they assume careful preplanning minimizes risk and maximizes dependability
and usability. However, more leaders are
pushing for agile acquisition because
the track record of the normal process in
dynamic environments is so dismal.
The software engineering community has hotly debated preplanned versus agile processes. After a while they
reached a truce where they agreed that
preplanning is best for large systems
where reliability and risk-avoidance are
prime concerns, and agile is best for
small to medium systems where adaptability and user friendliness are prime
We challenge that conclusion. Preplanning is ceasing to be a viable option
for large systems. Moreover, many small
systems aim to be ultra-reliable.
Evolutionary development uses “loosely
managed” processes. Numerous successful large systems evolved through
such a process—CTSS, Unix, Linux,
Internet, Google, Amazon, eBay, Apple
iPhone Apps, and banking applications are notable examples. All these
systems relied on a common platform
used by all members of the community, from developers to users. In such
an ecosystem, successful prototypes
transition easily to working products.
It appears that the common ecosystem provides enough constraints that
loose management works. The successful ecosystems were guided by a
vision and a set of interaction rules
that everyone in the community accepted. Building ecosystems for governments is quite challenging because of organizational impediments
to information sharing. 5 We advocate
much more aggressive use of loosely
managed ecosystems. The W2COG
was conceived to allow government to
join a large ecosystem that could adaptively address its information networking needs.
Loosely managed does not mean unmanaged. Scrum and Extreme Programming (XP) are often cited as successful
management approaches for agile processes.
6 Even the respected Capability
Management Model (CMM) is amenable
to agile development.
Whereas preplanned development
seeks to avoid risks, evolutionary development mimics nature and embraces
seeks to avoid
risks. The developers purposely expose
emerging systems to risks to see how
they fail, and then they build better system variants. It is better to seek risk out
and learn how to survive it. In a natural
ecosystem, only the most fit organisms
survive. Fitness is nature’s way of managing risk.
All the evidence says that that evolutionary processes works for systems
large and small, and that risk seeking
is the fastest route to fitness. There is
too much at stake to continue to allow
us to be locked into a process that does
1. boehm, b. making a difference in the software century.
IEEE Computer (mar. 2008), 32–38.
2. brooks, f. The Mythical Man Month. anniversary
Edition. addison-Wesley, 1995.
3. cao, L. and balascubramaniam, r. agile software
development: ad hoc practice or sound principles?
IEEE Pro (mar.–apr. 2007), 41–47.
4. gao. Defense Acquisitions: Assessments of Selected
Weapons Programs. report gao-06-391 (mar. 2006);
Information Technology: DOD Needs to Ensure That
Navy Marine Corps Intranet Program Is Meeting
Goals and Satisfying Customers. report gao-07-51.
(dec. 2006); http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d0751.pdf.
55. hayes-roth, r., blais, c., brutzman, d. and Pullen,
m. how to implement national information sharing
strategy. AFCEA-GMU C4I Center Symposium:
Critical Issues in C4I, george mason university,
fairfax, va, afcEa (2008); http://c4i.gmu.edu/events/
6. schwaber, k. Agile Project Management with Scrum.
microsoft Press, 2004.
Peter J. Denning ( email@example.com) is the director of the
cebrowski institute for information innovation and
superiority at the Naval Postgraduate school in monterey,
ca, and is a past president of acm.
Chris Gunderson ( firstname.lastname@example.org), captain
(retired) u.s. Navy, is Principal investigator of the Naval
Postgraduate school W2cog and Netcentric certification
Rick Hayes-Roth ( email@example.com) is Professor of
information systems at the Naval Postgraduate school
in monterey, california, and was c To for software at
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