Service Design for Government
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Video: Design Thinking Explained

Sometimes helping kids with homework takes a little out-of-the-box thinking! Design thinking, that is.

In this video, I help my son, Vinny, build a boat for his kindergarten water day by applying the principles of design thinking. It was a fun project for both of us and a great way to illustrate the basics of design thinking.

More articles from Technical Assent about design thinking:

In Government Service Design, Thinking Like Your Customer Is Not Enough

Avoiding the Sugar Crash of IT Modernization

Making Virtual Design-Thinking Efforts Effective in Government

Epic Presentation-Fail Yields Real-World Prototyping Lessons for Government

Boy licking an ice cream cone

Avoiding the Sugar Crash of IT Modernization

IT leaders across government are clearly re-energized about IT modernization, thanks to recent legislation, funding, and prioritization. It is a bit like the professional version of the end-of-school-year ice cream party many of us witness as our children set their sights on summer vacation. FedScoop’s IT Modernization Summit in March confirmed this excitement through interviews with more than 20 IT leaders from across government and industry.

Much of the chatter in the beltway about modernizing government technology systems focuses on cloud migration for email and reducing the profile for cyber attackers, but there are some foundational aspects of the way we think about IT modernization that we need to be considering as well. These strategies will push beyond the initial sugar high and into the sustainable successes we need to make IT modernization a reality over the long term.

Earn a seat at the table by framing technology in terms of mission impact

CIOs have long advocated for a “seat at the executive table” but it might not be clear to everyone else why this is so important. Unfortunately, some misguided souls may believe it is to provide a direct link to the help desk, to shepherd a pet project, or to get status updates on ongoing IT projects. Business function leads–like the COO or CFO–who already have a seat at the executive table understand how their key piece impacts the mission and have developed a capability to communicate in those terms. IT executives advocating for a seat at the table must be able to do the same by talking about how technology impacts the mission’s bottom line.

A good example of this comes from a story a colleague of mine shared recently. My colleague–a seasoned executive IT consultant–was meeting with an IT project manager and the IT project manager’s boss, who had responsibility for mission operations. The IT project manager had expressed frustration that outside technical teams had come to the facility to provide periodic system upgrades without giving any prior notice. The complaint began to ramble about how the unexpected outage would impact mean time to repair metrics and cause his team to work overtime that week. The IT project manager’s boss, shrugged off the incident and made it clear that periodic maintenance to IT equipment did not warrant her time and attention.

The executive IT consultant, who has earned a regular seat at the executive table and understands how to talk about technology in mission terms, explaining that the boss had unknowingly assumed specific operational risks during the maintenance period because the operating capability of their key missions systems was being reduced. And because the boss wasn’t aware of what was upgraded, how confident could she be that her mission capabilities were as effective now as they were prior to the upgrade? As our missions become more dependent on IT, so does our ability to effect mission outcomes.  

We are modernizing government services, not technologies

People who use government services care that their problem gets solved with as little effort as possible. Well-designed services should function smoothly and intuitively for its customers. But poorly designed services put the burden on the customers to get the service to function properly. This is too often the result of the false promise of technology – that through the magic of AI, big data, and [insert IT buzzword], we can take poorly designed processes and make them serve people’s needs better.

This is why customer experience is so critical to our IT modernization efforts. The role of customer experience in these IT modernization initiatives is not just designing a better user interface or pushing more short surveys at the point of service – it is fundamentally understanding the services that government provides.  Mat Hunter, Chief Design Officer at the Design Council in the UK, explains the concept as

“[Shaping] service experiences so that they really work for people. Removing the lumps and bumps that make them frustrating, and then adding some magic to make them compelling.”

Technology plays a major role in the way we deliver government services at scale. It impacts the reliability, security, and availability of government services; it provides us the power to customize and tailor the experience individually in real time for billions of people. And yet, for as much we rely on the technology to make the services work, we must always remember that technology is not the end game.  We need to continue to put IT in the service of people and remember that it is just a tool that enables a human-to-human connection to occur faster, more reliably, and more securely.

Innovation comes from deep customer understanding

With $100 million of Technology Modernization Funds on the table, government leaders are vying for some kind of advantage to get a leg up on the competition. I was speaking to a well-known innovation leader last week who indicated she fielded several calls from agencies about whether her team could use “innovation” help them find that next golden egg.

The answer lies within another capability that is already built into the IT modernization framework – service delivery analytics. We need to ask a few key questions about how we are serving our customers today to help target our modernization and improvement efforts for the future:  

  1. “What does the customer care about?”
  2. “What segments of the customer journey are we really good at and how do we ensure that every customer receives that quality service, every time?”
  3. “What are we doing today that causes our customers frustration; most importantly, where does that frustration reach a level where they abandon or disengage?”
  4. “How might we uncover latent demand or untapped potential where there is a need that is not yet being served?

The answers to these questions, at least in part, begin with an understanding of how service delivery is being measured today. Service delivery analytics can be a powerful engine to help resolve immediate customer issues but also help engage customers in an ongoing dialogue about where they are going long term.

It is a tremendous opportunity to follow customer needs and understand the delta between how those needs are met today, how those needs are evolving, and what you need to differently tomorrow in order to meet them.

GSA’s Center of Excellence Director (and Director of Technology Transformation Services and Deputy Commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service) Joanne Collins Smee remarked at FedScoop’s IT Modernization Summit that

“Agencies need to enhance the capabilities of IT workers who are already in place.”

She also acknowledged USDA’s strategy to bring in top IT talent to help drive culture change across the organization.

Sustaining momentum for long term change in IT modernization

With the current energy and momentum for government IT modernization comes great opportunity. As we continue to position IT modernization for long term success, it is essential that agencies understand these foundational aspects of IT services and continue to expand the capabilities of boundary spanners who can effectively communicate in the language of the technology, the language of the mission, and the language of the customers.

Technical Asset Joins Mural’s Consultant Network

Company logo of MuralWe have some exciting news to share: Technical Assent is now a member of Mural’s consultant network.

Mural is a great way to do virtual collaboration on design projects, plan and manage agile projects, and create business models and product canvases. As a member of the consultant network, we’ll be able to invite clients to join us on Mural as we work on their projects.

Follow this link to find out more about Mural and see some examples of what it can do! Below is a glimpse of a Mural virtual collaboration canvas in action.

A group picture of Technical Assent employees and the CMMISVC3 logo

Year in Review: 2017

As we reflect on 2017, it’s clear that it was a busy and productive time for Technical Assent. We shared our biggest news via press releases and our blog, but it is pretty remarkable to see it all in one place.

In no particular order, here is our 2017 highlight reel.

Independently Appraised at CMMI-SVC Level 3

CMMISVC logoThe Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) is a capability improvement framework that leverages effective processes to ultimately improve organizational performance. After months of hard work, we were thrilled to be independently appraised at Level 3 in CMMI for Services (CMMI-SVC/3). Our clients benefit directly because we approach challenges using a repeatable framework, develop solutions that improve the systems of work, and scale up new services with confidence.

Awarded a GSA Professional Services Schedule (PSS) Contract

GSA Contract Holder logoThe approval and vetting process to be a General Services Administration (GSA) contract holder is no small task and we successfully made it through the gates last summer. This provides streamlined access to federal agencies who need a broad spectrum of integrated consulting services (SIN 874-1) and training (SIN 874-4). To further expedite the government procurement process, we offer our services on GSA Advantage!, the federal government’s electronic ordering system.

SDVOSB logoRe-verified as a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business
(SDVOSB)

We are privileged to serve our fellow veterans through our work at the Department of Veterans Affairs. To maintain our eligibility as an SDVOSB company for VA, we successfully completed a rigorous third-party verification that allows us to showcase our ongoing commitment to the veteran community…such as how nearly 50% of our Technical Assent workforce has served in the U.S. forces.

Renewed and Expanded Work with DoD and VA

Our existing clients continue to place their trust in us and it is a responsibility we take very seriously. Technical Assent’s clients face some of the most complex mission and business challenges in government today. While we don’t sell an EASY button, our teams use data to dig out the root cause of these issues and work side-by-side with our clients to build better solutions.

A Technical Assent employee talks with a group of government employees during a prototyping sessionCommitted to R&D on Service Prototyping

Team Technical Assent is never short on big ideas. In 2017, we committed to investing in them. Using a collaborative LEARN – MAKE – DO process, we sought ways to apply serious games to complex, multi-stakeholder challenges. This effort pushed us beyond our comfort zone and into the field where we engaged community leaders across the country to find better ways to manage issues such as long-term sea level rise.

Awarded a VA VECTOR Contract

The VA’s “Veteran Enterprise Contracting for Transformation and Operational Readiness” (VECTOR) is a department-wide vehicle for a broad range of general management and business support services and solutions. It supports VA program offices and its customers in order to accomplish VA’s mission and strategic goals, priorities, and initiatives. Technical Assent is one of just 70 contractors approved under this highly selective vehicle.

neon colored stick notes with line sketchesSharpened the Saw through Peer-to-Peer Training

This year we held twenty-four peer-to-peer professional development sessions across the company, covering a range of topics such as data visualization, Agile methodologies, public speaking, emotional intelligence, journey mapping, the art of unlearning, and defining the problem. Our employees use their own expertise areas as they take turns developing sessions that will benefit all employees regardless of specialty area or managerial level. It’s a significant investment but the returns we get in shared knowledge and collaboration are invaluable.

Celebrated our Successes

Technical Assent employees talk during a luncheonMaking sure that we are meeting our clients’ expectations means that our teams are constantly on the go. In December, we took an opportunity to slow down and take a step back at the Army Navy Country Club in Arlington, VA. The staff is fantastic and always creates an environment that allows us to put our professional business on pause and simply enjoy each other’s company.

Acknowledged Our Learning Opportunities

Just like any business, we took our share of lumps this year too. While it is never fun to lose, it was really neat to see how the team responded to adversity. Leaders emerged and we pushed through the hard stuff together. Then, a few weeks after the dust settled, we would regroup and figure out how not to make the same mistake a second time!

 

But in all, as you can tell, this has been a year where the highlights well outshined disappointment and we are eager to see what 2018 brings.

Press release

Technical Assent Announces GSA Schedule Contract Award

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 24, 2017

GSA logo and Technical Assent's contract numberWashington, D.C. — Technical Assent, a leading provider of Experience Design, Solution Implementation, and Service Management solutions, announced today that it has been awarded a GSA Schedule Contract effective August 28th, 2017. Having this contract allows Technical Assent, LLC the ability to easily offer their management consulting solutions to the federal government.

“We’re very excited to have this contract in place, as it will allow government customers to procure our services more easily and with little hesitation. We’re confident that this GSA Schedule will broaden our federal market,” said John DiLuna, CEO of Technical Assent, LLC

Technical Assent, LLC is listed under the GSA Professional Services Schedule (PSS) under contract number GS-00F-340GA. To further expedite government purchases, Technical Assent, LLC has made its services available on GSA Advantage!, the federal government’s electronic ordering system.

Winvale, a leading government contracts consultancy and solutions provider supported Technical Assent throughout the proposal process. “We are proud of our work in accelerating Technical Assent, LLC into the federal marketplace,” said Brian Dunn, Winvale Managing Partner. “They are a group of highly-experienced industry leaders whose customers at the federal level will appreciate the simplicity and streamlined ordering the GSA Schedule offers them.”

Technical Assent, LLC’s GSA Schedule award is a direct result of a complex process in which the General Services Administration evaluated their professional capabilities, organizational structure, performance history, and customer satisfaction, among other criteria. As a result, Technical Assent, LLC is qualified to perform work directly for federal government entities.

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). To learn more about Technical Assent’s Service Delivery capabilities, visit www.technicalassent.com.

About Winvale

Winvale is a government sales consultancy and leading advisor on business strategy and procurement. Headquartered in Washington D.C., Winvale provides expertise to companies seeking to conduct business with federal, state and local governments. Winvale also offers channel-friendly reseller services designed to help companies reach government buyers quickly by allowing them to place their products and services on its existing contract vehicles. Winvale’s client portfolio includes many small emerging firms as well as Fortune 500 and international companies. For more information, visit www.winvale.com.

two chairs overlook a quiet lake encouraging government program managers to take a strategy offsite.

Rethinking the Strategic Offsite: A Summer Vacation for Your Office

With June quickly approaching, offices are abuzz with employees scheduling and coordinating summer vacation time. Vacations are important because they give us the down-time we need as humans to rest, relax, and clear our minds. They also give us a change in scenery, which inspires us and helps us self-reflect and see things with a fresh set of eyes.

But individuals aren’t the only ones who can reap the benefits of down-time and a change of scenery: government program teams can, too. But how? A field trip? An office potluck? Trust falls and a ropes course?

Nope. Our suggestion is to hold a summertime strategic offsite meeting.

Strategic offsite meetings are helpful to government organizations because they allow leaders to have an uninterrupted block of time to reconnect to the mission and purpose of their agency while actively exploring solutions to a set of goals or problems. While strategic offsite meetings have the reputation of being expensive, lengthy, complicated to organize, and only for senior leadership, they don’t have to be any of these things. A strategic offsite can simply be a chance for employees to step back from their daily jobs—physically and professionally—to see their work unit as part of the complex government ecosystem. In vacation terms, the dedicated down-time gives employees a break from putting out the fires of the day, and the change of pace gives them perspective and frees up their imaginations.

In re-envisioning a strategic offsite to bring the benefits of a vacation to your program team, I’m not suggesting that the offsite will be unproductive. Quite the opposite, but it does require careful design in order to be both productive and energizing. What makes the most sense in an abbreviated, casual offsite is to select a single goal, problem, or theme. By scoping the meeting around an issue that really impacts the team, you can focus their energy and provide boundaries that you want to innovate within.

Regardless of the form that makes most sense for your project team or what the area of focus is, here are some tips to aid government managers in designing a summer vacation strategic offsite meeting.

Check Assumptions

Your team is likely already periodically gauging their performance towards the agency’s strategic goals. One thing you could decide to focus on at the offsite is revisiting any starting assumptions about those goals and assess how changes in the environment over the past 12 months may impact the mission in the future.

Reconnect With Your Customers

Most strategic offsites are inwardly focused, meaning they look at program operations instead of program outcomes. To shift this mindset, as part of your offsite, you could invite government customer groups (government-to-citizens, government-to-government, or shared services) to participate by delivering an opening keynote, exploring their use of your products and services, or role-playing a new service design prototype.

Take Some Risks

Strategic offsites should be a safe place to take risks, explore options, and share new ideas in the spirit of expanding the team’s horizons. Consider trying a Collaborative Game, World Cafe, or a Design Sprint to explore new ideas in an environment with a low risk of failure. Even better, embrace the failure for its learning potential like we recently did at Technical Assent’s first Failure Fair.

Actually Go Off Site

An offsite held in Conference Room B following the Monday budget meeting won’t have as big of an impact as getting outside of the building. Seek out public outdoor spaces, reservable locations at interesting sites (like a library or a museum), or even locations frequented by your agency’s customers. Space plays an important role in triggering your team to think outside of their daily routine and look for other patterns.

Wear Your Big Hat

Opportunities to come together as a team and think big picture are increasingly rare. Make the best use of this time by setting an early ground rule that encourages everyone to think with their Big Hat (thinking in terms of the agency mission and the customer impact of that mission versus the what’s best for my team mindset that is associated with Little Hat thinking). For example, this is not a time to debate which projects should suffer the biggest percentage of budget cuts, but to validate that these projects are delivering the right benefits to the right customers.

Have Some Fun

It is easy to get caught up in the seriousness of government work, but it is still a human-driven system. People benefit from the opportunity to build community, network, connect. One of the best outcomes of an event like this is enabling colleagues to find common ground outside of work, which translates to better working relationships. Some ways to add fun into an offsite meeting include casual dress or connecting the offiste to an after-work activity that everyone can participate in, such as a paint-and-wine activity, group bike ride, tour, or family barbeque. You can also intermix group activities such as games, scavenger hunts, or contests. These can be designed to directly contribute to the focus of the offsite, or be unrelated. Warren Buffet, for example, has a contest at his annual shareholder meetings where contestants throw a rolled up newspaper from 35 feet to see who can get it closest to the door.

What are the challenges you’ve observed with government offsites? Tell us more about it in the comments below.