO Did This Study

From September 28, 2020 through September 27, 2021, GAO is seeking input and feedback on this Exposure Draft from all interested parties. Please click on this link to provide us with comment on the Guide.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office is responsible for, among other things, assisting Congress in its oversight of the executive branch, including assessing federal agencies' management of information technology (IT) systems. The federal government annually spends more than $90 billion on IT. However, federal agencies face challenges in developing, implementing, and maintaining their IT investments. All too frequently, agency IT programs have incurred cost overruns and schedule slippages while contributing little to mission-related outcomes. Accordingly, GAO has included management of IT acquisitions and operations on its High Risk List.

Recognizing the severity related to government-wide management of IT, in 2014, the Congress passed and the President signed federal IT acquisition reform legislation commonly referred to as the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act, or FITARA. This legislation was enacted to improve agencies' acquisition of IT and enable Congress to monitor agencies' progress and hold them accountable for reducing duplication and achieving cost savings. Among its specific provisions is a requirement for Chief Information Officers (CIOs) at covered agencies to certify that certain IT investments are adequately implementing incremental development as defined in the Office of Management and Budget's capital planning guidance. One such framework for incremental development is Agile software development, which has been adopted by many federal agencies.

The Agile Assessment Guide discusses best practices that can be used across the federal government for Agile adoption, execution, and program monitoring and control. Use of these best practices should enable government programs to better transition to and manage their Agile programs. GAO has developed this guide to serve multiple audiences:

  • The primary audience for this guide is federal auditors. Specifically, the guide presents best practices that can be used to assess the extent to which an agency has adopted and implemented Agile methods.
  • Organizations and programs that have already established policies and protocols for Agile adoption and execution can use this guide to evaluate their existing approach to Agile software development.
  • Organizations and programs that are in the midst of adopting Agile software development practices and programs that are planning to adopt such practices can also use this guide to inform their transitions.

For more information, contact Carol Harris at (202) 512-4456 or

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Best practicesEarned value management systemsInformation technologyIT investment managementIT investmentsPerformance measurementSoftwareSoftware developmentSystems acquisitionSystems design