By Dale Ward, Strategic Innovation Lead, Diné Development Corporation

If you’ve ever worked on a contract for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), you’re likely familiar with Contract Data Requirements Lists (CDRL) Deliverables. These CDRLs define the artifacts the government stipulates as deliverables for a given contract. The most common deliverable is the MSR or Monthly Status Report. Companies working on a government contract must submit an MSR in a timely fashion each month or be subject to financial penalties and/or negative performance ratings, which may prevent that company from be awarded contracts in the future. The MSR provides the government a comprehensive account of the status of the project or activity performed on their behalf, and includes details on contract financials, schedule, performance, and any risks or issues about which the government should be aware. Typically, the bulk of the report is a detailed list of accomplishments, tasks, and activities performed by individual contributors across the team.

At Diné Development Corporation (DDC), our teams provide expert IT services to government agencies such as the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, NASA, and the Defense Information System Agency (DISA). Often, our teams can become very large and the task of delivering the MSR becomes a labor-intensive, time-consuming task requiring the participation and coordination of program managers, site leads, and individual team members working across multiple teams and locations. Team members are asked to provide their task updates by a certain time each month and provide a detailed list of their accomplishments and compliance checklists in a prescribed structure. Typically, individuals provide these updates in a document, which is sent via email to their respective program managers. Program managers collect, review, edit, assemble, and format all this content into a final, single deliverable to be submitted to the government by the prescribed deadline.

The MSR effort is time consuming for both team members and program managers. Heavily tasked team members must find the time to provide their status updates and program managers must wrangle potentially hundreds of team members to ensure their MSR task updates are submitted on time, complete, compliant, and properly written. Once submitted to the government, copies of the MSR are stored on a shared drive. As a management tool, the accumulated MSR content collected from across the teams should provide a rich resource to enable managers to:

• Monitor and understand the accomplishments of the team
• Research and respond to task specific customer inquiries
• Provide input for Individual Performance Assessments
• Identify individuals with expertise in specific technologies
• Provide a chronology of activities to support root cause analysis

The ever-growing collection of files, however, is difficult to search, summarize, or assimilate without tedious manual efforts across hundreds of files, which ultimately limits the business value of the MSR.

Honeycode Enabled Monthly Status Reporting
As the burdens of these activities grew, the challenges were brought to the attention of the DDC Strategic Innovation Team, which happily agreed to research potential solutions. The team had recently surveyed various entries in the low-code/no-code market and understood that as an internal project, the costs of a proposed solution would need to be very low. This limited the field quite a bit and given the team’s familiarity with the AWS ecosystem, the decision was made to design and build a prototype using the recently announced Amazon Honeycode platform. After some basic requirements elaboration with our delivery teams, a functional prototype was constructed in just a few weeks of largely part-time work! The prototyped solution consisted of two applications:

MSR Program Manager Console
This application is designed solely for program managers and site leads with the responsibility of initiating, collecting, reviewing, editing, and monitoring the task status updates collected from across the team, and then assembling those updates into the final MSR. The essential capabilities for the Program Manager Console are summarized in the following illustrations:

Program Managers use the Review/Search Task update screen (shown below) to search, review and possibly edit task updates provided by team members. This serves as both a review tool for MSR preparation and a research tool to identify the use of specific technologies, locate team members with specific expertise, or answer customer specific questions about the activities performed.

On large teams, one of the most frustrating aspects of submitting a final MSR on-time, is the lack of visibility to the efforts of team members to provide their task updates and send them to the program manager in enough time to assemble the final report. It’s impossible to know at any given time which team members who’ve actually started their MSR task updates, which ones have not started, and which ones are almost finished. Historically, it’s not until the email arrives from the various team members that a program manager knows for certain of their status. By then, hopefully, it’s not too late to incorporate their updates and meet the deadline. Using MSR Status by Team Member page, program managers can monitor the progress of the team towards completing their task updates for the MSR.

The Task Entry and accompany emoji indicator reveals the derived or declared status of the individual team member’s efforts:

• If a team member has not entered any task updates on behalf of an active MSR, then the Task Entry Status is shown as “Not Started” and the accompanying indicator displays as:

• If a team member has entered at least one task update, then the Task Entry Status is displayed as “Active” and the accompanying indicator switches to:

• If a team member has entered all of their task updates and officially submit their updates via the application, then the Task Entry Status switches to “Complete” and the indicator displays as:

In all cases, the Task Count shows how many task updates have been entered by the team member. When teams have more structured reporting requirements, this number can serve as an important clue with respect to the team member’s progress when in an “Active” status. Program managers can also review the actual task updates of a given team member by clicking on the magnifying glass icon displayed to the right of the Task Count. This will navigate the user to the Review/Search Task Updates (as shown above) and automatically filter the results down to the task updates for the selected month and team member.

MSR Team Member Portal
Team members access a separate Honeycode application to enter, update, and submit their task updates for Monthly Status Report initiated by a program manager through the MSR Program Manager console described in the section above. Team members use the MSR Header Team Listing page to review MSR task updates they’ve submitted in the past and determine if the next month’s MSR is ready for work.

When completed entering their task updates for a given month’s MSR, Team members can use the “Mark Complete” button to effectively submit their task updates to the responsible program manager. If a user needs to make changes after they’ve clicked the “Mark Complete” button, Honeycode Automations will reset their status back to Active. To enter task updates, the user will click on the desired MSR header row and begin entering task updates on the Add MSR Task Detail page.

As a convenience, The Report Header, Task ID, and Team Member name are pre-populated. Users are required to select the Task Type and Task Status from picklist containing government approved values. The user then describes their work in the Task Field and then clicks “Done” or “Save and Add Another”. Once team members have completed entering all of their task updates, they’ll return to the MSR Header Team Listing and click on the “Mark Complete” button for that report. On the MSR Program Manager Console, the program manager will be notified and may then begin completing their review activities for the submitted task updates.

Conclusion
Amazon Honeycode is a great low-code/no-code solution for the monthly status report collection use case, which our DDC Strategic Innovation Team has been working to address. The support from the Honeycode community and support team has been exceptional and truly appreciated. Our Honeycode born MSR solution will save upwards of 40 hours of labor each month, promote transparency, increase productivity, and enhance business value both to our customer and internal teams.

Dale J. Ward Jr., Strategic Innovation Lead, dale.ward@ddc-dine.com

Diné Development Corporation | ddc-dine.com

Amazon Honeycode gives you the power to build apps for managing your team’s work. No programming required.