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GCN : July 2013
agency, applying agile development at the enterprise level. As of March, agile de- velopment has been standardized across IT, with some exceptions for cases where it may not work for certain reasons. Ag- ile is now the way the agency is going to do development across the organization, through all four development centers and in conjunction with contract business partners, said John Edgar, USPS' vice president of information technology. USPS has used agile development in 60 to 70 projects --- some were new sys- tems, others were enhancement projects to legacy systems. The most recent proj- ect is the Mail Transport Equipment Or- dering System (MTEOR), which allows users in industry to order mail transport equipment (MTE) --- pallets, priority mail sacks, mail tubs, rolling containers sleeves and trays -- online. Built in conjunction with USPS' mail operations group, MTEOR helps Postal Service workers get a better understand- ing of the needs of people who handle mail in industry and use MTEs to bring it to post offices. There were gaps in the Postal Services' understanding of who had the various types of equipment, Ed- gar said. Development work started last year and within 90 days the first release was launched. MTEOR is now into its third functional release, developed with the Scrum agile methodology. INTO THE SCRUM Scrum is a methodology that has gained acceptance in many organizations. For USPS, Scrum is the standard agile meth- odology for the entire organization. The Texas Department of Public Safety and the DCCA team assisting State's Bureau of Consular Affairs all use Scrum for agile development. Scrum is popular because it allows or- ganizations to bring together teams on a consistent basis, Edgar said. At USPS, project teams meet at least once a day in short Scrum sessions --- along with the business partners for whom the sys- tems are being designed --- to assess the status of a project as well as any changes and issues that need to be resolved. If the teams cannot meet face-to-face, they do so through web meetings, teleconference or video conference. "It's like a rugby team, hence the word scrum," Edgar said, referring to a method of restarting play in rugby football. But agile is not a silver bullet, said Ed- gar. Like all development endeavors, ag- ile projects can fail if not approached and implemented properly. Some observers say agile methods oversimplify valuable processes, and just because agile tools like as Extreme Pro- gramming or Scrum are successful in one project, it doesn't mean this will be the case in other projects. Lightweight de- velopment has its risks and government managers should be aware of this and use the right tools for the right situation, de- velopment experts say. Does agile save money? Experts say ag- ile methodology is not any cheaper than the traditional, waterfall methodology. The savings come through a better prod- uct for the user with fewer defects. IT projects are not for IT, they are for some- body else to use the system and they get the value for what is delivered. If the IT development group can deliver a quality product --- even in its first phase --- to an organization sooner, IT is then delivering higher value to their organiza- tion, USPS' Edgar said. "That is where the savings come from," he noted. • 22 GCN JULY 2013 • GCN.COM In agile Scrum, projects are divided into succinct work cadences, known as sprints, which are typically one week, two weeks, or three weeks in duration. At the end of each sprint, stakeholders and team members meet to assess the progress of a project and plan its next steps. This allows a project's direction to be adjusted or reoriented based on completed work, not speculation or predictions, experts say. In the world of traditional, "waterfall" development, developers first spend time working with business partners to document their requirements. Over the course of the project, if business needs or requirements change, the developers may not find out until too late. "It is not that you are out of communication but it is not constant and focused," he said. The end result, in many cases, is a failed IT project in which developers might have spent 18 months on a product only to find the business needs have changed in the meantime. With agile methodologies such as Scrum, after each two- to three-week sprint, specific deliverables --- detailed technical requirements, a system's architecture or a particular piece of code --- can be validated during a limited customer test, Edgar explained. Multiple teams can then pull those components together into compiled software or a system solution that's ready for a complete end-to-end test, he noted. --- Rutrell Yasin SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT AGILE PROGRAMMING How to scrum for agile development "AGILE DOESN'T MEAN FAST. LOOK IT UP. IT JUST MEANS AGILE." -- BOB MONAHAN, DYNAMIC RESEARCH CORP.