Service Design for Government
Technical Assent Logo

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.

A group of professionals interact at a table; engaging with customers is key in government service design

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

Technical Assent’s vision is helping federal government organizations create excellent services. To do this, we emphasize with our government service design teams how important it is to “think like your customer.” What we mean by this is that we should have a good understanding of who our customer is and what they want. But here’s the thing—it’s almost impossible to think exactly like your customer in a realistic way.

My team is in the midst of designing and developing a solution offering that takes incredibly complex problems like rising sea levels and makes them approachable by turning them into collaborative games and exercises. We’ve spent months developing something we thought would make sense to our target client base. Last week, we went off-site and tested our offering twice with two groups of volunteers from government offices. The volunteers ranged from experienced SMEs to junior staff performing support work on the topic area.

The results?

Some people loved what we were doing. Some didn’t understand why we were talking to them in the first place. Some saw opportunities in our vision but identified things they wanted to change.

The Key to Success Government Service Design

Part of the reason consultants and designers spend so much of their time trying to think like their customers is that it’s incredibly hard—nearly impossible—to do. No matter how hard you work to understand your customer base, define personas, identify points of view, and create empathy, the design team is never going to be able to see things exactly like your customers do.

Part of this is the nature of human complexity; people are diverse and hard to predict. Part of this is natural bias on the part of the designer. But here’s the takeaway: no matter how much time you spend trying to think like your customer, the most important part of any design effort is to take the time to test your solution and gain feedback from actual people who are not you and who would conceivably be your customers.

This is not rocket science, but it’s a detail that is easy to forget or skip all together. Sitting in an office and iterating based on the team’s is a lot less work and a lot more comfortable than identifying effective, appropriate ways to test with government customers.

But despite the potential to be uncomfortable, do take this step. Schedule opportunities for real customer feedback early and often, and make sure you listen. After all, seeking customer feedback is not something that is just for private industry; this is absolutely critical to real success in government service design as well.

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

U.S. Capitol during cherry blossom season represents the idea of government innovation

Government Innovation with Purpose in a New Administration

In April, I attended MITX’s DesignTech summit in Boston and had the opportunity to talk to a lot of really interesting folks designing innovations in the IT world today. As a government innovation professional, I particularly enjoyed the keynote by Gene Han – he said two things in that stuck with me:

  1. Innovation must have purpose
  2. Innovation is about getting things to work together (it’s not always about the most advanced technology)

 

Both statements are simple, and neither is totally new, but these are sometimes hard principles to remember and apply – particularly in the government innovation world. Mr. Han probably didn’t have the federal government (or state or local) in the front of his mind when he gave his talk, but it struck me how important these two principles are for the government (and those like me who support them) in this precise moment.

Big-budget departments like the Department of Defense have been talking about government innovation for some time – former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter gave a speech this week reminding the world of the steps he took to try to bring innovation back to Defense. However, the future of those initiatives is cloudy in a new administration with different priorities.

Other organizations, many with already small budgets, find themselves facing new budget priorities and potential for significantly reduced spending power. And yet, the country faces a lot of really important and unprecedented social, economic, and diplomatic challenges.

If the government’s goal is to continue (or even improve) its service to the public, they need to get innovating at a time when resources to innovate are increasingly slippery. Daunting, yes – but it can be done, especially if we remember to have purpose and make things work together.

What does federal government innovation look like in practice?

Focus on outcomes first

This sounds easy but can be surprisingly hard in government spaces where things are often done because of regulation or policy, not value. Identify what the improvement looks like in practice and then work backwards.   If you build something cool that no one uses, your “innovation” is without purpose – and therefore not really innovative at all.

Use the tools you already have

Think hard – and seriously – about how to use the tools you already have to create innovative government solutions. If you can reach your outcomes by rethinking process, training, and re-use (or better use) of everyday tools that everyone already has. This is where “making things work together” comes in. It doesn’t matter if it’s a laser-guided missile or a really well-designed process with a shared drive; if you’re doing something new to improve the status quo, you’re innovating.

Think about requirements as constraints, not restraints. Too often in government we get stuck in the mindset that “we can’t” because of all the requirements placed on us (interoperability, reporting, security, authority…the list goes on). If we start to think of these requirements as constraints (that which imposes structure) as opposed to restraints (that which limits), we suddenly allow ourselves to think more creatively and proactively.

Simplify

Another temptation for those swimming in government bureaucracy is to think that everything has to be highly specialized or complicated for it to work.   The more we focus on outcomes, the easier it is to focus on core requirements. This makes it a lot easier to find an iterative path to innovation: ways of making ideas, people, methods and tools connect to get things done.

 

Maybe there is hope for the White House Office of American Innovation after all.