2023 is here, and I’m not ready. As the project manager at QIC, I ensure that our project objectives are met using techniques rooted in the Agile methodology. No project has felt too daunting to manage nor a team too challenging to collaborate with. Yet here I am, staring January in the face, terrified of how I will manage my family and household. I need a plan. I need help. There’s going to be a crib-to-bed transition. Potty training. Swimming, ballet, soccer, gymnastics, skating, and karate classes. It’s. All. Too. Much. How to stem the hysteria? How to tackle this overwhelm?
I repeat I’m a capable, successful project manager. Can’t I use the same tools at home to bring order to the chaos? As it turns out, I’m late to this revelation. According to Bruce Feiler (TED talk), Agile was just what his household needed to “cut parental screaming in half.” I was simultaneously floored and elated. I had spent a decade working on mastering a framework that I could have been using in my personal life all along.
I will spare you the history and details of Agile, but if you’re interested, here is an excellent place to start. In short, the purpose of Agile is to make progress in an ever-changing environment, utilizing an empirical process to make decisions to ensure we move the needle in the right direction. As we understand at QIC, R&D contracts often come with many unknowns, having to meet tight timelines and budgets while leaving room for exploration, collaboration, and adaptation. Using Agile principles, our team meets at predictable regular intervals to regroup and connect to share progress and information to continue to improve and deliver value.
On the home front, my husband and I connect after the kids’ bedtime to have a warming beverage and look at the day ahead. This often involves laughing over who cried more, us or the kids, and ways to reduce tears. This is similar to the sprint retrospective when the team discusses ways to work better together to avoid recurring problems. It is also like the daily standup when the team shares what they will be doing for the day, enabling them to communicate roadblocks early, and assist where necessary. Granted, we may not have much progress involving our 2yo and 5yo kids in these discussions despite being key stakeholders; I would like to think that very soon they will be. Empowering them to participate in the process will hopefully lead to cooperation and a happy home life.
Agile applied in the home is a compelling idea, one that I’m willing to try this year. If I fail, at least I’ll be failing fast! Would you try any of these approaches to household management in your personal life? What skills do you hone in your workplace that you could apply at home?
Last week, Congress blocked a $400 million award to Microsoft for the purchase of nearly 7000 Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) systems for the Army. The award would have followed the Army’s investment of $125 million to develop the Hololens-based augmented reality headset. The issue? IVAS proved to be spectacularly problematic in user testing last year, with 80% of Soldiers reporting physical discomfort, eye strain, nausea, and other issues within the first three hours of use. Instead, they awarded a $40 million contract to develop yet another version of IVAS…to Microsoft, the same company that delivered the current system.
On the one hand, as one who conducts these kinds of end user research, it’s gratifying to see the Army doing extensive user experience testing before deploying something this invasive and frankly, potentially dangerous. Using a Hololens, or any other augmented reality headset, in a controlled environment is one thing. Having your field of view occluded by constantly changing data streams while you’re being shot at is potentially a human factors nightmare. At the very least, if Soldiers don’t like it, they won’t use it. And it turns out, they don’t. In addition, the methodology of this testing has been criticized by the Inspector General.
User research is critically important when you’re developing a capability your users will interact with on a daily basis. The process should start before the prototype stage, though. The impetus for IVAS did not come from the boots on the ground; it’s the result of nearly 20 years of research and development into head-worn augmented reality. It’s not clear whether Soldiers were ever asked “What are your problems?” before they were asked “Do you like this thing we’ve made to solve them?”
We see this problem a lot working in the training technology space. We’re regularly asked to develop solutions without talking to the intended users until a prototype is developed. I get it. Their time is valuable. They’re hard to get a hold of. There’s a lot of bureaucracy involved. We don’t need to talk to them, we’re the experts. Yes, we’re the experts in how to apply the science behind why things work, and we’re the experts in designing the solution. We’re also the experts in evaluating the solution. But we can’t be the experts in how people do their jobs, the problems they have, the barriers to solving them, and their work environment without listening to them. Because it’s never as straightforward as it seems.
Where does IVAS go from here? Some would argue there are too many technical barriers to overcome right now. Others would argue that the contract should be recompeted instead of continuing to throw money at a sunk cost. I would argue the Army should take a step back and ask if this solution broadly is the right one to solve the Infantry’s problems today.
These posts are written or shared by QIC team members. We find this stuff interesting, exciting, and totally awesome! We hope you do too!