"Agile Development in the US Army Research Arm"

Mark Salamango, US Army

When: January 23rd, 2007, 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm Where: Atomic Object, 941 Wealthy Street SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506

When you have an organization of over one million people, it should come as no surprise that it embodies both extremes of the process spectrum, from heavy process to light agility. At one end of the spectrum, the US Army’s large programs are like the government that funds them: a great, non-agile bureaucracy. At the smaller unit level, fire teams and squads, soldiers handle their missions with tremendous agility in an environment of complete chaos. Yet, as a unified organization, the two modes of operation integrate, perhaps not optimally, but systemically. Within the research arm of the US Army, we are more likely to encounter the less agile processes, even though we may work directly with personnel who are experts in agility in the field. A further challenge to us, as civilian employees or contractors, is that we have no formal authority in the US Army; we cannot command anyone to adopt agile. Therefore, in developing systems for the Army, we listen, learn, demonstrate, educate, and deliver in order to learn from those who are agile so that we may introduce agility to others.

Our success with agile techniques derives from working with the smaller units, delivering to them and creating positive experiences that are then communicated up the chain of command. We earn trust by placing duty and honor at the center of our practices. Each project participant commits to doing the right thing for the team, to providing candid and transparent communications, and to treating other members of the team with the respect that they themselves desire. The resulting trust creates the opportunity for us to employ agile practices and escape the more common demands for encyclopedic documentation and elaborate, fragile plans. Serial success has evolved into de facto technical leadership, as others have begun choosing to follow what they see work. The path to successful agile introduction into a large organization demands duty, honor, and delivery.