Growing U.S. Air Force personnel into skilled technology practitioners
We provided enablement support to Air Force teams and personnel across multiple high-impact technology projects. As they paired with us, we helped them develop the skills they need to deliver modern software solutions.
The U.S. Air Force (USAF) needs balanced teams with advanced skills to manage its billion-dollar portfolio of critical enterprise IT systems. Technology practitioners at the USAF face a huge mandate: to craft product strategy at massive scale and tackle some of the toughest problems in modern software, including difficult paths to production and specific security restrictions required by mission-critical defense systems.
Finding and developing the necessary capabilities is a unique challenge. Oftentimes, core military personnel — even high-ranking officers — land in software-related roles with minimal exposure to or training in modern product development practices. Many have no prior technology experience of any kind. Once in a role, it can be difficult to grow. Airmen frequently serve short-term rotations on projects, cycling through product teams and roles alongside civilians and contractors who may also be transitory. Facing these challenges, the USAF needs a way to maintain and build continuous modern software delivery capacity.
In 2019, the USAF launched Business Enterprise Systems Product INnovation (BESPIN) to deliver digital transformation outcomes for partner organizations throughout the USAF and the broader defense community. Since then, it has grown to over 200 military, civilian, and contractor personnel working together on more than 20 products. Across a number of these projects (such as GearFit, AFFMS, ARMS, JOCAS, and MASK), BESPIN has engaged us to not only deliver great software outcomes, but also prepare our USAF colleagues to drive transformation on their own.
To support this mission, we designed a unique approach to staff enablement. Our efforts in this area have included:
- Embedding BESPIN staff on Skylight’s project teams as designers, product managers, and engineers
- Coaching BESPIN staff to use modern delivery practices
- Working directly with BESPIN leadership to build out strategy and roadmaps for software development and product delivery
Using this approach, we’ve enabled airmen with no technology experience to contribute effectively as designers, product managers, and engineers on agile software teams in as little as six months.
The Skylight team’s willingness to help guide, mentor, and teach was super helpful. They really took me under their wing and I learned a lot. In just one year as a developer on GearFit I went from zero — on my way — to hero.Technical Sergeant Joseph “Joey” Mills, Enterprise Services Noncommissioned Officer In Charge (NCOIC)
One of the most impactful ways Skylight helped TSgt Mills gain these skills was through daily engineering syncs. During these meetings, he shared blockers he was facing with the Skylight team’s engineers, who helped with troubleshooting until they reached a solution, often within minutes.
Skylight also grew TSgt Mills and others’ skills by establishing communities of practice (CoP) at BESPIN. Skylight teammates created an engineering CoP messaging channel, which became a space for the Skylight team to provide ad hoc support and collaborate with airmen asynchronously on their engineering challenges.
In addition, Skylight product managers hosted regular CoP events, providing training and leadership in advanced product techniques. With the help of these activities, TSgt Mills grew his product skills and transitioned to a product manager role. He has continued to advance and now serves as a delivery manager for his own BESPIN team, where he uses the lessons he learned from Skylight to deliver digital transformation outcomes for partner organizations throughout the USAF and the broader defense community. Skylight’s enablement approach delivers exponential benefits as the personnel we’ve helped empower become leaders with the knowledge and hands-on experience to enable their own teams.
- Upskilled four service managers, five delivery managers, two designers, and seven developers
- Helped three airmen transition to more senior roles in BESPIN
- Taught airmen how to capitalize on agile, stakeholder management, and product development skill sets to make a big impact within BESPIN ecosystem
- Provided staffing continuity as military and civilian team members rotated on and off of BESPIN projects
- Earned the highest rating for our GearFit project in the Program Executive Officer of the Business and Enterprise Systems Directorate’s annual agile assessment — based on the team’s agile processes, team activities, ceremonies, and user-centered practices