Tactical Tailor

How Agile is Changing the Way PEO EIS Develops Software

Combining 28 disparate Soldier and civilian training systems into one cohesive system requires more than extensive planning. It demands collaboration, prioritizing people over processes, and a willingness to respond to change in increments over time — otherwise known as an iterative approach.

PEO EIS’ Army Training Information System (ATIS), managed by Army Data and Analytics Platforms (ARDAP), is being developed with two priorities in mind: getting all the Army’s training data in compliance with the Army Data Plan; and building a system around the user’s experience through human-centered design. For ATIS, the users are Soldiers and civilians seeking training and educational opportunities, anywhere they are in the world. For Army leaders, ATIS’ biggest return on investment is time. ATIS will consolidate multiple cumbersome and outdated legacy systems, and will automate all training management, development, scheduling and resourcing. This will allow leaders to focus on training execution and readiness assessment throughout the Army.

The ATIS team has implemented a Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe) workflow across all aspects of the development process by leaning into SAFe’s 10 Agile principles. As part of the process, the ATIS team incorporates Soldier, civilian and Army leaders’ feedback at every step along the way.

“Agile allows programs to pivot,” said Capt. James Oliver, ATIS’ assistant project manager. “Agile programs emphasize collaboration and communication between team members, customers and all stakeholders.”

With this Agile framework in place, the ATIS team has worked in program increments (PI) by breaking up the development work into smaller, manageable chunks, each 10 weeks long. Within each PI are a set of two-week sprints, which serve as short-term goals where the team plans, develops, tests and delivers a working set of features. Each sprint builds on the next, and each PI does the same — with iterations along the way as needed, when goals and objectives change. This process allows for flexibility, which is key to adapting to changes in priorities and user needs during the development process.

“The sprints are synchronized across all the teams working on the PI, and they are designed to ensure that the teams are aligned and working toward a common goal,” Oliver said.

Working in increments makes it easier and more efficient to change plans. For example, if the ATIS team spent 10 weeks working toward an objective — an entire PI — only then to find out a feature needed modification, it would require a significant effort to undo the last 10 weeks of development work. With shorter, two-week sprints, making feature or program modifications is significantly quicker and more efficient.

Unlike in a waterfall approach, where all requirements are established up front, Agile goes about software development differently by using a process called progressive elaboration. In progressive elaboration, each sprint and PI serve as building blocks for the next phase of development by further refining project requirements during the process — progressively.

“The hard part about this process when you’re dealing with software is that everything changes so fast,” said Melissa Lee, ATIS’ release train engineer. “That’s one of the reasons why Agile is really good for software.”

Tim Hale, ATIS’ product manager, echoed Lee’s thoughts. “When you’re building software, you need flexibility,” he said. “You also need to create an environment that allows for incremental deployments while iteratively getting finished software into capability support and a Continuous Improvement/Continuous Development pipeline. This [Agile] process allows that.”

Staying on track in an ever-changing environment is a challenge for the ATIS team — which is where a 15-minute daily stand-up meeting helps. The purpose of the stand-up is to ensure each team member is moving forward with their objectives and to work out any issues that may arise. It is one of the ways the ATIS team continues to improve as PEO EIS progresses toward becoming a fully Agile organization.

“It’s a very big deal in the Army in this digital transformation,” said Aric Sherwood of PEO EIS’ journey to becoming an Agile organization. Sherwood is the director of PEO EIS’ Acquisition Innovation Directorate. “Specifically for PEO EIS, which does a lot of the Army’s heavy lifting when it comes to software development.”

Adopting Agile across the Defense Acquisition System in its entirety poses its own challenges, which makes PEO EIS’ efforts especially innovative.

“I find that the Defense Acquisition System and Agile aren’t always compatible,” Hale said to this point. “Further regulatory changes would help with future digital adaption.”

As of May 2023, the ATIS team has entered the fourth PI in the development process. It is still early, but the team is thriving in its adoption of Agile.

“We’re doing great,” Lee said of the ATIS team’s progress. “People are starting to understand Agile and how it works. We’re building momentum.”

For PEO EIS, the success on ATIS is just the beginning in the organization’s Agile transformation journey.

By Dan Lawton

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