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Digital Talent Management Handbook

A comprehensive guide on how government agencies can recruit, hire, onboard, and retain digital talent.

Guiding your digital transformation

By introducing digital teams, you're changing the way the entire organization operates. Acknowledge the disruption, but make it clear that the change is here to stay. Plan to bring the rest of your organization along. You'll fail to make progress if you alienate the rest of your organization.

Spend the effort to:

  • Talk about the methods just as much as you talk about the output
  • Ask your digital teams to lead workshops that teach others about the methods they're using
  • Offer training opportunities to your staff

For these and similar ideas, see the section called Keeping skills and ideas fresh.

Pair each team with an internal agency champion. The champion will be someone who has been at the agency for a long time and has the relationships to help pave a smoother path for the team. The champion will help the team navigate the bureaucracy.

Structure for success

Report to the highest levels

"The most successful, delivery-driven government efforts tend to have technology leadership reporting to the highest levels of the organization, not buried within it."

Jennifer Pahlka

In turn, digital teams should report to the highest levels in the technology organization. Initially, digital teams are disruptive. They will need significant executive air cover.

Designate one team lead

Each team should have a single lead. Often, it makes sense for this person to be the product manager on the team. The lead should be adept at explaining what the team is trying to achieve to various levels in the organization. Other than the lead, the teams work best in a flat structure. Everyone's voice is equally important. Everyone has ownership.

Change how you measure progress and success

Digital teams and the new methods they introduce require changes in how you measure progress.

Measure progress by value delivered to the user

The real measure of progress is working software. Each iteration should produce shippable working software. Attend sprint reviews and ask for demos of the software. Asking your team to generate progress reports is a waste of their time. Always include a demonstration of the software in presentations to agency executives.

If it doesn't work for the user, it doesn't work

Your opinion of a particular feature, interaction, or visual design is irrelevant. Ensure that the teams are empowered to conduct usability tests of every new feature. The software your teams build should work for the users. Rather than expressing your personal opinion, always ask how the software was received by potential users.

Demand and measure quality and performance

Automated tooling can help you measure how well your teams are building software. Code build and deployment pipelines should have automated scans for: running tests and reporting test coverage, accessibility, security, code quality, and readability. Learn how to use the same tools and dashboards that your team does to reduce any reporting overhead. This allows you and the team to continuously measure quality.

In your software development contracts, establish a Quality Assurance Surveillance Plan (QASP). The QASP specifies how the team will measure quality and what metrics they need to achieve. See a sample QASP here.

Measure performance

The following metrics can be used to measure the performance of your team(s):

Metric Description
User satisfaction The degree to which users find digital solutions useful and usable.
Deployment frequency How often teams deploy code to production. (The highest-performing organizations ship code hundreds to thousands of times per day.)
Lead time for changes How long it takes to go from code commit in development to code successfully running in production.
Mean time to recover (MTTR) How long it takes to restore service when an incident occurs.
Change failure rate What percentage of changes either result in degraded service or subsequently require remediation.
Lead time from validated procurement need to quality minimum viable product (MVP) How long it takes to go from a validated digital/IT procurement need to a quality MVP deployed to an initial subset of users.
Digital talent density The ratio of qualified internal digital experts to external digital/IT contractors. (Digital/IT is a critical core competency that can't be fully outsourced in today's world.)
Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) The degree to which employees are willing to be ambassadors for the organization.
API proliferation Number of applications/services/reports powered by APIs.

Hire digital-savvy leadership

"Having senior leaders who understand technology and its importance to the mission is fundamental for ensuring a high level of government effectiveness."

Jennifer Anastasoff and Jennifer Smith

All government agencies increasingly rely on technology. They need technology to be more efficient in the face of shrinking budgets. And they need it to better serve their constituents. All leadership in a government agency needs to be digital savvy.

Technology leadership

Hire technology leadership with hands-on experience managing modern software development projects. You need shovel-ready practitioners, not thought leaders. They should be passionate about evaluating and using new technologies, but without falling for the hype. They should be well-versed in human-centered design, agile, and DevOps methods.

Other leadership

All executive leadership in an agency must be digital savvy. They have to recognize that technology is a mission enabler and not a cost center. Digital teams not only develop software, but also help redesign the corresponding processes. Human-centered design is just as effective for policy changes as it is for software. Hire executive leadership with a proven track record of managing technology-rich organizations.

Checklist

  • Empower your team by pushing decision-making to the team level
  • Foster a blameless culture
  • Be a vocal advocate for the methods your team uses
  • Lend your support by being an active participant in team activities, such as workshops
  • Educate the rest of the organization to avoid alienating them
  • Pair each digital team with an internal champion
  • Structure your organization for success
  • Measure project progress by value delivered to the user
  • Establish a Quality Assurance Surveillance Plan (QASP) for software development contracts
  • Hire digital-savvy executive leadership
  • Hire technology leadership with hands-on experience