Handling delays on Internal Projects due to skill gaps

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Other duties as assigned or projects performed by employees are both precarious and advantageous.

There are slower times in employees operations, and most talented employees will enjoy the extra challenge, which means you can get more production out of them as well as they can add skillsets to their career. But, the peter principle of management typically yields adding more other duties, projects, or promotions until the performance level drops. Typically, to get them back on track, coaching, consulting, or even get-well plans are required. Also, during this phase, if not addressed, when career growth is stymied as either bored or overwhelmed, they want to retain with minimal effort, while just enough to retain employment and to have time to surf for future jobs on the web.

So if the staff is not familiar with these other duties or projects, they will most definitely slip, cost more, done with lowest quality, or requested scope. So, you have four options – coach more, invest in consulting, put on get-well plan, or let go due to underperformance – or the fifth no action and let those duties and project objectives slip.

If this is staff you want to retain, then get well or coaching can help, but if you have near-term project objectives, the only other option is adding consultants. You may have internal folks who can be that, but many times, they are also under duress with their own scope. This means introducing consultants. Possibly, the solution is a new hire for a new permanent position, but the perception will be for the first 90 days, this person is an “outside” consultant.

Avoiding The Bobs

“What would you say you do here?” is the imminent persona of a consultant as portrayed on the movie office space. 

Employees have had many bad experiences working with consultants. Sure, many good ones as well, and a lot of times they are re-hired or even converted. All in all, though, it is less the consultant or more the way the consultant was brought in.

  • “I’ve had consultants work for me before and they gave me ideas way too advanced for our culture.” – In this case, deliverables were not designed, the contract was not performance-based, and the sponsor did not know exactly what they were buying
  • “They explain things using a different language. They don’t get us.” – The consultant went off and interviewed other staff or trained, and it was not tailored to their priorities, lingo, acronyms, objectives, maturity, etc.
  • Or water cooler chatter, “Why do I need these guys, they costs twice as much, and I have to train them”. There was never clear definition of measures for the staff to get the project done, so if they didn’t, on what would trigger additional help

Point being, we all have had bad experiences with consultants just like we have experiences with peer employees. The different of course is one is part of the plan most the time, and the other is a remediation when the plan has gaps.

There are a few ways to introduce outside consultants.

The best way is when you hire, promote, or give them a project, you budget this upfront knowing their gaps. But, sometimes you may want to see what the employee is made of first, or the complexity of the task/project was unknown. Bringing in consultants unplanned can tend to introduce cultural issues, and creates various turbulence if not brought in right. You still need to either start your project right or get your project back on track, and outside consulting can do just that, assuming, on a separate topic, the project is scoped right, vetted right, priced mutually well, and is clearly defined for delivery and transition. 

Also, the level of consultant you bring in will change the types of possible reaction:

  • Strategic Advisor Intrusion
  • Embedded Consultant Insult
  • Consulting Project Team Infestation

The following captures some common issues and suggested solutions for engaging outside support in hero mode.

The Strategic Advisor Intrusion:

A strategic consultant will spend time with a top sponsor. This is inserting influence where existing team used to have more time for. If value is produced that aligns all or most agendas, this is seen as positive. If no fruits are visibly linked to a wanted agenda, this is seen as an intrusion

Potential Reactions:  

  • Seen as insult to executive or leadership team
  • Some team members hog the advisor to advance own agenda possibly undermining the intended direction
  • Some team members take offense on why they aren’t receiving budget support for their gaps in support and feel their scope is undervalued and is seen as competing priorities

Suggested Solution:

  • Kick off the effort with a collaborative, tailored 2-day workshop to rapidly plan, capture drivers, needs, priorities in front of each other, make the deliverables each night, produce value immediately, show how the team can work together with the new advisor both showing they add great value, but also get their culture. Tailor the workshop to the project needs (complexity, as-is situation, defining target vision, scoping out resources, and setting milestones).

Embedded Consultant Insult

An embedded consultant can be seen as a short-timer “leader” working side-by-side existing staff trying to catalyze a vision where others may perceive as a sign of failure. If the value can be seen clearly by project or program objectives or measures advancing, this is typically on the whole seen as positive, but even then, the insult of having to get help can insult a minority of the staff, and some could be key staff.

Potential Reactions:

  • Especially in project recovery, if the sponsor forces the consultant on the lead, typical reactions go beyond resistance, and can actually go into sabotage as a sign of “Not in my backyard” protectionism. It can be seen as an insult to intelligence.
  • If also the consultant is replacing a previous leader, the “acting” or “temporary” leadership role the consultant will definitely experience an “awkard transition”. This is expensive as consultants do tend to run 1.25-2x employee costs

Solution:

  • To get this positive, three things need to happen
    • One, the lead has to recognize they are behind, the sponsor wants to help them address the gap and being specific to – project is behind, solution is not there, costs are overrunning or has a high burn rate, or project team needs more guidance to get quality up
    • Two, Consultant needs to be brought in as embedded consultant – part of the team. This is not a temp that does “rote” tasks and reports to a manager. The consultant needs be part of team, interact with all, and be expected to deliver within culture, get deliverables done. The consultant can gather, interact, make observations, and even present training or subject matter, but the concluding direction, recommendations should be presented outward by the manager. This demonstrates they get it, are competent, and can grow.
    • Thereafter, to address objectives for achieving value, the consultant needs to have clear deliverables, and early ones should be tangible and visible. This is so that others including the manager can see if they are getting what they paid for. The deliverables should be defined up front. Thereafter, you can decide to doe time & materials, but at minimum, milestones should still be clear.
    • As a way to get started, use a process that links the embedded consultant work to the newly defined/updated drivers, stakeholders, objectives, and milestones and always refer back to both when developing solution, so any collaboration is not personal, but using executive direction and proven process

Non-solution:

  • Train existing staff how to do a specific intermediate skillset – plan, design, research, architect, etc.. – who already is observed to be overwhelmed rarely yields success without first taking on more other duties or projects off their plate. These intermediate positions are multi-year effort with years of domain, subject, and pattern knowledge. The solution can be to start training, but they will come back with new acronyms and certifications (PME, ITIL, FEAC, CMMI, etc.), patterns, which take time to learn what applies when.

Consulting Project Team Infestation

A project team brought in to introduce a new system, process, migration, or evaluation can be a tidal wave when it hits. Project teams introduce a sub-culture within themselves, and can be referred to in a segregated fashion as they will be “gone soon”.

Potential Reactions: Awkard transition from previous development, resentment from those loyal to previous developers, initial stagnation, Attempted coup in defense of previous team, lower IT support to team, project team has myopic view of needs due to isolation and could impact deliverable results

Solution:

  • Foster new relationships early by getting a milestone successful executed out of gate to show the new team demonstrates results
  • Have a project liaison, whether that is the project manager, or the office correspondent, to the team that assures the project team has escalation of needs and as well help them acclimate to how “things get done around here” as well as opportunities to engage in the office culture (events, outings, even idea meetings, and brownbags)

Point being, bringing in consultants can be scary to staff if the expectations are not clear why.

Sure, there may be cases where the employee is on a get well pan while bringing in consultants. If you are not at that point, set the milestones for what needs to happen, and if those measures are not being met, and it is not at a fire point, and the coaching time dedicated is not cutting it, you need to move to consultant phase.

Macro versus Micro Geospatial Data Value

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Matt Tricomi

Kudos to the Canadian Government – NRCAN – for trying to get an clearer understanding of the economic significance and industry status of  geospatial data products, technologies and professional services industry.  http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/earth-sciences/geomatics/canadas-spatial-data-infrastructure/cgdi-initiatives/canadian-geomatics-0.  The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) produced a somewhat similar economic impact assessment for the United States in April 2013. http://geospatial.blogs.com/geospatial/2013/04/contribution-of-geospatial-services-to-the-united-states-economy.html

We geo-bigots working to support the public sector intuitively and intellectually realize geospatial’s potential value and are continuously frustrated by our lack of collective ability and capacity to make its implementation more immediate, simpler and more powerful.  While these macro- economic pictures are interesting and useful they do not seem to influence the micro government decision making capacities.  The BCG report “cautions that to continue this growth will require sustained public- and private-sector cooperation and partnership, open policies governing collection and dissemination of location-based data and increased technical education and training at all level”.

The intent of the US Federal Geographic Data Committee  (FGDC) “GeoPlatform” and Canada’s FGP, if supported by the proper policies and data management practices could simplify the data quality and acquisition challenges resident in our hyper-federated geospatial data environment.  Ironically, in the emerging and soon to be overwhelming information and knowledge based economy we are still struggling to manage data content.  Geospatial will not, break into the program and mission operations until the business leadership fundamentally adopts information centered performance objectives as a part of their organizational culture. 

Geospatial has always been an obtuse concept to classify, evaluate or pigeonhole into a nice neat framework let alone determine its national economic value.  For similar reasons, within the US Federal government, “geospatial” has struggled to find an organizational position that would enable its potential value to be maximized.  This is partly due to data structure complexity resulting from its form, resolution, temporal range, scale, geometry or accuracy qualities have created an artificial “boundary” and organizations are having are hard time navigating out of.  At least until the “director” sees the “map” or the “picture’ and then it is the silver bullet.

Here at Xentity, we want to start to frame the discussion about how to exploit Geospatial Value at the micro or organizational level and begin to guide our customers to sustained geospatially driven business improvements.  Our initial cut at how to break the field down is found in the diagram.  How can this be improved upon?

How Open Data Contributes Toward Better Interagency Collaboration and Orchestration at all Levels

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In a recent email thread with Xentity, NASCIO, and members of Smart Lean Government, the following thoughts were offered on OpenData by NASCIO Program Director, Enterprise Architecture & Governance for National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO), Eric Sweden and republished with his permission

I believe open data contributes toward better inter agency collaboration and orchestration at all levels – notwithstanding PII is specifically removed from open data initiatives and must be.  But there is a place for open data in serving individual needs of citizens – for example – clinical epidemiology.  Employing population data – and even specific population data in evaluating prognosis and treatment regimes.  Think of the value in public health and medical services to underserved populations AND really anyone else.  Trends, patterns, correlations will surface for a similar approach / strategy in other government lines of business – we’re just at the brink of this kind of use data exploitation.

I’m looking beyond life events and also considering the complete Smart Lean Government concept.  Life events are a critical element – but there are also events abstracted up from individuals to communities.  So we move up an upside down pyramid from life events to “community events” or “community issues.”   Consider open data – and the larger concept of open government – in enabling better government.  Thus, a necessary part of Smart Lean Government.  Think about how government is able to work better together in collaboration and that leads to sharing data and information.

Example, Minnesota Department of Public Safety and Department of Transportation working together in drawing necessary correlations between crash data (from DPS) and speed/road conditions/weather data from DOT to develop strategy for safer roads and highways.

This particular example resonates with the “Imperatives of 21st Century Government Services” from volume one of the practical guide; steps 1-4 of the “Sustainable Shared  Services Lifecycle Model” from volume two of the practical guide.

This example is at the community event level – but impacting every individual and family that uses those roads and highways.

Flipping the Educational Value Chain

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Business, governments, and even many non-profits have benefited from the windfall of a flattening world – less war, trend towards better resource distribution, new business models, digital economy proliferation, sharing workforce. Education has not

At Xentity, to us exploring NextGen Transformation using architecture, analysis, design is not about IT. IT is a core component, but we are looking at how the Next Generation will progress and transform. And with generation lines becoming more of a blur, this isn’t a 30 year delay, or even a 15 year delay. In some cases, we are talking 5 to 10 years for transformation of a generation. Given such, when we examine workforce capital, we are truly interested in the changing models not just in the employee – which by the way, is a relic of the industrial age – but also how those employed in your organization (employee, contractor, consultant, vendor, service provider), are changing themselves.

One way of examining this is looking at the actual next generation. The kids. This is very important. For instance, the current incoming generation, aside from now being larger than the Baby Boomer generation, has benefited from the previous 30 years of relative stability, and Millenials engage in collaborative environments, as a result of growing up in a connected world NATURALLY.  

They weren’t taught this though, what they were taught for the most part, with some Montessori, STEM Academy, and other cloud school minor exceptions, in a school model that was intended for the children to go into a pre-industrial revolution business workforce that had bells to change shifts, required discipline of a “robot” in the factory for efficiency and safety, and required still minds to take orders and execute.

When examining your organization, you may have unwritten rules, or codes that have been passed down out of habit, institutionalization, or what we know. Those unspoken rules of engagement or life definitely help manage the chaos and focus on the mission, but the question that at times needs to be asked is “Is this the right mission? If not, are these the right rules?” and thereafter of course, do you or does your organization have the political and actual capital to make the transformation.

The following, in two parts, Jim Barrett examines this phenomena of:

Mr. Barrett is not only is Xentity’s Architecture lead, but has actively served and presently engages in multiple early childhood education development advisory and exploratory boards.

 

 

2013 Year in Review

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2013 was definitely a very fluid year for Xentity. Mostly, directly adjusting to the impacts of the Federal Government instability caused by sequester, shutdown, and lingering impacts of debt ceiling and fiscal cliff budget impacts. As a large part of Xentity services helps Federal clients look at longer term investment, when you have a year where it is hard for Federal programs look much beyond a few months, those services were definitely of lower utilization. It is a shame, from a citizen perspective, to know our Federal clients are limited in capability to improve, enhance, and become more efficient for the long term, but 2014 is already shaping to be looking more on focus for those goals. 

That said, Xentiy hit several milestones this year:

Diversified into more State Government services – In previous years, Xentity has supported Healthcare information solutions in New York, or staff have supported IT Transformations adapt business transformation methods in Virginia, but in 2013, Xentity was awarded two prime contracts in Colorado for opendata competitions and transformation services contracts

Xentity served over 30 clients in 2013 with over 25 staff for all Services for clients ranging from:

  • Government Clients: DOI, multiple USGS programs, EPA, CDC, VA, NARA, multiple State of Colorado programs, NPS
  • Commercial Clients: Intrawest, Cloudbilt, reVision, Inc., LVI Services, Inc., Black Tusk Group, Center for Professional Development, Soaring Eagle, Synergy Staffing, Raytheon, Sky Research, Inc., Skyline Reclamation, Solidyn, SPEC, TriHydro, Vexcel, Winningham Forest Mgmt
  • Prime Contractors: IBM, PPC, PhaseOne Consulting Group, TomTom, SRA

Xentity staff worked in over 12 major geographic Locations including GA, NC, CO, MA, TX, AK, DC, VA, WI, NY, WA, NV including 5 new states (GA, NC, CO, MA, TX) as well as Canada and Australia bringing Xentity services to total of 4 countries supported (US, Canada, Australia, and Indonesia)

Xentity has been awarded more Government-wide Access vehicles and Schedules totaling seven vehicles including: GSA MOBIS, GSA IT Schedule 70, DOI Foundational Cloud Hosting Services GWAC, USGS-wide Architecture Services IDIQ, State of Colorado wide Transformation Services IDIQ, CIO-SP3 via PPC, and our 8(a) Sole Source Access.

Xentity has held information sharing sessions and participated in industry-wide activities with Australian Geospatial Mapping programs and ACT-IAC Smart Lean Government.

Xentity`s active Large BusinessSmall Business, and Academia active agreements now totaling over 50 adding ten (10) new partners

Xentity received accolades from Xentity makes the Hispanic Business Top 500 List – again as well as Xentity recognized on CIO Review list for Most Promising Government Technology Solution and Consulting Providers 2013. In addition our staff presented and received recognition at the  E-Gov Institute’s Annual Enterprise Architecture Conference.

All in all, though 2013 was fluid as noted, we were very excited to provided our transformational services to more clients, with more partners, in more locations than ever before. We look forward to 2014 to continued impact for our clients.