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What We Saw and Heard at the Modernizing Government Forum

The White House Forum on Modernizing Government was a unique opportunity to draw on the experience and wisdom of some of the country's top CEOs and workers.

The White House Forum on Modernizing Government was a unique opportunity to draw on the experience and wisdom of some of the country's top CEOs and workers.  The lessons in management and adaptation they had to share are particularly important at a time when technology can dramatically improve customer (or citizen) service and streamline operations if used effectively -- can frankly cause an expensive mess if not.

In case you missed it, here is the video of the opening session with the President, as well as links to the video of the five breakout sessions and the closing session.  We also posted a sort of viewing guide to various videos for those who really want to dive deep.


And of course since the forum was about generating ideas and practices applicable to good government, we want to share our initial write-up of some of the best we heard and get even more input from the public (more to come on that next week):

Ideas from the Forum on Modernizing Government

  1. Business process reengineering must be done first and then technology can be used as a tool to make it work.  Whenever technology leads efforts, the projects have failed.
  2. Senior management must continue to monitor progress through a project’s lifecycle.  If the boss starts every meeting by asking about a project, that gets noticed.
  3. To gain commitment, the leader must create a “burning platform” – the idea that change must happen and the status-quo is unacceptable.  In order to encourage new thinking, goals must be bold.  Modest goals encourage incremental thinking. 
  4. Detailed measurement and transparency of results can help focus efforts.  What gets measured gets done, especially when it’s shared publicly.
  5. Small focused teams –one from each functional area – often can break bottlenecks and get better results than larger group efforts.
  6. There is a critical need for standardization (software, data centers).  Focus for this must be from the top since functional teams and business units will not want it.
  7. Get to know the customers you serve and how every aspect of your work impacts them.  To engage employees, explicitly make the link for them about how their job contributes to overall customer service.
  8. Organizations can use transparency to create a culture of service, both by committing to better service publicly and by sharing customer feedback openly to boost accountability.
  9. Serve customers via the channels they prefer.  If the company wants customers to use self-service, it must make self-service the easiest way for customers to transact.
  10. With bad feedback data, organizations can fool themselves that they are doing better than they are.  Work hard to get authentic customer feedback to the people who can do something about it.  When asking for customer feedback, ask for free form responses, which are more actionable than basic numerical ratings. 
  11. Focus on improving and making consistent the whole customer experience, not just each part.  Create consistent service standards across channels to avoid disruption to the total experience you intend to provide. 
  12. Even when a customer suggestion runs counter to your business model, find out why the customer is giving you a piece of feedback.  Even if you can’t act on the specific suggestion, you are likely to be able to address the underlying motivation.
  13. The best way to reduce customer dissatisfaction is to focus on ease of interacting with you.  Equip your customer service staff with tools to solve customer problems, and empower them to make decisions that will reduce customer effort, even if occasionally that results in a bit of waste.
  14. Engage managers in customer service.  Require executives to put themselves in customer shoes by calling into call centers as customers, taking customer service calls directly, and consistently signaling that they pay attention to customer feedback.
  15. Reallocate service investments away from things customers don’t care about (e.g., brochures that contain mostly known information) and toward things that improve the customer experience.
  16. Use technology to empower customers to answer each other’s questions.  With proper guidance, they are likely to do this very well and at lower costs.
  17. Before making a new investment, make sure there is a clear purpose and that end user needs are properly aligned to the purpose.
  18. Break big projects into small chunks – no longer than 12-18 months.  If a project takes longer to complete, ROI decreases and obsolescence becomes an issue.   Successes along the way help build momentum and continued focus.
  19. Each milestone must have a customer benefit.  Otherwise, why are you doing it?  If no customer benefit can be achieved in a year, do not do the project. 
  20. Be wary of costly customization.  Commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) solutions are often sufficient.  Common solutions can be used to serve diverse needs of different business units.
  21. Put your best people on change efforts and dedicate 100% of their time– that means freeing them up from their day-to- day activities.
  22. Do not isolate employees working on long-term project efforts.  There is a natural tendency to put these efforts to the side as you focus on day-to-day business.  Make sure project teams are well-integrated into the actual business.  Clear communication is key.