Effective Solutions Through Partnership

Category Archives: Team Building

How our Team Performed Remote Design Thinking

Continuous Improvement, Decision-Making, Design Thinking, Digital Transformation, Information Technology, Innovation, IT Modernization, KAI Partners, Organizational Change Management (OCM), Project Management, Project Management Professional (PMP), Team Building, Technology

By Terry Daffin, PMP and Denise Larcade, Prosci

KAI Partners has recently been using design thinking to help create new products and improve existing processes to support the work we do for our clients. Even before the stay at home orders, one of our design thinking teams held a design sprint that was done almost completely remotely—and resulted in a product ready for implementation!

Here are some of our experiences and what we learned through our remote design thinking experience.

Remote Design Thinking Challenges

As with using any kind of new approach or methodology, there were some challenges and we certainly went through the 5 stages of group development: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, and Adjourning.

Working remotely added another level of complexity with the addition of anonymity or facelessness. With a lot of strong personalities on our team, it was easy for some folks to disengage from the group.

So, how did we get past this?

To get through the storming phase, we had to work together to develop trust and respect.

True trust and respect empowered the team and were ultimately what led us to the norming and performing stages.

Because we met virtually (over Zoom) once a week, we had to become more vocal than usual. It was not uncommon for members of the group to speak up in order to keep others on task so that we did not go down a path not in scope or bring up topics that should be added to the backlog for future discussion.

Remote Design Thinking Successes

Despite our initial challenges, we did make it to the norming and performing stages! How?

We didn’t wait for people to join in order to begin—we jumped right in and started working.

What made this easier were our tools—we used MS Teams to share files, document meeting notes, have team conversations, and even to build our prototype. There was rarely an occasion where people felt out of the loop, because all the notes, resources, and information were right there in Teams.

Working remotely also allowed us to reach more people, cross more boundaries, and include more perspectives, as opposed to in-person coordination.

People are busy (and that’s a different problem for another blog post!) but working remotely gave more people the opportunity to participate and contribute.

Self-Organizing Team Tips

Part of our remote design thinking method was to truly self-organize within our team. Here’s what worked for us:

Set expectations and make team agreements from the start.

Because there was not one person designated as our “Lead,” we created a list in Teams with the Facilitator and Scribe for each meeting. If someone was unable to Facilitate or Scribe on their appointed day, it was their responsibility to find coverage.

This helped promote ownership—we were all one team of equals and therefore equally responsible for the team’s success.

Of course, since we are a firm that provides organizational change management (OCM) services, OCM was always on our mind. Design thinking was new for some folks and people are often wary of change. Assigning the rotating roles was a good way to share the workload and learn a skill—we were all in this together!

Another tip is simply to have patience. We were learning a new way of working and change is hard. Trust and respect had to be established and re-established and that process took patience!

At the end of the day (or sprint), it was satisfying to see how we created a product through sheer teamwork—even though remote design thinking was a challenge at times, the final product was worth it!

Have you done any kind of remote design thinking work on your team?! Let us know your experience in the comments!

About Terry: Terry Daffin is an Executive Consultant within KAI Partners. He has worked in the IT industry for more than 30 years and has over 25 years of project management experience. As a public sector consultant in the health care industry, Mr. Daffin assisted in the development and implementation of Project Management Offices that include project management, service management, lean agile and traditional product development lifecycles, and governance processes. He has been an innovation advocate and evangelist for 15 years and has implemented innovative processes for projects that he has been engaged in since 2001. Mr. Daffin currently works as the Project Manager of the KAIP Academy, KAI Partners’ training division and is the Community Manager at KAI Partners’ coworking space, The WorkShop Sacramento.

About Denise: Denise Larcade is an Organizational Development Consultant and Merger and Acquisitions Expert. She is a Certified ScrumMaster, Certified Scrum Product Owner, Lean Six Sigma Green Belt, and is Prosci certified. She has over 25 years of experience in training, development, and leading companies through organizational change management. Denise has worked in corporate retail, technology, and government healthcare and most recently has experience with large-scale implementations nationwide. She currently works as an Executive Consultant with KAI Partners, Inc., providing client support to KAI Partners’ state clients. Denise lives in a 55-acre walnut orchard and enjoys the early morning hours when wildlife is stirring and the many birds are chirping. Since working from home as of recent, Denise has found she enjoys that extra cup of AM coffee without the commute…just her and nature.

5 Ways to Improve your Strategic Vision

Best Practices, Communications, Digital Transformation, Government, Innovation, Innovation in the Public Sector, Managing/Leadership, Project Management, Project Management Professional (PMP), Public Sector, Sacramento, Strategic Plan, Team Building

By Nick Sherrell, PMP, MBA, CSM

January is the time of new. We have shaken off the retrospective December and are opening our eyes to new ideas and new possibilities for our careers, our personal lives, our habits, and perhaps even some new hobbies.

This January has a couple extra layers of ‘new.’ Not only is it a new year, but a new decade. On top of that, the term “2020” is a cliché connotation for someone having perfect vision.

Let’s talk about your organization’s vision.

Many clients I work with have a Strategic Plan. It is typically that document found somewhere deep inside their document library that pops up when you are using the search feature to find some other document. It is usually from a year or two ago, and sometimes still contains a ‘Draft’ watermark.

What happened?

All too often, it follows the same path that many of our personal new year’s resolutions take. A great exercise to think about our future with a lot of creative brainstorming, dreaming, and sometimes (let’s be honest here) wishful thinking. We write it all down, even set some abstract goals, and then…life hits! Critical staff get sick (or have kids that get sick). A new decision comes from the larger organization that shakes up your organizational structure. Sometimes those old habits are just too tempting to pass up, just like that dessert case at The Cheesecake Factory!

Here’s how to set up an organizational vision that sticks.

  1. Commit to the process by building a team: It is hard enough to set your own personal vision into action. It is significantly harder to put somebody else’s imposed vision into action. Instead of doing this on your own or with a small group of executives, create a cross-functional team from all levels of your organization and have a trained facilitator guide these discussions. People brought into the design phase are given a sense of ownership and commitment to the results. This is not a strategy that is imposed on them, but rather something they have been empowered to help create. Equally as important, this commits you to the process because once you communicate the concept of building a vision to others, you create the accountability to see it through.
  2. Set realistic and concrete goals with clear accountabilities: With your team, set 3-5 core focus areas that each have a maximum of three clearly defined and achievable indicators of success. Make these goals stretch goals, hard to achieve and only attainable through dedication and teamwork. They key factor to keep in mind when selecting core areas and key indicators is that less is more, especially in the early stages of creating a strategic culture. The simpler the message, the easier it is to get everyone on board and rowing at the same cadence.
  3. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate: Once you have identified the core focus areas and a few key indicators, spread this message like wildfire across your organization! Wherever possible in your communications to staff, tie the message back to your strategic goals.
  4. Build and integrate frequent check-ins: This is where most strategic plans fall short and ultimately meet their demise by collecting virtual dust in a document library. Leaders are usually happy to get in a room and discuss strategy. They are usually pretty good at setting concrete goals, assigning accountability, and communicating a kick-off. The challenge is incorporating this into existing leadership meetings and decision-making. Inevitably, a distraction will happen. Prepare for it early by ingraining these goals into a habit. Which takes me to my last point…
  5. Make vision an organizational habit: Once these efforts are integrated into your regular work, reward small wins to build momentum and turn strategic thinking into an organizational habit. If you don’t reach a goal, find the positive aspects and momentum and use those as a springboard to challenge the next iteration of goals. If positives are hard to find, then focus on the learning of what did not work and bring these lessons learned into your next strategic planning session.

Does this sound like a familiar scenario at your organization? If you need help putting your Strategic Plan into place—or creating one in the first place!—we would love to help! Contact us today to learn more!

About the Author: Nick Sherrell is a Project Manager with over 10 years of healthcare experience ranging from Quality, Performance Improvement, Technology Implementation, Data Analysis, and Consulting. Nick has worked with organizations ranging from the Sacramento Native American Health Center, Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health, Blue Shield of California, and The Advisory Board Company. He currently works for KAI Partners, Inc as a Project Manager Consultant on Public contracts with the State of California, most notably with the Judicial Council of California and California Medicaid Management Information Systems. He received his MBA from UC Davis in 2015 with an emphasis in Organizational Behavior and Innovation. He became a Certified Scrum Master in 2018 through Scrum Alliance training offered at KAIP Academy. He lives in Sacramento with his wife, two children, and Golden Retriever Emma. Find Nick on LinkedIn here.

3 Ways Organizations can Achieve their Goals

ADKAR, Community Service, Employee Engagement, Event Recap, Organizational Change Management (OCM), Prosci, Sacramento, Team Building

By Debbie Blagsvedt, CSM, LSSGB

A few weeks ago, I attended a networking event for Junior Achievement of Sacramento sponsored by the Sacramento Business Journal.

Dream Big & Reach Your Potential

Junior Achievement of Sacramento offers volunteer-delivered, kindergarten-12th grade programs to foster work-readiness, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy skills. Junior Achievement uses experiential learning to inspire students in our community to dream big and reach their potential.

Walking Down Memory Lane

Walking through the doors, memories of my involvement with Junior Achievement in high school came flooding back. Listening to business leaders at the ripe old age of 16, I recall feeling a sense of excitement and curiosity about what it would mean to “reach my potential.”

The concepts introduced over 40 years ago still resonate with me today in my role as an OCM consultant as I work with organizations and encourage them to, “dream big and reach their potential.”

Major organizational change is about transformation—it’s a process of profound and radical change that takes an organization in a new direction and drives them to reach their potential.

So, what can organizations do to bring the lofty idea of dreams and potential into reality? Consider adopting these concepts when embarking on your next change initiative:

Change Initiative Tips

1. Collaborate on the vision. A vision is an essential part of any change initiative—and something that’s recommended by all the change management methodologies.

Without a vision, organizational change efforts can lead people in circles or question the organization’s sanity.

A well-developed vision helps boost urgency and maintains focus on the future.

Effective visions start with senior leadership imagining the future—but it doesn’t stop there.

Creating a vision requires collaboration with key stakeholders at all levels to ensure buy-in and shared ownership.

2. Embrace change as an opportunity: While working on a reorganization project, I asked workgroup members what excited them about the project. One member responded “opportunity,” which was followed by several heads nodding in agreement.

Change provides the opportunity to think differently, repair what’s not working, and build on elements that contribute to an organization’s success.

To go back to Junior Achievement principles, part of change being an opportunity is the commitment to “dream big.” Allow project teams to realize this opportunity through their engagement and involvement.

3. Believe that challenges can be overcome: Have a little faith, my friends! If we can land a man on the moon or develop a hand-held device that provides answers to the most obscure questions in seconds, then organizations can overcome formidable challenges.

Leaders must put their trust in staff to lead the charge.

In order to develop solutions to challenges, an effective approach is to have those closest to the challenge together work together with people who are not.

Engaging the right people at the right time with the right skills and attitude can bring an end to what was once a daunting barrier.

Final Thoughts

It was an honor to be back at my former Junior Achievement stomping grounds—and to be reminded that no matter our age, job, or current project, we can always use support to help us achieve our big dreams.

Does your organization need change management support? Contact us at info@kaipartners.com to learn more about how we can help your organization meet its goals!

About the Author: Debbie Blagsvedt is an Organizational Change Consultant with over 25 years’ experience in change management, performance management, process improvement, training, and facilitation. She has a worked in both the private, public, and non-profit sectors in industries that include health, legal, financial, social services, high tech, and transportation. She currently works as an Organizational Change Consultant with KAI Partners on assignment with a public sector agency. Debbie is passionate about collaboration among teams which she believes leads to high employee satisfaction and is equally fascinated with the rapid-fire speed of change and what it means for organizations today. Debbie grew up in the bay area but now considers Sacramento her home. She has many interests from home projects to wine tasting, volunteering, witnessing the changing face of Sacramento, and going on new adventures with her family and friends…Not to mention nightly walks and occasional mountain hikes with her dog, Emmett.

Why Teamwork is Necessary for Innovation in the Public Sector

Information Technology, Innovation, Innovation in the Public Sector, IT Modernization, Project Management, Public Sector, Sacramento, Team Building, Technology

By Todd Wallace, PMP

Thomas Edison did not invent the lightbulb. Henry Ford did not invent the assembly line. Elon Musk did not invent electric cars. While these men all had a hand in growing the success of these products, none of them was the actual inventor, and none of them did it all on their own.

Much like any accomplishment in the public or private industry, it is easier to associate a major innovation with a single person—this is called the Great Man Fallacy.

However, it is a larger group with input from many sources that moves a concept forward—if two minds are better than one, then a team of minds is best.

Thomas Edison had a team of inventors working at his “invention factory” in New Jersey. Edison was the boss, but the team members helped with the various inventions that came out of their shop. It’s said that Edison tested 6,000 materials before he found the right combination for his version of the lightbulb and it is highly unlikely that he tested all 6,000 materials himself while his team stood by and watched.

Elon Musk is the face of electric cars with Tesla. His name is associated with the revolution of alternative fueled vehicles. However, before Elon Musk was even involved, Tesla was utilizing game-changing lithium ion batteries instead of the bulkier lead acid batteries used by other electric vehicles of the time. Before even this, other car manufacturers had already tried their hand at electric cars—in fact, in 1884, Thomas Parker produced the first electric car in London. Elon Musk may be the face of the modern movement and people may associate him with the invention of the electric car, but in reality, it was a long line of tweaks and updates by many teams consisting of many great minds—before Musk even entered the game.

These examples may be from the private sector, but the same concept applies to the public sector. While the head of a state agency might be the only person named in the news headline, a successful project implementation is due to the hard work of a large team.

The primary difference between innovation in the private sector and innovation in the public sector is the importance of teamwork.

In the private sector, it is possible for one person to invent something in their garage and bring it to market entirely on their own. In the public sector, nothing is done entirely by one individual. Gathering requirements for a project must reach across departments or other agencies to ensure the application will work in the larger ecosystem. Development is a constantly evolving team effort and closely tied to testing, which goes back to the multi-departmental team for review and approval. Implementation needs to be coordinated with everyone to ensure no reverberating effect on other teams and departments. Throughout all of this, there are competing priorities by various key stakeholders that need to be negotiated in order to keep the project moving forward.

In the private sector, negotiations can involve many different variables and creativity in terms of what can be offered. In the public sector, you cannot offer nearly as much in negotiations, so a relationship and understanding of how groups work with each other is key. Having an established relationship is the strongest negotiation piece in the public sector. Teamwork allows for smoother negotiations and effective advancement the project.

Teamwork is what makes a project a success. The ability to work together and build relationships allows a project to move forward. It would be a lot easier for a “Great Man” to implement a project and not have to worry about anybody else—but the results of the “Great Team” will always create something better.

About the Author: Todd Wallace is a Senior Project Manager with KAI Partners, Inc. He started his professional career as a student assistant in the special projects department of a state agency and worked as a state employee for over 7 years before transitioning to private sector and consulting to state agencies. He has a BS from CSU, Sacramento in Small Business Operations and an MBA from UC, Davis in Entrepreneurship and Strategy. In his free time, Todd loves tinkering on cars and motorcycles and has a passion for innovation.

Why Servant Leadership works in the Digital Services world

Digital Transformation, Employee Engagement, General Life/Work, Information Technology, IT Modernization, KAI Partners, Managing/Leadership, Sacramento, Servant Leadership, Team Building, Technology

By Catherine Kendall, PMP

Throughout my career, I have worked for some incredible individuals at esteemed consulting and technology companies. I am fortunate to have witnessed brilliance in action, incredible creativity, and professional excellence.

I have also witnessed behaviors that I promised myself I would never adopt or condone. Such behaviors include bullying, intimidation, fear mongering, public humiliation, sabotage, and my personal favorite, elitism (for example: “I have a manager title, so therefore I am better, smarter, faster”).

At the assortment of companies where I worked during my career, this is the feedback I consistently received: “You may be more suited for change management since you are so sensitive,” followed by, “You’re too touchy feely,” and, “You will never be an executive because you are too sensitive. Maybe an HR job is better for you,” and finally, “You care too much about people and how they feel. You need to stop that.”

Guess what? I became an executive and I am still a sensitive person.

I figured it out fairly early in my career that I am a servant leader and although this was not a leadership category I was aware of during the tender ages of 25 – 35, I always knew that I believed in building people up and putting their needs before mine. I knew if I took care of my team members and had their backs, they would deliver on their commitments. I believe in service to others, compassion, and kindness. Yet to many of my peers and managers, this kindness made me weak.

Fast forward 10 years later, I keep reading blogs about servant leadership as if it is some new kind of leadership style. It is often paired with digital services—why is that?

Technology has pivoted towards caring about customer behavior, thoughts, and actions. Technology is about the customer experience, not just the customer transaction.

The experience has everything to do with feeling and yet, for over 20 years, I was told feelings have no place in the corporate world of technology.

I am happy to say that I stuck to my own principles and continue to behave in a kind manner towards others. I would like to argue that I did it because I am incredibly principled, but if I am being perfectly honest, the few times I tried to be really tough, I felt sick to my stomach for a long period of time and then the guilt caused by the cognitive dissonance was overwhelming and incapacitating.

Being kind to others and behaving as a servant leader does not make a person weak. Abusing employees, taunting them, condescending on them, bullying them—do people really believe leadership is equivalent to being mean?

I am pleased to see the changing of the tides. While I do not believe the days of bullying and intimidating leaders are a thing of the past, what I do see is a growing belief not to mistake kindness for weakness.

About the Author: Catherine has 20 years of experience in managing large scale information technology systems integration projects. Before joining KAI Partners as the Service Delivery Director, Catherine was the Chief Information Officer for the California Department of Conservation. Prior to that, Catherine worked for IBM as a delivery Project Executive where she served predominantly public sector clients in both California and New York. Catherine started her career as a programmer at Accenture (formerly Andersen Consulting) in San Francisco and a process engineer designer and test lead at Deloitte Consulting in Los Angeles. She has her doctorate in education from Drexel University and she has an MBA and a B.S. from the University of California at Davis. Catherine is an animal rescue volunteer and does community service with the elderly. Her hobbies include playing piano, reading non-fiction and macro-economic research, and writing.

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