Service Design for Government
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How to Tidy Up Your Government Services

The Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo has taken 2019 by storm in part because it acknowledges that we all get so carried away with the things we acquire that we rarely have time to take a step back and ask why we need them. But armed with her KonMari method, Marie Kondo offers some simple tools to take back control and focus on things that are truly important.

Tidying Up got us thinking: a cluttered house and a cluttered government service portfolio have a lot of similarities. And with that in mind, how might we add a KonMari layer to our practice of service management and apply it to the work we do in government?

Consequences of a cluttered service-portfolio

Government managers are under constant pressure to improve performance and reduce the costs of the services they deliver. Under the guise of continuous improvement, agencies get caught in the allure of shiny new solutions despite the lack of new funding or resources. With all of the “buying” and none of the purging, these service portfolios start to look like the clothes closets at the beginning of a Tidying Up episode: overflowing, disorganized collections of garments complete with ugly sweaters, random brimmed hats, and a bunch of old pants that don’t fit.

In government, the immediate consequences of untidy service portfolios are angry customers and declines in service performance. Managers then rely on their help desks to detect the most emergent problem areas and triage customer issues before things spiral out of control.

There are also long-term mission impacts when a service portfolio gets cluttered. Energy and resources are constantly diverted towards competing priorities and this means customers are not being fully served somewhere else. Managers begin to lose sight of the true costs of service delivery and what it takes to deliver an exceptional customer experience. This is not the  way to sustain loyal customers long-term but it is today’s reality for many government programs and services.

What “sparks joy” for government services?

When you empty that closet and begin culling through the volcano-like pile of clothes on the bed, Marie Kondo’s “spark joy” principle is straightforward. Unless you have an emotional connection to an item–a little zing of happiness when you hold it–get rid of it. Government service managers, however, have to consider factors well beyond whether a service delivers an emotional connection.

Customers use government services to achieve some kind of result or outcome. Government services “spark joy” when they meet the needs of customers and achieve the overarching policy objectives. Services have to be relevant, be usable, and deliver an exceptional experience.

How do you know if your portfolio needs tidying?

Cluttered service portfolios can sneak up on us because new requirements grow organically over time. Small, incremental additions eventually dilute the services being offered until the services cannot be sustainably managed.

Having a documented catalog of the service offerings and a governance process for adding or retiring services is one way to manage service creep. Monitoring customer behavior is another way to detect whether the service portfolio is being diluted. Low customer engagement or abandonment may indicate that the services being offered are not relevant to the problems customers are trying to solve.

Five steps to tidying your government service portfolio

Tidying up a government service portfolio simply means making decisions about which services provide the biggest value to customers in the context of the agency mission. By choosing to invest in the services that matter most to customers, we then free up resources by stopping services that are of little or no value. We have five recommended steps to tidying:

1. Define “spark joy” for your customers

Services that are designed to be easy maximize value for the customer and give the service provider the best shot of delivering the service in a cost efficient way. The specific definition of “easy” varies for each service.

Service designers immerse themselves in the customer’s world through both quantitative and qualitative analysis to define what “sparks joy” for the customer. This could be factors like speed, availability, security, or privacy. Grounded in this understanding, service designers can determine how well each unique service contributes to the things that matter most to customers.

2. Empty the closet

Service portfolios often resemble cluttered closets in that this year’s fashions bury last year’s trends. Yet, for many psychological reasons, we can’t bring ourselves to part with our now-useless purchases. Likewise, services that outlive their relevance but continue operating in the background drain limited resources. Simplifying a service portfolio to make it easy for the customer means disentangling each service and discreetly defining its value.

The way you “empty the closets” in government services is by cataloging each service in your portfolio. Pull each of these services out into the open by cataloging each one. This task can be fraught with challenges, especially among mature enterprise portfolios. Services can share the same name but behave very differently depending on the people, process, technology, content, and environment in which they operate. Each of these factors potentially impacts how easy it is for customers to use the service and how efficiently it can be delivered.

Once each service has been cataloged individually, it is now possible to document the cost to deliver each individual service and determine its perceived value to customers.

3. Decide what to keep

A service designer’s goal is to make it as easy as possible for customers to use the services. This requires eliminating unnecessary complexity from the customer journey. This is complexity that can come from redundancies, dependencies, inconsistencies, gaps, and just plain confusion of who is responsible for doing what. Before we can truly simplify each service, the initial service catalog may need to be refined and consolidated several times before it resembles the intended service model.

One successful technique is to marry the newly forming service catalog to a customer journey map which visually depicts how each individual service aligns with customer experience. This is a powerful tool for service design teams because it informs how customers perceive value at specific touchpoints. It also points to the underlying processes, technologies, and talent that are responsible for delivering the value.

Through this process, the service design team begins to zero in on the components that contribute to the overall customer experience and ultimately drive intended customer behavior.

4. Evaluate each piece

As the service catalog begins to reflect the reality of what is being delivered to customers, there is still a need to determine the marginal cost associated with delivering the customer experience. Technical Assent recommends using a pair-wise comparison that results in a ranking of each service relative to the others in the service catalog. We use two criteria–cost and perceived customer value–as shown in the diagram.

This visualization enables the service design team to understand the marginal costs and benefits of specific services in the context of their respective contributions to the customer journey.

5. Develop the service strategy

When a service portfolio is segmented this way, it sets up a productive dialogue among the service design team members and new management strategies emerge. It forces the team to consider the marginal benefit of increasing perceived customer value compared to the marginal cost. It also lends itself to relevant exploratory questions such as “what needs do our customers have that we don’t address?” The table to the right demonstrates four possible strategies that may emerge from these conversations.


Next steps

In a resource-scarce environment, it is critical that government service managers focus on achieving overarching policy objectives through a portfolio of services that delivers the biggest impact to its customers. This requires that managers, who are often policy experts, invest deeply to understand the needs and motivations of their customers.

New concepts emerge when customer preferences for relevance, usability, experience, and ease marry with a service delivery model that values efficiency, consistency, and reliability. Innovative government solutions spark joy when they address what customers care about most and meet the mission needs.

Technical Assent has consulted with numerous federal government agencies to redesign their service portfolios based on customer experience. Read more about service design in these articles.

In Government Service Design-Thinking, Thinking Like the Customer is not Enough

Avoiding the Sugar Crash of IT Modernization

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

Veterans Day: All Give Some

Sara poses with our kids after their Cub Scout pack’s tour of Coast Guard Cutter Stratton.

On November 11 each year, Americans honor veterans for their willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good. Being a veteran myself, I know that there are many facets to how military service impacts an individual. Some of these facets are so nuanced that they might seem insignificant. To people who have never had an immediate family member or close friend in the military, these impacts could be invisible.

Nuanced and seemingly insignificant as they are, these impacts are anything but. They add up over years of service and they can change the entire course of the service member’s life.

The way to learn about these not-so-visible impacts of military service is by listening to veterans’ stories. In this vein, I’m offering my story. It is also my wife’s story and, together, it is the story of a dual-military couple balancing their commitment to the Coast Guard with their commitment to each other in the months before and after our nation was turned upside down on September 11, 2001.


Newly Minted Officers

Sara and I graduated from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in the spring of 2000. We had been dating since our third-class (sophomore) year, and under the Academy’s “buddy program,” we were able to be stationed in the same location. I was assigned to Coast Guard Cutter Alert,and Sara was assigned to Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast, both based in Astoria, Oregon.

The first eighteen months as a junior officer are busy. You are learning new jobs, attending vocational schools, and working toward watch qualifications in order to become a productive member of the crew. I was working toward qualifications for engineer of the watch and deck watch officer. I also had a number of collaterals such as damage control assistant, morale officer, and fueling officer. Sara was a dedicated deck watch officer and served as a boarding team member, law enforcement officer, and morale officer.

A white Coast Guard cutter on the Columbia River

Cutter Alert on the Columbia River

Patrols are the lifeblood of a cutter and where it performs the Coast Guard’s mission. With our ships being the only 210-foot cutters in Astoria, Alertand Steadfast worked in port and starboard rotations. This meant one ship would be in port while the other was running fishery patrols and drug interdiction operations in the waters between British Columbia and Central America. Each patrol lasted six to eight weeks.

By May of 2001, we had settled into our shipboard routines and started to plan for our next assignments. Summer began with Sara being on patrol. I’m a foodie and I had promised her that when she got back, we would drive my Jeep to a remote section of the beach for an elaborate picnic. It was also the perfect cover-up for a marriage proposal.

The picnic didn’t go quite as planned. I was so focused on not screwing up the proposal that I forgot entirely about the food. Also, Oregon beaches are not known for being timid. Not long after we arrived, the temperature dropped and then the wind picked up and started blasting us with sand.

Sara wanted to leave but I insisted we stay longer and take a walk. Being the good sport that she is, Sara played along and I finally got to propose. She said yes and then we scurried back to the cover of the Jeep. Given the ships’ busy schedules, we planned to elope sometime in the fall of 2001 and then have more traditional wedding the following spring.

September 11, 2001

My ship departed to patrol off the coast of Mexico a few weeks later. On the morning of September 11, we had a brief refueling stop in Mexico. I was on duty on the ship as engineering officer of the watch when we received a priority Z message, which requires immediate action. The message provided few details of the attacks and ordered us to get underway immediately.

As the ship’s crew struggled to make sense of what was happening and why, we set armed guards on the gangway and I rushed to light off the ship’s engines. Being at sea in a foreign country, our access to news was limited and inaccurate. None of our crew would have an accurate picture of what had happened at the Pentagon, World Trade Center, and Shanksville until our return to Astoria nine days later.

In the meantime, I had no way of communicating with Sara other than a few abbreviated emails sent and received through Alert’s spotty internet connection. While we focused on our immediate work, everything else was uncertain. In the span of hours, we had gone from serving in the military during a time of peace to serving in the military during a time of conflict. We didn’t know how long the 9/11 surge efforts would last and how that would impact our ships’ schedules.

While the ships’ operations surged, the bureaucratic assignment process churned on, inching us closer to a deadline to submit “dream sheets” to detail our requests for our next assignments. As the deadline loomed closer, the assignment officers made it clear that without a marriage certificate, a request from Sara and me to be co-located would not be considered.

We thought we’d have plenty of time to elope once I returned to Astoria, but then my ship’s patrol was extended to support maritime security efforts and Sara’s deployment was moved sooner. We soon realized that we would only have forty-eight hours in port together once my ship arrived. To further complicate the logistics, my dad and his wife were flying in to Oregon for a previously scheduled visit. To have only them at our elopement wouldn’t be fair to Sara’s family, so we decided to keep our marriage a secret. The problem was, this left us a grand total of two hours to get married.

September 20, 2001

While I was underway in the Pacific, Sara coordinated the details from Astoria. My ship arrived mid-morning on September 20. I disembarked the moment the brow was in place at the Coast Guard pier and Sara picked me up. We raced home where I changed into a pair of khaki pants and a shirt that she had ironed for me. She put on a blue-flowered sundress and grabbed an old fleece sweatshirt on her way out the door in case the weather changed.

A husband lifts his wife up in celebration after getting married.

The single photo we have of our elopement in Astoria, Oregon.

We hurried to the Astoria pier to meet the officiant and our two witnesses. And there, on that overcast day near the mouth of the Columbia River, we exchanged our vows. The ceremony lasted all of ten minutes. We celebrated with a brief lunch at Cannery Cafe on the pier with our witnesses, snapped a quick picture, removed the rings we had exchanged just thirty minutes before, and then got in the car to make the hundred-mile drive to the Portland Airport to pick up my dad.

Those hundred miles were hardly enough time for the events of the previous two weeks to sink in, but it was all we had before turning to the business of helping America regroup and prepare for a new era in defense. A day and a half later, Sara was underway to the busy ports of San Francisco and Seattle to ensure commerce continued flowing by providing security escort services for merchant ships.

While many newlywed couples struggle in their first year of marriage, ours was actually quite blissful . . . we saw each other only three times, and one of those times was through a set of “big eye” binoculars as our ships passed each other in the waters of Northern California.

In our Christmas cards that year, Sara and I revealed to our family and friends that we had gotten married. We reaffirmed our vows in a traditional ceremony one year and one day later in Sara’s hometown of Phoenix, Arizona.

A uniformed Coast Guard woman poses for a photo with her son in his elementary school classroom

Sara with our son at his elementary school.

The DiLunas Today

After seven years in the Coast Guard, I resigned my commission to pursue my entrepreneurial passions and eventually start Technical Assent. Sara continues to serve and just celebrated her eighteenth year in the Coast Guard. We have two great little kids, ages seven and nine, and our life as an active duty military family is typical of any family with two working parents–extremely chaotic!

As September approaches each year, I find myself reflecting on the tragedies 9/11. In recent years, I’ve also struggled to find a way to talk with my kids about what happened. At this young age, there are only so many details I can give, but even when they are old enough to know everything, I wonder if they’ll ever be able to truly comprehend the magnitude of the attacks.

What I talk about instead is how afterward there was an undeniable force that united all Americans. Heroes emerged from the stories of horrific tragedy, and this wasn’t just individuals, but groups of strangers who shared a unity of purpose to rescue, recover, and restore our way of life.

Our family’s history is intrinsically tied to the tragedies of 9/11 and that effort to recover and restore. Though Sara and I were simply service members fulfilling our duty to protect and defend the United States, the story of our marriage in the wake of the attacks illustrates one of the less-visible facets of what it means to serve.

For us, as with any veteran or active duty service member, by agreeing to serve, we give up control of certain aspects of our lives. Even above the biggest milestones in life, the mission comes first. The people we love often come second. That is our sacrifice and it is a sacrifice that our family members make, too.

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.