How VA’s Agile Center of Excellence is Transforming Software Development

The agency’s product line management vision gains value with new efforts fostering culture change.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has embarked on a modernization journey towards DevSecOps and agile software development. A key part of this effort has been through its Agile Center of Excellence (ACOE), the agency stood up in 2018 to help overcome the big business of changing the culture of traditional software development.

Nestled within the VA Office of Information and Technology (OIT), the center was designed to help empower products and inspire a culture of continuous improvement in its DevSecOps transformation and product line management (PLM).

ACOE offers expert coaching and tailored training for teams to optimize the way they work together to create value. Since its inception, VA has expanded the organizational role of the center to include teams dedicated to advancing measurement, analytics, dashboards, technical solutions and, of course, product line management.

“Our top priorities this year are focused on transformation and building transparency,” the center’s chief of staff, Brooke Jordan, told GovCIO Media & Research. “Empowering teams and individuals with the knowledge and behaviors to thrive in an ever-changing landscape and advance product line management – ​​bringing us closer to a more mature DevOps culture. We are also looking to improve how we use data to make more informed decisions.”

Jordan said the center creates products and services that enable proactive and intentional solutions. When it comes to PLM, Jordan’s team is focused on breaking down the barriers that have always existed between development, security, and operations teams.

“We began organizing around product lines to build sustainable teams and streamline value creation, a monumental shift from the traditional project-driven structure. We simplified the foundation, accelerated communication, and collaborated with the client to give teams the time and autonomy to innovate,” said Jordan. “Developing deep product knowledge, meaningful relationships and shared responsibility for safety helps us focus on results throughout the life of the product. We all get to the table earlier so we can always deliver safer products that delight our end user faster. »

OIT’s PLM implementation stays true to the Agile principles for which it was designed, providing simple systems that actualize change iteratively, Jordan said. The effort has gone through several levels of maturity.

The center is currently organizing level three of the PLM to enrich the knowledge and practices acquired during the previous maturity levels. The first level of PLM focused on creating a lean foundation, positioned for change. The second level used this base of trust to explore ways to improve outcomes. Teams were connected to subject matter experts through a matrix model so they could advance their data strategy capabilities and improve the skills of their staff.

“When we aligned subject matter experts across product lines, people knew exactly who to turn to when they needed help at the push of a button. immediate ones, like strategic communications and budget, but it also unveiled an opportunity for team members to explore, collaborate, and see the big picture.Partnering with experts beyond their usual domain has helped create both ‘T’ shaped teams and empathy across the organization. We don’t need everyone to be an expert at everything, but we have need them to be armed with enough knowledge and awareness to feel empowered,” Jordan said.

Jordan’s team is also developing dashboarding and reporting features to improve the organization’s approach to using data to make more informed decisions.

Dashboards use authoritative data, offer the ability to save time aggregating data and developing reports, and provide teams with the information they need to make informed decisions. Offerings range from product dashboards that make product metrics such as mean time to restore (MTTR), release cadence, and turnaround time visible for use in stand-up meetings and sprint planning to products for customers such as the business metrics dashboard that shows product success rates.

“In order to develop the business metric, the customer and the product had to have a common lexicon of what success looked like,” Jordan said. offering high-stakes products for programs such as Loan Guarantee, to make veterans more competitive in today’s housing market. »

As ACOE strives to develop its people in Agile, SAFe, and DevSecOps, it also incorporates principles of resilience and adaptability to inspire what Jordan called a “growth mindset.” It’s also what makes the difference between “being Agile” and “doing Agile,” she says.

As the center works to mature agency agility more broadly, it will continue to focus on continuous improvement to drive transparency and transformation. Communication is essential. Jordan described how ACOE prioritizes customer feedback and facilitates professional development sessions and communities of practice to drive collaboration and provide social learning experiences.

“We’re on a mission to help teams learn, grow and optimize,” Jordan said. “We want to help teams create environments that provide the transparency, inspection and adaptability needed to feel confident to ‘fail’. It’s this confidence that allows creativity to flourish.

Comments are closed.