Can federal programs really be Agile when multiple firms are involved?

Transparency is one of the core pillars of the Agile mindset. Transparency exposes issues earlier making it possible to address them in a move-left fashion. Transparency is critical to the success of Agile and is one of the Agile tenets that is hardest to implement in large enterprises and federal projects.

The Federal contract/project cycle is designed to use competition to reduce cost and fraud risk. One of the unintended consequences of this is that the competitive process punishes transparency and rewards those that let their partners fail.

Federal projects don't die. They just move to the next phase as part of another bid process. This means contracting companies work on the project for the government while working on securing the next bid round by working for themselves. Federal contracts involving multiple partners and sub-partners punish transparency and encourage companies to let their partners fail to secure better positions in future phases of the project.

I've discussed Agile with several Agile teams that were involved in projects composed of different subcontractors each owning their own pieces. They bemoaned that true Agile was impeded by a system where partner companies refused to operate in a transparent fashion resulting in inaccurate status and metrics. They claimed that the federal process punishes those that operate with transparency in a truly agile fashion. Transparency is used to shift blame to other companies. This helps the contracting company without helping taxpayers or the project.

Sharing is Caring is not how federal projects operate.


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