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The 6-Step Approach to Digital Transformation Within Government

By Greg Godbout, Chief Growth Officer, Fearless and Adam Furtado, former Platform Chief, Kessel Run, Air Force

Digital services are everywhere. They improve experiences for customers in every facet of industry. Put simply, digital services are services in the digital era. Users expect their services to be modern, digital, instant and customized.

Unfortunately, government services too often fall short of these modern expectations. In the examples where the government properly integrates digital services into organizations, they realize cost, effort and time savings that transform customer and citizen interactions for the better. New technology infrastructures, technical advancement and digital services are no longer optional. Government must embrace digital transformation or the trust gap with citizens will grow.

A digital transformation journey can transform agencies into sustainable digital service organizations that deliver greater value to their customers. However, it is incredibly difficult, particularly in highly bureaucratic organizations. According to McKinsey, less than 30% of digital transformation efforts succeed. We recommend the following principles and guidelines to improve your successful digital transformation.

Principles for a Digital Transformation Journey

  • Empathy & co-creation – Understand where you are in your journey. Focus on delivering short-term outcomes while also building sustainable service delivery.
  • Target the outcome of behavior change you want to see – Change is not simply for the sake of change. A change in behavior should be designed to deliver the desired outcomes.
  • Know where you are, where you started and where you are going – In order for teams to understand and embrace change, they need to understand why the change is important.
  • Lead change, don’t manage change – Organizational leaders can’t dictate the changes that have to happen; they have to be part of the journey.
  • Follow the terrain, not the map – While a plan is critical, organizations have to be agile to adapt to the specific barriers and challenges that lie ahead. The plan will guide you but ultimately, you have to be able to pivot as necessary.
  • Transform in production, not in a lab – Transformation requires experimentation and context with real-world observations. Change has to happen authentically to meet the needs of the users.

6-Step Digital Transformation Journey

Our six-step approach orders our thinking along the lines of Lean’s Improvement Kata and provides a level of flexibility that allows us to react to our client’s specific needs. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to these efforts, but we do have some strong opinions.

For example, we firmly believe that 1) any approach should be one that is anchored around outcomes over outputs and 2) it should be fundamentally focused on the people involved, both our clients and their customers.

Our recommended approach follows an adapted Improvement Kata model and is systematic but not rigid. The visualization appears as a linear trajectory, but in reality, there are far more loops and iterations in the process than are pictured. For each phase, we identify Outcomes, Deliverables and Actions.

  1. Vision Co-Creation – Craft a new vision, update your current vision and focus on communications and alignment. The vision should be challenging, yet easily understood by customers, employees, partners and stakeholders.
  2. Current State Co-Discovery – Assess the current state of the organization, primarily focused on the capabilities to deliver the shared vision. This current state process includes a series of self-assessments, customer interviews, staff interviews, artifact reviews, workshops and other tools to build as much understanding as possible.
  3. Strategy Co-Development – Determine the initial target conditions to tackle based on our learning to date. Organizations are like large ships and cannot be turned quickly. In this phase, it is common to come across complex, seemingly existential bureaucratic blockers that impede progress. This phase is also a great time to focus on alignment across the client organization, ensuring a consistent understanding of what the undertaking will entail, so we maintain the buy-in needed to successfully execute our experiments.
  4. Experiment Co-Execution – Set the conditions for continuous experimentation and start executing them. Some examples of the type of experimentation in this phase include introducing design thinking techniques to a team without strong (or any) UX focus in its product; organizing a software team as a small, empowered, cross-functional team; trying new product management processes in order to break down work into smaller chunks; or introducing Objectives and Key Results frameworks from client leadership.
  5. Sustainable Co-Scaling – Scale the things that are working and re-attack the things that aren’t with a focus on knowledge creation. Using best practices in organization psychology, change management and internal communications, organizations should develop and execute an internal communications campaign to introduce the new goals, foster awareness of experiments, build excitement around the value of change to the organization and message stakeholders about their role in the changes taking place. This will also help monitor the reception of the work across the organization and address potential issues around the new vision.
  6. Continuous Co-Assessment – Continuous growth is constant. Check your work and adjust as needed. Create organizational playbooks, knowledge management systems and processes, instrumenting the systems to be able to visualize your work properly and building an internal structure to enable internal client coaching on new ways of working. This shift transforms an organization into one of continuous improvement, and this is what makes the work from a “digital transformation” engagement to “just the way they work now.” That is true transformation.

Ultimately digital transformations are about people. All of the frameworks, assessments and experiments in the world won’t matter if you haven’t appealed to the people at the heart of those transformations.

Greg Godbout, an entrepreneur and experienced solution architect, is the Chief Growth Officer for Fearless, a full stack digital services firm based in Baltimore.

Adam Furtado is an Air Force veteran and former Platform Chief at Kessel Run, the Air Force’s first software factory.

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