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The Agile Government Center’s First Case: “Data Act Implementation: The First Government-wide Agile Project”

May 14, 2020


Challenge


By Academy Fellow G. Edward DeSeve

 
Introduction

In November 2019, the National Academy created the Agile Government Center (AGC) with three goals:

  • Determine Agile Government Principles
  •  Identify cases of Agile Government
  • Assist in implementing Agile Government around the world

Since its inception, the AGC has developed and vetted a draft set of principles which may be seen here.

The first case study has been developed by the United States Treasury and can be seen here.  The implementation of the Data Act was an extremely complex challenge that needed to be accomplished in a very limited time frame.  Treasury chose to use an Agile organizational and data development process that allowed it to meet the goals of the Act within the time frame specified in the Act.  The result was an extraordinary compilation of data in a transparent user friendly set of applications: USAspending.gov, The Data Lab, and Your Guide to America’s Finances

Below, I have arranged quotes from the Data Act Case according to the Agile Government Principles.  While the Principles did not exist as a guide to Agile Development, Treasury used each of them in implementing the Act.  I believe that this is a clear demonstration of the validity of the Agile Government Principles as a template for program management and software development. 

 

Mission 

The goal of the DATA Act was to provide more accessible, searchable, and reliable spending data for the purposes of promoting transparency, facilitating better decision-making, and improving operational efficiency

 

Metrics for Success

Tracking more than $4 trillion in annual federal spending on a quarterly basis in a clear and consistent way that the public will understand from the entire federal government is a large task. The scale of the effort is overwhelming even with the most modern technology – but the federal data that the DATA Act required Treasury to collect was scattered across hundreds of disconnected systems across the federal enterprise.

 

Customer-Driven Behavior

This project demonstrates the power of the agile approach. In addition, Treasury’s project engaged hundreds of staff from about 100 federal agencies and significantly expanded the adoption of agile practices across the federal government today.

 

Speed

To implement the DATA Act, Treasury teams typically worked in two week sprints, though these could be made longer or shorter depending on the work and hours of the team.

 

Empowered, Highly-Skilled, Cross-Functional Teams

The Agile development methodology emphasizes collaboration between cross-functional teams and end users, focusing on early delivery of features, adaptive development, and continuous improvement. Agile helps teams rapidly deliver value with a lightweight framework of defining requirements, building to meet them, releasing software, and then repeating the process based on what one has learned along the way. This allows the development team to save time and money by getting ideas in front of users and iterating based on user needs, rather than spending time and money on software that does not fit a use case.

 

Innovation

The approach to meet the challenge required a rethink of the way government works with software development. Treasury took a data-centric approach that avoided large-scale system changes and instead focused on managing the financial data already in existence at more than 100 federal agencies. By using modern software development practices like testing and code review, and working with real users along the way, Treasury busted many ‘can’t do this in government’ myths as it worked to implement the DATA Act in an agile manner.

 

Persistence    

Finalizing the requirements of the DAIMS was an extensive and labor-intensive process.  Treasury worked tirelessly for about a year to develop this model and ensure that the requirements would improve the transparency of federal spending. Treasury issued the baseline version of the DAIMS in May of 2015 and issued five subsequent versions based on ongoing feedback from external stakeholders and federal agencies until April 2016 and during that time we received hundreds of comments that were all addressed by the Treasury team.

 

Evidence informed

As the repository for all agency spending data, USAspending.gov brings together data that was once scattered across hundreds of databases and paper reports across government and has digitized this information so it can be searched and clearly viewed by the public in one central location. The USAspending.gov website allows taxpayers to examine more than $4 trillion in federal spending each year and see how this money flows from Congressional appropriations to local communities and businesses.

 

Organizational leaders

 Treasury needed a new approach to accomplish so much work in such a short timeframe. In 2014, agile development, user-centered design and open source code were relatively new concepts that were just getting traction in government. Treasury was an early adopter of these principles to guide the DATA Act Implementation. 

 

Diversity of thought  

Treasury received over 600 comments on its draft DAIMS, held over 30 meetings with 20 individual agencies on the DATA Act Schema; completed 2 DATA Act Implementation Playbooks; held over 55 office hours calls with an average of 80 callers per week; and held 17 workshops with agencies and shared service providers.

 
Lessons Learned

The Treasury has demonstrated that the use of Agile techniques in program management and systems development can provide mission critical results on a timely basis.  Adoption of these techniques broadly by governments will lead to better less costly results with higher degrees of user acceptance and public support. 

 

Posted On: May 14, 2020

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