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Challenging the VA to build a new way to review and release GI Bill funds to veterans.

For the last three decades, VA employees have been using the same software, database, and processes to review veterans interested in using their GI Bill benefits. While these tools might have been the bee's knees during the era of walkman, pogs, and Biggie (RIP), they are insanely antiquated for the needs of today.

Fjord was brought in to leverage human centered thinking and creative problem solving in order to find opportunities for automation, consolidate services, and the make the process of going back to school as easy as possible for our veteran's and their families.

Note: The DGIB project was massive. For this portfolio piece I'll be focusing on the Benefit Manager; a robust application that the VA will use to review and approve veteran requests to receive educational funds.

The Problem: Old software, fractionalized databases, and outdated UI that has caused headaches for schools, claims examiners, and—most importantly—Veterans who want to use their GI bill benefits.

The Opportunity:With a $500 million contact and a talented, human-centered Accenture team, we have the funds, the skill, and the knowhow to completely reimagine the GI process.

  • Client
    • United States Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Skills Used
    • Product Strategy
    • Service Design
    • UX Design
    • Visual Design
    • Prototype Development
    • User Testing
Image of a user journey the follows the career path of an employee.

Research, interviews, and synthesis

Over two weeks we interviewed 50+ VA employees, veterans, and educational staff, each with their own specific role and needs in the GI Bill process. We chatted about their process and the official—and unofficial—systems they use to do their job. We talked about what they hated and what they liked in the current process and what they would want in a new application.

What came out of it was thousands of little windows into the current struggles and future opportunities of GI Bill process; a wealth of information for us to analyze and build from.

Future flow, facilitation discussions and low-fidelity mockups

To better understand the different steps, systems, and characters that play a role in the GI Bill process, we really needed to map them on paper. Taking the thousands of little tidbits from our interviews, we clustered, defined, and deferred them into specific steps, actions, and outcomes that we could easily map out in a comprehensive user flow.

Once we had a solid understanding of the layout of the GI Bill approval process, we were able to identify areas to automate the process, slim down bloated systems, and start creating low-fi mockups of a new way to review Veteran applications.

Now the fun part, making it come to life

Once we worked with the client to blueprinted a new GI Bill application approval process, we started the putting together hi-fidelity wires. Leveraging the Government and VA's design systems (USWDS and VA), we mocked up the individual steps and actions a claims examiner will take when reviewing a veteran's claim for benefits.

Once approved, we handed the wires to the development team and were on-call for any request they might have translating the visual designs into modern code.

Image of a user journey the follows the career path of an employee.
Image of a user journey the follows the career path of an employee.

Testing to make sure it'll work

As we built certain steps and components of the Benefit Manager application, we would also schedule, organize, and facilitate user testing sessions with dozens of claim examiners. In these sessions we asked user to find certain information and perform common task using the new application.

While the feedback we got was overwhelmingly positive, we also pinned areas where they struggled or couldn't perform the tasks we asked. We then took plotted our findings in an impact vs effort matrix and worked with our client to determine what we can fix now, what we can fix in later releases, and what we can address through training.

Image of stickies on a poster from a workshopo ativity.
Image of stickies with connecting string on a poster from workshop activity.