DfID

The Acumen team were very easy to work with and responsive to our software development demands. The product is easy to use and we have had no problems to date. ~ Major John Moffat, Stabilisation Planner, UK Aid

DfID contracted Acumen to develop a unique web application for their Stablisation Unit. The Unit are responsible for co-ordinating the UK's conflict stabilisation efforts overseas and deploying a variety of different people to hostile environments, including civil servants, police officers and civilian experts.

Their Needs

The Stabilisation Unit required Acumen to develop an inter-departmental planning system - the Joint Stabilisation Planning Framework, or JSPF. Acumen worked with the Unit to ascertain the best working methods for the system. We quickly honed in on a collaborative, web-based, hierarchical planning system, focussed on replicating the established reporting principles of associated government departments and NGOs.

The principle was simple - a department objective (stabilise country A) will have sub-directives, and those directives will have sub-directives - and so on, down to the tasks carried out by individuals. These aims and objectives would be monitored over time for their progress in quarterly cycles, and would have dependencies and dependants (critical path theory). Risks would need to be assessed and prioritised by likelihood and impact.

Acumen were given some key objectives before beginning development of the JSPF - these were:

Labour saving

  • Provide a rapid path from objectives to final plan;
  • Enable generation of an evolving report;
  • Enable generation of reports in multiple forms

Integrated

  • Resolve departmental terminology;
  • Remove the complexity of collecting comments;
  • Enable synchronous working;
  • Bring together the work of planners and reporters

Before we could digest this brief, we needed to do some more digging on how the Unit currently worked.


The Development Process

The first thing Acumen undertook before planning the development cycle was to analyse existing working methods at the Stabilisation unit: how information was collated and stored, how colleagues provided feedback and collaborated, and how end reports were generated and updated.

We then broke down the information-gathering exercises that the Unit undertook into their constituent parts:

  • A hierarchy of objectives, from HMG strategic aims, to ground-level operations;
  • Risks, their priorities and mitigations, and related assumptions;
  • Aim owners and maintainers

With this information, we were able to design a database system that would contain all this information, whilst also leaving some room for possible expansion of the above concepts.

Once the database was developed, we set about designing basic interfaces that the Unit could interact with, allowing them to get a taste of what using the system might be like. One on one feedback sessions were complemented by regular steering documents from Acumen, forming the basis of a more detailed long-term objective.

Next Stages

The JSPF was rapidly developed as a prototype, and deployed early in Helmand, Afghanistan. The feedback from these early trials was fed back into the development process, to guide development of the software towards a much more mature, feature-rich system.

Over the next 6 months, Acumen sought to add all the features that had been discussed, and to have the user interfaces tested for usability and stability.

Project Completion

Acumen successfully delivered the JSPF with all the features originally envisioned and more.

At the end of the project, Acumen created some resources to complement the Stabilisation Framework.