Software development in the Army gets an Agile reboot

By Paul McKellipsJune 23, 2020

(Fort Belvoir, Virginia) More than 200 people from the General Fund Enterprise Business System’s (GFEBS) Development and Modernization (DevMod) product, along with System Support Operations (SSO), Financial Information Management (FIM), and federal contractor IBM, participated in a two-day virtual Agile Program Increment (PI) Planning event to generate requirements for all GFEBS enhancement initiatives and to develop a schedule for working software delivery over the next ten weeks.

SAFe Agile stands for Scaled Agile Framework and the approach empowers development teams through three principles – team, program, and portfolio. It is designed not so much as a single methodology, but rather as a broad knowledge base of proven best practices that real teams have used to deliver successful software products.

Waterfall Methodology is an older approach where a project is completed in distinct stages and milestones and inches forward step-by-step toward an ultimate release to customers. The main difference between waterfall and agile approaches to software development is that waterfall projects are completed sequentially whereas agile projects are completed iteratively in a cycle.

In less than 48 hours, 17 Agile teams were able to resolve issues and make decisions that normally would have taken many months to work out under the classic waterfall development methodology.

“Changing the methodology of how DevMod GFEBS delivers its solutions for its customers, from traditional waterfall to agile has been an enormous effort,” said U.S. Army Major Lloyd Alaimalo, assistant product manager for DevMod, “and one that was important to implement.”

Implementing SAFe Agile methodology is often the best form of incremental software development process within industry. SAFe Agile generates executable code and requirements more quickly by keeping development teams on the same page in rapidly changing environments.

“This is a tremendous step in the right direction toward full Agile implementation for the Finance and Comptroller field and headquarters, Department of the Army,” said Jonathan Moak, the Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Financial Management and Comptroller). “It’s critical that the functional community drives requirements throughout the development process, which is what this approach accomplishes. Ultimately, the goal is to have a ‘by the user, for the user’ mentality as we promote truly innovative efforts within the Army.”

The Agile transition, which began in October 2019, allows GFEBS to minimize development delays and deliver software enhancements that meet customer needs faster. The traditional waterfall process caused delays when development teams had to be hired and organized before complete and comprehensive requirements could be approved so development could begin. The old process lacked flexibility to make timely changes to pre-approved requirements once the work started.

SAFe Agile changes all of that.

Development teams no longer disband and now remain together and focused on their areas of expertise. Once established, SAFe Agile empowers government, military, and contractor teams to jointly write and produce deliverables in a matter of days instead of months.

“SAFe Agile breaks the development process into small iterations that deliver working software every two weeks,” said Ross Guckert, Program Executive Officer Enterprise Information Systems. “This provides stakeholders with earlier and more frequent opportunities to provide feedback and to influence the evolution of optimal solutions. There are no perfect requirements and having frequent feedback from stakeholders allows more rapid and valuable progress to occur.”

SAFe Agile is the modern, nimble approach to conducting the Army’s business by creating the requirements while each product is being developed and then adjusting specifications on-the-fly as needs arise.

GFEBS is one of 37 program offices of the Army’s Program Executive Office Enterprise Information Systems (PEO EIS) that support and field Army and DOD communications, logistics, medical, finance, personnel, training and procurement systems for all ten combatant commands, managing approximately $4.3 billion each year. PEO EIS is responsible for managing and providing the information technology network and business systems that Soldiers and the U.S. Army need to operate every day.

More than 3,000 military, civilian and contractors make up a geographically dispersed workforce serving as the Army's trusted network and software acquisition professionals including network engineers, program managers, logisticians, IT specialists and cyber security experts.