USCIS pilots new, objectives-based approach to development cycle

USCIS CIO Mark Schwartz speaks at FedScoop's Lowering the Cost of Government with IT Summit. (FedScoop)

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A new technique piloted by the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Service could help agencies cut down the time it takes to conceive and launch a new application.

The method, referred to as impact mapping, emphasizes developing a set of clear objectives and goals for a project to update IT — instead of the usual unstructured laundry list of requirements common in government, Schwartz said during a keynote speech at FedScoop’s Lowering the Cost of Government with IT Summit on Thursday.

“I think it has tremendous potential because it takes advantage of what we can do on the technical side,” he said.

All impact mapping requires is a group of people, a whiteboard and about three hours, Schwartz said. Together, workers brainstorm and map out what they want to accomplish, and then think about how they can change the workforce and IT to get there. This method focuses more tightly on creating hypotheses and solving specific objectives.

Once finished brainstorming, agencies focus on what they can start doing to confirm the hypotheses and launch the project. Officials will also try to “empower” a single leader to move forward with development while requiring them to give biweekly updates.

Typically development cycles are plagued with slow oversight, Schwartz said. In some agencies, project managers suffered from a lack of feedback from users and overly general guidelines. This new approach helps address that, he said.

“The biggest benefit is in terms of cycle time,” he said. “After the three-hour mapping-brainstorming session we already have the people on hand to do the work, we can empower the product owner … and we can say, ‘Start now.’”

While Schwartz said he is the first agency to use the method, private companies have also used it and seen results.

Meanwhile, he said USCIS is also using an automated development system to help speed the development process. It takes code developed by a software engineer, and then reviews it, merges it with other code, and tests itself for any issues.

The two processes cut costs and time, and “maximize the amount of work not done,” Schwartz said. In his first test run with impact mapping, the USCIS managed to deploy a usable product in six weeks – a massive improvement to what agencies expect.

“If an agency has a mission need and can wait four years for that need to be filled, that is not a mission need,” Schwartz said.

Contact the reporter on this story via email: Jeremy.Snow@FedScoop.com. Follow him on Twitter @JeremyM_Snow. Sign up for the Daily Scoop — all the federal IT news you need in your inbox every morning — here: fdscp.com/sign-me-on.

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Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Departments, Government IT News, workforce
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