Transforming DevOps at the Department of Veterans Affairs

After years of utilizing the Rational Suite extensively across programs and projects, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is looking at other options for their DevOps and project management capabilities. Increasing collaboration across teams within OIT, and enabling the ability for teams to quickly adopt to change is key for DevOps to be successful within the VA and OIT. How can the VA do this? DevOps is not a quick implementation or a “quick fix” to challenges encountered across multiple organizations. Instead, it requires three components working together in order for a successful DevOps strategy to be implemented across an agency: policy & life cycle updates, cultural adaption, and tools to ensure enablement.

Policy & Life Cycle

The VA Veterans Integration Process (VIP) software development methodology was implemented in the summer of 2016 replacing PMAS. VIP was an attempt to establish an agile process environment that unfortunately continued to require the Rational process. The most positive aspect of VIP is allowing enhancement Release the freedom from Rational compliance. Post go-live release, e.g. Releases 1.1, 2.0, 3.0, 4.1, can use Agile, SCRUM, and modern tools. Now, whichever tools and approach the respective vendors have internally within their respective development environments is acceptable for VA project enhancement releases.

Cultural Adaption

Within the VA, there are innovators such as Bill James, the Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, who support a swift transition away from the Rational suite and the adoption of modern tools to help transform their DevOps and project management capabilities. Most projects supported by the various T4NG vendors, are performing Agile with modern tools for Agile development, e.g. Epics, User Stories, Test Cases, Defects, Backlogs re: the SCRUM process. The new world of DevOps will likely be dependent on the adoption, implementation and administration of automated testing, deployment and monitoring tools. The administration of the Department’s Tools and Workflow is the opportunity to seize upon. Such as a Center of Excellence (COE) established and supported by the vendors for the VA. 

Tools for Enablement

With the establishment of new policies around lifecycles and culture, comes the adoption of new tools that enable DevOps capabilities across the VA. The ideal tool for the VA would include integration capabilities with the current software tool suite utilized by the VA (i.e. Rational), along with the ability to support the entire DevOps process. Integration with the current toolset is key, as many tasks, stories, requirements and configurations will need to be translated from one tool to another. The DevOps tool suite will need to be customized to include stage gate reviews and processes as required by the VIP. Fields, configurations, permissions and notifications will be standardized across all of the projects, with only minor customizations added if required by the program or project manager. The tool should also require minimum training for users, most users should after only one or two training sessions, be able to begin utilizing the tool for their teams. 

Next Steps for the VA

Implementing a new lifecycle policy, culture, and tools at the VA will ensure a consistent and repeatable approach to DevOps is taken within the agency. One tool with an extensive suite of capabilities utilized across multiple agencies is the Atlassian Tool Suite, Jira / Confluence / Bitbucket / Bamboo. Combining these tools provides users with a powerful, DevOps and Project Management focused tool suite highly customizable and flexible enough to meet the constantly changing needs of the VA. What do you think about enabling agencies to adopt DevOps practices?

Co-Authored – Michael Brown & Cavin Clayton of Ascend and Carahsoft

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