(FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, PA.) - "No plan survives contact with the enemy." This piece of battlefield wisdom has been passed down over the years after being introduced by military strategist Helmuth von Moltke. I witnessed this axiom in action on several occasions while deployed overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan, but also as the functional lead overseeing the development of the Army's next generation HR and talent management system. Not only did I observe how the best laid plans were disrupted by changing realities, but I also experienced firsthand the power of aggressive, agile teams to overcome our challenges and deliver capabilities that will revolutionize the HR business throughout the Army.

Forging the Future of Army HR and Talent Management.

The Integrated Personnel and Pay System -- Army (IPPS-A) is the Army's next-generation HR and talent management system that, for the first time ever, integrates all one million Soldiers into a single system. IPPS-A provides increased visibility, talent management capabilities, and auditability to all three Army Components. The system delivers enhanced transparency and access to Soldier records and personnel actions like never before. It provides time-saving, self-service tools to Total Force Soldiers, Commanders and HR professionals and enables mobile capabilities.

IPPS-A grew out of earlier attempts by the Department of Defense to modernize the military's HR enterprise. The Army, realizing its own unique personnel and talent management requirements, set out to standardize and reduce over 200 HR and pay systems that were being used across the Army National Guard, Reserve and Active components to process routine transactions. As mandated by the Army's Total Force policy, IPPS-A standardizes business practices, provides authoritative data for military personnel, and facilitates a continuum of services across all three Components.

Since its inception, the IPPS-A program has made significant progress towards building a system that will usher in a new era of HR and talent management in the Army. Stakeholder engagement is critical to this effort. In the last two years alone, we have executed over 400 engagements with stakeholders throughout the Total Force Army, as well as with key influencers throughout the Department of Defense and Congress. These engagements included technical reviews of the system, software demonstrations, deployment briefs, functionality working groups, and other events. We captured and applied feedback from stakeholders who will use IPPS-A as part of their day-to-day activities, leveraging the unique insights of Total Force Soldiers and Army civilians at all levels.

The Drive to Build Release 2 for the National Guard.

IPPS-A is currently on course to be deployed throughout the Army National Guard. In January 2019, the Army fielded IPPS-A to the Pennsylvania National Guard and tested the system in a Limited User Test (LUT). Pennsylvania National Guard Soldiers integrated IPPS-A into their daily HR operations and put the system through its paces. The test was successful. Now, we are preparing the next states -- including Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia -- to receive the system. We expect full deployment of IPPS-A throughout the Army National Guard by early 2020.

At every step of this journey, we partnered with the Army National Guard to help them become the first Component to field the system. We cultivated relationships with each of the 54 state and territory Army National Guard entities as well as National Guard Bureau (NGB) stakeholders to hear their feedback and inform the Release 2 build of IPPS-A. Starting in August 2018, we worked alongside our Pennsylvania National Guard counterparts to execute three critical events that would ultimately pave the way for IPPS-A's fielding in the Commonwealth.

Throughout these events -- the Risk Reduction Event (RRE), the Systems Acceptance Test (SAT) and the LUT -- we leveraged the Pennsylvania Army National Guard's extensive subject matter expertise to improve the system and meet the needs of the customer. The Pennsylvania Army National Guard influenced the functionality of the system -- everything from how a Soldier submits a Personnel Action Request (PAR) to HR analytics reports like the Human Resources Authorization Report (HRAR) utilized by Commanders. We also worked closely with them to ensure the interfaces with existing authoritative data sources, like the Army Organizational Server-Data Interface and the Reserve Component Manpower System-Guard, accurately and correctly fed data into IPPS-A.

Adapting to the Enemy.

By summer 2018, IPPS-A development was on track to deploy the system to the Pennsylvania Army National Guard by the end of the year. This effort began with the RRE to test end-to-end business processes of IPPS-A and ensure the system could subsume the functionality of the Standard Installation and Division Personnel Reporting System (SIDPERS), which was the primary HR database used by the Army National Guard. The RRE would enable us to methodically test IPPS-A business processes and ensure the outputs were accurate and consistent with National Guard requirements. This would be followed by the SAT, a critical milestone that would test the system's ability to accomplish end-to-end business processes.

As we proceeded through the development process, we learned how to optimize communication between IPPS-A's internal teams (including developers) and external stakeholders and work together as one cross-functional, agile team. I believe this was the secret to our success. Our team realized that by nesting with our Army National Guard counterparts and the System Integrator developers, we could shorten the decision cycle to improve the system and make critical break fixes to make the system work. This enhanced our collective ability to address key data and coding issues, bringing about strong results that would ensure IPPS-A would be delivered on time and built right to meet the needs of the Army National Guard.

By the time we reached SAT, we established four collaborative teams tasked with streamlining the approval to fielding, and creating a more agile environment that would address issues in real time. Each team played a critical role in getting us through the SAT. Their functions were as follows:

• The SAT Lab: This team enabled participants to work through structured user scenarios. Through the SAT Lab, the IPPS-A team received direct feedback from participants on what was working, what wasn't, and what needed to be fixed. Participants looked at IPPS-A from an end-to-end perspective and asked a critical question, "Can the system pass these scenarios?"

• The Dual Entry Cell: The Pennsylvania National Guard led this important team tasked with reworking the activities conducted during the RRE. The Dual Entry Cell facilitated more robust testing of IPPS-A's end-to-end business processes to identity key issues.

• The Policy, Processes and Procedures (P3) Cell: Led by the NGB, participants of the P3 Cell looked at what came out of the SAT Lab and the Dual Entry Cell and asked, "What policy or procedure do we have to change in the National Guard based on this new system?" For any defect that came in, members of the P3 Cell worked side-by-side with the IPPS-A program to determine why it was a defect and strategize how the defect could be fixed.

• The Tactical Operations Center (TOC): This team managed all of the activities from the SAT Lab, the Dual Entry Cell, and the P3 Cell and facilitated coordination among units.

As a result of our restructured agile stance, these four cells enabled us to swiftly address issues and strategize solutions with the help of our Army National Guard counterparts. We brought in developers to work hand-in-hand with data owners and end users to fix defects and improve the system. This was a historic feat: never before in the history of the Army had we deployed new equipment while simultaneously improving it based on stakeholder feedback.

New Course, Same Destination.

The Pennsylvania Army National Guard is the first state to integrate IPPS-A into their daily HR operations and we've received feedback that the system is making a difference. IPPS-A is transforming the Army's HR business which will pay huge dividends for the Total Force in the years to come. As one of the senior-most leaders of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, COL Laura McHugh, said during LUT, "IPPS-A has set the standard for how the Army should implement an Army system."

Learning from Moltke, disciplined and prioritized choices during development led to IPPS-A's successful deployment to the Pennsylvania Army National Guard and enabled us to move forward in our journey to modernize HR and talent management across the Total Force. We adapted to enemy contact and counteracted that by massing the right talent in Fort Indiantown Gap for the RRE, SAT and LUT. By restructuring our teams and increasing communication with both internal and external stakeholders, we remain on track to bring IPPS-A to the rest of the Army National Guard and beyond.