Engage Your Users Regularly
A close partnership between users and materiel developers is critical to the success of defense acquisition programs and is a key tenet of Agile. Users must remain actively involved throughout the development process to ensure a mutual understanding across the acquisition and user communities. While most users maintain operational responsibilities associated with their day job, the more actively they can engage in the development, the better chances for success. Operational commanders must make a commitment to allocate time for users to engage in development activities.
Users share the vision and details of their concepts of operations, business processes, and the desired effects of the intended capabilities. Through ongoing discussions, the program office and developers gain a better understanding of the operational or business environment, identify alternatives, and explore solutions. Users can then describe and validate the requirements, user stories, and acceptance criteria. The program office must make certain that the requirements can be put on contract and are affordable given funding, schedule, and technological constraints. Testers should also take an active part in these discussions to ensure common expectations and tests of performance.
In situations where primary users are not available to engage with the Agile team on a regular, ongoing basis, the end users can designate representatives to speak on behalf of the primary users.
User forums enhance collaboration and ensure that all stakeholders understand and agree on the priorities and objectives of the program. The forums can serve as a valuable mechanism for gathering the full community of stakeholders and fostering collaboration. They give users an opportunity to familiarize developers with their operational requirements and CONOPS and to communicate their expectations for how the system would support these needs. Continuous engagement of users, developers, acquirers, testers, trainers, and the many other stakeholders at these forums also enables responsive updates and a consistent understanding of the program definition.
Suggestions for successful user forums include:
- Hold regularly scheduled user forums and fund travel by stakeholders across the user community; alternatively, or in addition, provide virtual participation.
- Arrange for developers to demonstrate existing capabilities, prototypes, and emerging technologies. These demonstrations give users invaluable insight into the art of the possible and the capabilities currently available. User feedback, in turn, guides developers and acquirers in shaping the program and R&D investments.
- Allow the full community to contribute to the program’s future by holding discussions on the strategic vision, program status, issues, and industry trends. Program managers should not rely on one-way presentations.
- Give stakeholders the opportunity to convey expectations and obtain informed feedback.
- Establish working groups that meet regularly to tackle user-generated actions.
- Hold training sessions and provide educational opportunities to stakeholders.
Actions You Can Take
- Communicate the acquisition pathway(s) and associated program execution strategies – especially the operational impacts associated with the Agile tenants of experimentation and testing as they relate to the user training and fielding activities.
- Identify the current engagements between the acquisition and operational/business organizations to include the level, frequency, and methods of engagement along with the quality of the key relationships.
- Develop/update an engagement strategy that strengthens the elements outlined above.
- In addition to strengthening existing relationships, identify new connections between stakeholders.
- Most members of an acquisition organization should be able to identify one or more end users and ideally have met or spoken with them in the last few months. Staff will be motivated to deliver faster if they have a personal connection to end users, an appreciation of their environment, and how they will benefit with the new capability.
- Managers should allocate funds and time for users to collaborate with acquirers, developers, and testers.