Shifting IT Modernization Resistance Through User-Centered Design

Workplace culture has changed in all industries but as of late, nowhere as quickly as at Federal Government Agencies. The COVID-19 pandemic escalated Federal Agency modernization efforts to maintain capabilities and ensure mission accomplishment.  Even with IT modernization drivers like the pandemic, Federal mandates such as the Modernizing Government Technology Act of 2017 and increasing technical debt within legacy systems, resistance to change continues to disrupt IT modernization success.  Que the intro music for User-Centered Design (UCD)… Federal CIOs realize increased project success rates, improved system performance, and increased credibility when UCD best practices are utilized within IT Modernization efforts. In this discussion, we will touch on modern design practices, the importance of research in the designing and planning of solutions, utilizing current product designs, and how these activities reduce resistance to change and increase programmatic success. 
Let’s start with a definition: User-Centered Design is the culture shift that enables solution experts to create products and services that meet the real and communicated needs of humans utilizing them. This collaboration of ideas from user-generated feedback, the mission objectives of the system, and overall agency mission needs creates a persistent atmosphere of continuous improvement and increased collaboration. This also results in a reduction in costly rework.    
Modern Design Practices 

The rapid pace of change denotes the necessity for evolving technologies and practices. Who better to recognize these changes firsthand than the people utilizing the products? Increasing the aperture from the functional system requirements to the user experience increases engagement and a sense of “ownership” across the entire development team.  Additionally, including User-Centered Design does not detract from agile agency tactics, but encourages and promotes “Shifting Left” to increase overall quality in the earliest stages of the project.  
Designing & Planning for Research Plans 

Typically, seasoned professionals often provide the most resistance to change. Working with a system for 20 years, for example, they become the experts when it comes to the business process and challenges and workarounds that make the whole system work. Often, modernization efforts do not include the knowledge from these seasoned professionals, leaving these users ostracized and potentially thinking about job security. However, we believe users are the most critical component of understanding the business process.  Within the Analyze step of the Plan, Analyze, Design, and Test process UCD focuses on learning about users, developing personas, analyzing tasks, and writing scenarios all with the support and feedback of the user community and supporting data from existing systems. This approach increases buy-in, understanding, and support while providing for improved accessibility, increased understanding, and adaptability.  
Success begins when you start at the user’s level to analyze their needs and understand their current systems. This is the path to identify the features they value most. Your team will need to spend “one-on-one time” observing and interacting with the agencies’ users to see how they utilize their current systems. Take note of things that appear to be inconvenient (in practice and in conversation) with their current systems, as well as those that you can see from an outside perspective that they may not identify. This informs the creation of Agile User Stories and provides the development team with more detailed information about the user’s experience.  

Utilizing Current Product Design Practices 

Once major inconveniences are identified we don’t recommend throwing the whole system “out with the bathwater.” Utilizing the current code, we recommend reviewing and refactoring this code to incorporate the features to form a prototype of the new solution. This approach ensures improvement of the business login and usability based upon the specific agency and user needs versus what the development team “thinks“ the agency needs.  

User-Centered Design is a process that requires patience as well as trial and error. While it is innovative and collaborative, it also provides a broader opportunity to increase productivity and project success.   We are advocates of the Plan, Analyze, Design and Test process: 

  • Plan the modernization effort with the end-users in mind (both external and internal to the organization)  
  • Analyze the current system, identify and connect with users where possible, develop data-driven user personas to develop an understanding if users are not immediately available, develop user scenarios, and set achievable and measurable goals 
  • Design with the user experience in mind.  Inventory content, utilize card sorting, execute parallel design, and apply prototyping techniques to achieve success. 
  • Test and Refine based on user feedback during usability testing and with automated heuristic analysis.  

At SkyePoint Decisions, our Agile Agency approach focuses on creating and providing IT modernization solutions with users at the center of our strategy. If you’d like more information, please fill out the contact form below.