AUSTIN, Texas — Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston visited Army Futures Command’s Army Software Factory (ASWF) in Austin, Texas, on Oct. 28 to meet with Army civilian and Soldier coders who are developing the Army software of the future.
ASWF is a first-of-its-kind, integrated software development initiative to teach, develop and employ self-sustaining talent from all ranks within the military and civilian workforce.
Grinston’s visit was part of the Army’s “This is My Squad (TIMS)” initiative, designed to build unit cohesion, create foundational leadership skills to build up today’s Army and prepare young leaders for the Army of the future.
“It’s about engaged leaders who know their Soldiers and build cohesive teams that are highly trained, disciplined and mentally and physically fit,” Grinston said.
One important tool in the TIMS campaign will be the MySquad mobile app, in its early stages of development by coders at ASWF. When complete, the app is planned to be an easily accessible, mobile way to enable squad leaders to communicate with and direct their Soldiers in real time, no matter where they are.
“It’s this question: ‘How do we manage our time better?’” Grinston said. “We’ve heard this for years: you get last-minute taskings, I didn’t know to go to this meeting, whatever it is.”
“That’s what squad leaders said – I want an app that helps me manage time and taskings. That’s the whole point of the MySquad app.”
The MySquad app, like other software developed at ASWF, is software “for Soldiers, by Soldiers.” ASWF brings the end-users of their software — squad leaders, in this case — into the development process in regular and meaningful ways. These Soldier touchpoints help to pinpoint end-user issues that may otherwise be overlooked by developers.
Integrating Soldier touchpoints in software design speeds up the development process, drives requirements and ensures the Army and ASWF are meeting Soldiers’ tactical and operational needs.
Currently, Soldiers from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment at Fort Hood, Texas, are testing an early version of the app and providing feedback directly to the development team.
“What I like about tying it from Fort Hood to here is the Soldiers are using it, the Soldiers are developing it, and as we want the technology to change, we change it,” Grinston said.
ASWF coders link information from Soldier touchpoints into the next iteration of prototyping to verify the value of the new additions, then build that functionality into the next version of the app. New versions of the app are returned to the testers, who provide further information to facilitate ongoing improvements. This creates a Soldier feedback loop that informs software development and helps Soldiers become stronger, better organized leaders.
“I like the fact that we were in direct communication with the team developing the application, and they considered all of our complaints,” said Staff Sgt. Kerry Cartwright, a cavalry scout with the 3rd Cavalry Regiment. “The developers listened to us and actually added those useful links as features.”
Grinston said that feedback is implemented immediately to see how it affects the overall functionality of the app. One example from the visit was incorporating the Golden Triangle — a tool leaders use to ensure that a Soldier’s friends and family can contact them in the event there is an issue with the Soldier.
“The Chief [of Staff of the Army] says ‘Here’s the Golden Triangle, we’ve got to connect these dots.’ In the app they’re all listed out with a button and you just hit the button to call them,” Grinston explained.
Though still in an early development phase, when complete, the MySquad app is planned to assist small-unit leaders in task tracking, counseling, event and appointment scheduling and training management.
Grinston said that taking these tasks from paper to the digital age will help leaders take care of Soldiers by providing better predictability in their schedules while improving overall readiness.
“It’s not ‘People First’ versus ‘Readiness’ — ‘People First’ is ‘Readiness,’ and this is a perfect example of that.”
Don’t look for MySquad at your app store quite yet, though.
According to Lt. Col. Vito Errico, ASWF co-director, “agile coding is an iterative process that allows us to continuously refine our software development by incorporating Soldiers’ input. We will continue refining and testing this app until it meets our high standards and our squad leader testers tell us it is fully ready for launch.”