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FCW : May 30, 2016
20 May 30, 2016 FCW.COM Agile or not done, including testing, but in waterfall development, contractors often claim to be done only to dis- cover that much work remains when the software fails later tests. At this point, veterans of govern- ment contract management might fear too much of a good thing. Because a contractor produces work for government review and approv- al far more often under an agile approach, it seems as though the workload for the post-award manage- ment of an agile task order would be greater per contracting dollar than with waterfall contracting. However, waterfall contracting usually involves extensive manage- ment of requirements that end up never being used — and the manage- ment of rework that is all but guaran- teed as lengthy requirements adapt to reality along the way. TechFAR also notes that there is a learning curve, and as agencies gain more experience in managing agile sprints, they will become more efficient and effective at it. That should be a topic for cross- agency conversations about agile contract management lessons. Even if the agile approach did take more resources, I am convinced that the post-award management would likely be more effective. I have no objection to a shift in the procure- ment system from resources spent on the intricacies of source selection — often in a minimally productive manner — toward more productive post-award management. Schwartz said that, in terms of evaluating past performance on agile task orders under an IDIQ contract, USCIS has experimented with making multiple awards for individual task orders under its umbrella contract — typically to four vendors, often divid- ed into two teams of two vendors. He wants to be able to reallocate the division of work among those teams on a monthly basis, based on their performance the previous month. Moving agile into the mainstream Schwartz said he would like to do frequent, informal reports, more as feedback for improvement than “eval- uation.” He was concerned, however, that he would need to go through the more detailed requirements demanded by the Contractor Perfor- mance Assessment Reporting System, including giving contractors the right to request a higher-level review of a rating they found unfair. I, too, was concerned that such evaluations were required for indi- vidual task orders over the simpli- fied acquisition threshold, a modest $150,000. But upon further consid- eration, I realized there is no such problem. An individual task order for agile development typically lasts for a peri- od of six months with three optional renewals, for a total of two years for one task order. Under an individual task order, a contractor performing an average amount of work would do 25orsosprintsinayear—noneof which is individually subject to Fed- eral Acquisition Regulation require- ments for formal past-performance evaluation because they are all part of the same task order. At the end of the first year (with its many sprints), the FAR requires a formal past-performance evaluation. In the interim, the agency is free to do frequent informal past-performance evaluations. And that is exactly what USCIS is doing — typically once a month. The agency’s practice is to discuss each evaluation with the contractor, which includes an informal opportunity for the contractor to give a different ver- sion of events. USCIS officials want the contractors to know what they think so they can use that fast feed- back to improve. The evaluations, therefore, serve as a basis for quickly rejiggering the volume of work among contract holders. It sounds a lot like how a company would do the same process, which to me is cause for praise. As an aside for future discussion, given the push for smaller, modular projects for which functionality can be delivered more rapidly, I wonder if it is time to revisit the idea of a streamlined past-performance report- ing process for smaller acquisitions. If those involving $1 million or less in annual spending were exempt from the higher-level review process, agencies could more easily share information with one another through the past-performance information retrieval system. I favor that approach generally, but maybe this could be a particular target. Schwartz’s thoughts were helpful for me and I hope for the agile com- munity in government. I believe that applying or adapting his approaches to agencies’ use of agile techniques would make a huge difference in get- ting this new way of doing business into the mainstream of government IT acquisition. Spread the word! n Steve Kelman is a professor of public management at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy. His blog can be found at fcw.com/thelectern. Steve Kelman 0530fcw_016-020.indd 20 5/4/16 9:22 AM
May 15, 2016
June 15, 2016