This past May, the Biden White House released its 2022 Defense Budget, which calls for $112 billion in research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E) for the Department of Defense (DoD), a 5 percent increase from 2021. This is the largest request of this kind in many years. So, what does this mean for the future of DoD’s agile methodology modernization?
Mike Masten, Vice President of Operations at Chenega Applied Solution (CAS) believes the future looks bright for delivering the success of IT modernization projects. The emergence and adoption of software factories throughout the Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps has set a blueprint for the DoD to advance IT modernization. In addition, promoting modernization at the top is key to driving these projects all the way to the finish line – as Masten put it, modernization must be promoted “all the way up to the Pentagon, all the way up to the President of the United States.” With the model, budget, and buy-in from the Commander-in-Chief all in place, modernization opportunities are abundant, and projects are set to make it to the finish line.
However, the momentum must continue even after project completion in order to prevent progress from stalling out. Senior leadership champions cannot leave the work of advancing completed projects to people in lower positions. Fortunately, the budget increase in RDT&E is a significant leap in perspective for top-most officials. This momentum will flow to senior leadership champions, and the troops below will respond. Eventually, this will build a culture shift across the DoD, where agencies as a whole are eager to embrace innovation and drive change.
For Masten, adopting agile development principles is core to the culture of digital transformation that DoD agencies must pursue in order to be successful in modernization. Agile methodology is not simply a way to approach getting to an end point — rather, it is a philosophy predicated on being open to cycles of change and review, which open the door to innovative new endeavors. The iterative nature of agile methodology means that there is constant room for improvement and changes — if a project strays from its initial plan, then agencies can adjust as they go, using iterative processes and sprint cycles to reach the final product. This is a necessary culture to bring to the DoD, which has historically been a very risk-averse organization. Modernization projects must break this mold in order to see their greatest potential.
IT experts in the defense industry can help DoD agencies transform into agile organizations. For example, CAS’s Modernization as-a-Service (MaaS) program provides a turnkey solution of hardware, software, and support services, so that the government can focus on the warfighter. Hanscom Air Force Base’s Enterprise IT as-a-Service (EITaaS) program is an example of how the MaaS program brought a novel look on how to approach change. For this program, CAS sent a team of engineers to work on-site at Hanscom so that a brand-new team could provide a fresh perspective in order to keep driving innovation. The R. Wayne Lowe Synergy Innovation complex at Robins Air Force Base, also known as Project Synergy, is another example. Here, the MaaS program created a new project-specific position, the MaaS Solutions Specialist – a solutions architect that will address technical solutions and continue innovation in maintenance post-build.
As leaders in the DoD leverage the bumper FY22 budget to drive new investments in software factories, they must make sure to lay the groundwork for progress to continue after project completion. Rallying for agile methodologies will help ensure that a culture of innovation and discovery continues across the DoD. Masten says, “Modernization is not a single point…it’s a constantly evolving process. Technology is changing every single day; a lot of the software that we use today will be irrelevant two years from now… as you know, you have to buy a new phone every so many years… so it really requires knowledge and continuous flow of information to the customer for agencies to remain on the tip of the sphere.”
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