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May 15, 2015

IT Solutions Challenge 2015 Problem Description - Lori Alfred

By Lori Alfred


For our second workshop of the IT Solutions Challenge (ITSC), we met at the Department of Justice (Justice Management Division). All team members came prepared with the information, insight and advice we received from subject matter experts (SMEs) and stakeholders relevant to our mission statement, “Create a cloud shared services sandbox for all federal agencies to pilot technologies, develop applications, and model enterprise architecture.” Throughout the day, we listened to guest speakers, received guidance from our facilitators and mentors, and participated in multiple team exercises. Our main goal was to refine or streamline our mission statements into a specific problem that would be solvable in the near future.

The first team exercise, “Identify Insights,” resulted in the team members pulling data points and highlighting pertinent information from each of the interviews. We posted and categorized the data before sitting down to begin our scoping exercise. A considerable amount of time was spent trying to answer the question, “What is the problem you are trying to solve?” Not fully understanding where we were trying to go, we settled on re-use of information, acquisitions, and security as areas of focus. These were still too broad for our purposes. Elimination of waste, removing duplication of effort, saving money and reducing risks were discussed as benefits of a solution to a problem that had not yet been identified.

Our team, Team 5, was actually on the right track, as we had a lengthy discussion about agencies not sharing information on application development with each other. The reasons we discussed were because they either wanted to be the smartest and the best, didn’t want their failures exposed, or some variation of the two. In an effort to sum things up, we lumped all of the ideas into a one word barrier, “culture.”

Our first mentor of the day, OMB’s Federal Cybersecurity Advisor helped to get us back on track by asking questions which guided us to where we needed to be…the problem we were trying solve. The ITSC facilitator also reminded us that we were letting go of the original mission statement and morphing it into something more solvable in the short time that we have to create a solution. This was a key moment in the process and we began to make progress.

Moving on to our “Design Brief,” the team was able to document the project description which included our new problem statement: “Insubstantial knowledge sharing on testing, developing, and implementing emerging technologies across the Federal Government.” After that the scope, constraints, target users, exploration questions, expected outcomes, and success metrics were easier to realize and outline. Finally, we developed an area to focus our efforts and plans to meet weekly to continue work on the people plan, key assumptions, and research plan.

As the team worked together throughout the day, we remembered and practiced some of the things our facilitators and mentors shared with us such as the “yes and” concept, pivot or persevere based on pertinent feedback, consider design thinking, and “Don’t do it all yourself. You can’t.” The team was really good at getting consensus from the group, respecting and addressing dissenting opinions, and letting each other talk and provide input. We have a great team!

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