The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is the government agency tasked with delivering the Public Health Care Exchanges as mandated in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The mandate set a timeline that was aggressive, with little guidance on the final structure for these exchanges. Development of the exchanges had to occur simultaneous with the refining of the exchange’s actual regulations. The various contributors involved needed to gain from each other’s efforts to maintain consistency and adherence to regulations.


The largest issue at hand for CMS was being able to coordinate each U.S. States’ final solution in the short timeframe, and allow each State, and their respective contractors, to leverage each other’s efforts. CMS needed a fast solution, as work had already begun on the Exchange’s regulatory definitions, and a Project Management platform was secured by CMS as part of the strategy.

Steel Thread‘s challenge was to extend the Project Management platform into a social collaboration tool, using open source technologies.

Why Steel Thread?

Steel Thread was chosen because of the company‘s experience integrating community portals on top of ALM software platforms and its expertise in Agile methodology. Steel Thread had prior success implementing similar collaboration solutions inside the Department of Defense.


Because of the tight timeline CMS was working with to affect this service and launch it into their production environment, the Drupal open-source product was selected.


Develop a collaboration and knowledge–base platform that teams could work in, that provided the following:

  • Secure work environments
  • Collaboration and socialization
  • Role based access and permissions
  • Automation and workflow
  • Project management
  • Document management

Steel Thread developed an initial prototype during an envisioning process which lasted nearly two months. Following that, the first release was planned across 12 Sprints of two weeks each.

By the conclusion of Sprint 7, a working community platform that included document management, search, wikis, blogs, forums and user management, themed to match CMS style guidelines, was ready for production deployment and Alpha use by real-world State Exchange Development teams. The portal was integrated with the ALM tool for single user identification, and activity notifications were configured for individual user customization.

Key Accomplishments

The agile process allowed the team to collaborate effectively and prioritize features, achieving production ahead of schedule.

Gain insights into how Steel Thread was able to support its first customers on’s collaborative development environment in under four months, a notable accomplishment given that a typical DoD software project schedule is measured in years.

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