Ringing in 2016, the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Information and Technology (OIT) has a big resolution: to implement the Veteran-focused Integration Process (VIP) as the Agile-embracing IT delivery framework. While change of such scale can be daunting, reading the VIP guide, available here, I am hopeful that the VA will attain and keep their resolution!
OUT WITH THE OLD
In July 2009, then VA Secretary Erik Shinseki halted 45 VA OIT projects that were behind schedule or over budget. Those projects were the first to be transitioned to the Program Management Accountability System (PMAS). Goals of PMAS included reducing cost overruns, schedule slippages and overall poor performance. The transition to PMAS was difficult and over two years later, the VA Office of the Inspector General assessed that PMAS was not yet fully functional, assessing: “OIT has not established key management controls over data reliability, project compliance, and project costs-controls needed to make PMAS a viable IT oversight mechanism.”
VA has tried to embrace Agile IT for years, but has been held back by the PMAS processes, which only work in a Waterfall fashion. With five milestone reviews, most requiring a pre-brief too, rigid production schedules regardless of functionality delivered, and over 50 documentation artifacts, PMAS can be formidable. Many of us reading this article have been there, working so hard to make progress on VA OIT projects and slowly getting there in spite of PMAS, not because of it.
Eventually, under PMAS, OIT increased their on-time delivery rate from approximately 30% to 84%. While that is an impressive statistic, on-time delivery is only one measure of project success. Often business objectives were compromised along the way, projects were over budget, or simply abandoned.
IN WITH THE NEW
VIP shifts the OIT product management structure from project-based to portfolio-based, grouping similar products together. This leverages personnel knowledge, reduces turnover, and eliminates the Integrated Product Teams! These are big wins for the VA. Weekly IPT meetings often draw 30-60 people with very few contributing meaningfully. While I doubt most of us feel research is needed on this: research indicates that 50% of time in meetings is wasted, with this time increasing as the number of attendees increases. In America, meetings cost organizations billions of dollars each year in otherwise productive employee work time!
Project oversight is absolutely necessary, in commercial or any governmental organization. I am somewhat concerned about the numerous layers of OIT management in the VIP system (at least four, by my count). Mimicking its DOD sibling, VIP is implementing a clear chain of command. This defines levels of accountability, but more importantly encourages intervention at each level before moving to the next. That said, VIP also formalizes the business’ representation in the development process. Hopefully this will better ensure meeting business goals for their users.
Most importantly, with the adoption of the VIP, the VA now has the ability to truly embrace the Agile IT development. Full implementation of Agile processes was not possible under PMAS. With VIP, the future of Agile in the VA is bright!
What are your thoughts about the VA’s transition from PMAS to VIP? Let us know!