SFC Ryan (left photo, left side) and 1LT Steele (right photo, left side)
MSG Half-Mast recently traveled to Austin, Texas to get a glimpse of the future of PMCS with Army Software Factory (SWF) product manager, 1LT Haley Steele, and user interface/user experience (UI/UX) designer, SFC Jarrod Ryan. The SWF is a part of the Army Futures Command (AFC).
conducting user testing at Fort Hood, TX
1LT Steele has been serving in the Army for three years and is currently a product manager for the SWF. She commissioned out of West Point as a Signal Officer in 2019, after earning her BA in computer science. Her prior assignments include working as a platoon leader for a warfighter information network-tactical (WIN-T), increment 2 unit.
SFC Ryan has been serving in the Army for 17 years and is currently working as a UI/UX designer for the SWF. He joined the Army in June 2005 as a Military Intelligence Analyst before reclassifying in 2008 to an Information Technology Specialist. His previous assignments include Signal School Instructor, Cyber Training Battalion S6 NCOIC, Materiel Support Command-Korea (MSC-K) S6 NCOIC, and US Army Africa Contingency Command Post
(USARAF CCP) Communications NCOIC.
What is the mission of SWF and what are some of its unique features within AFC? How is SWF impacting Army readiness?
1LT Steele: The Army Software Factory’s mission is to prototype a future force design that empowers Soldiers to solve problems across the Army through agile software engineering while leveraging the Army’s hidden technical talent. Our motto is By Soldiers. For Soldiers. In other words, SWF’s purpose is to maximize Army talent and problem-solving abilities while training personnel to code software that is focused on solving current and future problems.
For example, the MySquad application (app) provides the ability for leaders to conduct basic leader tasks and manage Soldier readiness from their phone. The Carrerra app allows National Guard and Reserve Soldiers to apply for Active duty positions from any device.
: One of the latest releases from the SWF is a PMCS app. How did the SWF get the idea for the PMCS app and what’s its intended purpose? What future improvements do you envision for it?
SFC Ryan: The idea for PMCS app came from a problem submission by CW2 Robert Payne; he had created a similar app for his unit but struggled with scalability and security requirements. The purpose of the PMCS app is to digitize and streamline the current maintenance processes in the Army.
We currently provide a web-based app that allows Soldiers to view technical manuals (TMs) they need to conduct PMCS. We currently cover over 600 types of rolling stock equipment with 300-plus different TMs. For our next steps, we're planning to provide a means for users to be more informed on the status of their equipment by implementing a unit equipment “view” that provides users with the operational status of their vehicle and any related faults being reported by GCCS-Army.
Further enhancements include the ability to input faults into their phone through the PMCS app and export them into GCSS-Army, as well as exploring opportunities for expansion or additional features based on responses from Soldiers. An important aspect on how we develop software is that we're constantly testing and asking questions of users so we can adapt the product to meet their needs as their environment changes.
The current PMCS web app addresses one of the biggest challenges that Soldiers face when conducting PMCS, which is having an up-to-date TM. Our web app provides the most current TMs and provides the option to jump straight to the PMCS tables in the pdf. Additionally, it’s all available from their personal device. Upcoming versions will provide a means for shared understanding of equipment status that has not been previously available for Soldiers.
1LT Steele: The app is currently exploring a “bring your own device” (BYOD) solution that plans to build off the lessons learned and experiences from other systems, such as maintenance support devices (MSDs), as well as collaborate with other software efforts, such as interactive authoring and display software (IADS), to provide the best possible experience for Soldiers.
: How does SWF decide which projects to design? Does it take requests from the field? How do you and the team test whether or not a design is effective?
: There is a problem submission link accessible from the SWF page (click HERE
to access) for anyone in the Army to submit problems they see within the force. We've had submissions from specialists to generals and everyone in between. Our product office scopes the problems and helps determine which ones we'll pursue based on different criteria such as stakeholder support, our capabilities and security level requirements.
We test our designs as often as possible using prototypes created in a program called Figma™. We routinely go up to Fort Hood and conduct usability testing with Soldiers that are performing PMCS every week to learn what we got right, what we got wrong, what our next steps should be and if we are matching the users’ mental model of what they would expect to happen.
: Where and how does the SWF recruit its talent? Is there an Advanced Individual Training school that potential designers have to attend? Can anyone in the Army apply to work at SWF?
1LT Steele: We look for Soldiers with the technical aptitude and positive attitude to transform how the Army leverages software to solve problems. We are rank- and MOS-agnostic and open to anyone who wants to apply. The SWF trains two cohorts a year, each consisting of 30 Soldiers or DA Civilians in Austin, Texas. Each cohort goes through a 14-16 week accelerator based on the track they are pursuing, whether product manager, UI/UX designer or software or platform engineer. Once the accelerator is completed, the individuals move on to the development floor where they partner with industry pairs, providing software solutions to Army problems. The pairs help to ensure their Army partner learns how to work in an agile environment and provide training that can only be learned through direct experience developing quality software at a sustainable pace.
: What else would you like our readers to know about SWF, its efforts and the PMCS app?
: Software is a foundational tool we use to drive force modernization, and the Army SWF is looking to provide a valuable example of how it's being implemented organically in the Army. It’s not just about developing software; it’s about finding the best solution to specific Army problems. We’re constantly looking to grow and evolve as environments change, while providing the most impactful and secure applications possible.
Our team incorporates the best-of-industry technical practices and knowledge with the best of military practices to help modernize the force and change the way leaders think about product development and talent management. Additionally, we really love feedback from our users; if you have ideas or suggestions for where we can grow the PMCS or any other app, send us an email at email@example.com
and visit our website to learn more about SWF, apply to work with us or submit a problem.