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Process change is at the heart of federal digital transformation, which means IT leaders must understand it and make it a top priority at their agencies. Business models can and should evolve as new technologies enable new capabilities, and that means changing the ways things are done.

However, process change is also complex, with human factors playing at least as large a role as technology in creating challenges. In plain language, most people resist doing new things, or old things in new ways, and it’s up to their leaders to ease the path.

Fortunately, commercial industry has already cleared the trail, at least partially. The private sector has amassed significant experience in disciplines such as agile methodology, DevOps and shared services. Commercial organizations are often adept at establishing a continuous development/deployment/test pipeline and making operational upgrades without system downtime.

As these disciplines are all important in federal process change as well, agencies can adopt many of the best practices that industry discovered the hard way.

Not everything in industry is transferable to government, of course; agencies have unique needs, considerations and compliance mandates that private sector organizations can disregard. Still, learning from industry’s experience can help agencies bypass some potential problems.

Based on my own experience in federal agencies and commercial organizations, I can offer these guiding principles to senior executives in government who are embarking on true process transformation initiatives:

  1. Be open to external influences. Analyze best practices with experts from industry and government; draw on the insights of members of your team who spent years in industry before joining the government, or tap experienced outside consultants.
  2. Evaluate adaptability. Use a double-barreled approach to identify best practices that can transfer directly, and those that must be modified to meet government regulations and rules.
  3. Gauge the gaps. Some differences between industry and government standards may be too big to bridge in one shot. Plan to take small steps when necessary.
  4. Prioritize adoption. Once the high-level analysis is complete, draw on your team to help develop some basic, high-priority policy and process documents. Don’t try to do everything at once in these documents; be targeted and focused on your most pressing needs first.
  5. Embed leadership and accountability. Build an expectation of continuous process improvement (Lean Six Sigma) into the organizational culture to ensure continued progress, even if the person driving the effort were to leave the position. Make sure federal employees contribute to policy and process changes, allowing them to take ownership—and accountability.

All of that said, true process change happens over time. A CIO who stays only for two to three years could be hard-pressed to make changes that lead to continuous improvement. An expert industry partner can really ease the way, providing perspective, experience and ongoing leadership alongside the organization’s own management and employees. If the CIO maximizes the legacy of transformational change through policy and process, even with shorter tenured leadership, it can leave lasting improvement.

Read more about proven approaches to process improvement in this white paper.

About this author

John Owens

John B. Owens II

Vice President, Consulting

John is a vice president with CGI Federal’s Emerging Technologies Practice. Prior to joining CGI in 2017, Owens spent nine years as CIO at the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office, leading the agency’s adoption of innovative methods for software development, including agile and DevOps. ...

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