Budget Apportionment Using Jira
Federal budgeting is complex, workflow-driven, and relies on timely exchange of information among many people. This is particularly true of the Apportionment process, which requires agencies to gather data from across bureaus and departments to complete a spending plan for the fiscal year. Eliminating stress, improving quality, and accelerating the apportionment process are all possible by managing the whole effort through a tool most organizations already own and use.
The Apportionment Manager system uses a tool common to most organizations, Atlassian’s Jira, to overcome this complexity. Apportionment Manager allows agencies to process and internally approve their apportionments and then submit them to OMB. Ten agencies now use the Apportionment Manager, with the support of the government’s Budget Line of Business (LoB). The tool has helped radically reduce processing time. For example, one agency saved 60% processing time, from 30 business days to just 12.
In the past, agencies addressed their internal processes, workflows, and submissions with a disparate collection of tools, shared drives, spreadsheets, email, and paper, creating challenges with version control, transparency, and processing time. In this state, information was often unavailable regarding where an apportionment’s workflow status and who was responsible for next steps.
Solution: Jira and Ideal Forms
TCG supported the federal Budget Line of Business (BLoB) team in developing a plugin for Jira (now offered as a standalone product, Ideal Forms) that enables developers to quickly create an interface that budget experts can easily use to manage budget formulation and execution tasks, such as apportionments. Jira is a web-based issues management system that is most commonly used to support Agile software development projects. The Agile approach is used by teams handling complex, fast-paced work—precisely what the budget community handles every day. Visual representations of tasks and progress, workflows with clear steps and status checks, testing and validation, and iterative improvement have been used in the legal industry, technical writing, and educational contexts. So it’s not surprising that the capabilities of an Agile project management and product development tool are being used successfully well beyond software development. But the native interface is aimed at technically proficient users, which prevents easy adoption by others.
The workflow moves from the bureau level with roles of author, reviewer, and approver to the HQ level with two reviewers and HQ Director providing approval. After director approval, the apportionment is prepped for OMB submission and submitted. Using Jira workflow and Ideal Forms business rules, the team set required values and verifications for each stage in the apportionment workflow. The workflow engine has validation checks that stop the user from transitioning to the next step until any problem with the data it has identified is fixed. At each stage, authors and approvers work directly in the apportionment, so there is no need to download the file.
Deploying New Systems and Updating Existing Systems
BLoB admins can build out a basic file for the interface to include issue type, features that are revealed and hidden in each stage, and different validation checks. The code is written to be very generic, so building the configuration is a matter of copying and pasting the appropriate snippets into the correct place in the file. As mentioned above, this allows non-developers—often the project manager or business analyst on the team—to work on a new system and updates and avoid having to go to an outside support team to manage the platform and the plugins including the user interface. With this greater control over the tool, the team can better serve its partners in the budget community.
The previous user interface the user had to tailor each page manually at every step of the process or for the relevant fiscal year. The Jira system does a much better job of handling multiple fiscal years of data in terms of both performance—load times are fast and do not decline as more years of fiscal data are added—and the interface. The interface is cleaner and less cumbersome, showing allowing relevant functions and permission at each step. The pages built through Ideal Forms also utilize space better. Because different users have different screen resolutions, there is no one size fits all solution, but the Jira system is responsive to individual screen resolutions.
The tool provides a dashboard that details each stage in the workflow, so all users are able to see where an apportionment is in the process. The dashboard replaces processes such as manual data entry in Excel sheets that were required for each transition. At each stage, authors and approvers work directly in the apportionment, so there is no need to download the file. This is accomplished by way of Sharepoint integration, negating the need to download and re-upload their work.
Automated workflow notifications that require action are sent out to the individual responsible for the next step. Every action is documented, and the dashboard provides clear information on who is working on what apportionment. Automated notifications include:
- Promotion and Demotion: Stakeholders are notified when an apportionment is promoted or demoted so that they are aware when work is complete and ready to be handed on to the next phase in the workflow or be sent back for further work.
- Validation/Re-validation: Upon uploading SF-132s and supporting documentation, the system will alert users to problems with their submissions and the location of the problems in their submission. This ensures that information is correctly formatted and complete.
Improved Processing Time
Customers have responded that the system allows them to meet deadlines, where their old processes would have failed, and that they think the tool is very helpful for auditing purposes. While agencies respond that they are extremely likely to recommend the solution to other partner agencies, we aim to continue making improvements moving forward. One Budget LoB Partner Agency reported that this tool brought the Apportionment processing time down from 30 days to about 13 days.
Streamlined, Cost-Effective Acquisition
The Apportionment Manager leverages the shared service model to accelerate affordable acquisition. The solutions developed in collaboration with partner agencies have been completed with no additional cost to other partners. Cost/savings analysis for the Apportionment work shows the initial implementation was approximately $500k cheaper than a traditional acquisition activity could provide and was fielded in less than half the time. An estimated savings of approximately $1M for each agency, while being fielded in less than a quarter of the time (approximately 3 months on average).