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ACT-IAC White Paper: Acquisition Best Practices to Procure Agile IT Services



Acquisition Best Practices to Procure Agile IT Services Executive Summary
ACT-IAC Emerging Technology Shared Interest Group (ET SIG) Date Released: March 2014

Best practices in modern software development increasingly call for an Agile approach to developing software solutions. However, ongoing adoption of Agile software development methods by federal agencies is generally hindered by existing acquisition practices that assume that software is developed using the traditional waterfall approach.
Traditional waterfall development is a linear and sequential approach to software design and systems development that generally progresses through distinct phases, such as: analysis, requirements, design, development, testing, and deployment. There is an emphasis on creating extensive upfront documentation to describe the detailed and comprehensive set of requirements and technical design. The lengthy design and development timeframes of a typical waterfall project often result in slow-moving projects that struggle to adapt to changing circumstances and evolving requirements. Also, due to a testing process that typically occurs late in the waterfall development lifecycle, finding and addressing misalignment between functionality, architecture, performance, and mission requirements can result in significant cost increases and schedule delays. As a result, federal agencies often experience difficulty delivering software using waterfall methodologies, prompting the movement toward the Agile development methodology.

While progress has been made delivering Agile IT services within federal agencies, the acquisition policies, processes, and culture are not optimized to structure an acquisition to procure Agile IT services. The vast majority of federal projects that have followed an Agile methodology have transitioned from waterfall to Agile in the middle of the project and under the terms of the contract. Therefore, there are few examples of federal projects that started as Agile from inception for which the acquisition strategy was designed to achieve the benefit of the Agile approach. As a result, there is a lack of solid examples and documented best practices for acquiring Agile IT services in the Federal Government.

Twelve federal leaders who are involved in Agile IT projects across agencies including VA, DHS, DOJ, Treasury, and FDA were interviewed to uncover the acquisition challenges and identify possible solutions.

The results of the interviews are addressed in this white paper provide a starting point for a dialogue between federal acquisition professionals, IT professionals, and mission customers.
The most common challenges that emerged during the interviews have been grouped into the following six subject areas based on commonality between the challenges:

1. Knowledge of Agile principles, benefits, and risks,
2. Stakeholder ownership & decision-making,
3. Performance measurement,
4. Contract types,
5. Internal government costs, and
6. Testing and IV&V.

In the federal space, traditional approaches to acquisition and procurement are perceived as incompatible with the use of Agile methodologies to develop IT software solutions. Since Agile development is increasingly regarded as a leading practice, traditional approaches to acquisition are a roadblock to effectively acquiring and implementing Agile IT solutions within the Government.

Conducting interviews with IT executives and acquisition professionals revealed many of the challenges inherent in implementing Agile within the Government. These challenges occur throughout the entire lifecycle of a project, and will necessitate significant changes in the acquisition, evaluation, and management of projects in order to successfully implement Agile development. These challenges can be addressed by considering the unique aspects of Agile systems delivery beginning in the early stages of acquisition planning.

Solutions to these challenges include improving the Agile knowledge base, where acquisition professionals are exposed to the principles of Agile and coached through the adoption of Agile projects. They extend to ensuring the flexibility of contracts while controlling cost. Solutions continue with the establishment of strong product owners who are dedicated and empowered. And finally, selection of the right contract type.

By creating a strong foundation of institutional knowledge and stakeholder ownership, and allowing for a flexible approach to acquiring and administering Agile IT services, the Government can overcome its acquisition challenges and encourage Agile adoption. As a result, the Government can more effectively and efficiently deliver software and IT services.

About the American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC)
The American Council for Technology (ACT) is a non-profit educational organization established in 1979 to improve government through the efficient and innovative application of information technology. In 1989 ACT established the Industry Advisory Council (IAC) to bring industry and government executives together to collaborate on IT issues of interest to the Government.

ACT-IAC is a unique, public-private partnership dedicated to helping Government use technology to serve the public. The purposes of the organization are to communicate, educate, inform, and collaborate. ACT-IAC also works to promote the profession of public IT management. ACT-IAC offers a wide range of programs to accomplish these purposes.

ACT-IAC welcomes the participation of all public and private organizations committed to improving the delivery of public services through the effective and efficient use of IT. For membership and other information, visit the ACT-IAC website at

About the ACT-IAC Emerging Technology (ET) Shared Interest Group (SIG)
The ET SIG serves the federal CXO and government executive community responsible for identifying, assessing, and deploying emerging technology and maturing it to become a major component of the IT & business strategy. The ET SIG actively monitors the emerging technology landscape, evaluates game-changing technologies, provides insight on high-potential technologies to accelerate awareness and adoption, and shares lessons learned across the government IT community.

©American Council for Technology, 2014. This document may not be quoted, reproduced and/or distributed unless credit is given to the American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council.
For further information, contact the American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council at (703) 208-4800 or

Author (organization): 
ACT-IAC Emerging Technology COI
Document type: 
ACT-IAC Report
Emerging Technology