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Agile Micro-sprints at the SSA

Advancing the turnaround of a troubled program in 3 days.

Summary

The Social Security Administration (SSA) needed help turning around a failing case management system modernization program, which included a staff of over 200 government and contractor personnel. We were brought in to provide advice on transitioning their software delivery practices from waterfall to agile, contributing to the start of a successful turnaround.

Picture of people brainstorming with stickies on a whiteboard.

The challenge

The SSA's case management system modernization program was suffering from the ill-effects of a waterfall-based software development approach, including the dysfunctional separation of users from the development team.

With oversight bodies coming down more and more heavily on the program, the SSA needed to make immediate course corrections. Leadership decided to explore the idea of phasing in the adoption of agile, but the program team had no prior experience with this new and more effective way of delivering software.

The solution

To demonstrate the power of agile and how it could be applied within the context of the SSA's troubled program, we designed and facilitated an extensive, hands-on workshop using formal agile practices based on the Scrum framework.

Over the course of 6 formal sprints packed into 3 days, we guided a small subset of the SSA program team through a collaborative process of writing user stories, prioritizing and grooming a product backlog, implementing the prioritized user stories in the system's development environment, and experiencing other standard Scrum ceremonies such as sprint reviews and retrospectives.

The results

Notable results include:

  • Brought together users and developers into the room for the first time
  • Within just 3 days of work, produced an astounding improvement to the usability of the system, as expressed by representative users
  • Gave leadership practical insight into the transformative nature of agile, inspiring a decision to accelerate its adoption that has led to a promising turnaround