Human-designed systems have deep consequences. They provide the context from which opportunities, successes, and failures emerge. When applied thoughtfully, we observe success such as we’ve seen in the private technology sector at companies like Google. When applied superficially, we observe failure such as the October 2013 Healthcare.gov rollout, whereby traditional government contracting vehicles and development models failed to produce a viable web application, one that happened to be central to a piece of landmark domestic legislation.
Given enough freedom, will, or desperation, human-designed systems can (and will) be altered or even replaced. The United States of America itself was founded on this principle. Open source software development and distribution models have produced technical and economic innovations never dreamt of in the proprietary realm. Agile and DevOps methodologies have further fueled the success of these models. And a willingness to break from the existing system to embrace private sector practices and talent led to the successful recovery of the Healthcare.gov website starting in November 2013.
In this talk, we will see how a band of upstarts within Google followed the grain of its culture to drive adoption of automated testing throughout the company. We will see how the basic forces of human nature working against this effort map to the same forces evident in government organizations. Finally, we will revisit a core principle and lesson from United States history: how service to the people, rather than to the organization, provides the foundation for sustained innovation and success. These insights may help us develop better strategies and tactics to spread Agile and DevOps practices as a means to improve the operations and services of the U.S. government.