Service Design for Government
Technical Assent Logo

A Tale of Two Service-design Teams

In addition to our regular work for government clients, we sometimes take on special projects. Last year, we facilitated these two workshops that were very different but also oddly similar. Watch the video to find out why and who these workshops were with!

About Technical Assent

Technical Assent exists to build high-performing government service organizations—government-to-citizens (G2C), government-to-government (G2G), and shared services. Our approach is unique in that we improve service performance from the bottom-up, starting with customer experience. We use that insight to design and modify the talent, tools, and technology that deliver government services to each customer.

  • Experience Design. We use service design-thinking and human-centered practices to refresh customer experiences and build relevant solutions
  • Solution Implementation. We implement viable solutions within scope, budget, and schedule and equip agencies to sustain the capability
  • Service Management. We leverage customer insights and performance data to optimize services, continually improve, and seek new opportunities

Video Transcript

In addition to our regular work for government clients, we sometimes take on special projects. Last month we facilitated these two workshops that were very different but also oddly similar. 

Washington, D.C. Service-Design Team 

Our D.C. service-design team facilitated nearly 100 defense professionals in identifying new ways to use existing capabilities in the Department of Defense. This workshop used design-thinking methods to help subject matter experts and operators learn how DoD can better secure acquisitions in support of operations.

West Coast Service-Design Team 

Our West Coast service-design team coached a local Girl Scout troop in earning their Product Design badge. These young ladies were seeking novel ways to keep lunches warm at school. They planned and facilitated the whole effort themselves using design-thinking methods from the LUMA Institute. 

Sometimes we’re helping to solve problems for the world’s largest military while other times it’s about teaching future generations how to be confident in their creativity. But despite the differences in age and project scale, both teams were outcome-focused and we used many of the same tools and techniques.

In the end, we were able to help both of these groups of people envision something that doesn’t exist today and set them on a path to making the vision a reality. It’s yet another reason our field of work is so fulfilling. 

Inspirational Quotes for Government Service-Providers

Many of the widely circulated inspirational quotes on the internet relate to private sector business. Our clients, however, are public sector employees and government leaders, and the work we do for them centers around customer experience, service design, and our innovative approaches to both.

At least once a month, we like to share an inspirational quote on our company LinkedIn page and we always select quotes with our government clients in mind. After doing this for several years, we’ve amassed a nice list of inspirational quotes for government. The following is a list of our favorites. 

About Technical Assent

Technical Assent exists to build high-performing government service organizations—government-to-citizens (G2C), government-to-government (G2G), and shared services. Our approach is unique in that we improve service performance from the bottom-up, starting with customer experience. We use that insight to design and modify the talent, tools, and technology that deliver government services to each customer.

Experience Design

We use service design-thinking and human-centered practices to refresh customer experiences and build relevant solutions

Solution Implementation

We implement viable solutions within scope, budget, and schedule and equip agencies to sustain the capability

Service Management

We leverage customer insights and performance data to optimize services, continually improve, and seek new opportunities

Two men use HCD techniques to review a new app as part of the DevOps process

Integrating Human-Centered Design with DevOps Will Deliver a Better Customer Experience

Software development teams are built for agility and speed. Once solutions are deployed, DevOps teams watch how customers interact with the application and use it to solve their problem. From this post, cross-functional teams can spot unexpected customer behaviors and monitor system performance. If an anomaly is detected, they can act quickly and collaboratively between developers (code writers and testers) and IT operations (responsible for keeping the applications running optimally). 

DevOps teams are part of a bigger service operation team that works toward delivering an exceptional customer experience. After all, every service organization wants its customers to see the organization’s  solution as the best, resolve customer issues quickly, and be first of mind if the customer faces similar challenges again in the future. But like any one part of a bigger service team, DevOps teams’ view of customer challenges is limited and their focus is addressing the observed customer problems as quickly as possible. 

DevOps teams must optimize for speed in ways that preserve connections to customers. This is necessary to fully address the issue the customer is experiencing today and to better understand the larger problem  the solution addresses for the customer. If customer-driven discipline is not built into every DevOps cycle, the service can suffer from a slow erosion of the value that comes from customer dialogue. 

Human-centered design (HCD) is a body of techniques that explicitly places customers first. It seeks to understand the outcome the customer is trying to achieve and the various alternatives and approaches customers employ to get their desired result. Integrating HCD into the DevOps cycle—or CustDevOps—streamlines service operations and DevOps processes while increasing the customer’s perceived value of the service. 

HCD frames customer outcomes in business terms 

HCD starts with the customer and the results they are trying to achieve. It also accounts for the capabilities of service providers. The best solutions emerge where the interests of both the customer and the service provider align. HCD frames the customer outcome and the challenges they face in achieving their outcome in business or mission terms. It provides the business or mission opportunity to make this issue urgent and compelling.

HCD thrives on customer feedback and validation 

From the earliest stages of prototype development, DevOps teams benefit from customer feedback. Understanding that time is of the essence, capturing immediate customer input in each increment can help shape the solution. HCD teams must be creative in how they capture customer feedback and account for the lead time of recruiting and sustaining a community of engaged testers.

HCD grounds automated performance data 

DevOps teams build performance metrics into deployed solutions so they can immediately understand how well the new functionality enables the customer to achieve their result. Ongoing dialogue with customers complements automated performance data feeds to establish empathy and understand why customers are responding they way they do.

HCD looks at the whole experience 

IT professionals are susceptible to the saying “to a hammer, everything looks like a nail” and may view every customer issue as something a technology can fix. The reality is there are many other complex reasons that customers struggle to achieve their outcomes beyond just their interaction with a technical solution. HCD seeks to understand the customer’s perspective in the context of the whole experience and can help solve non-IT problems that will ultimately help IT work better.

HCD provides a continuous thread so the voice of the customer is resonant in each part of the DevOps cycle. Building HCD discipline into each step ultimately helps customers achieve their desired outcomes faster which in turn helps DevOps teams focus on new features.

Try Our Automated Customer-Experience Self-Assessment for Federal Government

A map that shows a starting point and an ending point

To aid government agencies in fulfilling the new customer-experience requirements from the Office of Management and Budget’s Circular A-11, we have designed a free, automated CX assessment tool for government employees.

Circular A-11 (Section 280) applies to federal agencies designated as high-impact service providers. These designated providers have specific obligations that begin in early 2019. This includes the requirement to conduct an annual CX self-assessment and submitting a CX action plan.

Even outside of OMB’s specific requirements, our CX assessments are a great way to improve your office’s performance and customer satisfaction–whether your customers are U.S. citizens, government employees, private industry representatives, or other government agencies. Improving CX is is a measurable way to improve performance even for programs not designated as high-impact service providers.

These A-11 requirements, along with the Federal Agency Customer Experience Acts of 2017 and 2018, reflect a new priority in government. Being a service-design company founded on the idea that U.S. citizens should have the same high expectations of government service as they do customer-centric, innovative private companies, this is a trend we wholeheartedly support.

Our Standard Assessment is an automated version of OMB’s assessment that includes a report with a graphical interpretation of your score. We are also in the process of finalizing our Enhanced Assessment, which will be more thorough than the OMB assessment and the report will give you customized recommendations for building your action plan.

Email us at getstarted@technicalassent.com if you would like to be added to the notification list once we activate our Enhanced Assessment in early 2019.

airplanes take off on a runway

Technical Assent joins FAA’s eFAST contracting vehicle

We are excited to announce that we have been accepted to the Electronic Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Accelerated and Simplified Tasks (eFAST) contracting vehicle. The FAA divides eFAST work into functional areas and we now hold master ordering agreements in the following areas:

  • Business Administration and Management
  • Computer/Information Systems Development
  • Computer Systems Support
  • Documentation and Training

 

eFAST is the FAA’s preferred contracting vehicle for small business contracts. eFAST streamlines the procurement process for all stakeholders using a web-based acquisition tool and automated workflows compliant
with applicable FAA standards.

Any FAA program management office (PMO) and contracting officer (CO) can use eFAST. For details about doing business through eFAST, visit the FAA’s eFAST page.

“We are eager to serve the FAA through eFAST,” said John DiLuna, President and CEO of Technical Assent. “Each new contract vehicle provides us an opportunity to share how to improve the performance of federal services using a customer experience as a primary driver for change. The FAA’s mission focus on maintaining the world’s safest and most efficient aerospace system makes it an excellent candidate for design-thinking and a customer-driven approach.”

We are also a part of the following federal government contracting vehicles:

Government-wide

  • GSA Professional Services Schedule (PSS)
  • GSA Performance Management / Continuous Process Improvement Blanket Purchase Agreement (PM/CPI BPA)
  • Service Disabled Veteran-Owned Business (SDVOSB) set-aside
  • Army Research Lab Advanced Expeditionary Warfare Development (AEWD)

Department of Veterans Affairs

  • VA Agile Delivery of VA Imminent Strategic and Operational Requirements (ADVISOR)
  • VA Veterans Enterprise Contracting for Transformation and Operational Readiness (VECTOR)

Department of Defense & Department of Homeland Security

  • Washington Headquarters Service / Acquisition Directorate (WHS/AD) Logistics Services (LOGS) Blanket Purchase Agreement
  • Navy SeaPort-e
  • DHS Program Management and Technical Services (PACTS) II

 

See our contracting vehicles page for more information on each.

News Release: Technical Assent Welcomes Todd Sadowski as Director of Business Development

NEWS RELEASE

Technical Assent Welcomes Todd Sadowski as Director of Business Development
The new role for the company follows a banner year in growth

Todd Sadowski

ARLINGTON, Va., November 29, 2018—Technical Assent, a leader in federal government customer experience, has hired industry veteran Todd Sadowski as the company’s first director of business development.

Todd is a client relationship executive who has supported several Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) companies during their highest growth periods. He will leverage this experience and his relationships with leading government partners to fuel sustainable growth and build new business opportunities at Technical Assent.

“We see government leaders increasingly recognizing the benefits of using customer experience to improve their program performance,” said John DiLuna, Technical Assent’s founder and CEO. “It sounds simple—design government services that people prefer to use—but there are several key factors that program managers need to get right to set the effort for success.”

The new role of business development director at Technical Assent addresses this need.

“As a member of the executive leadership team, Todd will be helping prospective clients target the correct mission problem and making sure Technical Assent and our partners are in the best position to solve it,” said DiLuna.

About Technical Assent

Technical Assent is a consultancy to the federal government that improves agencies from the bottom up—starting with customer experience. Technical Assent helps agencies design, implement, and deliver services that inspire by providing customer-experience design, solution implementation, and services management.

The company is a SDVOSB and prime contractor on the Department of Veterans Affairs flagship VECTOR contract in addition to other government-wide contract vehicles such as the GSA Professional Services Schedule. As a CMMI-SVC/3 firm, Technical Assent is committed to providing exceptional service experiences and delivering consistent results to its federal government clients.

For more information about Technical Assent, visit www.technicalassent.com and www.linkedin.com/company/technical-assent.

Media Contact

Chris Bobbitt
cbobbitt@technicalassent.com
202-904-8527

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 Technical Assent consultants uses a sheet of paper as a visual aid in presenting a prototype to government employees

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

A Technical Assent employee talks with a group of government employees during a prototyping sessionRecently, I traveled to Florida with a co-worker to test some service prototypes with a government audience. Long story short, once we arrived, everything went wrong.

 This wasn’t my first rodeo and, as usual when presenting at someone else’s facility, we had prepared many backups for our technology setup. We had our materials on a hard drive. We them on the cloud. We had them on external media drives and we had emailed files to the our audience in advance. But for one reason or another, none of it worked.

 Fortunately, we had printouts of a paper-based exercise with us, but even the electronic presentation meant to guide participants through that exercise didn’t work. The computer “game” was functioning, but instead of using it on a projector as intended, it could now only be played on a single laptop screen.

 We only had three hours’ time with the group, we needed their feedback, and we’d already traveled six hours to get there. So we proceeded using only what we had. And you know what? It went surprisingly well.

Aside from the obvious embarrassment and frustration of falling prey to Murphy’s Law, the feedback we got from this catastrophic test was just as good—and possibly better—than what we were able to capture in previous tech-enabled tests. Here’s why (and a few of the prototyping lessons for government we learned):

My introduction was reduced to only the most important points

In government work, we tend to demonstrate our understanding of complex bureaucratic frameworks by caveating and referencing everything we say. As consultants, we also tend to spend lots of time reassuring clients that our recommendations come from demonstrable expertise and logic. Therefore, not having a carefully prepared set of slides in this context was daunting—but the format forced brevity, directness, and honesty with the audience. I had only one “slide”: the whiteboard in the room where I’d scribbled a few notes from memory of my PowerPoint presentation.

The result was that the preliminaries were over quickly and after few questions, we were on our way. People were moving around, asking questions, engaging immediately at the start of the event rather than 20 minutes in.

We learned something about the structure of the offering

Rather than having 15 people move through the exercises in order, we broke into small groups. Some of the participants gathered around the laptop for the “game” while others worked through the paper packets.  The results of individual exercises were roughly comparable to results collected from tests done “in order.” As a result, I now understand that a series of exercises we had previously considered to be strictly linear might be rearranged (or possibly made iterative) without seriously impacting the outcome.

Participants’ deeper engagement revealed intrinsic priorities

The clarifications I had to give while we played in the new—unintended—format helped me understand which parts of the presentation really mattered most. The format highlighted what participants understood intuitively and what actually requires additional preparation. The thoughtfulness and level of detail participants put into the feedback demonstrated a much deeper engagement with the prototypes than previous tests.

It was clear what we didn’t yet understand about our own prototypes

The reason? All the answers and directions we gave participants were from memory. Watching our team explain the prototypes from memory gave me not only a list of things to improve about the prototype, but also a better understanding of what kinds of training we’ll need to do with staff to ensure everyone has the basic expertise required to facilitate in a situation like this.

Technical Assent employees use memory and paper simulations after their electronic prototyping models failed during a presentationConclusion: Including these prototyping lessons for government in future events

While I love plans, and believe in the power of technology to support engagement, this “failure” of technology and planning was actually refreshing. My main takeaway from this experience was that rather than preparing presentations in the hopes that nothing breaks, sometimes the thing to do in an iterative design process really is to build the “break” in intentionally. This is a relatively common tactic in design thinking, but one that can still feel foreign and scary in the government consulting space.

I’m already brainstorming effective ways to intentionally get the same kinds of results we got from this “failure.” For others working in government, do you intentionally build in chaos when you test ideas? What works (or doesn’t work) for you? I’d love to hear your ideas.