It is no secret that Politicians and Senior Executives in the Federal Government are Washington DC based. In the corporate world, they are equivalent to the Corporate Agency Headquarters as well as many regional offices. These HQ’s lead new policies, budget decisions, funding distribution and forming core principles and program direction for defense and civilian programs. Most Senior Executives in DOD and Civilian Agencies are based in DC. So, a common question from agencies, partners, and candidates is “why would a transformation and management consulting firm providing government executives be based in Colorado?“
In short, the work is not done in DC – its done in the programs. A not very well known fact is that a very large amount of those programs – especially Engineering, Earth, Energy, and Land based programs – are actually run out of Colorado. Colorado has over 53,000 Federal Government employees (Denver Post June 2011), not including federal contractors. The concentration of Federal Labs, Military Bases, Land and Science Program management, and multiple Science and operations centers are the main culprits. Specifically, for the civilian programs, Denver, has over 10,000 Federal Employees and contractors running the operations, hosting, and mission functions for those programs are in and around the Denver Federal Center. A majority of these agencies are Earth or Land Program focused. See a list of over 100 Agencies and functions.. In the commercial world, Denver also has a large presence in Communications, Satellites, Financial, and Restaurant Headquarters given its central U.S. location.
This means for example, DOE EERE in DC sets direction and budget for NREL, but the NREL program R&D National Lab is in Golden, CO performing the Solar, Wind, Biomass, Hydrogen, Geothermal, water power and other renewable studies and preparation for commercialization and technology transfer. Or USGS program headquarters are in Reston, and USGS is located around the world, but a major hub is Denver based with thousands of employees and contractors performing water quality analysis, tracking eathquakes, making geospatial data.
We have seen two-approaches to transformation in distributed organizations: Headquarter Located Survey models, and Collaborative Blended Location Models
Headquarter Located Survey models: Data Calls
Lets use a Federal Government example. When it comes to program mission transformation or migrating programs to shared services or consolidations, the DC-based Senior Executives set the direction, from DC. DC-based consulting support in transformation for the common executive corporate functions – budget formulation, IT Policy setting, Financial Accounting, Workforce statistics and strategy development, and other more corporate commodity services.
What gets lost though is the real mission business transformation analysis, ideation buy-in, actual migration issues, consolidation, and recommendation implementation will be in the field.
No corporation survives by “crystal tower” decision making, and thou shalt execution perfection. So, there shouldn’t be any expectation that true transformation needs to include the collaboration – not upward data-call reporting – but transformation working with the non-DC program management to construct the needs, deem the appropriate strategic or tactical improvement opportunities, identify the quality improvement, process efficiencies, lifecycle management changes from supply to enablement to use, and examine the sequence possibilities of their program, investment, system, facility, and asset portfolio.
An example pathing of this mistake is that DC-based executives will ask DC consultants to perform data calls as a way to reach out to programs as a way to collaborate. So, the unknowing consultant creates the template, it looks good – and it really does. Performs the data call (this may include a local visit or literally be a phone call) that no one likes, but needs to be done. But ultimately, the result is flawed in a few ways. Typically, the data call is presented from a corporate point of view void of the unique program mission factors that impact on programs such as: Science Data Management, Geospatial and Geography Services, Earth Observation and Remote Sensing, Natural Resource Planning, Policy, and Protection, Wildland Fire Management, National Environmental Protection Act Management, Land management, Park Management, Agricultural Study, Energy Lifecycle Management, Emergency/Hazards Management, Health Information Management, and other mission Information and Data Engineering & Research.
The DC consultant was brought in for executive corporate analysis, and does not typically have context to the program being done in the field, but does collect the information as requested. Based on that completes a very good analysis of the information provided. Provides some analysis and recommendations based on the data calls input and reception of that in DC.
THEN, the results come back, and the problems start as the saying “garbage in, garbage out” goes. And worse, the strain seen in the public eye between DC and citizens grows very akin to the strain seen between DC and non-DC management. It is widely publicized that DC is very unpopular in the public eye right now, but as well, internal management between beltway decision making and program management are at huge odds due to the same climate of having to respond to the current political climate.
Turns out the system manager who provided the information didnt have the context of the overall policy. The System architect didnt realize a certain integration point and provides several technical reasons of why that cannot work. Managers weren’t on the data call, so some core change context was missed and unfortunately misrepresented, causing consternation and delay in accepting any recommendations and requires further revision. Program executives in hearing all the consternation respond with lack of support towards the initiative fearing another change revolt.
Even though there was a powerpoint giving an overview of the effort, the call was performed flawlessly, and even a web site with some PDFs and facts providing some context, the reality is, it was in the context of the DC-based effort, it still failed. There was no account for the program context and how it is associated to localized change. The executives brought it didn’t come in through the program, so their staff didnt have the proper impetus. And, when the realization of how important it really was came about, it was too late to ask questions.
Collaborative blended location approach for providing Agency and Program Executive Analysis Design and Planning Services
Whether its a Major Data Center Consolidation initiative, move to shared services, migrating financials systems to single point solutions, executive driven efficiencies engagement, or moving up the maturity model chain for that program, a blended model for leveraging outside consultancy in this area helps address – not avoid – these issues much more complete and efficiently, and sometimes less painful.
Xentity’s approach is to engage and involve early and often the programs by working with the local presence – both in DC and in the program presence – which has typically been Denver to date. Denver is in the “Interior” and for the Department of the Interior, for instance who manages 1 in 5 acres of the United States, mostly West of the Mississippi, key DOI presence are in Albuquerque, Sioux Falls, California, Portland, Seattle, etc and similar for USDA and many of those on the list of over 100 Agencies and functions are at the bottom of this article based in Denver. DC isn’t the only place with daily political fires or lacking clear communication directions – Programs have lots of fires too. It seems odd to even say this, but the “Potomac Fever” or Headquarter myopic views tend to forget that programs are more than a robotic factory (even if they are just that). Local response to new technology acquisition governance gone awry. Rogue process or technology developments going the wrong way resulting in server down time or premature application deployment. Standard Workforce management issues causing re-swizzling of assignments. Failure in a processing batch that causes a mini-industrial engineering assessment as to the quality, mechanistic, process, or workforce failure.
This context – this hands-on context – helps with grounding the recommendations in realities and in context almost in an ethnographic way. Rather than surveying what is happening asking the wrong people out of context, ask the people while they are in context so the right answer is gotten right away with the right perspective and next steps. As well, by being near by, as factors dance around what needs to be discovered, the local context begins to show the true issues that need to be addressed. In the end, by keeping the ideas where the problems are to how they can fit into the target approach tested and ultimately with and by DC-based, the end solution is likely to be more readily implementable, have higher accuracy, mitigate more risks, and, for what its worth, increase corporate morale as the “cheese is moved”.
An example of doing this as a lesson learned at the Department of the Interior, in the latter phases, is for a major financial business and management system consolidation driven from DC, but the DC-led effort also has an on the ground transition team training, triaging, and guiding the local migration issues. The analysis phase did not do this, and resulted in several start and stops, restarts, lawsuits, etc. The original effort considered a handful of systems, a second effort resulted in a dozen, and then a local analysis results in discovering a couple hundred interfaces. It was at this point, the DC-led team started to look at batches and phases, based on locational presence and complexity. It is still a very difficult problem transitioning one-hundred plus year old accounting processes into a modern single financial service, but the local presence in both places has resulted in later batches having increased success.
How Xentity executes the local presence blended model
Xentiy is Colorado based but with staff in both Colorado and DC amongst other client headquartered areas. All staff will be trained in our Services Catalog
, transformation methods, and leadership qualities. An added advantage is our cost of living adjustment over DC headquarters is passed on through our general administration and overhead costs. This, on top of our 8(a) acquisition benefits and Commercial and GSA Schedules, and partner agreements help get started quickly as we are very accessible.
Headquarter Local Consulting – Our or are prime partner staff can support on-site the Senior Executives are responding to political pressures, last-minute calls for action, and advisory and supporting consultants will get pulled in for quick response. If you are not in DC, you can quickly be put out of mind as you are out of sight which in this model is a benefit, so the Denver-based staff can focus on the program management and design needs. In addition, we train our staff or select partners who are well versed in the Corporate context, jargon, lingo, portfolio, players in that agency to help accelerate ramp-up.
Program Local Consulting – Our Colorado based staff bring the actual mission subject matter expertise analysis, design, and planning skillset where it tends to be. They are trained on the earth, land, and mission subjects. They work with the programs, and as well, living in the Interior of the United States, next to Federal Lands, Recreating in National Lands, and experiencing the wonders and threads (Wildland Fire, Water, Climate) issues of the Interior tend to build an internal drive as well. This means our staff will be familiar with the
- Metro-based Hosting, engineering, Technical, research, Service or Operation Center effiiciencies, status, portfolio current state and key influencers in various agencies, bureaus, and programs.
- Understand the Laboratory Portfolio of work and challenges for technology transfer and quality, yet efficient science that the Denver Metro based national and regional labs encounter
- Trust factors and gaps between DC decision makers and Denver-based upper management.
Xentity recommends a blended model to help with better understanding of the true program portfolio, understand the value chain as it goes through the actual centers, and also, help build the bridge of better understanding, clarity, increased context and risk mitigation between Headquarter (DC) and major Programs and Centers. This engages the Program Middle Management, Labs, Centers to be inclusive, like in any transformational leadership guide, allows the solution to be collaboratively developed to better help mitigate risks in migrations, understand the true portfolio alternatives, sequencing, and again, and building trust.