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IT to the rescue: Unraveling bureaucracy at the VA, one project at a time

Tracy Mayor | June 4, 2013
How a small, fast SWAT team is improving performance at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Organizations move from A to B, from heavy to light, by tapping both information value and people value, Paschane says. In particular, he is interested in "collegial work" — that is, optimizing the value of people and information acting together to improve the performance of an organization.

At least, that's the theory.

In his nine-year tenure at the VA, Paschane has launched and overseen more than 25 engineering projects of varying scope and size that have all in one way or another produced a better fit between data and organizational structure, but they haven't brought about revolutionary organizational change — yet.

Paschane landed in his current position in the Office of Information & Technology at the behest of Horace Blackman, CIO of National Capital Region IT at the VA (and a 2013 Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leader).

Blackman recalls that VACO IT had "17 different missions and 17 different customers" when he assumed his duties as head of a group that's in charge of servicing the VA's police department, administrative court system and the office of a cabinet-level secretary, among other customers. The IT group had been hampered by frequent reorganizations and relocations, high staff turnover that saw new hires replacing retiring experts, and undocumented procedures and poor communications that were unable to keep up with the agency's dynamic and expanding service offerings.

Paschane talks about the results he's seeing from conducting multiple, simultaneous projects at the VA.

Blackman wasn't long at his new position, which he assumed in 2009, before he saw there was room for a performance engineer on his team, and Paschane moved over from a position in the VA's Office of Policy and Programs. The two created the OSS group in 2011.

As part of a three-year transformational effort by OI&T to revamp how IT services are delivered at VA headquarters, OSS staffers and IT volunteers formed multiple ad hoc Method Enhancement Teams (MET) to tackle specific problems. Teams of eight to 10 people brainstormed with subject-matter experts to create and implement action plans for redesigning areas critical to operational performance.

One result of their efforts: performance dashboards that give IT employees a visual representation of their effectiveness in solving help desk, Tier 1 and Tier 2 problems for customers.

MET teams have not only improved performance; they've also upped morale, says Blackman. "It's harder to measure, but from my perspective, the fact that we've engaged people in the change-management process, that we see their ideas coming to fruition, is a pretty significant accomplishment," he says. "You don't want to be reckless and jump on every idea that's proposed, but you have to be willing to listen. Innovation comes from the ground up."

 

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