MISMO Winter Summit 2024

The MISMO Winter Summit was jam-packed with insightful discussions, forward-looking sessions and it was also a celebration of MISMO’s 25-year anniversary of industry collaboration and standards development. Our team led 15 workgroup sessions, covering the latest standards in mortgage technology, credit reporting, and much more.

Let’s dive into the key insights and takeaways from the summit:

Embracing New Technologies:

A common theme of the summit was the focus on new technologies to streamline the mortgage process. Discussions and sessions highlighted the importance of enhancing security and transparency in transactions. The integration of AI, blockchain, and other emerging technologies is not merely a vision of the future, but a reality poised to reshape the mortgage landscape.

Legislative Developments- The VA Home Loan Awareness Act of 2023:

The proposed legislation brings greater awareness to the loan products available to Veterans by incorporating a disclaimer on the Uniform Residential Loan Application (URLA) to increase awareness of the direct and guaranteed home loan programs of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA Home Loan Awareness Act of 2023, detailed in a DS News story, is a bipartisan effort that underscores the industry’s continued efforts to highlight the VA home loan benefits available to those who have served our country.

New Initiatives: MISMO Certifications, Fee Modernization and Loan Servicing Data Standard

MISMO announced its new certification opportunities, including the MISMO Certified Consultants program and PhoenixTeam is proud to be an early applicant. “The new MISMO Certifications are designed for professionals and technology providers who demonstrate their commitment to effective business practices through their expertise in, and adherence to, MISMO standards,” said David Coleman, President of MISMO. “As adoption of MISMO standards continues to accelerate, we have more industry partners interested in pursuing the variety of certifications we are offering.”

MISMO is seeking participants for a NEW Fee Modernization Workgroup! VA announced plans for a collaborative effort with other federal housing agencies to develop a loan servicing data standard – more to come!

More Insights from the Sessions: AI, Credit Reporting, FHFA and SMART Docs®

  • The Emerging Tech Community of Practice session debuted an Emerging Tech updates segment that included trends, articles, and projections about emerging technologies such as AI and Blockchain.
  • The Artificial Intelligence panel discussion provided an engaging conversation around “The Missing Middle” and how to bridge the gap between ‘human only activity’ and ‘machine only activity’. Brian Stucky from Rocket Mortgage refers to this as “The Missing Middle.” Human only activities include components such as leadership, teamwork, empathy, judgement, and social skills. Machine only activities include accuracy, speed, scalability, quantitative capabilities, and iteration. The “missing middle” are hybrid activities that can train, explain, sustain, and interact. The implementation involves leveraging AI to perform tasks that don’t require human intervention, such as interpreting loan documents and assisting with origination systems. As a result, bankers are obtaining answers approximately 70% faster.
  • The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) shared an update on what it learned during recent stakeholder forums discussing how data digitization might drive transparency, increase access, fairness, affordability, and sustainability in mortgage lending. The stakeholder forums, focused on historical data and sequencing of events, had broad industry participation. FHFA acknowledged the industry preference for “big bang” vs. a phased approach implementation of the credit score changes. It also reiterated movement of the bi-merge implementation timeline and expect to announce upcoming FHFA stakeholder forms by the end of January.  Potential topics for future forums may include Gaming, Fair Lending, Cost to Consumers and Consumer Disclosure.
  • Although the implementation date for the credit score changes is pending, the Credit Reporting CoP continued their effort to develop implementation guidance of the MISMO standard and the representation of the FICO 10T and Vantage Score 4.0.
  • The use of SMART Docs®, remains a focus with the introduction of Version 3 which introduces the ability to verify data and documents while also being tamper evident.

We are grateful for the insights gained and more excited to put them into practice as we continue to execute our federal and commercial clients’ value delivery goals.

Follow PhoenixTeam on LinkedIn for the latest news and updates.

#MISMOWinterSummit #MISMO #ContinuousLearning #Adaptability

Jacki Frazer

We recently interviewed Jacki Frazer, Managing Director at PhoenixTeam and the well-deserved recipient of PhoenixTeam’s Leader of the Year Award. Our interview was nothing short of inspiring, and discussed many leadership topics, including her unique philosophy, the importance of team collaboration, her innovative strategies for overcoming leadership challenges.

Some key insights from our interview:

🏆 On Being Named Leader of the Year
Jacki shared her heartfelt feelings about receiving the Leader of the Year award, emphasizing the importance of team effort and collective success.

🌍 Leadership in Jacki’s Eyes
What does leadership mean? Our conversation revealed that for Jacki, leadership is less about authority and more about collaboration, mentorship, and showing growth in others.

🧭 Jacki’s Leadership Philosophy
Jacki shared her belief in collaboration with a focus on coaching. Her approach is a blend of empathy, strategic thinking, and a relentless pursuit of excellence.

🚀 Tackling Challenges
Jacki recounted a particularly challenging situation and how she navigated it with grace and determination. The outcome? A stronger team and invaluable lessons in resilience and adaptability.

🌱 Advice for Aspiring Leaders
Jacki emphasized the importance of continuous learning, working closely with their leader or coach for honest feedback. Leadership takes time and effort and a continuous process that pays off over time.

📈 Upcoming Leadership Programs at PhoenixTeam
Finally, Jacki gave us a sneak peek into the exciting leadership community of practice program. This initiative promises to further strengthen the organization’s leadership culture and provide ample growth opportunities for team members.

Click here to watch the full interview

Why Phoenix Shawn Burke

In this “Why Phoenix” interview featuring Shawn Burke, Managing Practitioner at PhoenixTeam, we explore the dynamic culture of PhoenixTeam. Shawn uncovers what makes our Phoenix Village truly unique — its people, its culture of innovation, and its passion for excellence.

Shawn discusses topics including:
▶️ The dynamic and engaging culture at PhoenixTeam.
▶️ Key milestones and turning points that have shaped his experience with the team.
▶️ Inspiring moments that have stood out during his time with PhoenixTeam.
▶️ His time away from PhoenixTeam and the factors that influenced his decision to rejoin the team.
▶️ What makes PhoenixTeam a special and unique place to work.
▶️ His aspirations and plans for his future with PhoenixTeam.

Click here to watch the full interview!

Vicki

In the “Why Phoenix” series, PhoenixTeam Village members share their personal and unique journeys within the organization. Vicki Withrow’s experience with PhoenixTeam is a testament to the power of this dynamic workplace. Her story takes us on a remarkable journey, highlighting the key milestones, challenges, and inspiring moments that have shaped her professional growth and personal development.

The Beginning of a Journey 

As I reflect on my time with PhoenixTeam, certain milestones and turning points come into focus. It all began with a connection and familiar face – Lindsay Bennett. Lindsay and I worked together for a short time previously and her dedication and ability to embrace change left a lasting impression on me. When Lindsay accepted an opportunity with PhoenixTeam, we connected on LinkedIn, and I watched as she and PhoenixTeam grew and impacted the mortgage tech industry. Searching for professional growth and a change for myself, one day I made the decision to contact her when she was searching for someone to join her on a project. Little did I know this would mark the beginning of a career with PhoenixTeam. 

In my first three years at PhoenixTeam, I served as a Product Designer and Product Manager on two of its largest programs at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Loan Guaranty (LGY). These programs challenged me in new ways, but it was the trust and support of our leadership that gave me the courage to embrace the unknown and showcase my experience. PhoenixTeam saw my worth, celebrated my work ethic, and always had my back. As a result, my confidence and sense of accomplishment grew both personally and professionally.  

In 2021, I transitioned over to support another large commercial mortgage technology client. Leading a team, we took a deep dive into the client’s world, creating high-quality design documents and future state vision. Here, I learned new creative techniques to elicit and understand the client’s daily challenges, the art of asking the right questions, and the power of empathy. We were making a difference, and the client knew that its voice, vision, and objectives, were heard and embraced.  

A Period of Transition

There was a moment when life presented challenges that caused me to consider a career outside of the mortgage industry and PhoenixTeam. After eight years in the fintech industry, I took a leap and transitioned into a new role as a Product Manager in the fashion industry, and I loved the idea of a four-day work week policy offered by this company. My father had been diagnosed with skin cancer, and this allowed me to spend more time with him. This timing, along with my aspiration to return to the fashion industry, couldn’t have been more perfect. When I shared my intentions to pursue a different passion with PhoenixTeam leadership, I was met with wholehearted support to follow my dreams. Our Partners blessed my departure and reassured me that I would always have a home with PhoenixTeam. 

During my new adventure, the deep product management, design, and implementation expertise I gained from PhoenixTeam set me apart from others. There were six systems I was responsible for as a Product Manager, but I was also called upon for assistance in the customer service arena, monthly catalogue creation, and general technology support. The role was very demanding and when colleagues asked, “WHERE did you come from?” The answer was simple – PhoenixTeam. 

I remained in touch with my PhoenixTeam comrades, and they always reassured me that my “village” was here should I find my way back. Within five months, I realized that the fashion industry was not as glamorous as I expected. I returned to the PhoenixTeam Village and was offered the chance to work with a well-known client whose work I greatly admired. This opportunity came under the leadership of Tanya Brennan, PhoenixTeam’s CEO and Managing Partner. She was the only “T” from our founding partners (Tanya, Tom Westerlind, and Tela Mathias) that I had not worked closely with to date, and I was thrilled to benefit from a new viewpoint and leadership style.   

As I look back, I have no regrets with my decision to take a chance and follow a dream. My time away allowed me to meet new people, try new things – even when doing so was professionally risky – and gain absolute clarity on what I need and deserve in a company. 

My “Why Phoenix” 

The heart of PhoenixTeam is its people, each of whom has a wealth of knowledge, a high bar for empathy and compassion, and a shared desire to make a difference. In our world, every project has its challenges, but it is navigating and conquering those experiences that bring the most inspiration. For me, it was several years ago when we were delivering a release under some intense pressure and facing significant challenges with delayed schedules and navigating a rigorous testing phase. In typical PhoenixTeam fashion, we all rallied to deliver on our commitment. Jacki Frazer, PhoenixTeam Managing Practitioner, and I were up until working until 2 a.m. to successfully push the release to production. The minute we dropped off the release call, I stood by the ocean in the cold winter air, tearing up with pride at what we achieved. That night is burned into my memory, and I draw on that energy whenever times get tough, or I just need a reminder of the outcomes I can deliver.  

PhoenixTeam has given me a space to push myself to new levels, learn from mistakes without fear, and benefit from true servant leadership and mentorship. I’ve been fortunate to work on federal and commercial programs which has afforded me the amazing opportunity to work with a majority of our Phoenicians. I hope there are those that can say that I made a difference for them. I am forever grateful for PhoenixTeam, its leadership, and its focus on humanity and authenticity.  

I will always be thankful to Lindsay Bennett, not just for leading me to this remarkable company but also for her continued mentorship and the heartfelt dedication she brings to everything she does. Without people like her, people who truly care and strive to help others prosper in their career, I would not have achieved the growth and success I have to date. There are many other Phoenicians who stand out as key players in my career journey, each of whom have impacted me in different ways. When you consider it all, everyone at PhoenixTeam is special and always eager to share their knowledge, personal and professional experiences, or just listen.  

Looking Ahead: 

As I look ahead, I intend to continue to crush every day and grow at PhoenixTeam. Over the past five years, my skillset has quadrupled. While my roots are in Product, PhoenixTeam gave me opportunities to stretch and successfully lead and deliver complex quality, implementation, and release management initiatives. My commitment to PhoenixTeam is strong. The PhoenixTeam Village has been a constant source of support during significant life changes, and I am eternally grateful for the love and mentorship they provide. 

PhoenixTeam is not just a workplace; it’s a place where dreams can flourish, and I am proud to call it home.

Vicki Withrow, Managing Practitioner, PhoenixTeam

This piece originally appeared in the October 2023 edition of MortgagePoint magazine, online now.

Authentic human connection and empathy are the keys to building great technology products. This is the core belief of PhoenixTeam, a technology company that specializes exclusively in the design, delivery, and care of mortgage technology solutions in the federal government and commercial spaces.

“PhoenixTeam is in the business of people. We celebrate the power of relationships, empathy, and intellectual curiosity,” says Tanya Brennan, Managing Partner and CEO of PhoenixTeam. “Great teams make great software.”

PhoenixTeam refers to each of its team members as practitioners, an ode to the continuous journey of practice and learning that is required to create delightful products. PhoenixTeam’s practitioners form and lead empowered teams to develop a deep understanding of their client’s problems and discover the optimal solutions. Brennan says that as practitioners we know the best way to overcome a challenge is to roll up our sleeves, ask questions, and learn by doing the work.

Often referencing a popular Theodore Roosevelt quote (see below) to inspire practitioners to take chances, PhoenixTeam encourages its team members to learn through failure and to pursue
ambitious goals on behalf of its clients. As Roosevelt said, “…The credit belongs to the (person) who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly…” Brennan says, “That is PhoenixTeam, through and through.”

In the Right Place, At the Right Time

The founders of PhoenixTeam—Tanya Brennan, Tela Mathias, and Tom Westerlind—first met in 2001, fresh out of college working as entry-level management consultants who aspired to make
a difference. Tela, Tom, and Tanya, who together refer to themselves as “T3,” were each assigned to a multi-year project to support Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Loan Guaranty Service (LGY) through its major redesign of the LGY program to include regulatory, operational, and technology changes.

From the beginning, T3 knew that one day they would start their own company.

PhoenixTeam 3“The goal was to build a company we would want to be a part of,” says Tela Mathias, Managing Partner and COO of PhoenixTeam. “We wanted to create a great place for the talented people we already knew in the field, people that had been with us for years and years, while making a real difference for the mortgage industry, both on the federal and the commercial side.”

PhoenixTeam officially launched as a minority, woman-owned small business in 2015, just as the industry was implementing the new TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure (TRID) Rule.

“Looking back, it was an opportune time to start,” says Tom Westerlind, Managing Partner and CFO of PhoenixTeam. “We were in the arena with our customers, working side by side to implement TRID on a tight timeline. We were able to help our customers be successful during a difficult time, and word spread from there.”

With more work coming in, PhoenixTeam hired its first two practitioners, Lindsay Bennett and Melanie Lewis. Both quickly took on client engagement leadership roles and went on to lead two of PhoenixTeam’s biggest commercial accounts. In 2019, they became the first two team members invited to join the PhoenixTeam ownership group as Partners. Since then, the company has grown from a team of five to over 130 passionate, dynamic, and creative humans.

“They say you become who you surround yourself with, and I first joined PhoenixTeam because of the opportunity to reunite with a remarkable group of individuals who had left a lasting impact
on me, both personally and professionally,” says Chase Carpenter, Managing Practitioner.

To date, PhoenixTeam’s growth has been organic and 100% via personal referrals from its clients and practitioners. Brennan notes that the company has never relied on outside funding and has never hired a business development or sales team. “At PhoenixTeam,” Brennan explains, “every partner is a practitioner, and we sell by word of mouth and our outstanding performance.”

It is not the critic who counts; not the (person) who points out how the strong (person) stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the (person) who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort  without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends (themselves) in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that (their) place shall never be with those cold and timid  souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
—Theodore Roosevelt

PhoenixTeam 2A Commitment to People

PhoenixTeam’s emphasis on authenticity and human connection harkens back to when T3 (the founders) first met. The lead Partner on that original LGY account back in 2001 was Ann Hopkins, Tela’s mother. Ann was a management consultant extraordinaire and civil rights advocate. “She taught by example to be a leader, take care of each other, and to challenge the status quo,” says Mathias. In her landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, the Supreme Court recognized that Price Waterhouse had denied her partnership and discriminated against her based on sex stereotypes.

Within her practice, Ann taught five guiding principles: have fun, learn a few things, deliver a quality product that is perceived as a quality product, teach a few things, and make money. PhoenixTeam has taken these guiding principles as its foundation and continues to evolve them.

“We are committed to people, lifelong learning, service, diversity, and wellness,” says Mathias. In the spirit of that philosophy, in 2018, Phoenix started covering 100% of healthcare for its team members and their families, and now also pays for mental health services.

“Our team members deserve to come to work with less stress and we know healthcare is at the top of the list. Our desire is to do what we can, what is in our control, to reduce external stress so our
team members have fewer things to worry about and wake up ready to crush the day,” says Melanie Lewis, PhoenixTeam Partner.

When asked what qualities of PhoenixTeam allow it to attract and retain top-tier industry talent, Peter Read, Managing Practitioner, puts it simply: “Leadership…I know darn well I can text or cold call any of the partners or managing partners to talk personally and professionally. They have helped me flourish into a strong leader and have put me in positions where I am able to succeed based on my skills. They continue to invest in people both emotionally and financially. You will not get that anywhere else.”

The PhoenixTeam Difference

PhoenixTeam’s recipe for success is simple: top-tier mortgage technology talent, joy and purpose at work and home, and relentless focus on client outcomes. They believe this recipe enables their team members to become trusted advisors and deliver better outcomes for clients.

Top-Tier Mortgage Technology Talent: PhoenixTeam’s roots are mortgage and technology excellence. The company recruits mortgage technology talent with many years—often decades—of experience running mortgage lending and servicing operations. When you combine that with deep product and software development lifecycle expertise, you end up with a company of people like Becky Griswold.

In her 29-year career prior to coming to PhoenixTeam, Becky held several leadership roles at a top-10 mortgage bank leading product, technology, and enterprise services teams. Currently, she
leads the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Mortgage Industry Standards Maintenance Organization (MISMO) accounts for PhoenixTeam. Earlier this year, Becky became PhoenixTeam’s newest Partner.

“I had been with Phoenix for about a year and was given an opportunity to lead a key initiative for United States Department of Agriculture (USDA),” recounts Becky. “The catch was that we needed a team (like yesterday) … This began the journey to find the right talent in my network who would deliver high-quality value for USDA. I quickly assembled a team of 12 who hit the ground running in less than three weeks. Each is still part of the Phoenix village today, executing with passion.”

PhoenixTeam 4Joy and Purpose

“One of the great joys in life is finding your purpose, excelling at it, and discovering that your impact matters to something larger than yourself.”
— Maxime Lagacé

Early on in its formation, PhoenixTeam locked in on a vision to bring “joy and purpose” back to software development while bridging the gap between technology and business teams.  PhoenixTeam believes fiercely that individuals who have a clear purpose, who are connected to their teammates and clients, and who know that each of their colleagues and leaders have their back, will find greater happiness, dedication, and focus to the outcomes they drive. That can be a powerful thing.

Paul Weakley, a PhoenixTeam Partner and brilliant technologist, says he always seeks out difficult, enigmatic situations where the road to success must always be discovered. “I pursue the things I love…creativity, imagination, and problem-solving to support a mission that results in a positive impact on the world while working with friends who truly care for each other,” says Weakley. “Paul’s joy and purpose with clients is infectious,” says Brennan, recalling when he was nominated for Technologist of the Year by a mortgage client he supported even though, ultimately, he was ruled ineligible given he was not an employee.

Client Outcomes: Change is inevitable. PhoenixTeam leadership structures its contracts, software development approach, and management approach to expect change and adapt accordingly. They measure success by solving the business’s needs and achieving the outcomes set out by the client, even as those things change.

PhoenixTeam’s practitioners are experts at transforming legacy systems into modernized platforms that drive greater efficiencies. As a Salesforce Partner, PhoenixTeam is well known as a company comprised of “craft masters” who develop a clear understanding of each client’s vision and create custom strategic plans for discovery, development, and implementation of the new stack. PhoenixTeam’s experts work to break down every requirement thoughtfully, focusing on the “art of the possible” and helping to open clients’ eyes to process improvements and efficiencies
that previously seemed out of reach.

Lindsay Bennett, Partner, sums it up best: “Delivering better outcomes comes from embedding with our clients, internalizing their situation, and working together as one team. We’re not interested in showing up, ticking off a set of deliverables, and going home. We’re here to deliver value. Full stop.”

PhoenixTeam’s record aligns to this mindset. When a top mortgage FinTech engaged Phoenix to transform its lending process after more than a year of trying to implement Salesforce, PhoenixTeam wasted no time. Within a matter of weeks, the team reimagined the product vision, mission, and scope. They defined the first container of rapid value and 12 weeks later, onboarded the client’s first users. “Speed to value realization is the name of the game,” says Mathias.

PhoenixTeam 5When Jacki Frazer, Managing Practitioner, joined PhoenixTeam six years ago, her decision was based on a number of factors, but primarily because of the proven leadership of “T3.” Frazer recalls, “I knew that this company would be a major player in the mortgage industry, staffed with premium talent and a laser focus on our mission and purpose. In my six years with PhoenixTeam, those beliefs were confirmed. PhoenixTeam has been wildly successful due to its top talent, deep knowledge of the mortgage industry, and unwavering dedication to our clients. It is this winning combination that will keep PhoenixTeam at the forefront of technology delivery and ensure its continued success.”

“PhoenixTeam has supported USDA RD on multiple key initiatives over the past five years. They provided business advisory support services for GUS 2.0 to launch the new URLA; helped us develop the Business to Government loan and underwriting specifications leveraging MISMO standards; and, most recently, [are] leading the development of the Direct Loan Program loan origination replacement solution.”
—Dean Daetwyler, Director, System Implementation and Management Division, USDA SFH

Our Impact

At PhoenixTeam, the company’s leadership tells MortgagePoint that the word “impact” is not thrown around lightly or loosely. PhoenixTeam earned its reputation as an organization that “walks
the talk” because of the continuous impact it strives to deliver for its clients, community, and team members.

With its mission to enable homeownership through technology, PhoenixTeam initially supported mortgage banks and mortgage technology vendors to provide a better experience for borrowers and homeowners. PhoenixTeam then sought to partner with our country’s largest federal housing agencies to help them achieve their respective missions to enable affordable and accessible homeownership for all Americans. While it took several years to accomplish this goal, PhoenixTeam is honored to now support Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Federal Housing Administration (FHA), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Housing Service (RHS), and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Loan Guaranty Service.

“Community” is described by the PhoenixTeam leadership as a vital component to PhoenixTeam’s culture, and the company prides itself on supporting numerous causes near and dear to the hearts of its team members. As an organization that emphasizes inclusion, diversity, equity, and access (I.D.E.A.) in its day-to-day, PhoenixTeam supports, partners, and sponsors causes that increase awareness, affordability, and equal opportunity for minority and underprivileged communities, like Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, the Down Syndrome Association, and the Florida Department of Blind Services. PhoenixTeam embraces its team members’ passion for community support too, marketing and matching funds raised for causes they care about.

Blue Phoenix TeamA New Venture: Blue Phoenix

In mid-2023, PhoenixTeam partnered with Blue Bay Solutions, LLC, to form Blue Phoenix, a mentor-protégé joint venture (MPJV) committed to serving those who serve by delivering technology excellence for federal agencies. Whereas PhoenixTeam’s niche is mortgage technology, Blue Phoenix serves all industries within the federal sector.

Blue Bay, a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Center for Verification and Evaluation (CVE)-certified service-disabled veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB), was formed in 2022 by John Trodden who was on a mission to provide a pathway for servicemembers as they reintegrated into civilian life and workforce.

“Veterans contribute technical and interpersonal skills, discipline, leadership, loyalty, commitment, and many other attributes to a company’s workforce—all of which improve the organization and the bottom line,” says Trodden, a disabled veteran who tirelessly served our country for over 25 years. John retired from the United States Marine Corps after serving 15 years as an enlisted member earning his commission to Second Lieutenant and then went on to serve an additional 10 years as a Commissioned Officer. Deployed overseas multiple times, John led troops into and through battle, receiving numerous meritorious, commendation, and achievement awards for leadership excellence.

John TroddenJohn says his decision to retire from the Marine Corps was not easy, but he was confident that he could apply his skills, military mindset, and passion to an industry also hungry for mission success and outcomes. He joined PhoenixTeam as part of its Department of Defense (DOD) SkillBridge Program, where he was able to learn and master the fundamentals of designing and developing software.

Within a few months, John started to connect the dots and bring to life the parallels between his military and civilian experiences that are so applicable to all industries. “I quickly came to realize that these young men and women are making a living, work hard, are smart, and are dealing in projects that are intricate with many levels,” notes Trodden. “Drawing upon my military leadership skills, I had 400 people from different walks of life, religions, backgrounds, and ethnicities under my command. But we all shared one driving force and mission, as we truly took care of one another. Troop welfare was huge, and we had each other’s backs. We were more than just brothers and sisters in arms. I thought, well, let me bring that mentality into this industry and see if we can make it work.”

Looking Ahead

Last month, PhoenixTeam and Blue Bay celebrated the launch of Blue Phoenix with their clients and partners in our nation’s capital. The founders reflected on their journey that night and the future state vision for PhoenixTeam, Blue Bay, and Blue Phoenix.

“Each of these companies put people first and seeks to deliver impactful and meaningful outcomes,” says Brennan. With PhoenixTeam’s long history serving commercial and federal agencies, and Blue Bay’s mission to help veterans transition to civilian life, Blue Phoenix is in the arena to solve tough problems and deliver outcomes for federal agencies.

As featured by MortgagePoint, October 2023

By Rob Smith, SPC, PMP, PMI-ACP, CSM, PPO, ICP-ACC, Senior Practitioner and Lean Agile Coach, PhoenixTeam

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines done as “no longer happening or existing.” It seems straightforward until you look at it from a situation or project, such as software development with numerous moving parts and ever-moving targets. The simple definition of “done” does not apply to delivery, program, and portfolio teams, which all define “done” differently. The term can be subjective according to the project, the company’s standards, and a laundry list of other variables that pose a challenge when setting expectations to achieve the desired outcome for the client. With so many evolving goals and moving pieces, how do teams of tech experts deliver valuable solutions for their clients, company, and community?

Senior Practitioner at Blue Phoenix and Agile Expert Robert (Rob) Smith credits implementing an Agile-based strategy for Blue Phoenix teams’ successful delivery of world-class, customer-centric technology solutions. Blue Phoenix specializes in shredding through problems and churning out solutions to deliver impact and value to its clients. “Our disciplines require our practitioners to be adaptable and quick on their feet due to the fast-paced nature of what we do,” said Rob, “We understand that the only constant in our work is change, so our practitioners always embrace and anticipate it—so much so that we even have a company-wide saying—pivot or die! This strategy ensures we think ten miles down the road, consider all obstacles, expertly adapt to change, and get things done.”

The Definition of Done (DoD) is a fundamental element of Agile that ensures every member of the Scrum Team knows precisely what is expected of them to deliver and when. Establishing a clear DoD at each level of the organization is vital and should be agreed on before any work begins on a project. Be clear. Be consistent. Have a shared understanding. This approach creates transparency, ensures quality aligns with the product and purpose of the organization, and avoids repeat processes by providing everyone a shared understanding of what work was completed as part of the increment. “We must integrate quality into our development processes by meeting the definition of done to prevent user stories that don’t meet the agreed upon standard from being promoted to higher level environments. It will prevent features that don’t meet the definition from being delivered to the customer or user,” advised Rob.

Keep in mind business and technology must be aligned to strike a balance between quality, risk, and speed of delivery. For instance, a manned spacecraft will require much more rigorous testing than an unmanned recreational drone. If the DoD demands exhaustive testing, it may slow down the delivery of the project. While the scope may change, it is important to maintain a consistent level of quality and effort unless a conscious decision is made to prioritize speed over quality. The bottom line is that the scope of the work may be impacted by the team’s DoD.

Rob took on the challenge of defining what it means for a project to “be done,” the Blue Phoenix Way, implementing an Agile-based strategy for outcomes that delight their clients. “The Phoenix definition of done (DoD) is when all conditions, or acceptance criteria, that a software product must satisfy are met and ready to be accepted by a user, customer, team, or consuming system. There are three steps to defining something as done,” says Rob:

  1. Start with the end in mind. What do we want our product to be like in production? What are all the things that must happen before a quality product or feature gets into the users’ hands?
  2. Determine the items the team has the capability and the capacity to complete during the given sprint or timebox. This becomes the team’s definition of done.
  3. Assess the tasks that fell off in the second step to determine how to accomplish them “now” and create a consolidated list of items the team can use to improve the efficiency and quality of their process and product over time.

These fundamental steps allow teams to align on what “done” means right now and what further development is needed to improve the process. The DoD for an increment is part of the organization’s standards that all Scrum Teams must follow as a minimum. If not clearly defined, the Scrum Team must create a DoD appropriate for the product. The Developers must conform to the DoD, and if multiple Scrum Teams work together on a product, they must mutually define and comply with the same Definition of Done.

“A team aligned on the ‘definition of done’ is a team that can identify improvement opportunities and build in greater quality and efficiencies. As impediments are removed, the team improves, and built-in quality improves,” said Rob. Phoenicians continuously collaborate and strategize to determine where they can build quality into their process while completing different tasks and corresponding criteria for assignments to be considered done. The team creates checklists for determining the completion of stories at the end of a sprint and releasing a code to production. The resulting checklists allow for a more efficient, streamlined sprint and product delivery. Just as Rob’s team redefined what it means to be done, Blue Phoenix redefines industry standards and practices daily through unwavering value delivery.

Rob Smith is a retired military officer with over nine years of experience as a Lean-Agile Trainer and Coach. He is a Senior Practitioner and Lean Agile Coach at PhoenixTeam. His distinct and adaptive international experience, combined with his military service and ethos, give him a unique perspective that applies to anyone who desires to succeed. Rob is passionate about sharing how his experiences in the service translate to success as a civilian. Please stay tuned for more articles on Veterans in the Workplace and how Blue Phoenix can help you leverage the power of our Nation’s Heroes!  

Connect with Rob | Connect with PhoenixTeam | Connect with Blue Phoenix

PhoenixTeam Skillbridge

PhoenixTeam strengthens its mission to support U.S. Service Members’ transition into civilian life with the opportunity to work in specialized career areas.

ARLINGTON, VA, UNITED STATES, August 18, 2023 — Each year approximately 200,000 members of the U.S. Armed Forces, stationed in over 140 military installations in the U.S. and overseas, will leave active duty and re-enter the civilian workforce or pursue higher education. The Department of Defense (DOD) SkillBridge program was established to connect transitioning service members with industry partners offering real-world training and in-demand work experience while giving the partner an equal opportunity to evaluate the service members for future employment consideration. The DoD has approved PhoenixTeam as a SkillBridge program industry partner, allowing them to cultivate the best possible outcomes for service members as they re-enter the civilian workforce.

PhoenixTeam recently launched Blue Phoenix, a mentor-protégé joint venture (MPJV) with Blue Bay Business Delivery, LLC. Blue Phoenix represents the remarkable synergy achieved through the dynamic partnership of industry-leading experts at PhoenixTeam combined with the military ethos of Blue Bay. “We know first-hand the challenges service members face re-entering the civilian workforce,” says Melanie Lewis, Partner at PhoenixTeam and Blue Phoenix Executive. “Phoenix’s SkillBridge program is uniquely designed to integrate the military fundamentals of participating service members with industry skills and tools. There is no greater honor than to give back to those who have sacrificed so much for our freedom and safety.” Blue Phoenix exists to provide a career pathway for Veterans by empowering them to leverage their experiences, leadership skills, and mission-focused mindset to civilian roles within the technology industry, leading to greater and faster value realization for federal clients’ growing demand for IT excellence.

John Trodden, a Marine Corps Veteran, and Blue Phoenix’s Managing Partner, believes every Veteran deserves a chance to succeed in the community beyond their tour of duty. After the DOD announced PhoenixTeam’s approval, John reflected on his history with the SkillBridge program saying, “When I decided to retire after 25 years of service, my time as a DOD SkillBridge intern was invaluable….Talk about things coming full circle— now that PhoenixTeam is an officially verified SkillBridge Organization, I have no doubt they will catapult the careers of well-deserving veterans as they did for me. ”

Blue Phoenix, a certified Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) advised by a board of accomplished PhoenixTeam business and tech experts, harnesses the value veterans offer beyond their military service. The DOD SkillBridge program provides an invaluable chance to work and learn in civilian career areas through specific industry training during the last 180 days of service. The DOD, PhoenixTeam, and Blue Phoenix share the same mission— to serve those who have served our nation honorably. With the DOD SkillBridge participation, PhoenixTeam and Blue Phoenix strengthen their ability to provide meaningful and gainful employment and enhance opportunities for returning service members to hit the ground running during their military-to-civilian career transition.

About PhoenixTeam:
PhoenixTeam is a technology company that specializes exclusively in the design, delivery, and care of mortgage technology solutions in federal and commercial spaces. Our dream is to enable affordable and accessible homeownership for all Americans through customer-centric technology solutions. We believe that by bringing joy and purpose back to software development while bridging the gap between technology and business teams, we can really make a difference in the lives of clients and homeowners everywhere. PhoenixTeam is a woman and minority-owned small business headquartered in Arlington, Virginia.

Arlington, VA, August 15, 2023—PhoenixTeam ranks No.1549, representing a 370% growth rate on the 2023 Inc. 5000 annual list of the fastest-growing private companies in America. In addition, PhoenixTeam ranked No. 77 in Virginia, 92 in I.T. Services, and 90 in Washington-Arlington-Alexandria (D.C., VA, MD, WV). The prestigious, data-driven list reflects the most successful companies within the U.S. economy’s most dynamic segment—its independent, entrepreneurial businesses. Facebook, Chobani, Under Armour, Microsoft, Patagonia, and many other household name brands gained their first national exposure as honorees on the Inc. 5000.    

“We are humbled and grateful by this honor, for the fourth year in a row, to be recognized by Inc. as one of the fastest growing, privately held companies in the nation,” said Tanya Brennan, managing partner and CEO of PhoenixTeam. “PhoenixTeam’s incredibly talented team continues to deliver value and delight our clients with innovative solutions for their most difficult challenges. Focusing on the mortgage industry, it’s a privilege to have the opportunity to help federal housing agencies and commercial sector clients deliver better outcomes for veterans, farmers, and homeowners.”  

The Inc. 5000 represents companies that have driven rapid revenue growth while navigating the pressures of inflation, rising costs of capital, and insurmountable hiring challenges.  This year’s Inc. 5000 companies have added 1,187,266 jobs to the economy over the past three years.   

For complete results of the Inc. 5000, including company profiles and an interactive database that can be sorted by industry, location, and other criteria, go to www.inc.com/inc5000. The top 5000 companies are featured in the September issue of Inc. magazine, available Tuesday, August 23.   

About PhoenixTeam  

PhoenixTeam is a technology company that specializes exclusively in the design, delivery, and care of mortgage technology solutions in federal and commercial spaces. Our dream is to enable affordable and accessible homeownership for all Americans through customer-centric technology solutions. We believe that by bringing joy and purpose back to software development while bridging the gap between technology and business teams, we can really make a difference in the lives of clients and homeowners everywhere. PhoenixTeam is a woman and minority-owned small business headquartered in Arlington, Virginia.  

By Rob Smith, SPC, PMP, PMI-ACP, CSM, PPO, ICP-ACC, Senior Practitioner and Lean Agile Coach, PhoenixTeam

How a Veteran found his purpose and belonging in the civilian workforce after decades of military service. A story about a mission to succeed with a military mindset of lean-agile.

The launch of Blue Phoenix earlier this month caused me to reflect on my own transition to civilian life after 22 years of service in the military.  

Just over nine years ago, while taking off my uniform for the last time, I had big dreams for the future ahead. During my tour, I led hundreds into battle and accomplished some of the toughest missions imaginable. I demonstrated extreme flexibility by changing mission sets and even geographic areas of operations overnight. My capabilities and skills were put to the test, not only on the front lines but also among numerous IT professionals, demonstrating my ability to excel both in action and behind the scenes. With this multi-faceted experience, future options seemed unlimited. At the time, I had no idea this marked only the beginning of an extensive journey back into civilian life. 

The Transition to Civilian Life 

When I ventured out of the military into the civilian world, I never thought I would struggle as much as I did to land a job. I was quickly humbled when my professionally written resume resulted in zero interviews. After five months of searching with no success, an unexpected turn of events unfolded, thanks to my two-year-old son. His innocent conversation with a stranger proved to be the catalyst for an incredible opportunity. As fate would have it, Tony, the stranger, made a life-changing introduction to his business partner, Ed, a lean agile coach, and trainer. This was the start of a new career path where I could use my skills and experiences to impact businesses worldwide significantly, and my next chapter began.  

I leaned into the skills I gained during my tour of duty for our great country and used them to deliver successful outcomes in the business world. While this story is my own, it illustrates Blue Phoenix’s mission of empowering Veterans to leverage their experiences and leadership in civilian roles and how those skills can deliver greater value realization to your organization.     

Summarizing My Transferable Skills and Experience 

It is nearly impossible, to sum up the translatable skills and experience I gained over 22 years of service leading teams of 8 to 800! I think of the various mission sets throughout my military career in Korea, Kuwait, Europe, Albania, Kosovo, and Iraq and the countless positions and additional duties I held at various levels. I served as Fire Direction Officer, Platoon Leader, Fire Support Officer, Battery Commander, Maintenance Officer, Training Officer, Ground Liaison Officer, Targeting Officer, Distinguished Visitors Bureau Deputy Chief, Joint Air Ground Integration Instructor, Operations Officer, Executive Officer, Director of Technology Solutions, and the list goes on. It is important to mention the Army provided formal training for the first four positions only. The other roles were all OJT (on-the-job training) and experience based.   

Describing the transferable skills from my distinct military career can be just as daunting, but for starters, the most obvious: leadership, team building, problem-solving, communication, collaboration, teamwork, adaptability in the face of diversity, flexibility, self-sufficiency, dedication, and integrity. Others might not immediately come to mind, such as continuous learning and improvement, the ability to coordinate and influence external stakeholders, integrating the value of multiple team efforts, coaching individuals and teams to improve, innovative and predictive, strategic planning, and compliance. I learned and perfected all these skills in the armed services, which I now use to coach organizations and leaders on the fundamental components to deliver technology-related initiatives successfully.  

Finding Purpose After Service 

Technology excellence has never been in higher demand, and organizations, tech included, need to adapt to respond to the demand. Successful software delivery is not only achieved because of industry knowledge or skill in functional areas such as product management or architecture. Without question, those are key elements to success, but not the only elements. In my experience, teams that are precise, adaptable, well-coordinated, and have synergy are those that consistently deliver with quality and speed to market. Our country’s veterans live and breathe these fundamental skills and not only can they drive initiatives to success, they are experts in continuous learning, growth, and servant leadership. 

Blue Phoenix sees the value veterans bring and found a unique way to merge military fundamentals with technology and industry expertise to supply the tech excellence demand. Led by a Marine Corp Veteran advised by a board of accomplished business and tech experts, together they know how to tap into the intrinsic skills of veterans to deliver value efficiently and effectively for any organization. And that, my friends, is the best of both worlds.  

— 

Rob Smith is a retired military officer with over nine years of experience as a Lean-Agile Trainer and Coach. He is a Senior Practitioner and Lean Agile Coach at PhoenixTeam. His distinct and adaptive international experience, combined with his military service and ethos, give him a unique perspective that applies to anyone who desires to succeed. Rob is passionate about sharing how his experiences in the service translate to success as a civilian. Please stay tuned for more articles on Veterans in the Workplace and how Blue Phoenix can help you leverage the power of our Nation’s Heroes!  

Connect with Rob | Connect with PhoenixTeam | Connect with Blue Phoenix

Blue Phoenix Awarded IT 70 Schedule

Blue Phoenix, specializing in technology design, delivery, and leadership excellence for federal agencies, awarded milestone GSA contract.

ARLINGTON, VA; July 24, 2023
Blue Phoenix, a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB), is proud to announce that the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) awarded an IT Schedule 70 Contract. Blue Phoenix recently launched as the result of a mentor-protégé joint venture (MPJV) between PhoenixTeam and Blue Bay Business Delivery, LLC. Blue Phoenix has over eight years of combined experience designing and leading the delivery of complex technology solutions and transformations in the federal sector. It provides an end-to-end technology offering that includes business and technology strategy, technology product management, solution architecture leadership, development and testing, and systems implementation services to include change management.

PhoenixTeam has over 25 years of experience specializing in the discovery and delivery of superior mortgage technology solutions. Blue Bay has over 25 years of military service and leadership and provides a pathway for service members to reintegrate into civilian life. Together as Blue Phoenix, Veterans are empowered to apply their leadership skills and mission-focused mindset to drive better technology and business outcomes. With this evolution, they will now cater to the Federal sector’s diverse technological needs with an all-encompassing range of solutions. Blue Phoenix is honored to provide value further while continuing to serve the country’s three largest Federal Housing Agencies, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Federal Housing Administration (FHA), U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Loan Guaranty Service (LGY), and the Department of Agriculture Rural Development Service (USDA) Rural Development (RD), Blue Phoenix is broadening its reach to provide its unique services to non-housing agencies seeking technical excellence and delivery leadership.

“Launching Blue Phoenix one month ago is a vision realized,” said John Trodden, Managing Partner. “Announcing admission on the GSA Schedule today marks another milestone for us, one that allows Blue Phoenix to offer its expertise and services to help our United States Federal Agencies deliver on their technology promises and visions.” Trodden, who served in the Marines for over 25 years, says, “Blue Phoenix’s mission to “serve those who serve” is rooted in its commitment to provide Veterans employment opportunities as they transition into civilian life. We highlight and lean into the leadership skills and military fundamentals our service members used day in and day out to achieve mission success. As a result of the industry’s overwhelming interest in partnering with Blue Phoenix, we are thrilled to expand our services to serve all federal agencies in their journey to achieve their technology vision and mission.”

This long-term IT 70 Schedule (MAS) contract #47QSMD20R0001 adds Blue Phoenix to a pre-approved list of technology companies for federal purchases, making it easier for government agencies to receive high-quality, cost-effective digital solutions. IT Schedule 70 was established by GSA to assist federal, state, local, and tribal governments in procuring IT products and services to meet IT goals by giving agencies access to innovative solutions at pre-determined, negotiated prices. It is designed to streamline procedures and increase acquisition speed while providing inclusive access to businesses and supporting socioeconomic goals.

About Blue Phoenix
Blue Phoenix is a technology company specializing in delivering technology and program leadership excellence to federal clients. As a Joint Venture formed in 2023 between Phoenix Oversight Group, LLC (Mentor), and Blue Bay Business Delivery, LLC (Protégé), we deliver unparalleled end-to-end technology and business outcomes. We exist to “serve those who serve,” providing our country’s veterans an opportunity to leverage their experience and leadership in the civilian space. The combination of our technology expertise and military fundamentals is the answer the federal sector seeks to the growing demand for IT excellence. Blue Phoenix is a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB).