VA’s CIO Stephen Warren on Serving Veterans

Dan Verton | FedScoop | August 18, 2014

In his first interview since a scandal involving secret waiting lists forced a change of leadership at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Stephen Warren, VA’s chief information officer, offers a candid assessment of the agency’s past and future technology plans.

Stephen Warren knows exactly where he fits in the long history of Department of Veterans Affairs chief information officers. He thumps his desk with an outstretched arm, beneath which sits a giant timeline of major VA system development. “This is when I came on the scene,” he said, leaning over the desk and stretching his arm across the chart at the 2007 mark on the timeline. Since then, the marching orders have been clear: Deliver fast, fail fast and if “it’s a failed project, kill it,” he said.

For Warren, those are distinct and critical steps in an agile development methodology that has been forced to develop new capabilities while simultaneously conducting emergency room procedures to determine if an aging system can be saved. It’s a time-consuming process for an agency that has little time to make things right, but Warren still sees value in it.

“I keep this in front of me to remind me and to remind the team of how not to do projects, how not to do IT,” he said, leaning over the color-coded timeline chart, which covers his entire desk. “You’ve got to do it fast, because it allows you to fail fast. We do short, small steps that are always tracking to what my customer wants, versus the old style of business called waterfall, where four or five years go by and then you find out it’s no good.”...