Rookie of the YearMonday, June 24 2019
In my near-decade of being a technology professional in the DC area, I’ve learned and observed various ways of supporting the Federal Government. There’s support by handling administration, engineering, or implementation tasks. There’s more, such as Operations & Maintenance (O&M), though each are specialists in their own domains, and they’ll execute the orders carried out and set by the management above them.
Most people coming into Federal contracting work will be immediately familiar with teams of a faily large size with a lot of busy work. I refer to these as butts in seats contracts. There’s also contract tasks that require designers and builders, and others to maintain those operations after deployed. As well as the administrative tasks that keep the processes active and moving forward.
Over time, I’ve also witnessed the process improvement consultants having an important role. These consultants will stay educated on industry standards in order to provide education and training to Federal staff. Some are very good and it will show when the organization begins to succeed in human factors, and others are not so good and the organization will accept the financial loss after many months or years. The organization will identify a need to improve its processes, make the need public and begin the proposal and awarding process. There’s good people that are willing to help educate and train, and there’s people that are good at convincing. It’s a vicious cycle.
This is one way that lot of Government people have experienced trauma with their jobs in one way or another. More times than they’ll admit. This will generally be noticable when an individual shows signs of being heavily risk averse and difficult to win over. I have experienced this with the process owners of the department or organization. These individuals will be uninterested and slow in completing their tasks. They will be combatant on modernizing organizational process or the trivial reference update when a law, executive order, or directive requires organizational changes to be made. Though, a grain of salt in knowing this doesn’t apply to everyone.
So, why is this? Trauma from failed projects. The barrage of toxicity that inevitably comes will drive that individual into a place where meeting the minimum of the day is enough to coast for an acceptable level of performance. The outcomes of meetings become less important and participation levels dwindle. This leaves the individual cautious when taking on new projects or having their names tied to any contract or acquisition.
I’ve supported an IT organization within an agency on a task that was enterprise wide support. During some time, the agency moved to adopt the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) framework to improves its overall IT Service Management (ITSM) efforts. I was able to work directly with the Deputy Director of the organization, that owned the major project, while representing my Division Director.
External consultants were hired on by direct awarding, regardless of past-performance, and began their efforts and training. This was to implement processes and guide each major stakeholder group and their support contractors while the implementation of new ITSM tool was underway. After over a year without having yet a successful tool and process implementations, the Deputy Director was berated and reassigned to to working under a Branch Chief of a busy-work kind of group. For those wondering, that is a significant demotion.
The Division Director that I worked for was reassigned to the occupy the vacant Branch Chief position of the Records Management group. Since then I haven’t seen these two individuals perform at the levels that I once saw. This happened because the external consultants, without a past-performance history, did not help the organization succeed. Instead, they successfully pocketed the Government’s budget and left.
If you were to think about just how large the Federal Government is, you can also imagine how many dozens of thousands of people have trauma from experiences such as this.
They Might Be Heroes
It’s important to pause here to define the entrepreneur: A person (or persons) that identifies the need for creation of a business that fills a void. Obvious examples using Bill Gates and Paul Allen of Microsoft or Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak of Apple, they identified the need for available computing technologies. And while using their innovative ideas and charming characteristics, they made dreams a reality. The most successful entrepreneurs share these passions.
What makes them unique is that they stayed with their businesses and saw execution through to implementation. One may argue that Jobs had more passion. This isn’t a model that we see much today.
If we were to fast forward today, nearly one decade later, there is the new trend of technology professionals that have come into their own with supporting the Federal Government. These professionals are leaders in innovation. The forward-thinking, the successful backgrounds, and the public appearances making them attractive and sought after.
The Serial Entrepreneur.
What makes this type of entrepreneur unique is that they have many ideas and many companies founded to show for it. They are the modern day consultants and board members of entities. And they’re now being offered roles of high-level civil servants or placed on the Senior Executive Schedule (SES), such as special advisor or CXO. Because of this, it’s becoming difficult to avoid being short-sighted and overlooking individuals that are being innovative versus promoting innovation. They’re not necessarily rookies, but they’re also not heroes.
The Government wants to hire these types of consultants largely due to what we have been doing hasn’t been working. However, without the understanding of how the Government works and the bureaucracy required, I fear that these new types of external consultants, becoming employees with influence, will leave the Government in an even more damaged state.
I’ve observed that this type of entrepreneur will bring ideas that are cutting or bleeding edge while utilizing their charm to persuade to the senior leadership that these new technologies and processes are possible to implement. Having the ear of leadership, they are able to execute initiatives and projects quickly leaving out architects who understand the environment and its demands. They are able to push the implementation of software solutions that have no certification and authorization for use leaving others to accept the risks. If they’re new to the Government then it’s unlikely they’ll have knowledge of the requirements under the E-Government Act.
It’s also a concern to me that, with these new initiatives and projected underway, the serial entrepreneur will not stay through the successful implementation of the initiatives and projects they started, leaving it without a champion. And instead having successfully secured a much more worthy position in private sector causing further damage to the Government with a greater impact individuals with trauma. I do hope that one day someone will remember that we actually need to engineer something.