Innovation in Development and Training


GSA has become the leader in providing innovative, mobile-ready and cloud-based solutions so our staff can work anywhere. Mike Seckar, head of Government-wide and Enterprise Solutions and our guest blogger, explains how GSA uses a new process to build systems and provide training to help our staff learn all of this – quickly and collaboratively.

The old model for building a new system has come under scrutiny in recent years as the technology has become more elaborate and collaborative. The old adage of “build it and they will come” has exposed some serious flaws in the implementation and user compliance process. We can no longer wait until a system is fully built, show it to the user community hoping to garner their feedback, and then put out supporting material in an effort to train and assist the user. This old approach increases the likelihood that there will be decreased adoption and usage of a system, increased calls to a helpline and, most of all, a loss in productivity as users spend valuable time trying to work through the process.

GSA is using a different and innovative approach. After a number of deployments, we’ve found it is best to bring the users’ and customers’ perspective into the process much earlier. We’re now giving increased attention early on to a three-tiered approach that in past years we waited to incorporate toward the end of the development cycle.

The first tier is Training and Change Management. We’re now engaging the user community in the very early phases to get a larger sense of their understanding of the system. This form of engagement is not a one-time effort. We ensure that we’re in continuous contact with the users throughout the process using focus groups and incorporating a group of early adopters. We also ensure our training groups are involved very early too, working out plans and schedules for all aspects of user training whether it be training manuals, self help guides, or interactive web training. As Sonny Hashmi, GSA’s CIO, stated in a recent article, GSA has employed a uniquely named group of IT professionals, within various GSA business units, to form “The IT Jedi Council.”
This dedicated and diverse group are our champions for new applications and technologies as well as being the best end-user trainers within the agency.

The second tier is Usability. In this tier, we employ the work of User Experience Experts. These individuals put the system through its paces with complex and intensive testing on such things as success rate, error rate, abandonment rate and time to complete a task. This is different than the customer experience that deals with the actual interactions the user has with the brand. Those measurements differ in such things as overall experience, likelihood to use and likelihood to recommend to others. For a better understanding of how the User Experience and Customer Experience relate to each other, read User Experience vs. Customer Experience: What’s the Dif?

The third and final tier is all about Accessibility. A system is no good if the entire community is unable to access and use it. By following Section 508 guidelines, we strive to ensure that users with disabilities have the same level of access as non-disabled users to all our systems and applications. Our accessibility experts review all the tools very early on and work to make them compliant with Section 508. Our approach is to “bake in” accessibility from the beginning.

By involving these three major components into the development process early we save time, reduce user frustration and improve the user’s confidence in our systems.

The bottom line is understanding our customer and what they’re expecting out of a system or application. The focus is about what they want to do and making the systems and tools work for them rather than having the user work for the system.