Modernizing a Government Program with Scaled Agile Techniques

A MOVEMENT TOWARD THE ADOPTION OF AGILE DEVELOPMENT METHODOLOGIES has shown steady growth within the federal community and financial services. VariQ has assisted several Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agencies, as well as the IRS, to achieve tangible results in Agile development efforts, measured by the timeliness and richness of delivered products, end-user satisfaction, and the ability to adapt to changing environments. For the case in point, VariQ was contracted by DHS to provide Operations and Maintenance support for its legacy Verification Information System (VIS), a composite information system that incorporates data from various DHS databases.

The Challenge

An often underestimated and unaddressed challenge of adopting Agile in the Federal Community is that of scaling the classic Scrum/Kanban to large programs. As VariQ began completing the assigned work for this project, it became apparent that in spite of the effectiveness of Scrum and Ops teams in completing their backlog user stories and tasks, issues were often left unattended. Typically, these issues needed a quick turnaround but didn’t have a clear owner or were too big for one Scrum/Ops team to solve on their own, requiring support from other teams with fully committed sprint backlogs.

The Solution

The 64-person VariQ team tasked with this project was originally divided into four 8-person Scrum Maintenance teams and one large Operations team. VariQ restructured the team to create a fortified layer of Agile program management for additional coordination and synchronization across Scrum and Operations teams. 

Daily Scrum meetings were conducted to address program-level issues, risks, and dependencies, and a Kanban board was created to provide visibility and accountability for all work. A separate System Team was formed to provide shared services for DevOps and test automation, performance testing, and business architecture support. Further economy of scale and efficiencies were achieved by providing prebaked solutions for the benefit of all teams, including a common test automation framework, an end-to-end smoke test and regression test suite, a configuration of a new performance test tool, and an evolving continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipeline. 

The Outcome

The effect of the changes introduced by implementing scaled Agile techniques to the Verification Information System project was immediately visible. Today, all parties working on operations and maintenance for this project know who the responsible owner is for any given task. Communication flows through appropriate channels. Work gets done more quickly and efficiently. Development, test, and deployment efforts are more strategically planned and synchronized, resulting in high quality products, smoother operations, and more value delivered to the client and their constituency. In light of the success of VariQ’s approach for scaling multi-Scrum Team Agile efforts, the Office of Citizenship and Immigration Services decided to extend this approach to the larger VIS Modernization program.