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Powerful Example: Army IVAS brings together the right requirements with the right acquisition strategy

INTRODUCTION The 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States acknowledges the erosion of our close combat capability relative to peer competitors, and further recognizes that current and…

Powerful Example: Army IVAS brings together the right requirements with the right acquisition strategy

Powerful Example:  Army IVAS brings together the right requirements with the right acquisition strategy
Tony Romano and Jim Whitehead, DAU IVAS engagement co-leads
The 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States acknowledges the erosion of our close combat capability relative to peer competitors, and further recognizes that current and future battlefields will be characterized by conditions that will continue to reduce comparative advantage. The Army’s assessment of its close combat capability is that close combat formations lack overmatch in any environment relative to today’s peer opponents. In terms of situational awareness, navigation, communications and target acquisition, small units operate with parity – not advantage – to likely adversaries. This was deemed unacceptable.

(Click here for a full-screen version of the video)

Following a vendor’s technology demonstration, generating significant SECDEF and Chief of Staff of the Army interest and support, funding was secured to develop and produce a capability that would quickly restore the Army’s advantage in this critical area.

The solution is the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS). IVAS will improve Soldier sensing, decision making, target acquisition and target engagement. Through this next generation, 24/7 situational awareness tool, the Soldier will now have a single platform to fight, rehearse and train.
IVAS will consist of:

  • A wearable, heads-up display with various sensors including thermal and low-light sensors, capable of day/night 3D navigation in contested environments, rapid target acquisition for increased lethality from weapon sensor sights, and advance squad situational awareness;
  • An on-body computer (the “puck”) to manage sensors and unit experience;
  • A squad radio providing secure, two-way communications; and
  • A conformal, wearable battery providing a power source that integrates into body armor and is capable of re-charge.

IVAS thus allows the Soldier/Squad to sense and navigate the environment in day and night, acquire and engage targets, increase speed and quality of tactical decisions, and improve overall situational awareness.

Sponsored by Army Futures Command’s Soldier Lethality Cross Functional Team (CFT), and executed by the Assistant Secretary of the Army’s Program Executive Officer Soldier (PEO Soldier), the IVAS program is led by an O-6 program manager with extensive experience as an infantryman and acquirer. Along with the PM and a seasoned Deputy PM, Team IVAS includes a talented group of acquisition professionals handpicked from the PEO Soldier enterprise, Systems Engineering and Technical assistance (SETA) contractors, and matrixed, expert support from a variety of Army organizations including C5ISR, Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate (NVESD), Synthetic Training Environment (STE) CFT, Soldier Lethality CFT, Network CFT, Program Executive Officer Simulation, Training and Instrumentation (PEO STRI), PM Tactical Radio, as well as Army and SOCOM warfighters, testers, and combat developers. Microsoft was competitively selected as the prime integrator, and is supported by twelve additional vendors working sensor developments for the program. All 13 contracts were competitively awarded via Other Transaction Authorities (OTAs).

With senior leader attention focused squarely on the success of this high interest/high priority program, and motivated by the need to demonstrate the ability to effectively execute this Section 804 Middle Tier of Acquisition program, IVAS program leadership worked from the onset to engender a program culture that promoted teamwork, trust, transparency and innovation. To meet the schedule for delivery of prototypes agreed upon by senior Army leaders, it would not and could not be “business as usual”.

At the request of OSD (A&S), the Defense Acquisition University, in support of Team IVAS, has collected an initial series of lessons learned, to be shared with other programs executing Section 804 Middle Tier of Acquisition Programs and those using OTAs as the contract vehicles to develop/prototype a capability. These lessons are listed in the order presented by the program manager at a recent A&S-sponsored Adaptive Acquisition Framework Training Event for SAEs/PEOs/PMs. Additional lessons noted by DAU will be added to the PM’s list as they are created. Finally, videos on these topics highlighting important practices and lessons will also be created in order to engage the widest possible audience of acquisition professionals.


Lesson 1: Pursue Outcomes, Not KPPs
“The specifications we started with were not the ones needed to deliver what the Close Combat Force needed/wanted”.

The team began this effort thinking that they knew exactly what they wanted. It was during negotiations with the vendors that they began to think differently…that it was about outcomes, not specifications. The PM related a prior experience on a program where he and his team were confident that they nailed every KPP, and delivered it only to find that the Soldiers never used it. “We thought we had it right…we had it wrong”. They learned that the prime contractor, Microsoft, employs a development process that strongly considers user empathy, not typical to defense acquisition. Microsoft would be driven to understand how the Soldier operates individually and as a squad, and then produce something the Soldier will truly use. The program team embraced this development process of human-centered design. They modified it for their purposes and dubbed it “Soldier-centered design," again focusing on what the Soldier needs to do in the close combat environment. To make it work, it would heavily leverage warfighter involvement, helping the program team understand what would work best for the Soldier. Thus the #1 outcome of the program is “…that Soldiers love and use IVAS.” The challenge now becomes how to measure that sentiment. The resultant process is further discussed in Lesson 3 below.

Lesson 2: Iterate as Often as Possible
“The initial concept is the right solution about 10% of the time; iterating at least 22 times increases likelihood of success to 90% (Kohavi Binomial Distribution 2009)."

Based on the work of Ronny Kohavi, a technical fellow and Corporate Vice President at Microsoft, the company employs a development approach that relies on iteration to achieve a 90% confidence in the outcome.

“Controlled experiments can transform decision making into a scientific, evidence-driven process—rather than an intuitive reaction. Without them, many breakthroughs might never happen, and many bad ideas would be implemented, only to fail, wasting resources.” (Kohavi, Oct 17). The IVAS Team embraced and willingly adopted this “power of iteration” philosophy, planning to conduct up to 23 software sprints over a 24 month period, feeling that they needed this many sprints to allow them to learn at each step, discovering at times that what they thought was right wasn’t necessarily so. “Iterating 22 times, with the right team and the right partners, who are thinking outside the box…you’ll get it right”. Of note is the extent of warfighter involvement in the process, a key element in agile software development and the sprint activity. It was through this process that both Microsoft and the Government team began to understand what the Soldier really wanted and what system capabilities were needed for the Soldier to effectively do the job. An example of this is highlighted in Lesson 9.

Lesson 3: Soldier-Centered Design Works
“Over 5,000 hours of Soldier feedback to date; use dedicated researchers and testers to validate Soldier need, establish discipline feedback model to rapidly influence designs and outcomes, measure sentiment, and evaluate.”

If the #1 objective is for “…Soldiers to love and use IVAS”, then Team IVAS needed a method to measure Soldier sentiment, as well as evaluate its capabilities. Thus, the team embraced the concept of Soldier-centered design, a framework of processes in which usability goals, Soldier characteristics, environment, tasks and workflow are given extensive attention at each stage of the design process. Soldier-centered design can be characterized as a multi-stage design and problem-solving process that not only requires designers to analyze and envision the way Soldiers are likely to employ the capability, but also to validate their assumptions with regard to the Soldier behavior in real world tests, with real world Soldiers. Employing agile methods, a 24 month, 23 sprint program was structured and broken up into four distinctive capability sets with user studies, user juries and Soldier touchpoints built in to each sprint. User studies are small, informal focus groups looking at a specific topic. The user studies consist of a survey and follow-up questions to better understand the survey answers. The intent of the user jury is to look at one feature and test that feature. The user jury is evaluative, provides better feedback on program progression, and is a rehearsal for the Soldier touchpoint. The Soldier touchpoint is a larger test event, includes training and builds from individual tasks to squad and platoon tasks. The Soldier touchpoint is a more operational look and looks for combat effectiveness.

Thus, the amount of Soldier involvement and interaction is unprecedented. Likewise is the level of direct access to these Soldiers. With Soldiers deployed to Microsoft, and a group of Government and Microsoft researchers (“…a platoon of PhDs”) walking behind Soldiers, measuring, observing and documenting, Team IVAS is able to evaluate IVAS’s capabilities and more importantly, gauge Soldier sentiment. At the conclusion of testing, Team IVAS will have accumulated over 20K hours of invaluable Soldier feedback.

Lesson 4: MTA, Rapid Prototyping Deliberate Talent Management
“The Government team was built with only highly qualified functional experts and leaders; all are volunteers, all are interviewed and go through a selection process.”

Successfully executing this fast paced, high-visibility, high-priority Middle Tier of Acquisition project requires a highly experienced and talented team, one steeped with foundational knowledge of acquisition policy and processes (“you can’t think outside the box unless you know what’s in the box”…important as the innovative acquisition approaches are considered). Team members had to be resourceful, innovative, tolerant of high-risk and massive change, and capable of performing at incredibly high speeds. With senior leader support, the PM was given the authority to hand-pick his leadership team within the PEO, using by-name requests, management reassignments, and internal competition. Assignment to the team was voluntary, given the anticipated demands. If anyone was found to lack the needed skills, abilities and desire consistent with team needs, the PM had the authority to reassign them. In his words, “…every day is a tryout."

Complementing this small (15 positions), but very capable organic program office team is an assemblage of matrixed talent from various Army acquisition organizations and support contractors with the right mix of specialty skills, including sensor and optics engineers, technologists, communications engineers, testers, product support specialists, budget and finance specialists, and operators.

However, while hand-picking talent and augmenting with matrixed and contractor support allowed the program team to ramp up quickly and put the program on a path to success, this model isn’t sustainable. Taking key talent from other programs puts those programs at risk, potentially impacts program execution, and affects team morale. In this case, leadership had little choice. If staffing was to occur at the “speed of war”, current DoD hiring and staffing processes would be too slow and stodgy to quickly staff an unplanned program. Thus, to successfully staff multiple programs, planned or unplanned, flexible and agile hiring processes are required.

Lesson 5: Organizational Structure Matters
The organizational structure was purpose built for this specific MTA program; a traditional PMO structure would not have been as effective.”

Team IVAS and its organizational structure were created from whole cloth. Eschewing a traditional PMO structure, they instead studied Microsoft’s team structure and chose to align with the contractor team and replicate Microsoft’s program organizational structure (to the extent possible), ensuring a flattened organization with very few layers of management. Team IVAS is led by a seasoned level III acquirer with extensive experience as both a program manager and combat infantryman. He possesses superb communication skills, able to communicate both up the chain and across the PO with ease. Directly reporting to the PM are four functional leaders (Acquisition/Ops, Technology, Test, Logistics) and nine subject matter experts, known as “directly responsible individuals” (Device and Sensor, HUD Experience, Synthetic Training Environment, Soldier/Squad Architecture, Soldier Performance Model, Information Security, Soldier Integration Facility, Platform Integration, and Network) each given specific lines of responsibility and authorities.

As well, to successfully execute this expedited, technologically complex strategic program, the organization had to be structured to work as a network of people working across functional lines, versus working in stovepipes. This facilitates planning and working on tasks in parallel rather than serially, allowing a pace of task accomplishment measured in days and weeks, not months and years.

Lesson 6: Develop a Data Management Framework Early
“Shared understanding of taxonomy, data analytics, and visualization within government enterprise and vendors is critical for rapid reasoning.”

Many of the IVAS vendors are non-traditional; that is, they do not typically engage in defense work. As such, they lack a basic understanding of the military, and specifically of the Army mission, culture, language, and structure. Recognizing this problem, government team data engineers and scientists worked to develop a data management framework, a common language and set of visualization tools for the government and thirteen vendors, to allow real-time sharing of data. Of note, PowerPoint is rarely used in favor of other common visualization tools, including Power BI (a business analytics tool with interactive dashboards and reports, developed by Microsoft), that depict real time status, battle rhythm updates, risk analysis and problem solving, and issues to be worked. Additionally, a “tactical operations center” with a series of large wall displays has been set up, where specific data can be reviewed real time by program team members.

Lesson 7: Pause for Detailed Assessment and Planning
“After each Soldier Touch Point, the team conducts detailed planning (3-5 weeks) jointly with CFT, PEO, necessary stakeholders, and Microsoft before entering into the next phase of prototyping.”

The prototyping effort is split into four separate and distinct capability sets, each building off the previous results. A user jury approach is employed, which Microsoft has shown to be important to product success. This approach includes user studies, user juries, and Soldier touchpoints. User studies are small, informal focus groups looking at a specific topic. The user studies consist of a survey and follow-up questions to better understand the survey answers. The intent of the user jury is to look at one feature and test that feature. The user jury is evaluative, provides better feedback on program progression, and is a rehearsal for the Soldier touchpoint. The Soldier touchpoint is a larger test event, includes training and builds from individual tasks to squad and platoon tasks. The Soldier touchpoint is a more operational look and looks for combat effectiveness.

After each Soldier Touch Point (STP), the team stops to conduct an assessment and write a detailed plan over a three to five week period for the next capability set. All stakeholders, to include the vendor Directly Responsible Individuals (DRIs), testers, and the appropriate AFC cross functional team (CFT) team members, as well as PEO and program team personnel, are included. Feedback from the completed STP is reviewed, opportunities identified, objectives for the next capability set defined/refined, and the desired results are reviewed as part of the detailed planning process. The intent is to get all stakeholders aligned before proceeding to the next phase.

Lesson 8: Invest in the Vendor Relationship
“The nature of this prototyping approach requires complete alignment between vendor and government; business rules include Directly Responsible Individual concept, co-locating, and unique battle rhythm.”

To be a successful program, IVAS had to blend two vastly different cultures to create a highly functional team. The unprecedented high-level support of the program allowed the program office to capitalize on the best practices of each organization.

Following contract award, the Government embedded select team members at Microsoft’s facilities in Washington State. Likewise, Microsoft team members embedded in team IVAS spaces at Fort Belvoir. This relationship builds trust, promotes transparency, and most importantly, creates alignment. As well, the program office adopted Microsoft’s Directly Responsible Individual (DRI) concept to mirror their organization and create direct lines of communication between the two organizations in these critical areas. Thus, the teams are working together real-time and both the government and Microsoft are more transparent than expected in a firm-fixed price environment.

An example of where transparency between the two organizations fostered the “outcome focused-culture” of the program: The Government embedded sustainment specialists at Microsoft facilities to aid in the understanding of IVAS logistics/sustainment requirements. Successful support of the fielded system supports the outcome goal of “…Soldiers love and use IVAS” over the life of IVAS.

Lesson 9: System Engineering of the Squad vs. Soldier
“This promotes open system design across the dismounted squad and enables efficiencies while preventing engineering blind spots when managing the squad as a combat system.”

While IVAS is intended for individual Soldier use, designing it in a vacuum without regard for how each of its capabilities interacts at the squad level is short sighted, and potentially diminishes both individual and squad effectiveness. If the Soldier is a system, then the squad is a system of systems. Understanding how the Soldier interacts with other Soldiers in the squad is vitally important, and helps determine what capabilities truly matter as squad architecture is considered. For example, weight and power were important considerations as IVAS was being designed. The multiple sensors in the system have the potential to generate lots of heat and create weight issues that potentially affect the center of gravity of the heads up display. As the program was being formulated, the program team, in considering Soldier capabilities, assumed that long range sensing was just as important as short range. Through Soldier-centered design and evaluation, Soldier feedback debunked that assumption. The Soldiers valued the short range sensing capability because of its increased field of view; the widest field of view was important to the Soldier engaged in close combat operations as they climb, run, shoot etc. They had little need for a long range sensor with a diminished field of view especially since they have a weapon sight that can provide this capability. The result was sensor and optic changes that decreased weight and power to an already highly tasked system design.

Lesson 10: The MTA Approach Incentivizes the Right Behaviors Across the Acquisition Enterprise
“True partnering and collaboration across the CFTs, PEOs, PMs, Army and OSD staff, DOT&E, and Industry will be the primary reason this effort is successful; MTA allows for the maneuver space necessary for this to occur.”

NDAA 2016 Section 804, the Middle Tier of Acquisition, provides a rapid prototyping acquisition pathway.This pathway “…shall provide for the use of innovative technologies to rapidly develop fieldable prototypes to demonstrate new capabilities and meet emerging military needs.The objective of an acquisition program under this pathway shall be to field a prototype that can be demonstrated in an operational environment and provide for a residual operational capability within five years of the development of an approved requirement.” It is intended to shave years off programs, streamline metrics, decisions and reporting, and allows more risk taking and exploring options to limit risk in fielding.The success of IVAS will ultimately rest with the partnerships created by necessity to solve a challenging problem in a very tight timeline.As the PM stated “804 incentivizes that behavior (partnerships) and creates the maneuver space for that partnering to happen.You cannot…solve (difficult) problems by yourself.”

The program implemented a Board of Director structure whose purpose is to provide collaborative, senior leader governance that drives alignment across all stakeholders in preparation for a future production decision, and solidifies on-going commitment to the program.
As well and in the spirit of collaboration, program leadership invited representatives from stakeholder organizations, including those who may not be “all-in” initially with respect to strategy or approach, to embed in team offices and give them the opportunity to experience program operations first-hand. They are invited to participate and contribute to program planning and operations, and keep their chain of command informed and involved. For example, Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E) personnel were added to the test planning team to help with test planning and participate in the test and evaluation for each capability set. Others embedded include representatives from the Synthetic Training Environment CFT, Contracts and Agreements, C5ISR, among others.

[RELATED CONTENT: DAU Powerful Examples Homepage]
[RELATED CONTENT: Adaptive Acquisition Framework]
[RELATED CONTENT: DoD Other Transaction Guide]
[RELATED CONTENT: Middle Tier of Acquisition Resource Page]
[RELATED CONTENT: Full-screen video of the IVAS presentation]

For more information about this story, or to submit your own Powerful Example, send an email to the DAU Powerful Examples Team at [email protected].

Contributing authors: Lynne Giordano, Alana McCullough, and Harry Snodgrass

The banner image on this page shows Soldiers from the Old Guard testing the second iteration of the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) capability set during an exercise at Fort Belvoir, Va., in Fall 2019. Photo by Courtney Bacon.

Key Words: Requirements, Other Transaction Authorities, Army, DoD, Acquisition, Lessons Learned, Best Practices