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The IAEs Vicky Niblett Speaks at AGL Live!: “The Art of the Pivot: When Failure Works”

The IAE’s Deputy Assistant Commissioner Vicky Niblett took part in a panel discussion during Agile Government Leadership’s (AGL) webinar series AGL Live! on March 20, 2019.  In this episode, leaders from various civic innovation efforts gathered to discuss how the government can learn to fail smarter and pivot quickly for better outcomes in agile environments.

An agile environment is described as a set of principles and values that encourage breaking large portions of a project into smaller functional portions that can be developed quickly. Niblett said she uses the agile method to lead the, “...modernization effort where IAE is taking the functionality of all ten systems and creating a ‘one stop shop’ for federal awards.” Those systems include several that have already been decommissioned (CFDA.gov, PPIRS.gov) and others yet to come (SAM.gov, WDOL.gov, and FBO.gov, for example).

The panelists discussed examples of their failure and what they learned. Rob Klopp, formerly from the Social Security Administration, explained that the key to turning a failure into success is, “...{to} take a horizontal slice around the problem instead of a vertical slice around a problem and deliver a simple version of the entire business.” Niblett commented on this statement by reflecting on her personal lesson learned from past failures. She said that when the IAE started development of its modernization effort, “...we were on a three-month cycle,” yet soon found that “...was too long and was not realistic”. In addition to the lengthy cycle, they were, “...not using IP sprints properly.”

The team took a huge pivot and began to think of the systems as one. Niblett said, “the ultimate goal is to provide one system where users have the capability to search and view all public IAE federal award data.” In other words, focus on consolidating the, “common functionality across all systems.” The team determined the best way to accomplish this was to shorten the cycle, define requirements, and set realistic goals. Niblett decided to have six weeks of development and one of IT. Since the change, Niblett found that velocity has picked up and system users have benefited from that.

Additionally, Niblett emphasized the importance of communication with stakeholders. Niblett implemented quarterly meetings with all the stakeholders, beginning with the government side in a dedicated effort to help set realistic expectations. “Involving stakeholders as our users and getting their input as we go along builds trust with the government and will lead to success,” said Niblett.

Niblett concluded by giving a tip to others who work in an agile environment, “Get out and listen to what others are doing in the government and learn from others.”


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The IAE environment is designed to transition multiple, stove-piped applications into an integrated workforce tool set for awards management across... More

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