Introducing Project Shift
Employees at most government services firms tend to identify by the program they support. Especially in the markets we serve, organization by program makes it easy for management to track execution in a projectized view. It is a natural perspective to take for any small, growing company. And we sure did grow, but not without the challenges listed below.
How can we establish a corporate identity upon which we are known?
We grew organically using the relationships we have with customers, partners, and top talent. This is great, but it is not sustainable. We saw a need to come up with a corporate identity defined by our capabilities and services for which we want to be known. The narrative used to be, "I know Mike at Intelligent Shift. They have awesome folks. Let's talk to them." The narrative needs to be, "I know Intelligent Shift. They do excellent Agile Engineering and Data Science work."
How can we empower employee development?
We hire people that want to sharpen their skills. The problem is that contract PMs may not always know the right advice for say an expert level full-stack Java developer that wants to enrich her skills. Similarly, while employees want to advance their careers, not all want to go down a management track. Some wish to master their technical domain and we should encourage that.
How can we cut across customer silos to improve employee engagement?
Create community within our organization to improve domain knowledge. Give employees the space to come together to discuss and share ideas on trends and projections in their field. In the past, we’ve seen employees at different program sites face the same technical challenges. One solves them and is hailed a hero while the other is stuck and did not know their colleague figured out a solution.
How can we attract, select, and retain top talent?
For the same reason you would not send an Android Developer to a Project Management Symposium, you would not send a System Administrator to an Agile Coach hiring event. We need communities that can represent our company to prospective candidates and speak their language. This is important when assessing candidates too. Take any highly technical, mission critical position. A PM may not always know the right questions to ask to ensure that only the most qualified candidate is selected. Network Engineers should help with interviewing Network Engineers, and so on.
So, towards the end of 2019, we introduced Project Shift. In short, it was the launchpad for Intelligent Shift to mature into a highly functioning employee-focused organization. It serves as the basis for our evolution from a collection of individual contributors on programs to an organization of highly skilled communities of practice.
First, we did our homework. Over a one-year period, we assessed our core competencies across the entire workforce and evaluated what services we want to be known for in our industry.
The criteria were pretty simple:
1. Do we have expertise in this area?
2. Are we currently doing this work?
3. Do we want to do more of this kind of work?
From this study, we ended up with the following Practice Areas, or PAs as we call them.
Enterprise Management - Business solutions that empower organizations to succeed across the enterprise
Systems Engineering & Integration - Full mission lifecycle engineering support
Agile Engineering - Accredited Agile transformation solutions
Technology Delivery - Software development and testing services
Data Science - Advanced analytics to solve complex problems and gain data-driven insights
With these five areas, we could begin to view the organization beyond just the program. Going from this,
This approach allowed us to maintain tracking execution and programmatics at the contract level by customer but add a perspective that cut across customers by function. It would be the infrastructure to mature into a highly functioning matrixed organization that answered the questions posed above.
Each Practice Area listed would have a Lead manage communications, training, employee engagement programs as well as support staffing and proposals from the lens of their area. The PA Lead would allow employee advancement without being a PM. Realizing how important it would be to have the right people in the PA Lead positions, we made the selection process competitive. Proposals were submitted, presented, and reviewed until we selected our inaugural class of PA Leads. With the people in place, we began to federate responsibility to each Practice Area to get their community off the ground.
Now that we have provided insight into the formation of our Practice Areas, we are pleased to introduce our newest series on the blog. We are going to feature one of our different Practice Areas in posts over the course of the next few months. Stay tuned!