Service Design for Government
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Young asian boy laying down on his stomach on the bed while looking engrossed in the television holding the remote control

Won’t you be my neighbor? Consultant communication tips inspired by Mr. Rogers

In order to communicate clearly, consultants must truly understand the mindset and worldview of their clients. This ensures ideas are communicated in terms that make sense to the client and it is especially important when making recommendations.

Last year I wrote an article connecting emotional intelligence (EQ) and successful consulting. One of the main ideas in the article was the concept of empathy in communication. Recently I came across a great article in The Atlantic explaining how beloved children’s television icon Mr. Rogers used his exceptional ability to empathize with children. This ability was one of the things that made his show so successful. 

Though the article’s focus is communication with children, some of Mr. Rogers’s techniques are easily applied to communication in the government consulting world. The following are two key take-aways for improving communication in consulting. 

Ask yourself: Could this be misinterpreted?

Rather than seeking to affirm that your words will be understood, seek to understand how they might be misinterpreted. 

The producer of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood coined the term “Freddish” to refer to the way in which Mr. Rogers would require re-writes of the script because Mr. Rogers was able to anticipate how his audience—children, who tend to take things very literally—might misinterpret what was being said. 

In the article, the producer recounted a scene in a hospital featuring a nurse inflating a blood pressure cuff:

two boys watch TV while snuggling under a blanket

“[The nurse] originally said ‘I’m going to blow this up’…Fred made us redub the line, saying, ‘I’m going to puff this up with some air,’ because ‘blow it up’ might sound like there’s an explosion, and he didn’t want the kids to cover their ears and miss what would happen next.” 

It is much easier to rationalize why your statements are right than to imagine how they might sound wrong to others. However, the practice of putting yourself in your client’s position and imagining all the ways your words could be misinterpreted will boost your success in multiple ways. 

  • What you are communicating is less likely to be misinterpreted and therefore more likely to be well-received
  • You can prepare to address potential misunderstandings or objections to your recommendations
  • You may learn something about your client in the process that will allow you to improve the substance of your recommendations

For example, say one of your recommendations is to “Stand up an office to support information sharing and promulgate best practices.” Your client might interpret “office” as a formal organization that has specific objectives and requires its own budget. If that is not what you mean, then in a case such as this, you could instead use a phrase like “center of excellence” or “informal organization” to avoid misinterpretation.

Use lenses to consider multiple communication angles

Develop a list of goals, constraints, and other considerations relevant to your client’s goals and the context in which they work. 

Think of each of these items as a “lens” through which you can view your words. After you decide what your recommendations are, review the way you plan to communicate these recommendations by thinking about them through the lenses of your clients’ goals, constraints, and other considerations.  

businesspeople listen to a consultant who is talking

Just as Mr. Rogers had rules for translating English into “Freddish” using the lens of a child’s worldview, consultants can establish communication goals and use them to filter their ideas so that they will be well received by their clients. 

For example, if your client’s organization prioritizes coordination with other stakeholders, you might rephrase a recommendation like “Stand up a center of excellence” to “Coordinate with partners to stand up a center of excellence.” In the revised text, you’re acknowledging that the client (or their leadership) will likely require heavy coordination with others to achieve this. 

In this case, the addition of four simple words does two things:

  • It shows you understand your client’s operating environment. This in turn supports your client’s trust that your work will help them achieve their goals
  • It avoids unnecessary back-and-forth about how the client would need to do heavy coordination in order to achieve standing up a center of excellence

This wordsmithing should not be the first step in developing recommendations, but this process will definitely help avoid unnecessary disconnects because of how recommendations are presented to the audience.

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

a happy lady and boy riding in a car

Visualizing the work-life balance at Technical Assent

Summer can be the busiest time of year for us here at Technical Assent. It’s also the time of year when our employees use most of their vacation hours. This isn’t an ideal combination, but we understand the call of good weather and the need to accommodate kids’ school schedules.

As our CEO, John DiLuna, wrote in a past Insights post:

“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.”

Last month, with back-to-school sales already in full swing and first-day-of-school pictures starting to fill our social media feeds, we decided to squeeze a little more out of summer by sharing employees’ summer vacation photos over on our company LinkedIn page.

Now on the cusp of the season officially turning to fall, we’re preserving the memories here. Kudos go to our employees who, in turn, pitched in and worked extra hard to enable their colleagues to take truly uninterrupted breaks during their vacations.

#worklifebalance #outofoffice #summervacation

many documents on office desk: messy desk

Revitalize Your Work Space with Office Spring-Cleaning

Computer keyboard with keys removed for cleaningNow that spring has arrived, the internet—Pinterest especially—is abuzz with spring cleaning tips. Just like new year’s resolutions, spring cleaning is a ritual of fresh starts and renewal. While spring cleaning is typically associated with your home, the benefits of spring cleaning can—and should be—extended to your work space.

In the past, homeowners embraced spring cleaning to air the house out after being shut up and sooty all winter and to make the transition between running a house winter-style and summer-style. In today’s modern life, spring cleaning provides a way to tackle deep cleaning and organization tasks that don’t need to be done regularly, or ones that should be done regularly and you just…haven’t.

In this sense, spring cleaning is a perfect example of several of the strategies in author Gretchen Rubin’s nonfiction books on happiness, habit-forming, and organization. In particular, spring cleaning is a linking strategy. Rather than perpetually reminding yourself to do things like wiping off the accumulated dust on the back of your monitor, retrieving things that fell down the gap behind your bookcase, and hand-vacuuming the accumulated food crumbs from your pencil drawer, you can now let yourself forget about them. You’ll be tackling all of those kinds of tasks automatically, with the annual prompt of spring cleaning season.

check list of what to clean in an office

Click to go to the blog at See Jane Work where you can down load this checklist

Office Spring-Cleaning Checklist

I’m not the first to write about spring cleaning for the office. When I looked around online to see if there were aspects that hadn’t been covered yet, I came across a beautiful and comprehensive office spring cleaning checklist from 2016 on the blog at See Jane Work. Therefore, instead of reinventing the wheel, I’m going to point you directly to the blog post so you can download the checklist and print out a copy for yourself.

Notice, most of the things on this list are things you need to do yourself, even if you have an office cleaning service. Now, to help you complete the See Jane Work checklist, here are a few quick notes on some of the cleaning tasks.

Wipe Down Monitor

Glass cleaner and a paper towel? Non-scratching cloths? According to a CNET writer who untangled the contradictory advice on the subject, a dry, lint-free cloth is the way to go, followed by a weak solution with dish soap for tougher jobs. Details here.

Untangle Cords

There are lots of products out there to help you with cord control. But even if you don’t buy any tools, the point is to keep the surface of your desk uncluttered. Most desks have a tidy little hole at the back but cords always seem to find their way out of it. Spring cleaning is the time to put the cords back down it, and to purge your overfilled power strip of no-longer-needed chargers.

With intra-device cords (ones that are not so easily hidden down your desk’s cord-hole), try wrapping the excess length around the legs of a laptop riser or the base of your monitor.

Label CordsAsian woman looking at plugs under desk

The labeling of cords is most important for the cords you don’t use on a daily basis, are shared between co-workers, or used at different locations. There are lots of hacks out there for labeling cords (and products you can buy), but my personal favorite is to simply cut a blank address label in half lengthwise, write the product name on it, fold it around the cord, and seal the sticky ends.

Start Purging

In Marie Kondo’s blockbuster organization book, The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, one of her slogans was, “Discard everything that does not spark joy.” That is a dangerous proposition when used in an office setting, but so long as you don’t apply that to office property or against official recordkeeping requirements, it’s still a good thing to have on your mind as you tidy your desk or office.

Now is the time to consolidate to-do lists, throw away dried markers, comb through the break room fridge with your co-workers, and decide which of the four staplers in your desk will stay and which you will return to the common area.

Computer monitor with mailbox and lettersOrganize Your Email

I’m always surprised by how many people tell me things like, “I had 250 emails today in my inbox today!” It’s not the number of emails that’s surprising; it’s the fact that these people are high-level professionals who have never taken the time to set up their professional email account so that it is organized and automated.

Each type of email has its own instructions for setting up rules and filters, but this article covers the subject in general terms and has several more email best practices. Here is a five-folder strategy from a writer at Fast Company if you want to get radical with your email.

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

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


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

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

runners on starting blocks at a track to represent government performance

Top Three Government Performance Indicators Every Agency Should Measure

The business case for measuring government performance is a consistent focus area for agency leaders, as government agencies are constantly challenged to demonstrate that resources are achieving intended goals and delivering value. To successfully measure agency performance, organizations must establish clear objectives that align to these outcomes.

  • utility (fit for use)
  • warranty (fit for purpose)
  • service delivery (fit for experience)


Why Measuring Government Performance Is Important

Government programs exist to deliver specific outcomes in support of a function or mission. For agencies like the Department of Veterans Affairs, ongoing performance measurement is essential in demonstrating accountability of government resources towards achieving specific outcomes in health, education, disability, and memorial benefits for veterans and their families.

Agencies must continually demonstrate success in this era of unprecedented transparency; the media, watch-dog organizations, and citizens have direct insight into government performance. The public has immediate access through social media to voice complaints and to highlight experiences that were less than satisfactory. Additionally, the media is following “big government” closely and congressional interaction and testimony is being shared as part of the daily news.

As a result of this level of public oversight, leading agencies are reconsidering how they measure and communicate their value directly to customers. As such, government agencies must create a credible brand of being the best at what they do for the best value. Additionally, while it is important to know that the resources were used in accordance with the laws and regulations, it is also critically important to demonstrate that the resources are effective, efficient, and relevant to their intended customers.

Three Key Government Performance Indicators

Considering the current level of scrutiny surrounding governmental organizations, Technical Assent has partnered with numerous organizations to develop metrics platforms using key government performance indicators. In our work at the Department of Defense, we track closure of capability gaps identified on our project baseline in addition to usability. Our most recent efforts have been focused on Veterans Affairs, as VA is laser focused on producing outcomes for veterans, such as healthcare, benefits administration, and memorial services. As part of the VA transformation, however, it is equally important to improve the internal government-to-government (G2G) shared services that enable VA employees to support the mission outcomes.

To achieve the MyVA goal to Improve the Employee Experience, all VA services must mark progress, highlight areas for improvement, and demonstrate areas where the government goals and objectives of the organization are being met and exceeded. These capabilities allow VA’s leadership and stakeholders to make critical decisions that accelerate change and ensure that VA is effectively and efficiently serving American veterans and their families.

Government Performance Indicator 1: Utility

Whether a service has utility is determined by whether it solves a customer’s problem or removes a constraint. For the government, a service has utility if it is relevant to the customer need and aligned with the core mission.

Government Performance Indicator 2: Warranty

Beyond solving the customer’s problem, the value of a service is also measured on its usability. Attributes of warranty include availability, continuity, security, and capacity (enough to meet the demand). The customer defines these performance targets based on their desired quality and perceived risk. In a shared services environment, customers may pay different rates for access to different tiers of service.

Government Performance Indicator 3: Service Delivery

As the utility and warranty of services become commoditized, customer experience plays a bigger role in customers’ perceptions of value. To be clear, the “experience” in this context goes beyond the user experience (UX/UI) of your website (or, for that matter, any one technology channel). This “experience” is the sum of all interactions that a customer has with a provider across all delivery channels throughout the lifetime of that relationship. In a G2G shared service environment, customer experience acknowledges that unsatisfied customers will seek out other alternatives.

While all three service attributes contribute to customers’ perceptions of service quality, it is the service delivery that elevates an organization’s brand and demonstrates organizational value and credibility. Providing an authentic customer experience certainly impacts the “what” of a solution and focuses on “how” the service is being delivered as customers learn about, narrow, select, consume, and retire a service. Moreover, effective service delivery can answer the questions such as who are you and what do you do well?

How We Can Help

Technical Assent specializes in improving government performance by optimizing the customer experience. Our Service Optimization Framework generates service solutions in-line with the Government Performance and Results Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) which are measured by their utility, warranty, and service delivery. As a CMMI-SVC organization, we have formalized this capability and successfully applied our approach to identify and model the correct performance measures, analyze the results, and make recommendations for improvements along with celebrating the successes.

picture of team collaboration

Five Tips for a Successful Transition to Self-Managed Teams

by Danielle N. Paula, Technical Assent consultant

Part Three of a three-part series

With 80% of Fortune 1000 companies reportedly now using self-managed teams in an Agile environment, you may be thinking that the traditional top-down, command-and-control organizational hierarchies may become extinct – and with good reason. There are several advantages to employing self-managed teams in an Agile environment over the traditional hierarchy structure including increased employee satisfaction, lower overhead costs, and increased stakeholder buy-in.

While you may have read previous articles about organizations successfully employing self-managed teams, it’s important to note that their success doesn’t happen overnight. There are several hurdles that can stand in your way, not only in making the transition, but also in ensuring that teams are successful once the transition is made. To be successful, you need to be willing to lay the proper foundation and be ready to actively engage throughout the transition and after. Whether you are just starting the transition or are already part of a self-managed team, here are five tips to help set your teams up for success.

1. Make Sure You Are Reorganizing for the Right Reasons

It’s not an uncommon occurrence for a CEO to determine that the company needs to reorganize into self-managed teams without understanding the real motivations behind it. There are lots of studies, anecdotes, and statistics which promote the benefits of self-managed teams like faster time to market, increased profits, and lower overhead. While this may be true, leaders need to set realistic, measurable goals before engaging in a reorganization. You’ll also need to make sure you revisit and reassess these goals often to ensure your teams are always properly aligned.

2. Communicate Early and Often

Ensure that management is involved from the get go. Start talking about the transition and take steps to set expectations. Leave yourself time between announcing the shift to its actual implementation. This will open the door to employee questions and answers, which greatly eases uncertainty (especially among managers who may find themselves taking on different roles in this new structure). If you’ve already made the transition, commit to regular open communication with employees including timely updates of the organization’s goals and visions. It’s extremely important for employees to understand organizational and project goals, as well as the context around it. Create an open-door policy with leaders so that employees can ask clarifying questions and share any frustrations related to working in a self-managed team. This will not only let employees create better work products but also let them know that it is natural to have growing pains. The open communication can also facilitate opportunities for improvements.

3.  Hire a Professional Agile Re-Org Consultant

If you have never been through an organizational transition or feel the need for expert advice to ease the transition, hiring an expert can be invaluable.. It’s inherently natural for employees to fear change. Professional Agile consultants are used to creating and working with self-managed teams. They can help show you and your employees that change isn’t so scary. A consultant can meet with leaders to delve into the “why” and “how” behind the move to self-managed teams. They’ll also be able to facilitate group exercises, focus groups, Q&A sessions, and help draft communications providing a path forward that works for your organization.

4. Use 360-Degree Feedback to Garner Employee Buy-In

Engage all employees in the reorganization process by holding focus groups or discussion panels to help influence the way the teams are created. Also solicit feedback from employees about what they like about their current positions. Ask if it make sense for the teams to be project based, goal based, or even functionally based. Evaluate if there are areas in the organization that lack expertise or support and build them up with the reorganization process. Encourage team members to provide open and honest, constructive feedback to their team members regularly to improve collaboration and work products. Gathering input from employees shows that they are valuable assets to the organization.

Engaging employees in the reorganization process and trusting them to make decisions that would directly impact the organization, communicates that they are valued by the organization. When employees feel valued, they will reciprocate by contributing more to the organization (ex., best work and ideas).

Opower, which I talked about in <Part Two> of this series, used this 360-Degree Feedback approach in a team self-selection process. Originally, they assumed that each team would be assigned one front-end and one back-end developer to carry out the work. When they initially had issues getting the right number of people with the right skills on each team, they asked employees for feedback. Specifically, they asked: “Why did you choose the team you’re on now?” Through this approach, they found that their developers were more interested in growing their knowledge set and learning full-stack development instead of sticking with just front-end or just back-end development. This feedback provided much needed insight into why employees picked their team which ultimately helped further structure the projects teams to meet both the employee and company goals. Furthermore, it increased the employees’ overall satisfaction with the process and the team they ended up with.

5. Educate Employees on Self-Management

There is often a transition period where employees will doubt that they are truly not reporting to a manager and are responsible for their own work. Some employees may have difficulty transitioning from a task-directed environment to the self-managed environment. This applies to all employees no matter their seniority or position within the company. Managers may find themselves in a new role where they are no longer micro-managing the employees and must learn to give up control and trust that they hired smart, talented people to carry out the job that will provide the intended results. Previously task-directed employees will need to now work within a team to define what and how work is done to meet the company goals and objectives. They will also need to make sure they can manage their work priorities on their own without a manager specifically laying it out for them.

Consider holding training sessions with employees to teach them self-managed work best practices. This will give them the power of knowledge and necessary tools to be successful in the new self-managed structure.


Remember that change is not easy and successful self-managed teams are not created overnight. It will take hard work, dedication, and a lot of time to even implement a change let alone ensure it runs efficiently and effectively. Though it can be time consuming, if done correctly, your organization can get back that time and more due to the benefits of self-managed teams like increased efficiency, higher employee satisfaction, and better quality work products. Also know that while you may have some bumps, you are joining many other organizations that have already made the transition and found it greatly successful for not only the organization, but also their employees, and customers.

This article is Part Three of a three-part series.

Part One: Do We Really Need Managers? Making the Case for Self-Managed Teams

Part Two: Are Self-Managed Teams Right for Your Organization?

two people working on design project

Are Self-Managed Teams Right for Your Organization?

by Danielle N. Paula, Technical Assent consultant

Part Two of a three-part series

Last week, we covered the differences between traditionally managed organizations and organizations using self-managed teams. Now, let’s dive deeper into some of the specific benefits of running self-managed teams, as well as some of the disadvantages.

Benefits of Self-Managed Teams

Benefit 1: Increased Employee Satisfaction

Employees who work on self-managed teams report a higher level of job satisfaction than those in task-directed, top-down management models. Self-managed teams promote ownership and direct involvement. In Chuck Blakeman’s TED Talk “The Emerging Work World in the Participation Age” he discusses why self-managed teams improve employee satisfaction:

“…[people] won’t put up with just having a job, stripped of its humanity. They actually want work, not a job, because work is meaningful. A job only pays the bills. In the participation age, people will work because they can make meaning at work, not just money. Self-managed teams [are] one great way to do that.”

Benefit 2: Higher Productivity and Lower Overhead Costs

A Cornell University case study on the economic costs and benefits of self-managed teams found that self-managed teams were able to complete work in 60-70% less time than working in a traditional hierarchy. The study also found significant cost savings on indirect management oversight costs of up to 75%. These types of savings can be applied directly back into the business to fuel its growth. The savings could be used to employ more teams, provide better salaries and benefits, or invested into the expansion of new and innovative products or markets.

Benefit 3: Direct Information Touch Points

Working in self-managed teams in a flat structure encourages the dissemination of information directly from the business leaders to the team. Leaders often speak directly to teams about the organization’s goals and objectives and encourage questions and feedback. Messages that must go through several chains of command are often inflated, deflated, or mischaracterized, ultimately leading to misinformation. Implementing this type of direct communication can decrease the risk of spreading misinformation and reduces the time it takes to travel to employees. Direct communication also provides better contextual clues for the employee. This supports clearer understanding which leads to more informed decision making.

Benefit 4: Stakeholder Buy-In

Self-managed teams focus on turning employees into stakeholders and managers into leaders. Making this conscious transition strengthens employees’ connection to the mission of the organization. For example, at the recent Business Agility Conference, O2 Agility shared their experiment of using the self-selection process to reorganize their self-managed teams at Opower. Employees were asked to assign themselves to the project they wanted to work on most. Not only were all the teams easily formed in one afternoon with all of the skills necessary for execution, but they also found that 40% of participants chose their team because it was what was best for the company, not what was best for themselves. In addition, 88% of participants reported they were satisfied with the team they ended up on and no one said they were dissatisfied.

Benefit 5: Empowerment to Make Decisions

When employees are empowered to make decisions, it can have a direct effect on the organization’s bottom line. In self-managed teams, employees are trusted to use their judgement instead of pushing information up and down a chain of command for approvals. By eliminating the necessity for elevating issues through several management channels, solutions can be implemented more efficiently and effectively.

Fast turnaround can be particularly important in customer service departments. You’ve probably had at least one frustrating call with a customer service call center, where a complaint had to go through several levels of management before a resolution was found. The speed at which a dispute is resolved can directly impact the customer’s perception of the organization and lead to the loss of expansion of its customer base.

As an example, Dave Carroll, a Canadian singer/songwriter, found that after taking a flight on United Airlines that his beloved guitar was broken in transit. United Airlines shuffled his claims requests around for more than six months without providing a resolution. In response, Dave took to YouTube and recorded a trilogy of songs: “United Breaks Guitars”, “United Breaks Guitars 2”, and “United Breaks Guitars 3”.

These three videos combined have over 19 million views on YouTube. Dave Carroll even has a page on his website dedicated to the issue. United eventually contacted Dave and offered to pay him to take down the videos. Imagine the outcome if the United service representative was empowered to resolve the issue when the incident was first reported.

Disadvantages of Self-Managed Teams

While there are lots of benefits to self-managed teams, they are not without their disadvantages. Here are a few.

Disadvantage 1: Employees must be Self-Motivated

The number one assumption an organization must make when adopting self-managed teams is that all employees can and are self-motivated and want to be self-managed. This means that the employee must have the drive and discipline to take on the necessary work without much direction. These types of employees are self-starters that can be trusted to accomplish organization and team goals without much supervision. They need to be comfortable with not having a clearly defined SOP or way forward to complete a task often developing the solution themselves.

While there are plenty of people that have these qualities, there are also plenty without. Organizations will need to carefully evaluate the people they hire to ensure they have these qualities. Additionally, team members should be encouraged to provide 360 feedback on each other’s performance to identify if team members are disengaged or not adequately supporting the team.

Disadvantage 2: Groupthink

Being self-managed can sometimes lead to “groupthink” where team members are at risk of going along with the majority instead of conducting thorough evaluations of proposed plans and solutions. Teams can combat this by encouraging team members to ask “Why?” SEMCO, a successful Brazilian manufacturing company, encourages their employees to fearlessly ask “why?” SEMCO believes that encouraging employees to ask “why?” encourages them to think thoroughly and creatively which leads to the best results for the organization as a whole.

Disadvantage 3: Not Suitable for Large Teams

Self-managed teams work best when they are small. The generally accepted team size usually falls between four and 13 people. Teams don’t work well when there are too many people. This increases bureaucracy and slows down the decision processes. Think about meetings or working groups you’ve participated in, in the past. Did you make well-analyzed decisions more quickly when there were five people or 30 people? The more team members you have the more communication paths are opened. If your organization requires larger teams to come together to make decisions, you may need managerial input to direct and manage the decision process or risk that the large self-managed teams will slow down the process and decrease productivity.


Removing managers and creating self-managed teams within an organization can be a great way to increase employee engagement and increase the organization’s efficiency. While there are disadvantages to this type of organization structure, with the right implementation, the benefits far outweigh them.

Next week, I’ll be covering some tips for making the transition to self-managed teams.

Part One: Do We Really Need Managers? Making the Case for Self-Managed Teams.

human-centered design team working

Do We Really Need Managers? Making the Case for Self-Managed Teams

by Danielle N. Paula, Technical Assent consultant

Organizations don’t need managers and employees don’t want them. This a bold statement, but it’s the way of everyday business at a number high-performing Fortune 1000 companies and was also covered in depth at the recent Business Agility 2017 conference.

The main problem with managers is that having so many levels of management can be extremely inefficient due to the several communication layers and general overhead purpose these managers serve. It’s not only inefficient, it could also be driving away top talent. One well known Gallup Poll found that over 50% of respondents who were seeking new employment positions, left because of their current managers.

Now, there are a few immediate ways to address this issue: (1) continuously train managers to become more efficient and more engaged with their subordinates or (2) get rid of them. In this article, we’ll exploring Option 2.

Multiple layers of management are found in hierarchical organizations. These organizations use a top-down, command-and-control style of management with the C-level suite executives at the top, worker-bees at the bottom, and a lot of layers in between (the management). Some hierarchical organizations organize themselves that way because it’s the default; it’s what everyone is used to. Others may follow McGregor’s Theory X that employees are lazy, don’t want to work, and need a manager hovering over them to ensure work gets completed.

Here at Technical Assent, we employ a relatively flat structure organized around self-managed teams. We operate under the assumption that employees are self-motivated, want to make valuable contributions, and can self-manage their tasks and deliverables to better achieve organizational goals. We are not alone. In a survey of Fortune 1000 companies, 80% reported they are, or plan to, move to self-managed teams.

Though the number of Fortune 1000 companies supporting self-managed teams is large, in the overall spectrum of businesses and organizations, this is not the norm. For example, the largest employer in the U.S., the U.S. Federal Government, still uses a top-down management approach. Additionally, even for companies supporting self-managed teams, the level of implementation varies widely. Some companies may only use self-managed teams for their developers and then assign a manager to oversee several of those small self-managed teams. Others, like SEMCO, don’t set schedules for the manufacturing plant line workers, instead allowing workers to set their own hours.

How Self-Managed Teams Work

Self-managed teams take ownership of the projects and tasks necessary to achieve an agreed upon goal shifting accountability from the manager to the employee. The “when, where, and how” are determined by the self-managed team, not by a manager. Team members are responsible for creating solutions to self-identified problems. They are given the trust and authority to implement necessary solutions to achieve organizational goals without approval from a manager.

This approach simplifies the work process and employees make decisions that directly affect business outcomes. It doesn’t force employees into a mold, which in turn opens the door to more collaboration and creativity.

Instead of relying on specialized functional silos, teams are cross-functional. Team members support each other by allowing each member’s expertise to shine. This increased feeling of being a valued participant encourages empowerment and ownership in their work products, which is not usually seen in top-down structures and can directly impact the success of the business.

This isn’t to say that self-managed teams are always entirely responsible for determining what the goals of the organization are. There is almost always a leader that the employees support (not report to) that is responsible for setting and communicating the strategic and tactical goals of the company. The team members are then given the responsibility and authority to creatively execute and deliver the results, not individual tasks.

When It Makes Sense to Shift to Self-Managed Teams

While many companies are making the switch, self-managed teams may not work for every type of organization, so it is important to understand its advantages and disadvantages before making the leap. I’ll be covering this in further detail in next week’s article. (This article is Part One of a three-part series.)