Big Bang = Big Fail

I was stunned, but not surprised (if that’s possible) to read about the Air Force’s recent decision to cancel a billion dollar software program. Led by CSC and intended to implement an Oracle system to modernize logistics, the program was years behind and hundreds of millions of dollars over budget when the ax fell.

A couple of notable quotes from the NY Times coverage:

The Defense Department says that the way the system was conceived was flawed. “We started with a Big Bang approach and put every possible requirement into the program, which made it very large and very complex,” says Elizabeth McGrath, the department’s deputy chief management officer.

Agilistas, need I really comment?

And how about this one from Grover Dunn, the Air Force director of transformation:

“We’ve never tried to change all the processes, tools and languages of all 250,000 people in our business at once, and that’s essentially what we’re about to do.”

Finally, there’s this:

Pat Phelan, a research vice president at Gartner, the information technology research company, also calls attention to the difficult and time-consuming nature of decision-making within the department. She advocates empowering small groups to make necessary decisions, as is done in the private sector, but she does not expect the department to change. “That mind-set, that cultural shift, is not something I expect to happen in my lifetime,” she said.

For teams attempting to put Lean Startup methods into place in the enterprise, that is a chilling assessment.

If all this sounds bleak, let me point out that there is hope. Jeff Sutherland points us to the relatively recent changes in IT policy and software procurement processes at DoD. And with people like US CTO Todd Park leading the charge for leaner approaches to technology development, perhaps we have cause for some optimism? Check out Park’s recent talk (talk starts at 19:30 into the recording) at the Lean Startup Conference if you’d like a little inspiration.

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