Service Design for Government
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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.

Lightbulb resting on a small chalkboard with the names of international cities surrounding it

Making Virtual Design-Thinking Efforts Effective in Government

Most design-thinking efforts are conceived and executed as in-person workshops marked by the shoulder-to-shoulder collaboration of participants at whiteboards and a flurry of post-it notes. The design-thinking ethos is premised on the idea that interaction breeds empathy, creativity, and ultimately results in good problem solving.

To be sure, face-to-face interaction is one of the fastest ways to get there, but it isn’t the only way. The need to keep costs low, respect telework agreements, and include global or faraway colleagues in critical solution design are all considerations that demand some level of virtual capability in design-thinking.

There are lots of great firms out there with examples, tools, and kits to help aspiring designers conceive and execute their own design projects (Ideo’s Design Kit, Luma’s Innovation Path, and Accenture Fjord Interactive to name a few). However, virtual design projects require special considerations to be effective.

At Technical Assent, we’ve been facilitating virtual collaboration and design sessions for our clients in the federal government since 2015. We continuously work to improve our capability to facilitate and deliver design-thinking workshops and outcomes for clients – both in person and virtually, nationally and globally. In addition, being a firm with many remote employees, we regularly devote time to practicing virtual design.

There are many advantages and some drawbacks of leveraging virtual collaboration in design efforts, and, here, we are sharing some of our best practices and most important considerations for successful virtual design-thinking efforts.

1. Structuring Your Virtual Design Project

To make virtual collaboration for design projects effective, the most important consideration is structure. The workshop must be structured with participation in mind to avoid remote participants feeling left out or frustrated. If this happens, they will “tune out,” leaving you without the benefit of their ideas and inputs. We consider the following very carefully when structuring a design-thinking effort:

 Spend more time planning.

We have found that the effective execution of a design project in a fully virtual environment or with some remote participants requires twice as long for planning as a traditional design effort. A few of the things that take extra time include:

  • Adapting and testing exercises to the virtual setting
  • Selecting interaction tools and platforms as part of designing the exercise
  • Testing and troubleshooting IT across multiple nodes of activity

 

Choose your activities wisely (and test them!).

We try not to select activities that require lots of space or fast communication. On the other hand, many drawing, symbol, and board-based activities work well. For example, abstraction laddering is very challenging on a small screen but concept posters and “visualize the vote” work very well. We test activities ahead of time to make sure they will work, and as we do so, we identify the “rules of engagement” for the activity.

Think hard about information flow.

Virtual design-thinking efforts require planning to ensure we can move information from one activity or screen to another, and to decide who is responsible for doing what. Knowing your information flow prevents glitches during the event and allows you to have more accurate timing and scheduling.

Consider timing very carefully.

If all your participants are in one room, it’s relatively easy to change a schedule (“Everyone finished early? Ok, let’s start sharing now.”). It’s possible, but not easy, to do the same thing when everyone is behind a computer. Additionally, we find most activities take a little bit longer virtually. Plan your schedule conservatively and try to stick to it.

2. Choosing Collaboration Tools

There are so many great collaboration tools out there right now, it can be dizzying to pick one. Tools have different price points and usability considerations for unfamiliar audiences. Try not to rely on any one platform simply because it’s new or has lots of features. Most tools do some things really well, but no tool does everything well.

Choose your tools based on what you need to get done, your budget, your client’s IT constraints (especially in federal government), and the tech literacy of your participants. You can get great results with simple screen sharing and a conference call, if your activities are well structured and facilitated.

3. Facilitating Your Virtual Design Effort

Facilitation—or leadership—is always important in a design effort. It’s especially important when your group of designers are dispersed and collaborating virtually.

Establish communication ground rules.

Communication is key to good collaboration, and good communication is always just a bit trickier over phones and computers. Consider instituting ground rules before you start to ensure everyone isn’t trying to talk or edit at once. That way all ideas are heard and no one gets frustrated.

Consider your introverted participants.

It’s much easier for shy or quiet participants to fade into the background in a virtual setting. Either be prepared to gently coax ideas out of your less extroverted participants more often than you would in a face-to-face session, or use the relative anonymity of “remote participation” to support individual brainstorming and ideation before participants share with a group.

Be patient.

Technology always requires some troubleshooting and learning before everyone is 100% effective. Be patient, and advise others to be patient as well.

Balance structure with flexibility.

The extra structure required by communication ground rules and careful time planning must be balanced carefully with the need for flexibility to accommodate the innovation process. Try to be cognizant of that balance as you facilitate, and be prepared to have your plan stymied. If you take changes in stride and have a good sense of humor, you (and your participants!) can adapt and still get great results.

Consider hybrid alternatives.

Thinks about if there is a way you can organize the project so that in-person collaboration is only required for a portion of the exercise rather than the whole project. For example, being in-person for a single day at the end of a session instead of the whole time. That way you can take advantage of both methods.


Written by Danielle Wiederoder and Jonathan Miller

Three business women talking

Expertise as a Service: Emotional Intelligence in Consulting is Crucial

Consultants – including myself –love to talk about how emotional intelligence in consulting is a critical skill in our industry. But why is that?

Our Technical Assent team spent some time thinking through this question during one of our regular professional development sessions; the idea we kept coming back to is that emotional intelligence (also referred to as EQ) is critical to a consulting firm skillset because it supports our ability to deliver expertise as a service.

Even if you don’t know what emotional intelligence is, there’s plenty of literature now on the subject and why it’s important in the workplace. It’s popularly defined as “your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness” (Bradberry 2009).

Emotional Intelligence in Consulting: More than Empathy and Communication

What I don’t see a lot of are specific reasons explaining WHY our emotional intelligence is so especially helpful in consulting. We often use words like “communication” and “empathy” to describe the connection, but that’s not terribly precise or helpful. If we understood the linkage better, maybe we could exploit it more effectively, too.

Let’s stop and think about what consulting is really about. As a consultant, it’s not enough to have the answers. What distinguishes a good subject matter expert or analyst from a good consultant (and you certainly can be both) is the ability to effectively provide expertise to help another achieve their goals – it’s expertise “as a service”. And services are fundamentally about supporting customers – their goals, in their operating context, in terms that make sense to them.

Connecting these ideas – provision of knowledge as a service and focus on the customer – I can see a few distinct and specific linkages between emotional intelligence skills and excellent provision of expertise as a service.

    • Ability to not only listen, but understand. Effective consulting starts with understanding a client’s goals. However, it’s often hard for folks to understand their own goals well enough to articulate them. It’s harder still to articulate them well enough that another person understands them. Consultants with well developed emotional intelligence can meet their clients halfway on this; emotional intelligence in consulting helps us understand the client’s desired outcome more easily. And when it comes time to diagnose the root cause of a problem, the cycle repeats itself.
    • Ability to translate understanding to our recommendations. We’ve all been there at least once: we present a well-reasoned and logical recommendation to a client and the client rejects it. There’s many reasons this can happen; it’s often tempting to say the client just “doesn’t get it”. The truth is that a staff member who leverages good emotional intelligence in consulting firms to really understand their client will generally be able to construct recommendations that support their client’s goals in the client’s context – avoiding these situations altogether.
    • Ability to separate personal emotions from recommendations. If you do run into a truly difficult situation with a client, a professional difference of opinion can easily become an argument because we take pride in our work, and pride is an emotion that begets other (not so productive) emotions. There is no way to avoid disagreement 100% of the time, but facilitating outcomes in spite of disagreement requires an effective response. A consultant with well-developed emotional intelligence will be able to control their emotional responses in these situations and use the disagreement as feedback to improve the client’s outcome rather than letting it become a roadblock.

What do you think? Are there other specific conclusions can we draw to explain this concept of emotional intelligence in consulting to non-consultants, students, and new practitioners? I’d love to hear your thoughts.