Written by Eric Klos, Managing Principal, HealthTechture, LLC

This recent interview with Michael King, Chief Technical Officer for Halfaker and Associates (Halfaker) highlights emerging trends in processes and technologies with Federal customers. Halfaker has had quite a successful year, thus far, with several key recent awards. Halfaker received a prime award on the $22.3B T4NG contract, a prime award on the $25B CMS SPARC IDIQ, a $75M FDA BPA award, and they were recently named a Top Workplace by the Washington Post.

 

FedHealthIT: Halfaker has been very busy and seems well positioned for growth. Let’s start with an overview of Halfaker and Associates.

Michael King: Halfaker is more than 10 years old and we have over 150 employees. We take pride in delivering solutions that solve problems for our customers, focused on solutions in the domains of Advanced Analytics (e.g. data mining, modeling, and visualization), Software Engineering (e.g. application design, development, and deployment), IT Infrastructure (e.g. cloud migration and application sustainment), and Cyber Security (e.g. assessments and monitoring).  We leverage Agile, User Centered Design, Digital Services techniques, and domain-specific methodologies to provide practical solutions to our customers.  As it stands today, a third of our business is with the Department of Veterans Affairs, a third is with the DoD, including the Defense Health Agency, and the last third is with civilian agencies, including HHS, Agriculture, DHS, and Transportation.

 

FedHealthIT:  You mentioned Agile and Digital Services. Do you see these approaches taking root with Federal acquisition and program officials?

Michael King: Yes, we’ve seen significant adoption across several of the Federal agencies we support. It’s clear that groups such as 18F and Digital Services are increasingly influential and Government program managers are feeling a higher level of comfort in exploring alternative approaches to their programs. We’ve seen customers focus on results (e.g. Statement of Objectives), enabling tighter feedback loops (e.g. engaging in Agile sprint demonstrations/reviews), and leveraging techniques from the Digital Services Playbook to validate an approach before starting a multi-year program to build a system; all of which significant reduces risk.

 

FedHealthIT:  How receptive have customers unfamiliar with these approaches been, and can you explain further how the Federal agencies that adopt approaches such as agile and digital services can benefit?

Our approach allows our customer to better manage cost, schedule, and scope while adjusting every few weeks to changes in their priorities and constraints.
Michael King: Change can be very hard, but many of our customers have jumped in once they realize that a the Agile and Digital Services concepts offer a way to dramatically reduce risk by investing in some key early activities (e.g. User Interviews, Journey Mapping) and recurring activities (e.g. Release and Sprint Planning meetings and Demonstration meetings).  It’s a big change in how Government leaders engage with programs, but the credibility of our Company’s project management framework (CMMI Maturity Level 3 rated, ISO 9001 certified, and aligned with Agile and Digital Services) and our past results have inspired confidence with leaders across several Federal agencies.

Our approach allows our customer to better manage cost, schedule, and scope while adjusting every few weeks to changes in their priorities and constraints. Two key benefits Federal agencies are excited about are the reduction of risk associated with frequent feedback loops and the transparency that comes from a backlog or priorities that can be reviewed and re-prioritized. This is also a benefit to us as contractors, because we avoid the risk that comes from extensive rework.

 

FedHealthIT:  Is there any particular agency that you see adopting these processes successfully?

Michael King: We’ve seen several customers finding great success leveraging Agile and Digital Services, including the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). We’ve supported Agile Digital Services transformation for the DoD Office of Personnel and Readiness and seen thought leaders across USDS, 18F, and the VA leveraging associated techniques such as automated build management, continuous integration, and test driven development to dramatically reduce risk for software development projects.

Combining Agile’s focus on value-prioritized efficiency, Digital Service Playbook’s proven practices, and Human-Centered Design’s (HCD) focus on building software for the end-user, not the developer or buyer is dramatically increasing the efficiency of Federal Government technology solutions.  Agile Digital Services allow us to create more functionality faster and cheaper than ever before.

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