Crystal Agencies – Watching Data Flow Through Federal Agencies

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

In my recent column for the PA Times, I wrote about how federal agencies can use the latest data visualization tools to fulfill the data, accountability, and transparency initiatives of the President’s Management Agenda (PMA).

From the PMA: “Data, accountability, and transparency initiatives must provide the tools to deliver visibly better results to the public while improving accountability to taxpayers for sound fiscal stewardship and mission results.”

To aid in implementing the PMA, the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) launched a challenge to stand up the Government Effectiveness Advanced Research (GEAR) Center. “Today’s digital economy has transformed how citizens interact with government. By leveraging technology and innovation, the GEAR Center will ensure our government connects to cutting-edge thinking and real-world solutions,” stated OMB’s Deputy Director for Management Margaret Weichert.

a collection of clear crystals

Back when I worked at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), I had the idea of using the internal data assets of federal agencies to create digital twins of the agencies. The advantage of a digital twin is that we could test out policies on the twin before implementing the policy on the actual agency.

To get to digital twin stage, agencies first need to build their capacity to visualize data flows in their organization. According to Phil Simon, author of The Visual Organization: Data Visualization, Big Data, and the Quest for Better Decisions, organizations go through four-levels of data visualizations. The first level is creating static visualizations of the organization’s small data sets. The organization then moves to the second level of creating interactive visualizations of small data sets. The third level is creating static visualizations of big data sets. The final and fourth level is creating interactions for the big data set visualizations.

Phil Simon recommends that organizations begin with small data sets to sharpen their skills with data visualization planning and tools. I’ve seen examples of this when several federal agencies used Tableau (a proprietary data visualization tool) to work with their small data sets from the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS). The FEVS is a survey of federal employees to gauge their perceptions on their leadership, engagement in their work, and their work climate. The ability to program interactivity into the FEVS data produced insights into the data that would not have been apparent in the static visualizations.

The FEVS is a relatively small data set compared to the big data sets that federal agencies possess. However, the tools for collecting, analyzing, and visualizing big data have advanced significantly in the last decade. Most of the modern tools require little training to produce sophisticated visualizations. As the federal agencies move to the cloud, it becomes easier to connect different data sets to build more comprehensive big data sets with novel visualizations. The more data sets connected and visualized, the more transparent the agency’s data assets and flows.

Reinventing Your Career in the Smart Machines Age

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

My third new book will be about something I have been thinking about since the mid-80s but is especially relevant today. When I entered college, my focus was on finding a good job when I graduated. Many of my friends were going into computer programming, law, and business. However, I started as a physics major, then switched to speech communication while taking as many philosophy classes as I could.

Around my fourth semester, panic set in, and I was convinced by well-meaning relatives I should go to law school. So, I double-majored in speech communication and paralegal science. I was graduated in the winter of 1990 and, after two gap years, I entered night law school in the fall of 1993. After a year of law school, I realized I made a big mistake. A mistake I could have avoided if I had paid closer attention to a book I read in 1991.

Beverly A. Potter published The Way of the Ronin: A Guide to Career Strategy in 1984. I came across it just after college. I had some instruction in college about how to job hunt, including how to handle a lunch interview. My job hunt after college graduation landed me a part-time job at the local convenience store. My bachelor’s degree did gain me an extra five cents on the hourly wage. See, education does pay.

college graduate silhouetted by the sun.

During the summer of 1991, I checked out every job hunting, resume writing, and interviewing skills book that the Lexington (Kentucky) Public Library had. My efforts paid off with an entry-level paralegal job in the Kentucky Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Agency. I still had to keep the convenience store job because my paralegal job barely paid my rent and expenses. The traditional job hunt of resumes and cover letters was not working that well for me.

Dr. Potter’s advice for job hunters was to drop the linear model of career development. Instead of finding the perfect well-trod path of specialization, Dr. Potter recommends developing a wide range of skills to navigate the dynamically changing world of work better. She wrote about career ronins who “[g]uided by a personally defined code of adaptability, autonomy, and excellence” (p. xi).

“Ronins are employing career strategies grounded in a premise of rapid change. By making lateral moves that follow their interests, they become generalists with specialties.” (p. xi)

Dr. Potter was writing about the rapid changes in the workplace during the late 70s and early 80s. But her strategies worked just as well in the early 90s as the rise of the commercial Internet revolutionized careers. Reinvigorated by her advice, I dropped out of law school, turned my hobby of computer programming into a deep skill, and took a big career leap by going to Washington D.C. and becoming a political consultant.

From 1995 to now, I followed the career ronin strategy. I’ve had many jobs and have taken a nonlinear path to where I am today. And, I feel more content and fulfilled in my career journey.

In the age of smart machines, the gig economy, and digital disruption, how do you find a job and build a career? My forthcoming book will give you the skills to reinvent yourself and navigate the new world of work. To prepare for the future job market, you need skills like:

  • Scenario Thinking
  • Mapping the Career Landscape
  • Searching for the Fulfilling Job – Or Creating the Fulfilling Job
  • Beyond the Resume: The Career Portfolio
  • Creating the Business Model that is You
  • Building Your Own Personal Career University
  • Understanding What Motivates You and Establishing Your Unique Value
  • Developing Resilience and Empowering Yourself

Unique to other career planning books, I will show you how to use the Observe-Orient-Decide-Act (OODA) Loop to refine your career planning skills continually. The OODA Loop was created by a brilliant Air Force colonel who revolutionized military strategy. The OODA Loop is perfect for building your career strategy – especially in the new volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous job marketplace.

Thus, my reason for writing my third book. Of the hundreds of career books I checked out in the summer of 1991, only one helped inspire me. I hope my book will have the same impact on today’s job hunters.

ROI in Agile Project Management

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The last two weeks were filled with excellent training. I spent two days in a good Association of Training Development course on coaching. Then, it was four-and-a-half days in Return on Investment (ROI) training. If you are not familiar with ROI, it started as a way of evaluating the efficiency and effectiveness of training programs. ROI has then been used to measure coaching, leadership development programs, project management, and even innovation.

When I first signed up for the course, I questioned how we could spend 36 hours talking about ROI. ROI seemed straightforward and easy to grasp. It is but, there are a lot of nuances to making ROI work in an organization. As I sat in the course, I begin thinking of how ROI could be used in agile project management. Especially the form of agile project management I am creating to manage training programs.

person holding several hundred dollar bills

Recently, Dr. Kerzner and Mr. Ward from the ILL released a white paper on the future of project management. Kerzner and Ward see project management as “the delivery system for sustainable business value.” In their whitepaper, describe a five-level project management maturity model (PMMM) based on project management metrics. There are several significant parallels between ROI and the Kerzner and Ward PMMM. First, there is an alignment between the project metrics and strategic business needs. Second, the consideration of intangibles in delivering project benefits. And, third, the value from innovations in the project management process.

I have sketched how to apply ROI to agile project management. In a future posting, I will describe how to apply ROI to agile project management and my version of agile learning program management.

I Can Even! Engaging Employees by Enabling Employees

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A popular phrase which is most annoying is “I can’t even.” According to the Urban Dictionary, “I can’t even” means that the person is so overwhelmed with emotion they cannot function. However, in the workplace, “I can’t even” often means that the person is frustrated or unwilling to do a work task. Even with the best efforts to engage employees, not enabling employees will lead to frustration.

Mark Royal and Tom Agnew, in their 2012 book The Enemy of Engagement, explain why enabling employees are just as important as engaging employees. “Frustration is created for those employees who are thwarted in their attempts to be successful despite their deep feelings of commitment and engagement. In other words, frustration is brought on by a belief in the organization and a desire to help it to be successful!” (p. 29)

Employee holding his head in frustration.

Frustrated employees solve their problems in one of three ways. The frustrated employee looks for a breakthrough or a solution to his or her frustrations. Or, the frustrated employee has a breakdown. Finally, a frustrated employee may make a clean break from the organization and its frustrations.

Royal and Agnew give the following suggestions for building employee enablement:

Performance Management (p. 134)

Specify clearly what employees need to accomplish.

Set challenging but attainable performance standards.

Provide ongoing feedback regarding progress relative to goals.

Authority and Empowerment (p. 136)

Give employees the authority and decision-making responsibility needed to do their jobs.

Allow employees to have input into the way their work is structured.

Encourage employees to come up with new and better ways of doing things.

Resources(p. 137)

Give employees the resources they need to do their jobs.

Ensure all information needed is readily available and up-to-date.

Maintain adequate staffing levels and review job designs and workloads when the organization changes.

Training (p. 139)

Get new employees fully trained before expecting full performance.

Ensure skills of current employees keep up with changing job demands.

Provide opportunities for employees to expand their current skill sets.

Collaboration (p. 140)

Facilitate strong cooperation and teamwork within the unit.

Establish supportive relationships with other groups to which the unit is connected.

Promote effective sharing of resources and information across the organization.

Work, Structure, and Process (pp. 141-142)

Structure and organize work processes within your unit to ensure optimal efficiency.

Coordinate with other units to clarify decision-making accountabilities and enhance cross-unit operating effectiveness.

Continually seek new technologies and creative approaches to improve overall internal effectiveness.

By following these 18 actions, you can have your employees saying, “I CAN even!” instead of “I CAN’T even!”

Multiteam Systems and Public Administration Leadership: Promising New Area for Research

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

I love going to conferences and learning about a new field of research that sheds some light on issues I am pondering. Recently, I attended the International Public Management Association’s Human Resources’ (IPMA-HR) Montgomery County (Maryland) Chapter’s Day of Learning. The day included discussion topics on how to improve government HR operations and personal development. So, when I read about Dr. Stephen J. Zaccarro’s talk on multiteam systems, I was attracted to the phrase, “Team of teams.”

I first encountered the concept of a team of teams in General McChrystal’s 2015 book, Teams of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World. McChrystal describes how he created a fluid organization that coordinated the actions of highly-specialized military teams. Other organizations have adopted the team-of-teams model such as the social entrepreneurship nonprofit, Ashoka. Bill Drayton, who founded Ashoka, describes his approach in this way:

Instead of maintaining a traditional structure in which people work in hierarchies based on a function or a formal business unit, an organization operates as a constellation of teams that come together around specific goals. At the center of this constellation is a coordinating executive team, but the composition of each project team shifts as needed over time. Teams and team members work together in fluid, constantly changing ways. The model emphasizes decentralized autonomy, meritocracy, and a sense of partnership.

An especially interesting point in Dr. Zaccarro’s studies on teams of teams (what the literature calls multiteam systems) is his focus on how the teams coordinate their actions. As he explains, the more high-performing the individual teams are, the less effective the multiteam system is. This is because the individual high-performing teams try to enforce the team’s ways of working on the other teams in the multiteam systems.

team meeting

Dr. Zaccarro states that communication is a significant factor in helping multiteam systems. The liaisons between the teams create the channels of communication that the leadership of the multiteam system uses to coordinate the teams’ actions to the goal or goals of the multiteam systems. Equally important is the leadership of the multiteam system. When General McChrystal describes his briefing structure for his team of teams, you can see how the team liaisons created effective channels of communication to build a shared reality around which the multiteam system’s leadership effectively coordinated action.

Multiteam systems research is still evolving, and much work needs to be done. I see two areas where multiteam systems theory can aid public policy and administration.

Can Multiteam Theory Help Explain the Garbage Can Model of Organizations?

Cohen, March, and Olsen’s 1972 article described some organizations as organized anarchies:

 “Such organizations can be viewed for some purposes as collections of choices looking for problems, issues, and feelings looking for decision situations in which they might be aired, solutions looking for issues to which they might be an answer, and decision makers looking for work.” 

Organized anarchies, or garbage cans, have three properties that force the organization into anarchy:

As I listened to Dr. Zaccarro’s talk, I thought about the three properties and how some aspects of the multiteam systems theory could address the challenges of the garbage can model. For example, establishing a clear goal to align the teams can mitigate the problem of inconsistent and ill-defined preferences. Another thought is addressing the issues of fluid participation by strengthening the relationships between team liaisons.

Monge and Contractor’s Multi-theoretical and Multilevel Model of Organizational Communication Networks Applied to Multiteam Systems

Monge and Contractor’s 2003 publication, Theories of Communication Networks, lays out a new way of incorporating various social science theories such as exchange theory and self-cognition theory to all aspects of a network. The purpose is to describe how agents in a network communicate, collaborate, and compete. Establishing communication pathways and protocols are essential to multiteam systems. Monge and Contractor’s 2003 multi-theoretical and multilevel (MTML) methodology can be a useful tool for investigating and envisioning the multiteam system’s communication flows and processes.

Multiteam System Theory of Public Administration Leadership

 As Dr. Zaccarro finished his talk, he described how there needs to be more research in the leadership competencies for multiteam systems. There is much research on leading teams and organizations. What is missing is how to lead in-between the teams and the organizations—the multiteam systems. Multiteam systems are becoming increasingly common in public agencies as these agencies confront today’s wicked problems.

Project Management, Strategic Communication, and Training Author and Consultant

%d bloggers like this: