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Witness Testimony of Hon. Roger W. Baker, Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology and Chief Information Officer, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Chairman Johnson, Ranking Member Donnelly, members of the Subcommittee: thank you for inviting me to testify regarding the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Information Technology (IT) strategy for the 21st century. I appreciate the opportunity to discuss VA’s plans, actions, and accomplishments that will position VA’s IT organization as a 21st century leader in the Federal Government.
- Product Delivery
IT is an enabler to the implementation of the Secretary’s 16 Transformational Initiatives, which cannot be executed without newly developed IT products. These initiatives are key to improving VA’s services to Veterans, and IT investments have allowed us to deliver products or plan for on-time delivery of the following programs:
- Successful, on-time delivery of the critical G.I. Bill project. VA successfully converted all processing of new Post-9/11 GI Bill claims to the Long Term Solution (LTS) prior to the commencement of the Fall 2010 enrollment process. Since installation, processing with the new system has been excellent, with no significant “bugs” encountered. The Veterans Benefits Administration claims processors like the new system and find it easier and more efficient to use. By dramatically changing its development processes, adopting the Agile methodology for this project, VA also dramatically changed its system development results;
A primary driver of our success under PMAS has been the adoption of incremental development. Every project at VA, without exception, must deliver functionality to its users at least every six months. Several of our most important projects, including the GI Bill and VBMS, have adopted Agile development methodologies. Whereas PMAS addresses the planning and management aspects of short, incremental delivery, the Agile development methodology provides the technical management guidance of how to turn project requirements into working software quickly and in collaboration with the customer.
Agile development is important to the VA because it encourages continuous input from our customers. In agile projects, all the development priorities are set by the customer, which ensures that the work is performed in the order of importance. To increase the likelihood of success, large projects are broken down into small but valuable increments, each of which could potentially be a candidate for release. This is consistent with our PMAS delivery requirements. Lastly, agile development requires continuous quality assurance throughout the entire development effort, further ensuring high quality deliverables.
Agile software development methodologies are an effective means of improving the predictability, quality, and transparency of software products and their development. At the core of Agile is the iterative work process. Business problems are broken down into small increments of delivery that are tangible products that can be reviewed and verified regularly by business stakeholders. By constantly incorporating feedback, the software that is essential to solving the business problem is created in partnership with stakeholders and any miscommunications, revisions, or changes in business needs can be accommodated quickly and with little rework. The quality of software is kept high throughout the development process as the product in development is kept as close to a production-ready state as possible with each release increment. In addition, prior to the start of each increment, business stakeholders and the development team agree upon which features or requirements are to be satisfied during that increment thus ensuring that the most important work is completed first.
Contrary to popular belief, the successful Agile program requires great rigor as it is essentially a process based on statistical analysis. Every work product (software or otherwise) is defined, broken down and estimated. As work progresses, these work products are carefully tracked on a daily basis and results of progress are published to the team and stakeholders (and any other authorized, interested party) to provide complete transparency. The result of this hyper-transparency is that problems in the development process are identified early and changes, regardless of their origin, can be accommodated quickly and efficiently.
I am honored to work on this project. We have accomplished a significant number of releases in the course of the project. I am proud to say the we truly are practicing Agile. This is the first project where I have gotten to implement automated deployments all the way to production! I hope the next project I work on is as rewarding as this one is.47,187 Total Views