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3 Lessons from SAFe Implementation in the Public Sector

By Michael Brown

From issuing official documents to administering unemployment benefits or regulating entire industries, the size and scope of public sector services is complex, often requiring input from hundreds of stakeholders to execute. And when these projects don’t succeed, the effects can be high profile and far ranging—just think of the initial healthcare.gov website rollout

Following the private sector’s lead by adopting agile principles can help government agencies plan and work together, manage cross-team dependencies and iterate on working software and systems for successful outcomes. But unlike private businesses, the public sector faces unique challenges to establishing efficient systems. The sheer number of team members involved—often operating within entrenched hierarchies—as well as changing priorities as administrations come and go, can complicate projects that are often years in the making. 

Public sector organizations need to be able to scale the agile practices that can be more straightforward with smaller teams in private settings. The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is one of the most popular ways to implement agile business practices in larger organizations. When applied correctly, SAFe can help public sector organizations reduce costs and risk in IT project management, align multiple teams toward efficient delivery of services and increase insight into contractor performance.

To understand more about the benefits from implementing agile at scale, here are three lessons to take from how SAFe is used in the public sector. 

  1. Start by embracing a culture shift. When the Air Force was looking to redesign the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS), a crucial network for gathering, processing and sharing intelligence, they knew they needed to modernize an outdated system. The timeline to upgrade existing apps and software, however, could take as long as seven years to bring online, meaning many functions were already outdated by the time they were implemented. The key to unlocking transformation? Shifting their mindset to embrace continuous improvements. 

    Knowing that many private sector technology companies fully embrace the method, the Air Force purposefully looked to the agile model to help take a massive project and break it down into smaller milestones that could more easily adjust as needs changed during the project. As a result, they were able to successfully rebuild DCGS with an open architecture and adopted commercially available software. The servers are now constructed in such a way that, if an improved brand or model becomes available, it could be easily swapped in without having to reconfigure the entire system. 
  2. Increased efficiency can lead to reduced expenses. At the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), one of the biggest impacts of leveraging SAFe has been a shift to cloud infrastructure with its Benefits Integration Platform (BIP). Building off a cloud foundation, the VA can now take advantage of open-source tools to quickly spin up, tear down and rebuild testing environments—sometimes in a matter of minutes, rather than spending hours or days trying to assess why applications might not work in different environments. 

    With close to 800 systems and 300 projects active at any time within the VA’s IT office, the shift to cloud has come with significant savings. The costly data centers required for the legacy environment came with a price tag of more than $100 million per year—the BIP costs less than 10% of that, not to mention other benefits that are harder to quantify, like resiliency and reliability. 
  3. Agile can pave the way for innovative thinking about how to deliver all types of government services. In 2016, the city of Austin’s Innovation Office and IT department created a fellowship program to help bring IT principles and values into city government. By attracting employees who had experience in the private sector, the city looked to establish an iterative, open-source development environment rooted in agile principles of systems thinking and building incrementally. One big win involved overhauling the process of obtaining residential building permits, in a complex project involving 15 different departments to redesign workflows. 

    Building off the success of applying agile to different IT and software issues, the city government has also looked to apply agile principles in innovative ways to complex social and political issues like public safety and homelessness. Using human-centered design and sprint cycles to study real-world experiences and identify logistical roadblocks, the city has rolled out solutions like MyPass, a secure blockchain ID for people experiencing homelessness, and a simplified way to submit online public safety complaints. 

Rely on a Certified SAFe Partner 

Overhauling existing processes for better outcomes such as streamlined workflows or reduced cost doesn't come without its challenges. Federal agencies often face obstacles like difficulty collaborating, transitioning to self-directed work, adopting new tools and maintaining technical environments. For public sector organizations to take advantage of the culture shifts, cost savings and innovation associated with implementing agile frameworks, a certified partner can help make sure the SAFe process is built for success.

Contegix is a certified Bronze SAFe partner that can help agencies and organizations leverage Atlassian tools to improve productivity, increase efficiency and boost both product quality and user satisfaction. As an Atlassian Platinum Solutions Partner with dedicated experience handling all aspects of deploying and running Jira, Contegix can help organizations determine the right Jira plugins needed for customized optimizations. As more updated versions of SAFe are released, Contegix can also help teams apply changes across teams and workflows to ensure government teams continue to benefit. 

Learn more about how Contegix’s experienced team can help your public sector organization integrate SAFe and increase agility.