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Adopting Agile Practices: A Key to Modernizing Legacy Systems

The digital revolution has necessitated that organizations adapt and evolve to maintain a competitive edge. A key aspect of this involves the modernization of legacy systems, particularly in Federal government organizations. These organizations grapple with aging infrastructure that struggles to meet modern standards of efficiency, performance, and security. 

In fact, each year, the Federal government spends over $100 billion on IT, with approximately 80 percent of this budget allocated toward the operation and maintenance of existing IT investments, including these aging legacy systems. 

Agile practices, known for their flexibility and efficiency, can act as a catalyst in this modernization process. Agile methodologies are an approach to project management, predominantly in software development, where tasks are divided into small phases of work and reassessed through frequent iterations or sprints. By prioritizing flexibility and customer feedback, Agile methods enable teams to quickly adapt to changes, ensuring the end product meets the evolving needs and expectations of the customer. Here’s more about the crucial role Agile plays in maintaining and then revitalizing these legacy systems.

Agile Practices and Legacy System Modernization

In 2019, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted an assessment of federal legacy systems and identified ten critical systems that require urgent modernization. Some of these systems have origins dating as far back as the 1970s. In total, the inventory included 65 identified systems, a significant portion of which still rely on legacy programming languages like COBOL. While these legacy systems have demonstrated dependability over time, they present a range of formidable challenges that need to be addressed, including the following:

  • There are escalating maintenance costs associated with outdated technologies and a scarcity of resources with expertise in maintaining these systems.
  • The inflexibility of legacy systems makes it difficult to adapt to changing business requirements. 
  • Compatibility issues also arise when attempting to connect these systems with newer platforms and applications.

To tackle these challenges, Agile methodology offers a flexible and iterative approach to project management and software development. It emphasizes adaptability, customer collaboration, and responsiveness to change. Applying Agile principles to the modernization of legacy systems can yield several benefits. By adopting Agile practices, organizations can introduce a continuous improvement mindset, enabling regular upgrades and enhancements to these systems. This iterative approach allows for the identification and resolution of issues in a more timely manner, leading to optimized functionality and improved performance.

Role of Agile Practices in Facilitating System Upgrades

In the year 2020, an examination of federal agency expenditures revealed that approximately $29 billion was attributed to the expenses associated with maintaining legacy IT systems. These legacy systems require regular upgrades to keep pace with technological advancements and evolving business needs. Agile methodologies have emerged as a crucial factor in facilitating these upgrades, with continuous integration and delivery being core tenets of Agile practices.

A notable example illustrating the benefits of Agile implementation in the government sector is the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Navigation system update. The FAA leveraged Agile practices to incrementally introduce improvements to the system, thereby minimizing disruptions while enabling regular feedback and adjustments. This iterative approach allowed the FAA to enhance the system’s functionality in a controlled manner while ensuring its alignment with ever-evolving industry standards. With Agile methodologies, the FAA successfully navigated the complexities associated with system upgrades, delivering a more robust and efficient Navigation system for aviation stakeholders.

Enhancing System Maintenance through Agile

Incorporating Valuable Feedback

One of the key advantages of Agile methodologies in legacy system maintenance is the emphasis on continuous feedback. By actively engaging stakeholders, including end-users and system administrators, in the maintenance process, government organizations can gather valuable insights and identify areas for improvement. Agile practices encourage regular and open communication, enabling quick identification of issues and prompt resolution. This iterative feedback loop allows for continuous improvement and ensures that the maintenance efforts are focused on addressing the most critical concerns.

Resource Efficiency with Incremental Development

An Agile approach promotes iterative development, which is particularly beneficial for legacy system maintenance. Instead of attempting large-scale and time-consuming updates, Agile encourages breaking down maintenance tasks into smaller, manageable increments. This approach leads to a more efficient allocation of resources and minimizes the risk of disruptions or system downtime. By continuously delivering incremental updates, government organizations can ensure that high-priority tasks are addressed promptly, reducing the impact on system performance and reliability.

Agile Transformation in USCIS Electronic Immigration System

As an illustration, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) implemented Agile methodologies in the ongoing evolution of their Electronic Immigration System, with various teams collaborating to deliver these methodologies. TechSur helped implement Agile practices for USCIS on one of the later delivery teams. This project as a whole focused on the digital transformation of two high-traffic services: the Form I-90 application for replacing a permanent resident card and the USCIS Immigrant Fee Payment platform. Together with other team members, TechSur facilitated the phased launch of these services, following Agile principles.

Within the Agile framework, daily releases of system updates and enhancements were used to execute the project. Actively engaging with users, seeking their valuable feedback, and conducting consistent usability tests to identify areas for improvement all led to project success. By actively participating in these processes, USCIS realized constant system improvements, prompt problem-solving, and enhanced user satisfaction. 

Overcoming Resistance and Barriers to Agile Adoption

Implementing Agile methodologies in government settings can sometimes encounter resistance, primarily driven by factors such as a culture of rigidity, fear of change, or a lack of Agile expertise within the organization. However, there are notable examples of successful Agile implementation, including the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). The DoD encountered challenges during its transition to Agile practices but overcame them effectively.

Overcoming resistance to Agile implementation in government settings necessitates a multifaceted approach. Building Agile awareness among the stakeholders and decision-makers is crucial. This involves educating them about the principles, benefits, and potential outcomes of Agile methodologies, enabling them to understand its relevance and potential positive impact on government operations.  Organizations can foster a culture of collaboration and adaptability while encouraging stakeholders to embrace change and actively participate in Agile processes.

Investing in Agile training and coaching can equip government employees with the necessary skills and knowledge to adopt Agile practices successfully. Training programs may cover Agile frameworks, project management techniques, effective communication, and team collaboration. Comprehensive training enables government organizations to empower their workforce to embrace Agile principles and methodologies, enabling them to adapt to changing requirements and deliver projects more efficiently.


The drive towards digital transformation mandates the modernization of legacy systems, particularly in Federal government organizations. With an iterative, flexible approach, Agile practices offer a powerful mechanism to drive this modernization. By facilitating regular system upgrades, enhancing maintenance processes, and overcoming adoption barriers, Agile can significantly boost these systems’ performance, efficiency, and longevity.

As we look towards the future, the importance of Agile practices will only increase, promising more efficient, effective, and adaptive government organizations. Consequently, adopting Agile practices should be prioritized to fully leverage their potential in revitalizing legacy systems and transforming governmental digital infrastructure.

Ready to embrace Agile for legacy system modernization? Trust TechSur as your Agile transformation partner for future-proof government solutions.