Modernizing mindset, processes and tools for digital transformation
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Modernizing mindset, processes and tools for digital transformation

April 27, 2023 | Updated on June 7, 2023
Amanda Starling Gould, Olivia Mathias, Dorsy Yoffie

Federal agencies are increasingly adopting innovative methods, like agile, that prioritize iteration and user experience to transform digital service delivery and better serve the American public. To meet this moment, the Partnership for Public Service hosted a four-part series of workshops titled “Agile Government and Digital Transformation” with Slalom and Fearless.  

This blog, the final in our series of four, draws from our workshop session featuring a conversation with Jamie Holcombe, chief information officer of the Patent and Trademark Office and Kessel Run’s Materiel Leader Max Reele. 

Woven throughout this series of “Agile Government and Digital Transformation” blogs has been a consistent refrain that people are at the heart of any digital transformation project. We conclude our series with tips for thoughtfully shifting agency culture to accommodate new technologies and techniques. 

Changing mindsets to embrace change 

One vital component of a digital transformation that should not be underestimated is the organizational and cultural shifts that accompany technological upgrades. Leaders should create an environment that embraces change within agency culture and processes. 

A critical element of that environment includes permission to fail. During our fourth “Agile Government and Digital Transformation” panelist discussion on March 10, 2023, Jamie Holcombe, chief information officer at the Patent and Trademark Office, described a pain point he notices early in digital transformation projects: When employees fear failure, they insist on perfecting a transformation plan before taking any action.  

Holcombe and Kessel Run’s Max Reele agreed that making people feel comfortable enough to fail is critical for an agency’s growth, as they’ve found that creating a workplace where people feel empowered to act enables agile ways of working.  

People, processes and tools are equally essential to digital transformation. Here are several tips for embarking on a digital transformation project while instilling a sense of safety and empowerment across the agency: 

  • Empower and incentivize employees to challenge established ways of thinking and take smart risks. 
  • Solicit feedback to include users in digital transformation and change-management processes.  
  • Lean on diversity of thought in facilitated sessions. Create an environment that invites everyone’s participation, welcomes all ideas regardless of rank and prevents only the most vocal audience members from dominating the discussion. Steer clear of groupthink and keep biases at bay.  
  • Demonstrate clearly how chosen tools will make employees’ jobs easier.  
  • Invest in training that focuses on the whole person, not just technology-related skills. 

Changing systems to support culture change 

  • To promote agile ways of working, leaders must set clear expectations, communicate continuously and create an environment that minimizes fear of failure. 
  • To support cultural change and innovation, performance measures must shift from a single standard of success, where failure is feared, to metrics that reward smart risk-taking and technological adoption. 
  • When measuring success, it is important that leaders balance team autonomy with the need to reach system-level performance. One of the biggest challenges agencies face in this regard is determining governance that is good for the whole portfolio without sacrificing individual team empowerment. 
  • Aim to change the tools, not the people. The goal should be to change the tools and processes for the people. 

For more, please read the other blogs in this series:

This post was authored by Olivia Mathias, solutions owner for federal business advisory services at Slalom, Dorsy Yoffie, the director of delivery excellence at Slalom, and Amanda Starling Gould.  

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