SDWIS Prime Development Update

By Greg Fabian

Over the past five months, the project team has been working with new tools to more fully flesh-out the SDWIS Prime system. During last May’s Data Management Users Conference (DMUC), Greg Fabian and Jason Lowengrub (contractor User Experience Designer) showed the first version of a new SDWIS Prime prototype. Since the DMUC, Greg, Latonia Cheatham-Strickland, and Jason have been working with Patti Fauver (Utah) and members of her staff to refine the SDWIS Prime user interface by updating the prototype.

The team has shared these design refinements during several webinars (which you can view from the SDWIS SharePoint video library). The team continues to refine the SDWIS Prime user experience and plans to share these updates with the community during the SDWIS Prime update calls (held on the second Thursday of each month from 1-2 PM ET). You can experience the prototype yourself by checking out the online simulation. The development team is interested in your comments and suggestions, and I’ll describe how to send those comments to the team later in this article.

More importantly, as CMDP development winds down, the team is spinning-up SDWIS Prime development. In this rather lengthy article, I’ll describe the development approach that the team will be using, which leverages the lessons learned during earlier SDWIS Prime and CMDP development efforts.

The goal of the development project is to deliver initial operational capability by September 2017. This does not mean that at that time, primacy agencies can begin using the system in their day-to-day work, but there should be enough of a system to begin evaluating how they will use and deploy the system when it reaches full operational capability. Depending upon the available funding, the team is targeting March 2018 for when the system should reach full operational capability – and primacy agencies can begin moving to it. In addition, as described below, EPA anticipates that up to four primacy agencies and at least one EPA Region may begin using SDWIS Prime in that timeframe, given their participation in system testing.

We anticipate additional SDWIS Prime releases after March 2018. Undoubtedly, there will be latent software errors that need correcting. There will also be opportunities for system improvements and enhancements, which the primacy agencies, working with USEPA, will prioritize and possibly fund for inclusion in the system.

In earlier SDWIS Prime development, the project started off with one-month long sprints (not including the samples entry sprint, which lasted nearly 6 months). Each sprint involved the developers, the EPA product owner, a Protection Branch subject matter expert (SME), and 4-5 primacy agency SMEs representing one of the 11 focus groups). As the business focus between sprints changed (say, from laboratory to site visits), the SMEs would change. This introduced some complexity to the sprint process in that new SMEs had to be trained in the sprint process and testing consistency was problematic between sprints.

To address these issues, the revised development approach calls for using a test team that will work with the sprint team for the duration of development. Test team membership should be consistent throughout development with minimal rotation of people on and off the test team. This will minimize the impact of bringing new individuals up to speed on testing practices mid-sprint.

In the past, the test team would do its work during the last 3-4 days of a month long sprint. In the revised approach, each sprint will last two weeks. Rather than using the last several days of a two-week sprint for test team testing, we will have a separate testing period after the development team has completed 2-4 sprints. The number of sprints between test periods will depend upon the features being delivered by the sprints. For example, it may make more sense to test a suite of interdependent features at one time rather than in a piecemeal fashion at the end of each sprint.

Ideally, the test team members will represent four agencies and at least one EPA Region (for direct implementation and, perhaps more importantly, oversight features built into the system). These primacy agencies are expected to serve as pilots and possibly be the first primacy agencies to move to SDWIS Prime. We haven’t selected the pilot primacy agencies, but having one that doesn’t currently use SDWIS State would be a plus.

Participation of SMEs on the sprint team will be limited to the EPA product owner (Patti Fauver on detail). Infrastructure Branch personnel will assist the primary state SME with testing at the end of the two-week sprint period. As mentioned above, after several sprints, the pilot test team would come in and run through the test cases to verify that what the development team delivered works as expected.

As before, the development team will issue quarterly releases of SDWIS Prime available for widespread testing and experimentation. What will change is the process that the project team will use to collect feedback from those experiencing the system. As you have probably heard, EPA is rolling-out Zendesk, a web-based help desk tool, to support CMDP. EPA intends to use Zendesk for supporting SDWIS Prime. One of the features of Zendesk is an online, searchable knowledgebase consisting of content (articles, videos and such) to assist users. As the team builds-up SDWIS Prime, it will also build-up the Zendesk SDWIS Prime knowledgebase.

You’ll be able to use Zendesk to learn how to use SDWIS Prime and use the help desk ticketing process to file reports of system malfunctions, bugs and suggestions for enhancements. The move to Zendesk also shifts the focus from SharePoint to Zendesk. Once SDWIS Prime goes live, we expect most issues and discussions about SDWIS Prime to happen in Zendesk, not SharePoint. Zendesk includes community features, which, by the way, look nicer and are easier to use than the comparable SharePoint features.

Not too long before the original SDWIS Prime development sprints started, we shifted to a governance structure that replaced the old User Advisory Group (or UAG) with 11 focus groups. The idea behind this move was that each focus group would concentrate on a certain business area of SDWIS Prime. As we got further into development, we created the Sprint Coordination Work Group, consisting of the focus group leaders and EPA product owners, from each focus group (and the IAWG and Outreach work group chairs). The purpose of the SCWG was to facilitate communications across the focus groups during SDWIS Prime development.

Another aspect of the focus group structure is that we found that some focus groups had rather large areas of concern (inventory) while others had very narrow business areas. For example, inventory covers a wide area in SDWIS Prime while laboratory involves maintaining laboratory certifications. In addition, some focus groups had significant overlaps, especially in compliance, monitoring, enforcement, and water system assistance scheduling.

EPA is working with ASDWA to revise the governance structure. We haven’t finalized the plan, but it’s shaping ups something like this:

  • Retain the SCWG, but change the name. The new name hasn’t been determined, but it will be something different like SDWIS Implementation Work Group or Stakeholder Advisory Group. The membership of this group would be roughly the same as the SCWG.
  • Disband the 11 focus groups and merge the State-EPA Data Portal Work Group into the revised SCWG.
  • Continue with the Advisory Board, Outreach Work Group and the Interfacing Applications Work Group. The co-chairs of the Outreach and Interfacing Applications work groups would be members of the new group described in the first bullet.

You will be hearing from ASDWA and EPA as the revised governance structure takes shape.