This interview with Travis Sorensen, CEO and Co-Founder of Oddball, discusses modernization strategies and the importance of an agile mindset. He gives a different view on collaboration, outlines the importance of pragmatic digital transformation, and offers advice to industry and government partners that want to effect true change.
Modernization Strategies and Agile Mindset
Government agencies and industry have recently been buzzing about new ideas and concepts such as RPA, AI, Digital Transformation, Modernization, Agile, DevSecOps and HCD, to name a few. We all want to dive right into implementing and being a part of the next new thing, but need to be cautious of putting the cart before the horse. One of the most fundamental aspects that first needs to occur is determining the business challenge attempting to be solved, so all are on the same page with desired outcomes. Then comes acknowledging your team’s current state, and clearly defining where they want to be. Without assessing everyone’s skills, strengths, weaknesses, gaps, possible barriers, and other factors, no one will be able to make a credible roadmap as to how to achieve the desired goals. We see too often teams that want to change without change management, wanting to use modern strategies without informing their resources on the desired outcomes of these strategies, and the implementation of new tools without utilizing them how they were intended all while losing the efficiencies that were meant to be achieved. Without addressing these fundamentals, progress will be met with challenges at every milestone.
Oddball believes in meeting our government clients where they are, and working side by side on a collaborative journey. We provide coaching opportunities, work to streamline processes, and emphasize utilizing tools as they are intended. We work to fill in the gaps and support progress in alignment with our government clients’ end goals, bringing experience, insight, best practices, and new ideas from across both government and commercial spaces. This has allowed us to have been recognized by our clients and industry partners as an innovation leader multiple times over.
No one can be successful alone. We all require a team, with diverse backgrounds and skill sets. Our underlying mindset that we continuously strive for is constant collaboration with our partners. This includes full transparency and aligning our goals for the benefit of our clients. Without those agreed upon goals, open communication, and transparency, progress will be hindered every step of the way. When we all grow together, incredible success is achieved.
At Oddball, we work with our government partners to understand their stakeholders, their priorities, their limitations, and their needs in order to bring in specialists to help them progress against their goals. We welcome government clients and impacted stakeholders to join us in our scrum ceremonies – to be a part of the conversation in real-time instead of throwing deliverables over the fence. This allows for successes and areas of improvement to be immediately recognized. Celebrating the wins and providing constructive feedback is an integral part of the shared journey. Oddball continues to spread our culture of collaboration, agile mindset, and transparency as part of our transformation strategy with the government.
Pragmatic Digital Service
Instead of the word disruption, we like to align with the language ‘pragmatic digital service’. The word pragmatic is defined as “dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations.” As I’ve mentioned, we want to meet the client where they are, no matter if it’s at the very beginning or halfway through their implementation plan. We work with the governments to help them break down their goals and also understand their limitations, which can be a number of variables such as policy, funding, toolsets, aversion to change and risk. Oddball understands that some teams are ready to move fast and some need to take it slow. We take a look at the larger ecosystem that clients are a part of and work incrementally to have continuous improvement to make progress against the defined goals.
The Department of Veterans Affairs Digital Service and Office of the CIO are examples of teams that are working on innovative and interesting initiatives such as creating a platform that allows for rapid prototyping and development of applications that focus on the needs of Veterans and their caregivers. It’s almost a franchise archetype where agile development shops pop up for specific reasons, are replicating what they know has worked, and are trying new things as they go. If you think about the structure of a business like Chick-fil-A where you can expect to receive exactly the same product and service, no matter where you go in the chain, the consistency is what keeps bringing customers back and has made it so successful. Additionally, this provides great benefit to delivery teams because employees have a consistent experience with clear expectations as they work on various projects. This leads to higher employee satisfaction and retention.
CMS is another perfect example of an agency that is moving the needle with efforts such as developing APIs for consumer-facing tools, offering back-end support that enables a unified login across CMS platforms, and around their objectives in improving the Medicare experience for beneficiaries and their care-givers. Oddball takes immense pride in the work we are doing on behalf of the Office of Communications in supporting these important initiatives.
Advice for Government and Industry
Mixing individuals with historical knowledge and big picture focus with counterparts who aren’t as experienced in an array of modernization initiatives can push boundaries. Those who may not know the rules or essence of an idea can still be passionate about helping reach a goal, and may bring to the table new perspectives and ideas that can move the team forward. Our experience shows it may take a moment for these new teams to come together, but once they do they are able to accomplish more than they would have separately. The important takeaway is understanding the different skill sets individuals bring to the table and creating a team that is more likely to achieve a successful outcome.
Finding champions in contracting officers or government champions with an open mind willing to push the boundaries of what is possible paired with innovative organizations not afraid of risk and wanting to help the mission makes a team that will transform our government services.
Modernization and transformation require consistency. It means not inserting buzzwords into the conversation for the sake of their use, but providing top talent, helping educate the workforce, removing barriers, having open and realistic conversations, and collaborating to support the government in achieving their goals and the mission to support our nation. Change is hard, and change management is sometimes met with resistance. However, using Human Centered Design and Agile methodologies to bolster the approach to change, user adoption is increased and success will be achieved.
About Travis Sorensen
As the co-founder & CEO of Oddball, Travis Sorensen is responsible for finding solutions to innovate digital services in the public sector. Since 2015, Travis has led a strategic transformation of the digital agency by investing in advanced technology and highly skilled talent. He is currently focused on supporting digital initiatives for Veterans Affairs (VA), Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and other partners. Travis leverages his previous experience as a Veteran, entrepreneur, mentor and developer to manage all facets of the software company’s fast-growing business.
Oddball is a service-disabled Veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB) dedicated to digital modernization of Federal citizen-centric services. As a unique digital agency, Oddball supports Federal clients from design to deployment of scalable software solutions that are purpose-built for the citizens they serve and the workforces they enable. Experienced teams of full-stack developers, human-centered designers, product managers and project managers offer a proven record of delivery excellence in enterprise DevOps, cloud migration, user experience, continuous integration, continuous delivery and continuous deployment.