Agile Acquisition: Making Sense of Planning Backward

The federal sales cycle is costly and can last anywhere from 12 to 18 months. The process involves an enormous investment of time and resources upfront, followed by a lengthy selection period.

Conversely, Agile acquisition is a lean, effective way to acquire products and services. With this approach, companies save time, money, and effort while seeing more significant investment returns. In this post, we'll dive deeper into agile acquisition, and cover some best practices for implementing it in your organization.

Current Challenges in Government Acquisition

Today’s procurement processes are filled with challenges. Agencies spend considerable time on tasks that don’t guarantee success at the outcome. Spending too much time on these tasks puts the project at risk of abandonment, inaccurate estimates, and/or a solution that doesn’t provide value.

No Flexibility

Current procurement processes don’t allow flexibility in adapting to changing requirements. The nature of waterfall project management means the next stage can't begin until the previous stage is completed. This linear approach also means teams won’t be able to revisit a prior phase to address changes. Waterfall processes have a high degree of risk, because plans may become outdated or inadequate as the project progresses. 

Inaccurate Estimates

Contractors often don’t have enough information to provide accurate estimates in traditional procurement. Why? Because they're limited to estimating costs based on a list of requirements, which may not accurately reflect what the organization needs. 

Fails to Provide Value

Contractors compete on features and price in traditional acquisition processes. Consequently, the agency ends up purchasing a set of features rather than a solution that may not provide value. 

What is Agile Acquisition?

Agile acquisition is a method of acquiring new products or services through a collaborative and iterative approach. This is a dramatic departure from traditional acquisition processes, which are typically rigid and follow prescribed steps.

Core Concepts

This strategy starts with an evaluation phase and builds on what you learn from it. In this approach, contracting is done incrementally in response to feedback and frequent reevaluation of goals. The strategy can be distilled down to four processes:

1. Aligned goals

2. Collaborative contracting

3. Rigorous evaluation

4. Continuous improvement

Implementing Agile Acquisition

Agile procurement is a method of rapidly assessing the outcome of initial solutions, rather than relying on documentation of product specifications. For example, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) created Pilot IRS to help the agency determine whether new technologies are a good fit before receiving additional funding.

Start With the End in Mind

With an agile approach, a user's evolving requirements and the system's end-state vision are defined at the beginning. This decreases the risk that the system will not achieve its purpose.

Begin With an Evaluation Sprint

A sprint is a two-to-three-week cycle during which a specific feature of the system is the focus. Contractors must build a working prototype, then validate it with the agency. This gives contractors insight into how much effort is required to meet the organization’s needs, allowing them to estimate pricing accurately. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently began experimenting with a similar approach to streamline procurements.

Why Agile Acquisition Is Key to Successful Acquisitions

Agile procurement focuses on delivering only what is needed, and encourages hands-on validation before purchasing. This helps to prevent waste by ensuring that only the right features are included and work as they should.

Provides Adaptability and Flexibility

Using agile procurement, teams can quickly adapt to change. This is especially important in today's fast-changing business landscape. Demand for new and unique products is constantly changing, which means they need to be developed quickly. 

Achieves Most Desirable Outcome

Agile allows for early identification of problems and failures, so agencies can quickly make adjustments and ensure products meet their needs. 

Provides Transparency

Agile provides transparency into the process, allowing stakeholders to see how much work is completed and how much work remains. It also gives stakeholders the opportunity to provide feedback.

Saves Time and Money

It's a common misconception that agile is about cutting corners or rushing the project. It’s not- agile is about cutting waste. Waste includes things like:

•             Unnecessary features product or project features

•             Features that take too long to develop

•             Project/Product features developed but never used

•             Features that are not tested properly before being released to production

Agile Acquisition with RVCM

RVCM is an enterprise digital transformation company that integrates business consulting, design, and technology to improve customer and client performance and engagement. We’re future thinkers that excel in DevSecOps, user-centered design, Agile software development, cloud solutions, and cybersecurity.

Learn more about how you can modernize and scale with RVCM here.