VA agile development project could have been better, says GAO
The Veterans Affairs Department has tried agile development for the first time and pronounced it good despite what it might consider hissing from the Government Accountability Office, which says the department could have done it better.
Agile development is not a methodology per se, but a software development philosophy that emphasizes continuous and rapid incremental development and delivery of functionality along with close collaboration between programmers and users.
The VA decided in October 2008 to use an agile approach in the creation of a $207.1 million automated system for processing education benefits passed into law as a result of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
And the VA has deployed the first two of four planned system releases but--says the GAO in a new report based on a briefing it gave to congressional staffers on Sept. 13--the VA has not ensured that certain critical tasks were completed on time and the VA will postpone some functionality for a fifth release or possibly a separate initiative. In particular, conversion of data from systems used in an interim solution was more complex than anticipated and the VA did not complete interface development between the new and legacy systems, GAO officials say. Also, some online self-service capability planned for the system's planned fourth release in December won't be implemented by then.
Among the reasons why is that development teams participating in the agile project didn't have a consistent definition for what constitutes releasable work, the GAO says. That means that development teams have used different standards, in one case declaring some work to be done without having performed testing.
The watchdog also dings the VA for not keeping track of work completion velocity and the changes to project scope over time.
As part of the department's official response to the GAO's findings, VA Chief Information Officer Roger Baker charged the watchdog with presenting "incorrect assumptions as facts," likely because agile development is not widespread within the federal government, meaning that GAO auditors might not have encountered it before. For example,GAO's assertion that some second release testing was inadequate is untrue, Baker said. It's just that testing was different from waterfall development techniques.
"While we believe that VA has made substantial progress in implementing a new process to develop its system, we stand by our position that there is still an opportunity for the department to improve its new development process," GAO officials said in response to Baker's comments.
- download the report, GAO-11-115 (.pdf)
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