Why DevOps will revolutionize Federal IT

DevOps, more than any other agile way of thinking, can cause dramatic change in how the government does IT. There is a lot to talk about here, but in this post I’ll try to present a simple line of thought that will give you an idea of what I mean.

First, we need a hypothesis on what the critical problem is in government IT. I have claimed in many of my speaking engagements that the problem we should be focused on is that of cycle time (technically lead time), by which I mean the time from recognizing a mission need to deploying an IT capability to address that need. Cycle times can be as long as ten years in the government, though I can’t give a meaningful statistic because as far as I know this is not something that is measured. What is reasonable? I would say something more on the order of a week or so. There is clearly room for improvement.

You might think that a more important problem to solve is waste, or possibly overspending. I propose cycle time instead because it is measurable, actionable, and includes these other problems. Cycle times are long because of waste; if we reduce cycle time it will be by eliminating waste. Is the government overspending on IT? It is hard to say, since we don’t know what the right level of spending should be. But everyone can agree that our spending should be as little as possible for the value we receive. Reducing cycle time will help achieve that goal. And it increases the government’s responsiveness and shortens feedback cycles, which result in better products.

Good, so what does DevOps contribute to achieving shorter cycle times? To keep things simple, let’s think of DevOps as a combination of three things: Lean Software Development, Continuous Delivery, and teaming or integration across development, operations, security, and other functions. Lean Software Development provides the framework and tools for reducing cycle times. Continuous Delivery is the best way we know to structure a software lifecycle to minimize waste. And cross-functional integration further reduces waste, addressing the costly “hidden factories” created by handoffs between development, operations, and security.

There are many more reasons why I believe that DevOps is the key to reforming government IT. I will address them in future posts.

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