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Implementing DevOps in the United States Government (Part I)

While on the surface, speeding up the time to market for government IT projects doesn’t seem like much of a concern, changing expectations brought about by the cloud, new technologies, and tight budgets mean more rapid and iterative processes are part of government IT’s future. Government agencies will only be able to meet these challenges by implementing DevOps

Federal agencies getting started with DevOps and agile development face many of the same challenges as commercial organizations. Some challenges, however, are distinctly governmental, especially because one of the major changes that takes place is acquisitions. To date, thewaterfall software development model has dominated the government acquisitions process, bringing many problems with it that lead to projects going over budget. Legacy acquisition artifacts, including Contract Data Requirements List (CDRL) items and Data Item Definitions (DIDs), reinforce the current acquisitions status quo. DevOps challenges this status quo—development, test, and operations share responsibility for delivery of functioning services or products. Agile development is already pushing up against these acquisition artifacts, so DevOps will be in good company.

If you are a federal agency manager looking to do an internal assessment of your DevOps readiness, the 18F DevOps Assessment Guide is a handy questionnaire to evaluate your organization's DevOps capability. The questionnaire could be a good way to start internal DevOps discussions within agencies and programs among management teams and senior developers.

Some other useful advice can be found in a GovLoop post entitled 3 Tricks to Implementing DevOps, Kristin Markham stresses the three Cs for agencies implementing DevOps:

●     Connections

●     Communications

●     Culture

Government programs that have a collaborative culture already will have a leg up when it comes to implementing DevOps.

Establishing a DevOps Culture

In the Federal Computer Week article 3 Keys To Building a Federal DevOps Culture, author Raj Ananthanpillai cites three keys to building a federal DevOps culture. They are:

●     Change the culture of fear and get past the fear of change

●     Find and build talent

●     Measure, measure, measure

Ananthanpillai’s advice about making DevOps work inside of an agency is something for many of us to think about because culture can be baked in around government IT projects. While your prime contractors will see opportunities in bringing in all sorts of new DevOps talent, agency IT management needs to make a commitment to find and build their own DevOps talent internally. Otherwise, the cultural changes that DevOps brings to government agency IT will not spread across the development organization.

Some DevOps proponents say you can’t “buy DevOps,” and there is some truth to that. While contractors and software vendors bombard government decision-makers with a range of DevOps tools and training, a government program Project Management Office (PMO) must acknowledge the cultural changes that will take place in their development organization and put the appropriate checks, balances, and processes in place to ensure a smooth transition to DevOps.


A colleague once described the move to DevOps as a journey, and it’s especially true for government agencies and programs that are in the initial discussions around making the move, or are in the process of using DevOps on their first project. What's primary about DevOps isn't being fast for its own sake, it's about quickly improving quality iteratively, and if something fails, to quickly correct it. Quality trumps speed.

Stay tuned next month for Part 2 of this series, IAE and DevOps.


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