Why a More Agile Navy is Important
(Source: US Naval Sea Systems Command; issued May 16, 2019)
WEST BETHESDA, Md. --- In the flow of traditional project management, there is a chronological order for how the experimental process goes. From the problem statement comes requirements for the experiment, which are then designed, tested and delivered.

While the traditional methodology is one that has worked for years, David Newborn in the Maritime and Aviation Division at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, said there is a transition occurring within the Navy to adopt the newer Agile methodology moving forward.

Agile is a method of approaching projects that enables people to go into their problem-solving steps with ill-defined problem statements, which in turn allows teams pursuing a set of designs to adjust approaches on the fly based on incremental learning by the design team members. Utilizing the traditional “waterfall” approach to project management often gives the designers less latitude for adjustments during the process, a concept that Newborn believes is still well-suited to certain situations, but is imperative to enable the use of Agile approaches, as well.

“Agile is very effective in the appropriate place and for the appropriate project,” said Newborn, who attended a Certified Scrum Master course to gain a better understanding of how to facilitate the Agile mindset through the Scrum framework, and learn how to teach it to his counterparts. The two-day class combined instruction and team-based exercises that Newborn was able to use as soon as he returned to Carderock.

“I immediately came back and used that on a project. It was the first time we used that approach, so we didn’t do it all that well, to be honest,” Newborn said. “But in the last couple projects – and they were the appropriate type of projects to use this methodology on – we’ve gotten better at it each time.”

On April 23, he contributed to a brown-bag meeting at Carderock Division titled “Agile Adoption Imperative,” where Dr. Tom Marino also introduced the audience to a basic level of Agile strategy execution. During Newborn’s portion of the brown bag, Newborn presented the Stacey Diagram, which helps differentiate among projects that involve varying technological maturity and agreement of the requirements for the system that is being designed. In the corner of the diagram where there is both high technological maturity and a high understanding of the system’s requirements is what Newborn said embodies traditional waterfall project management. Opposite of that corner comprises of low technological maturity and low system requirement understanding variables, the corner of “chaos and exploration,” as Newborn put it.

“Chaos is not a bad word here; beautiful things can come out of chaos,” he said.

He further explained that everything that falls between the two extremes of his diagram are the types of problems that are best suited for taking the Agile approach to solving problems. Characteristics of the Agile methodology include iterative and incremental development, adaptive planning and the need to rapidly response to changes.

The Carderock effort to spread the Agile methodology’s teachings continued on May 7 when Dr. Dale Moore from the Pentagon visited the command to present “DASN Agility Initiative.” Moore is currently a director in the office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, Test and Evaluation.

According to Newborn, many civilian companies are adopting the Agile approach, and a full-scale naval adoption of the ideas presented in Agile methodology would provide more benefits than impediments, because it does not require doing away with traditional project-management practices. Part of its growth in popularity is the investment into the system from multiple levels of the Navy rather than a strictly top-down initiative.

“It’s a combination of upper leadership seeing this in the private industry and around the world, and the grassroots recognition that sometimes process and control are the opposite of what’s an effective means to go about solving a problem,” Newborn said.

Agile is not specifically a toolset for experimenters to plug into their process. What it is, however, is a philosophy that Newborn thinks will open up Carderock’s – and the rest of the Navy’s – options for problem solving.

“It enables you to curate a problem and deal with the big challenges early as opposed to sequentially going through the project,” he said.

As other entities within the Navy begin to adopt this ideology moving forward, such as the creation of Naval Expeditions (NavalX) in February 2019, it is Newborn’s hope that Carderock can lead early adoption within the Naval Research and Development Enterprise (NR&DE) of Agile methodologies and mindsets.

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