Army announces new policy to drive adoption of agile software development practices

By U.S. Army Public AffairsMarch 9, 2024

Evolving technology is changing the nature of warfare. Software has transformed from a means of operating hardware-based weapons systems to being the essential driver of nearly all the Army's weapons, business, and training platforms. The Army must be able to rapidly develop and upgrade these software-based capabilities to maintain a competitive advantage. To meet this challenge, the Army recently announced a new policy changing its approach to software development.

The new policy institutionalizes modern software development approaches across the Army, in line with industry best practices. These approaches – which include agile and lean practices – focus on iterative development and delivery of software in close coordination with users. This type of development allows software to be rapidly developed and refined over time, accelerating the Army’s ability to deliver needed capabilities to soldiers.

“We’re learning from current conflicts — including in Ukraine — that the Army’s success on future battlefields will depend on our ability to rapidly update software and disseminate it to the operational force,” said Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth. “Software development must be a source of our military advantage and the Army’s new software policy will ensure we have the right processes in place to inject innovation quickly and achieve a digital transformation of our warfighting capabilities.”

“Our traditional approach to software is no longer meeting the demands of our warfighters,” said Gabe Camarillo, Under Secretary of the Army. “This policy represents a significant effort to comprehensively adjust our legacy software development processes in line with private sector best practices. These changes will fundamentally reshape how we develop and acquire software, making us more agile and innovative.”

To accelerate adoption of these modern approaches, the policy reforms many of the institutional processes that underpin the software development lifecycle, which have historically been cumbersome and time intensive. This includes changing the way requirements for software systems are written, the types of acquisition strategies and buying models employed, and how the Army writes its requests for proposals and contracts with vendors. It also streamlines and modernizes the test and evaluation activities required, and changes how these solutions are assessed for cyber vulnerabilities. Lastly, it modifies the way cost estimates for agile software solutions are developed and how these systems are supported and maintained over time. As talent is a key driver for success, the policy also includes several initiatives focused on developing the talent and expertise needed to execute modern software development.

The reforms these institutional processes through a series of targeted reform initiatives, which can be summarized by five key changes:

1.   Changing the Way Requirements Are Written: Software requirements will be captured in concise, high level needs statements in place of the detailed, prescriptive requirements documents used in the past. In line with industry best practices, soldiers will be continuously involved throughout the process to ensure solutions are refined over time consistent with user needs.

2.   Employing Flexible Acquisition and Contracting Strategies: Acquisition and contracting strategies for software development efforts will provide the ability to quickly adapt to changing requirements. This includes maximizing use of the Software Acquisition Pathway, which is tailored for rapid and iterative delivery consistent with industry practices; employing flexible contracting strategies such as modular contracting; and using the appropriate contract types that allow for refinement of the requirements as the software evolves and user needs change.

3.   Streamlining and Modernizing Key Processes: Traditional, manual processes associated with software development and deployment will be streamlined and modernized to reduce the time and resources required to deliver software. This includes reducing duplicative test requirements and streamlining cybersecurity processes, including the process to achieve authority to operate on Army networks.

4.   Adopting a New Sustainment Model: Software-based systems will no longer follow the traditional process in which a system transitions to sustainment once development is complete. In line with industry best practices, these systems will instead plan for continuous improvement and development over the entirety of the lifecycle. This change recognizes that modern software development is never complete.

5.   Developing Talent & Expertise: Personnel trained in various aspects of modern software development practices will be made available to assist Army organizations in the implementation of modern software development practices. This includes establishment of the Digital Capabilities Contracting Center of Excellence at Aberdeen Proving Ground to improve and streamline contracting processes for software development efforts. And the establishment of the Software Management and Response Team, a centralized team of software development experts at Army Headquarters, to provide expertise and support to software efforts planned across the enterprise. Simultaneously, the Army will explore ways to more broadly attract, retain, and train personnel skilled in modern development.

The policy goes into effect immediately. As best practices in software development continue to evolve, the Army will adapt its guidance, as appropriate.