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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 state-of-the-art during the era of walkman, pogs, and Kobe (RIP), they are painfully antiquated for the needs of today.

Fjord was brought in to use human-centered processes and creative problem solving to consolidate services, identify opportunities for automation, and make the process of going back to school as easy as possible for our veterans 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 authorize requests to release educational funds.

The Problem: Old software, fractionalized databases, and outdated UI has caused headaches for schools, claims examiners, and—most importantly—Veterans who want to use their GI bill benefits.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 contract and ayoung, talented, humen-centered team, the VA has 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 needs and responsibilities in the GI Bill process. We talked about their process, the tools they use, and what they would like to see in a new application.

What came out of it was hundred of little windows in to the struggles and opportunities of the GI Bill process. It was a wealth of information for us to analyze and build from.

Future flow, facilitation discussions and low-fidelity mockups

To better visualize the different steps, systems, and roles that make up the GI Bill process, we needed to map them on paper. We clustered, defined, and deferred the thousands of notes from our interviews into specific steps, actions, and outcomes that we could easily map out in a comprehensive user flow.

Once we had a better understanding of the GI Bill approval process, we were able to identify areas to automate the process, slim down bloated stepsm and start creating low-fi mockups of a new way to approve 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 VA's design systems (VA design system), 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 support they might need translating the wires into a working application.

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 schedule, organize, and facilitate user testing sessions. 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 identified areas where they struggled or couldn't perform the tasks we asked. We then plotted our findings in an impact vs effort matrix and worked with our client to determine what we should fix now, what we should fix later, and what can be solved through training.

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