How NLM Reduced Time-to-Market!

Krista Trapani DevJam News, Front Page News

In the spring of 2017, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) set out to rebuild its DOCLINE product. DOCLINE, NLM’s automated interlibrary loan request routing and referral system, enables the efficient sharing of medical literature resources among over 2,100 libraries in the National Network of Libraries of Medicine. More than 1,000,000 requests flow through the system annually.

Working on a tight timeline, the DOCLINE product team had goals of migrating from a deprecated platform, creating a new system that adheres to US web design standards, and doing it all while working in an agile manner.

“The elimination of our backend system, Cold Fusion, was the primary push,” said Lisa Theisen who leads this initiative at the NLM. “However, to be successful we had to redesign a 30-year old, legacy system from the ground up with 5 people. We needed to be agile and to come up with a realistic MVP.”

Theisen went on to explain, “DOCLINE has all these different parts that globbed on over the years. We trimmed out some of the junk, focusing on the core of what this system is for. We had to really think about what it is that we wanted our system to accomplish and what users need – filling inter-library loan requests and facilitating the sharing of holdings.”

Last spring, the DOCLINE team partnered with DevJam to conduct an early product discovery session. This helped the team to come to a common understanding of what is being built, why it is being built, and who it is for. From there the team worked through a number of product-thinking exercises that ultimately resulted in an agreed upon roadmap and sequence for development that has allowed the team to iteratively deliver value.

“[DevJam] helped us narrow the focus to the main points that we needed to accomplish. Our coach had a way of pulling us in a room together and honed in on what we needed. When she said it, it seemed so obvious,” Theisen said. “We laid out the goals of what we really wanted to accomplish for the customer. The whole process made everything very clear. The path just kind of laid out in front of us.”

Now, less than a year later, the team has completed its first phase. Looking back, the benefits to this approach have been staggering.

“When we started, we had nothing. We just had notecards and sticky notes. Now, we have a functional system that we can demo to people, and they can use,” Theisen said.

“It would have taken years and years the old way, and I’m quite sure we wouldn’t have had as good of a product in the end. We would have built the exact same features, tried to get everything in writing before coding, and wouldn’t have finished in time for Cold Fusion’s retirement. We also wouldn’t have the buy in from our stakeholders because they wouldn’t see this continuous progress that we have been showing them.”

Theisen explained that the greatest win isn’t just that the team made its date but that they did so in a manner where the product could be created, tested, and validated continuously throughout the delivery cycle.

She said, “We’ve had to be very flexible. We all really care about this and the people we serve. We have had to make hard decisions. Agile and product thinking really helped us to do that.”