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March 22, 2021

Want an Agile Pentagon? Don’t Go Chasing ‘Waterfalls’

By Chris Dougherty

In the absence of something better, the Pentagon churns out strategies every four years, releases already-outdated guidance and concepts, and issues five-year spending programs that would be familiar to Soviet planners. It is no way to keep ahead of China’s military modernization or technological disruption. There is a better way to manage complex processes like these, and some Pentagon and Congressional staff know it — if only they would just use it.

It’s called agile development — a concept from the software industry, where it has largely replaced the traditional “waterfall” method. The Biden administration should apply the same principle for developing strategy and translating it into concepts and capabilities.

Clinging to familiar, outdated processes will provide little comfort when China surpasses the United States as the world’s foremost military power.

In the waterfall method, software developers collect requirements in spreadsheets, hand them off to engineers who did not always understand the root problems their products were solving, and then delivered technical solutions that sometimes were outdated by the time they released the software. This should sound unsettlingly familiar to anyone in the Defense Department’s requirements and acquisition processes.

Read the full article from Defense One.

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