The Air Force Is Embracing Agile Software Development

I booked an early AM flight to Boston so I could get into town before noon. I slid into the parking lot 30 minutes before boarding, but still managed to get through security, to the gate, and on the plane with minutes to spare.

As I flipped my headphones on and slid my backpack under the seat in front of me, I heard the Captain’s voice crackling over the intercom. He explained that they were having some problems with a system and needed to reboot the server, and if that didn’t work they were going to have to power cycle the airplane. After they kicked it in the ass a few times, everything seemed to work , so they sealed us up and headed down the runway.

“WTF does he mean problems with the flight systems? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”

So for the entire hour and twenty eight minute flight, I paid close attention to the weird sounds, blinking lights, cabin airflow (and the occasional lack thereof), and the strange noises that would come from the engines (were they turning them off), and the flight attendant that picked up the Bat Phone whenever a bell sounded.

BTW: That plane stayed aloft that day due to the upward force I applied to both my armrests as my butt cheeks pulled up on the seat.

The flight over the water and in to Boston is beautiful. I love that town. Once on the ground, I remembered that I had to take a shuttle to the rental cars, so that slowed me up a little. The upside is that the airport staff were surprisingly friendly given the amount of bullshit they put up with every day. Huge difference between them and those that work Reagan airport in D.C. Yikes.

I finally got my rental car sorted out, hit Google Maps with the address, then took off on a wild ride. Boston, November, rain, traffic, wide roads with no lines and everyone just driving. #FML

My quick tour included Pivotal Labs, the Air Force’s Kessel Run facility, and a quick trip to Hanscom AFB. The Air Force is doing some cool work up in Boston. They’re bringing commercial software development practices into DoD via the smarty pants staff over at Pivotal Labs. It’s a fantastic concept. It’s fun to see everyone playing startup without the fear of an investor telling you to piss off and walking out with his money.

It’s exciting and new, and there are some highly qualified people working on the team. There are some “experienced advisors that have worked lot’s of agile projects in the past” that are there to do something, not sure what. I specifically asked one of them when they will be ready to ship something that works. He responded “That’s not how Agile works.” I just laughed at him “The fuck it isn’t, no wonder you’re not on the core team.”

Principle #1 of the Agile Manifesto:

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

Anyway, it’s encouraging to see this sort of thing happening.

The danger comes from the strap hangers that will surround the project when it’s successful in an attempt to scrape a little credit off the top (you know, the same ones that will line up to kick them when they stumble screaming “I knew this shit was going to fail!”). That’s just how the Government works. For now.

Not that I don’t think the team at Kessel Run can deliver, I think they can, and will. They will ultimately show us that Big Government software development can be done differently.

After all, if what we did now worked, we wouldn’t be constantly seeking alternatives.

Good luck to the Kessel Run team. Stay strong and #AgileAF.