Developing software design in DoD – the benefits and challenges


Software modernization remains a key area of ​​government intervention. Meeting expectations set by the private sector is a daunting task for many agencies, and the Department of Defense is no different. User expectations will continue to grow at an accelerating rate. There is no doubt that there are technological certainties within government, but how will project teams keep pace with changing user demands? Development has to happen. Modernization must take place. But, if users don’t engage effectively, the time, effort, and dollars invested in those efforts will fail at the adoption level.

Design is often seen as something you do to make things look better; therefore, many project teams struggle to integrate the design and understand its value. This struggle is even more prevalent in government. The federal procurement process generally ignores user needs, and the bureaucratic systems that make up business operations make meaningful user-based design onerous.

Consider the fact that there are over 10 roles in design, ranging from Interaction Designer and User Experience (UX) Designer to Visual Designer and UX Researcher. Each role has a value on its own, but combined they have a cumulative effect. Unfortunately, many government agencies do not have career paths that match those of their private sector counterparts, and federal agencies are forced to hire this talent from other fields. DOD could learn from the past of other organizations and increase its overall efficiency and produce better products in less time. These benefits translate directly into return on investment in three ways: faster approvals, improved experiences, and lower costs.

To better understand the value of design, you need to understand what motivates designers. This is worth understanding because culture and team cohesion are essential elements of successful modernization efforts. Designers are trained to think about creating usable products based on user needs. They put users at the center of the problem and, in many cases, focus on “the job to do” or start with the end in mind – techniques aimed explicitly at getting into the minds of users. These points are the building blocks of effective user-centered design, which focuses on empathizing with users to formulate better solutions.

Designers also take into account the environments in which users perform these tasks. This is how design and engineering interact. Immersion in the environment, infrastructure, problems, knowledge and user constraints is essential. The main principle is to make products that are more efficient and more usable. These goals are sometimes at odds with project teams and in many cases may deviate from what is feasible given time, budget, lack of institutional knowledge, technical constraints and available resources. However, to get as much feedback as possible, the DoD would need to refine their design process and learn to incorporate discipline into their existing and future project workflows.

Consider this finding from a 2019 report titled “The New Design Frontier” from InVision: “92% of companies with the most mature design functions can draw a straight line between the work of their design teams and the revenue of their design teams. their business. “

Design maturity is a leading indicator related to improving usability, compliance, and user satisfaction. The US government is in the first phase of integrating design standards into projects. In 2018, the government enacted the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (IDEA), which aims to improve the overall digital experience of public websites. In the same year, the Department of Defense established the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) to lead AI initiatives in national security. The objective of the JAIC is to accelerate the deployment of AI innovations in the company. An important part of its strategy is the incorporation of modern software principles into operational initiatives and specific AI projects.

Effective design manifests itself in frameworks such as human-centered design and resources such as a design system, which can be measured by user satisfaction, reduced training, and product adoption.

In a recent JAIC initiative, a team of design experts was commissioned to assess how product ideas are reviewed and scored, allowing the organization to assess how innovations are approved or denied. Human-centered design best practices have been incorporated into the scoring mechanism and product lifecycle. The approach is focused on product design by integrating user needs into every step of the process. This way of thinking changes the way priorities are set and puts more emphasis on finding technical solutions by understanding human needs rather than technology. By analyzing and understanding user needs upstream, prior to development and technical execution, project teams are able to minimize costs and reduce project duration.

As part of another JAIC project, Census, a project team was tasked with determining the ROI of reusing software components such as buttons and page templates. The team understood that some components are reusable while others are not. They estimated that leveraging components from a previous design system reduced design costs by 32% and development costs by 22% by minimizing approval cycles and reusing existing design components. from another independent software project.

The need for usable products is increasing, and organizations that place great emphasis and importance on design will quickly outperform others in terms of satisfaction and compliance. What the DoD and government-wide need to achieve true design value is a standardized design approach, training on the benefits, and integrating design into project teams and design. application of design standards at the highest level.

Matthew Rose is Chief Design Officer at the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center and U.S. Army Reservist, 75th Innovation Command. Jason Moccia is CEO of OneSpring LLC.


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