Service Design for Government
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TECHNICAL ASSENT APPRAISES AT CMMI LEVEL 3 FOR SERVICES 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 15, 2017

Washington, D.C. — Technical Assent, a leading provider of Experience Design, Solution Implementation, and Service Management solutions, announced today that it has been appraised at Level 3 of the CMMI Institute’s Capability Maturity Model Integration for Services (CMMI-SVC)®. The appraisal was performed independently by Williamsburg Process Solutions LLC.

CMMI is a capability improvement framework that provides organizations with the essential elements of effective processes that ultimately improve their performance. Organizations at maturity Level 3 demonstrate processes that are well characterized and understood, and are described in standards, procedures, tools, and methods. The organization’s set of standard processes is established and improved over time.

Technical Assent’s CEO, John DiLuna, noted:

“Program Managers have always relied on us to provide high quality results to their mission and business challenges. With the CMMI-SVC certification, we can provide increased confidence that Technical Assent’s solutions will be delivered consistently and efficiently especially during periods of transition and change”

As government agencies strive to become more service-oriented, government’s customers increasingly demand services that are relevant and deliver better outcomes. Technical Assent uses the practices of human-centered design and principles of CMMI-SVC to focus agencies on what matters most to their customers and reliably deliver those results.

About Technical Assent

Headquartered in Arlington, VA, Technical Assent is a leading provider of Experience Design, Solution Implementation, and Service Management solutions for government agencies. At Technical Assent, we believe government begins at the bottom — with the people it serves. That’s why we explore the customer experience first and use that knowledge to improve systems, processes and service across the organization. Technical Assent, LLC is a Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB). Click here to learn more about Technical Assent’s Service Delivery capabilities.

About CMMI® Institute

CMMI Institute (CMMIInstitute.com) is the global leader in the advancement of best practices in people, process, and technology. The Institute provides the tools and support for organizations to benchmark their capabilities and build maturity by comparing their operations to best practices and identifying performance gaps. For over 25 years, thousands of high-performing organizations in a variety of industries, including aerospace, finance, health services, software, defense, transportation, and telecommunications, have earned a CMMI maturity level rating and proved they are capable business partners and suppliers.

 

IN the mission and ON the mission

Driving High Customer Satisfaction Requires Investment IN the Mission and ON the Mission

Working IN the Mission and  ON the Mission

There are two primary ways that Technical Assent delivers value – working ON the Mission and IN the Mission. Working ON the Mission means that we serve as advisors or consultants to our clients, analytically observing how well operational systems achieve their customer’s outcomes. These observations drive our recommended solutions. On the other end of the spectrum, IN the Mission services happen when Technical Assent teams become an integrated service partner, taking responsibility for service delivery and are held accountable for achieving customer outcomes. The reality is that many of our engagements require a mix of both, and we prefer it that way.  IN the Mission work of service delivery helps us sharpen the saw, reminding us what it really takes to deliver exceptional customer experience each and every day, while our ON the Mission consulting services enable us to see the big picture and transfer best practices among our clients.

Improving the Employee Experience at Veterans Affairs

At the Department of Veterans Affairs, we support a government-to-government (G2G) service provider that  aligns with the myVA goal on improving the employee experience. While our day-to-day efforts are largely IN the Mission, we regularly step back and provide recommendations for how to improve the customer experience of our services. This past summer, we implemented a number of process-level improvements that were intended to handle increased transaction volume and maintain the existing level of customer satisfaction. To establish this baseline of customer experience, we conducted post-engagement surveys with every customer that we worked with.  At the end of 45 days, the team analyzed the results and discovered an interesting twist. Project Manager Dawn Johnson, explains…

“Because we wanted to establish a baseline, we originally planned to run the survey late in the summer because the team would see a historically average number of transactions. Unexpectedly, we hit our historical average in the first week alone and the momentum carried through the entire period.”

By the end of the survey period, Johnson’s team managed 180 customer transactions, which is more than 300% surge in volume!  Johnson and her team had been reviewing individual surveys throughout the period so they could immediately address any identified deficiencies. At the end, they tallied a 93.3 customer satisfaction rating based on whether a customer felt their request was processed in a timely and effective manner… an excellent score by any measure.  Again, I asked Johnson for her reaction…

“Well, I am thrilled – the team performed admirably! Our customers really responded to the survey and their incremental feedback gave me the confidence that the process improvements were working as designed…

We also learned a few things too… by signaling to our customers that we cared about their satisfaction, it opened up a new dialogue for constructive feedback. Working with our customers, we identified a few areas where the designed process fell short, and the immediate feedback allowed us to jump on the fixes right away.”

This is hugely insightful. In the beginning, the team viewed customer satisfaction as an end but learned how important it could be as tool for managing the delivery of the service.  In other words, customer satisfaction became a way for the team to drive higher levels of performance of the service and help the customer achieve their desired outcome.

What’s Next

While we are thrilled with this achievement, we also recognize there is more to be done.  Helping our clients open a channel for dialogue with their customers and measuring customer satisfaction is really just the first step towards building a better customer experience. Customer satisfaction provides a point-in-time metric after the service is provided – it helps us understand what happened but not why. To answer the latter, we need the kind of insight that comes from an ongoing conversation with customers throughout the engagement lifecycle and the ability to respond in real time when they run into an obstruction.

To deliver a better customer experience, we need to get closer to the customer decision process. Initially, this comes down to understanding how much effort the customer has to exert in order to do business with our client’s services and finding ways to make it easier. As we get closer to the customer and understand why they make certain decisions, our team will be positioned to make more poignant recommendations about where improvements to customer experience can better help customer achieve their outcomes.

customer experience improvement program

Bouncing Back from a Failing Grade in Customer Experience

As kids head back to school this fall, many will hear a familiar lecture reminding them of that last report card before summer and encouraging them to start off this school year on the right foot, creating good habits from Day 1. Nextgov’s Frank Konkel had a similar message for government in his recent interview with Forrester’s Rick Parrish. Forrester Research’s 2016 Customer Experience (CX) Index indicates that federal government agencies were collectively rated has having the worst customer experiences compared with 300+ consumer brands that included underperforming cable TV providers, internet service providers, and airlines. Furthermore, these poor ratings occurred despite the White House’s emphasis on improving customer experience over the past five years.

But the message is not all bleak – Konkel also noted a few bright spots, notably where agencies have demonstrated marked improvements in their CX Index demonstrating “money and resources currently being spent at those organizations is shifting customer perceptions.”

So, as we head back to school, we offer three habits that to focus on to improve customer experience grades in government throughout the year ahead.

Building Good CX Habits

Follow the Outcomes.  The business case for customer experience is about improving the performance of government services. High performing services — whether provided by government or commercially — are measured on how well they help their customers achieve a desired outcome. Just like we scoff at automating bad processes that deliver the wrong output faster, customer experience is another means towards the end of delivering a better customer outcome. Agencies need first be aware of what outcomes their customers are trying to achieve before they build the service to assist them.

Customer Satisfaction Customer Experience.  As Parrish notes, that while many agencies conduct traditional customer satisfaction surveys, they need to better track their customer behavior. Measuring only satisfaction at certain touch points (e.g., directing them to the correct phone number, correcting a problem in an online form, or responding to a phone call within the estimated response window) is insufficient because it does not inform the service provider whether their action contributed to the outcome. Understanding the decisions that customers make throughout their journey, whether to continue or abandon the service, is the key to better performance.  We need to create services where customers continually opt-in to the next step of the journey. This happens when services solve real problems, provide a customer experience that is consistent with American values, and meet customers’ expectations for aspects such as ease of use, availability, reliability, and security.

The Incentives for Better Government Just Aren’t There. One commenter to Konkel’s article noted that government is not incentivized to change because it lacks competition for its services; Government has a monopoly. Essentially this implies that customers have little choice of whether or not to do business with the government. After all, where else can you go for services like food stamps, airport security, or a subsidized home loan? Though this may be a dominant perception within and about government, it is also the most ripe for disruption.  Just as with commercial services, customers perceive a cost of using government services, even when they are being offered for “free”.

Am I sacrificing my privacy by giving up this information?

Who is really going to notice if I don’t pay my taxes?

This isn’t worth it, we will just get by without

It won’t harm anyone if I bypass this security measure

I had to take time off work to stand in this line to vote

These are all examples of customer sentiments measuring the opportunity cost of their alternatives and trying to figure out if its worth it.  When government understands its customers and the value of those other opportunities, it will clearly see the need to deliver a competitive customer experience.

Our team at Technical Assent works with government Program Managers to develop these habits from the start – building services that drive customer outcomes and position government services as the preferred alternative. We have found over and over again that government agencies who focus on their customers first, deliver higher performing services at better value for the taxpayer.

customer experience has a cascading impact like a water droplet in a pond

Part II – How our simple meeting hack succeeded in refreshing executive leaders’ focus on customers

When we left this story a few weeks ago, our protagonist, the senior IT manager, and her team were reviewing a portfolio of IT projects.  Their objective was to recommend, in light of mandatory budget cuts, which projects should be funded and which should be deferred.  She had recognized that the conversation about these projects was overly focused on the impact to the IT organization and the impact to the customer was not being considered. The solution we helped her form was quite simple: hack the existing portfolio dashboard to explicitly identify the customer and describe the mission impact to that customer.

In the time between status meetings, the IT manager spoke to or visited all of the impacted customers. During these meetings, she listened to the mission and business requirements and did not focus on any specific piece of broken equipment.  As anticipated, the results surprised her – some customers’ issues truly impacted their ability to carry out their objective.  Others were similarly impacted, but had identified redundant capability or alternatives that provided a temporary solution. Based on the customer outreach effort, this collective insight could now be factored into the IT portfolio decision.

A week later, the IT manager held her weekly status meeting with the executive leaders of the IT organization, this time using the improved dashboard prototype and sharing the customer insights.  First, the IT manager described the recommended changes to the dashboard and her logic for restructuring it. Before she even dove into the projects themselves, the switch to customer focus had turned to “on” for the most senior executive in the room. By seeing the impact described in the language of his customers, he was immediately reminded of why these decisions mattered.

“the executive officers from each of our customers are going to come over here and hug you for this”

Keep in mind, this team generally considers themselves to be customer-oriented. However, like many of us when we are faced with a challenge, their natural inclination was to create fixes rather than step back and re-frame the challenge around their customers’ needs. This had been the phantom-like problem plaguing the IT manager and her team in their initial round of meetings.

Implied in the executive’s response is that the dashboard itself is now something he would proudly share with his customers. This immediate reaction towards transparency was not something we had anticipated in this experiment, but it is a great outcome. It promotes an honest relationship with their customers and enables the IT manager’s team to further clarify and validate these impact statements with the customers. Furthermore, sharing the dashboard sends a strong message to the customer that their mission support team understands their challenges, understands their equities, and has to make some tough decisions for the good of the service.

The resolution to this situation has been generally positive; in light of some tough mission decisions, the IT manager and her team was able to position the issues transparently and make recommendations that have a measurable impact to the mission outcomes that her customers care about.  It is important to remember that the original context of these conversations were about making difficult recommendations to the CIO about which projects to fund and which to defer.

Putting the decisions in customer terms can make the actual decision-making much harder, but weighing the mission impact to the customer as a key driver of the decision enables leaders to enter into the decision with their eyes open to the consequence of their decisions.

In the end, our simple change in this situation has sparked a change in the right direction allowing this service-oriented team to integrate customer impact and customer insight into decision-making. It also set the initial groundwork for more open and transparent conversations in the future.

customer experience has a cascading impact like a water droplet in a pond

This Simple Meeting Hack Helps a Problem-Solving Team Refocus on Their Customers

The big impact of a small change

At Technical Assent, we constantly emphasize the model of a service-oriented organization. One of the big reasons we focus on being “service oriented” is because these organizations are better attuned to the needs of their customers and aware of the value they deliver each day. With all of the pressures of running a program day-to-day, we tend to get lost trying to put out the daily fires and often lose sight of our work in the context of what’s in the best interest of our customers. This paradox is amplified when an urgent technical problem emerges and the responsible support team must quickly shift gears to address it. Fortunately, we have a simple hack that can really help the leadership team redirect meeting conversations and get the support team rightly focused on the customer.

Yesterday was a perfect example of this. I had the opportunity to talk to a senior IT manager who is part of a leadership team working through some tough issues in their project portfolio. As a result of funding cuts over the last few years, they have regularly reduced the level of service they provide as available funds have been redistributed to higher priority projects. Facing another round of cuts, her team is evaluating a portfolio of projects and making recommendations to several internal service providers and, ultimately, the chief information officer (CIO), about what should be funded and what will have to be deferred. To facilitate the conversation, the IT manager’s team developed a basic dashboard that outlines each project individually and provides leadership with a status and an impact. Very simply, the dashboard looks something like this.

We have all seen something like this projected on a conference room screen, right?  It looks innocuous enough – a simple project description, followed by a red, yellow, green status indicator, and finally, the What’s In It for Me (WIIFM) impact statement.

When the IT manager presented this at the weekly status meeting, she found that the dashboard was driving the wrong conversation among the leadership team. Based on the information provided, the leaders in the room dove right into the merits of different trade-offs in schedule and discussion about which upgrades provided the fastest technology. The IT manager left the meeting frustrated because the focus seemed to be misplaced. Everything was weighed against the impact to the IT organization instead of against the impact on the IT organization’s real customers, who are the crewmembers operating ships performing public safety missions along the Pacific coast. As she explained…

“For example, the impact of the XYZ server not being implemented is not just an increased implementation timeline. It actually has an operational impact to a number of ships who are operating in our area of responsibility right now. Without these upgrades they are not able to check the weather, receive intelligence briefs, or communicate with other partners.”

Could you hack the meeting?

Faced with this scenario, how does one IT manager use her influence to change the tone of the conversation and focus on the service impact to the end customer?

I see this kind of dilemma often with our clients at Technical Assent, so I suggested a simple experiment. The first step was to hack the existing dashboard to be more explicit about who the customer is and how they are impacted by each project. Our minimally viable product (MVP) of the new dashboard looks something like this.

The changes to the spreadsheet are simple; our hypothesis is that by presenting new information to the executive leaders – Customer and Impact to the Customer – the tone of the conversation will change. At first, when presenting information in a new way, we expect there to be some disagreement among the executive leaders about who the real customer is and the source of the mission impact data. Then, we predict that as the executive leaders begin wrestling with the real issues at hand, they will start asking for data that further validates the customer impact. This will force the IT manager and her team to dig deeper – to communicate directly with their customers, to validate the mission impact to the organization, and to recommend alternatives.

We predict that after the first conversation with executive leaders, the shift in focus will take root and will drive the next status meeting. The IT manager’s team will then be focused on describing the outcome that their customers need, and not on a specific technology solution. The more service-oriented team will continue to integrate the customer impact into each of the executive leadership conversations, facilitate decisions about providing a certain level of capability based on the impact to customers, and defend their positions using customer narratives and stories.

But the proof is in the pudding, right?  We will test our hypothesis over the next few meetings with executive leaders, track the discussion, note what questions are asked, and observe how responses are framed in order to see if our simple change is indeed causing a trend in the right direction.

Of course, this is just one way for teams to change the tone of meetings to have a focus on becoming more customer-driven. What are some other recommended starting points that you have seen and have worked well in your organization?

amazon is a leader of customer-driven strategy

To Find a Differentiator for Long-Term Success, Look to Amazon’s Customer Obsession

By John DiLuna and Jonathan Miller

For anyone who has ever studied Amazon or its founder, Jeff Bezos, one thing is absolutely clear: the customer is king.  Amazon’s focus on customer experience success was a founding principle for Amazon and remains deeply embedded in the company culture today.

After last week’s record earnings report, we wanted to see for ourselves where customer experience was integrated into Amazon’s operating model – not just as a corporate talking point but where it was really driving business decisions.  We studied 20 years of shareholder letters for evidence about the role that customer experience plays in the long-term financial success of the company.  What we discovered was an intrinsic interaction between customer experience and long-term financial thinking that acts as a catalyst for future financial success.  We identified three general principles that we hope will be helpful for organizations hoping to mirror Amazon’s customer experience momentum.

Obsessing over customer experience is the long game

Amazon unleashed something powerful by placing customer experience success at the core of their business strategy.  In addition, Amazon has always had a perspective of long-term success rather than short-term profits.  Bezos has highlighted this perspective in his shareholder letters since the first letter in 1996.  In his 2008 letter, he explicitly connects this concept to the customer:

“Long-term orientation interacts well with customer obsession. If we can identify a customer need and if we can further develop conviction that the need is meaningful and durable, our approach permits us to work patiently for multiple years to deliver a solution.”  

By investing in the long-term satisfaction of customers, Amazon has created a relationship which drives lifetime customers.  Early in Amazon’s life, the team identified three key things their customers valued in a retail experience: price, selection, and convenience.  Since then, everything Amazon does focuses on lowering prices, improving selection, and maximizing convenience.

In the early days when Amazon was solely an online bookstore, their business decision to present new books side-by-side on a web page with used versions of the same items was initially criticized, but it makes perfect sense when viewed through their customer-centric lens.  By creating this new environment of new and used books intermingled, they provided access for a wider audience of customers to be reached through price, selection, and convenience. It is the same for Amazon’s current experiments with drone delivery and same-day shipping.  Antagonists are unsure as to the current feasibility of these services because they have never been done to this extent for customers, but Amazon, true to providing the type of service their customers value most, is pursuing both for one reason: convenience. From the 1998 shareholder letter:

“We must be committed to constant improvement, experimentation, and innovation in every initiative. We love to be pioneers, it’s in the DNA of the company, and it’s a good thing, too, because we’ll need that pioneering spirit to succeed.”

Through the bull and bear markets of the last two decades, Amazon has remained steadfast in its commitment to provide exceptional customer experience.  This unwavering resolve to innovate around customers is a unifying force that helps the company push through the lean years when others may crumble or change course at the cost of their customers.

Use data to work backwards from customers and build customer experience success

When the entire workforce believes in customer experience success as the primary growth driver for your business, then it only makes sense that corporate strategy, business initiatives, and day-to-day operations fall in line.  This is the way it works at Amazon.  In many ways, this unified, corporate-wide belief simplifies governance and decision-making because culture provides a consistent framework to gauge the potential impact of new ideas.

Baked into the Amazon culture is the predisposition to work from the outside-in as well as to validate those decisions with data.  Bezos highlights that just about every important decision can be made through data. From the 2005 shareholder letter:

“There is a right answer or a wrong answer, a better answer or a worse answer, and math tells us which is which.”

Starting with the desired customer outcome, quantitative methods help sort through alternatives and establish priorities around what should be done first. We see this exhibited in the analysis Amazon conducts prior to making any foundational decision, which confirms that the solution drives the intended customer behavior and is financially viable.

Amazon has remained steadfast in their decision making process by holding uniquely to their core values of building solutions based on their customers. How Amazon makes these types of decisions is highlighted in the 2005 shareholder letter:

“To shorten delivery times and reduce outbound transportation costs, we analyze prospective locations based on proximity to customers, transportation hubs, and existing facilities. Quantitative analysis improves the customer’s experience and our cost structure.”

By methodically approaching expansion locations, Amazon highlights the need to be there for their customers while at the same time improving their own cost model.  Understand that the mindset Amazon uses embodies exceptional customer experience, an approach that leads to a repeatable pattern of customer driven decisions.

Customers benefit from improved service infrastructure

Continuous improvement is the third principle Amazon consistently emphasizes to create an exceptional customer experience.  When Jeff Bezos says “continuous improvement,” he is not referring to the catchphrase that is commonly used in business marketing materials.  His version of continuous improvement is fundamentally connected to customer experience and essential to Amazon’s business model.

Bezos explains this concept as driving the cost structure-price loop.  Quite simply, by continually lowering the cost structure of the business, Amazon can maintain downward pressure on prices.  Amazon’s customers like low prices, which keeps them coming back to the site.  The growing demand of potential buyers is attractive to sellers who actively seek to offer more selection. Amazon’s customers like more selection, which not only retains current users but fosters new ones and keeps them coming back to the site day after day, fueling the growth of the company.

In the Amazon model, driving the cost structure-price loop to continuously improve the underlying service infrastructure is both good business and a boon to their customers.  By systematically eliminating waste and scaling the value of their assets across the enterprise, Amazon also gets better at delivering new capability faster.  By focusing these efficiency efforts squarely on the needs of their customers, Amazon is better able to translate latent customer demand into real solutions and differentiate themselves from competitors.  Amazon has scaled this business for their long-term profitability through selection. In the 2003 shareholder letter Bezos explains:

“Increased volumes take time to materialize, and price reductions almost always hurt current results. In the long term, however, relentlessly driving the “price-cost structure loop” will leave us with a stronger, more valuable business.”

Every business system has some amount of waste, process variation, or inefficiency.  For customers of an online retailer, waste can be seen in the form of hold times, extra mouse clicks, confusing checkout options, or cumbersome return policies – the list can go on.  Waste results in effort a customer must expend in order to complete their order; and the more effort a customer has to exert, the less likely they are to come back a second time.  Amazon pushes to reduce customer effort; their One-Click ordering feature is the epitome of simplicity, automating a complex order and logistics process into a single mouse click allowing customers to receive satisfaction immediately.  Amazon’s continuous improvement initiatives reduce customer effort by improving the people, processes, and technology which have a direct and measurable impact on customer experience.

Final Thoughts

Bezos captures these three principles of customer experience success as foundations of “Operational Excellence.” Focusing on customer experience first provides a consistent framework for making strategically-aligned business decisions and a perfect filter for removing non-value add goods and services (things your organization does that customers generally don’t really care about).  Through the disciplined, data-driven application of these principles, Amazon increases asset velocity, revenue, and margin across the business.

And Amazon is proving that the model works.  Just last week, after nearly 20 years as a publicly traded company, Amazon announced Q1 earnings that shattered market expectations and raised stock prices by 12%.  Here at Technical Assent, being a company that values customer experience as an engine of growth, we couldn’t help cheering as they reached this benchmark of success. Indeed, the customer is king.

From Amazon’s 1998 shareholder letter:

“We intend to build the world’s most customer-centric company…Our customers tell us that they choose Amazon.com and tell their friends about us because of the selection, ease-of-use, low prices, and service that we deliver.”

city of pittsburg hosted the 2015 National Veteran Small Business Engagement

Get Better Results Through Customer Experience

Presenter: Chris Bobbitt, Technical Assent

Focusing on Customer Experience and Customer Outcomes is critical to delivering the best results. Federal agencies such as Veterans Affairs, GSA, and DHS are realizing the inherent value of becoming customer-driven and how this approach can drive better mission performance. This session will cover why Customer Experience and Customer Outcomes are so important, how to understand them, why Service Management trumps Program Management, and why digital engagement only scratches the surface. The session will demonstrate how to apply this knowledge to design more impactful government programs, provide more effective support to these programs, and develop business more successfully.

Sign up here to participate.  #NVSBE

small business mentoring session

First Week of November is National Veterans Small Business Week

Next week, the Small Business Administration will be holding its annual National Veterans Small Business Week observance.  From an SBA blog post:”National Veterans Small Business Week honors those veteran entrepreneurs who continue to serve our country by creating jobs and fueling economic growth…Administration will be hosting events all across the country that celebrate and support current and future veteran business owners.”As a Veteran-Owned Small Business ourselves, Technical Assent is happy to pass along this link to the SBA’s long list of special events next week that take place across the country.  Be sure to also check out the SBA’s Business Week page  which contains a wealth of links to resources for veteran businesses.

From the SBA:”Small businesses are critical to our nation’s economy. There are more than 28 million small businesses in the United States, accounting for 99.7 percent of all U.S. employer firms and over half of the country’s private-sector workforce. With the drive and leadership skills necessary to start and grow a business, it is not surprising that veterans are an integral part of America’s small business landscape. Nearly one out of every 10 U.S. small businesses are owned and operated by veterans, generating more than $1.1 trillion in receipts each year and employing nearly 6 million workers in the process.  As more than 1 million active service men and women transition back into civilian life in the coming months and years, veteran business owners will continue to serve our nation by playing a critical role in creating and sustaining economic opportunities for the entire nation.”

SECDEF Ash Carter reviews DOD innovations

The DoD: Becoming a Good Neighbor in the Community They Started

I’ve lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for over a year now and I continue to be inspired by this geographic center of mass for innovation. It is no wonder that both the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Homeland Security have both recently announced new programs with offices located in Silicon Valley to tap into that innovative spirit.

The Secretary of Defense’s program is the Defense Innovation Initiative (DII) with the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) positioning the DoD to be more open to the infusing of non-traditional technical ideas and talent.  The DIUx set up its Mountain View, Calif., office in August.

Last month, I had the opportunity to participate in a Center for New American Security workshop to provide recommendations to the Secretary of Defense about how to capture and infuse some of the Silicon Valley magic into the Department of Defense.  The group of people included members of the DIUx, defense industry associations, think tanks, and entrepreneurs.

The primary observation from the attendees focused on the increased requests from senior federal executives to tour innovative companies which has devolved into little more than a rote parade of military VIPs.  While “jumping through hoops” and “dog and pony shows” are common jargon in government, Silicon Valley innovators are fueled by taking action on real problems and quickly pivoting until they discover the optimal solution. However, the aspect that is most ironic to me is Silicon Valley itself was launched by DoD initiatives (See Steve Blank’s talk on the  Secret History of Silicon Valley), which means, at least at one time, that DoD knew how to effectively engage innovators and how to channel their spirit into meaningful work.

DoD can’t be an absentee owner of their new vacation property in Silicon Valley; they need to be a fully integrated member of the neighborhood.  To be enfolded in the epicenter of innovation, the DoD will have to start out by fitting in with the culture.  I’ve seen this opinion echoed in articles online, like Colin Clark’s “Can SecDef Carter Win Over Silicon Valley?”.

One thing I have noticed in my time living in the Bay Area is that many people close out their meetings with the same question:

“How can I help you?”

I have found something hugely powerful in this question as it seems to embody part of the culture that has made Silicon Valley companies so successful. In the asking of this question, it implies the asker is willing to take action and it supposes the receiver knows what they need.

Perhaps the DoD’s path to an invitation to the neighborhood block party is in recapturing the very spirit that helped build the neighborhood in the first place and being ready to answer “How can I help you?”

Disney is a leader of customer experience

Crowds vs. Price: Lean Economics for Disney Tickets

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal published an article about The Walt Disney Company considering a change to demand-based ticket pricing for Disneyland and Disney World. Rather than eventually out-pricing middle class families by continuing to raise overall prices, this change could help alleviate the resorts’ unmagical overcrowding through lower priced tickets during off-peak days.

According to author Ben Fritz, Disney will be surveying previous visitors this week to gauge their reactions to different variable-pricing options.  Though I have not visited either resort in the past few years and will not be among the surveyed, I find the situation intriguing.

Chris Bobbitt, Technical Assent Vice President, commented that this is a good example of Lean management and economics working in tandem.  Disney is an organization that understands its capacity to deliver the experience that it wants, what it costs to do that, what the limits are, and trying to manage demand around that capacity.

Beyond the basic survey questions, I would be curious to know how the behavior of visitors changes on the slow days, or how people might use the park differently, such as use of restaurants and rides.  Further, it would be interesting to see the profiles of the types of people who would take advantage of demand-based pricing.  Are they people who live within driving distance of the resort?  People who don’t have school-aged children?  People who pull kids out of school for an annual trip to California or Florida?

There have been several high-profile cases in the news lately of backlash against service businesses that have use demand-based pricing (e.g., Uber) and one important consideration is those who have access to the service on a pricing model other than pure supply-demand pricing (e.g., senior tickets at the movies, educator discounts).

From a personal perspective as one of the many who does not live within day-trip distance of one of the resorts, going to Disneyland or Disney World involves the choice of dealing with the infuriating crowds during times when my children are not in school or pulling my children out of school during non-peak times.  A more affordable ticket is certainly more incentive to make the latter decision and in consideration of this, I think it would be fantastic if this child-oriented company would provide a special service on non-peak days such as education events, science experiments at the parks, or homework hour with Mickey.