“Government must become accountable to the people of our city,” said former Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty. It was a powerful promise that resonated with me, not just as a resident of the city, but also as a staff member of Fenty’s city administration.
Upon entering office in 2007, Mayor Fenty launched the CapStat performance management group within the Mayor’s office to improve service delivery for citywide issues. Based on the award-winning Baltimore CitiStat, Stat programs have sprung up in cities across the nation.
Several agencies within Washington, D.C.’s government started their own Stat program with TechStat, including the Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO). Within months of joining the agency as the director of strategy and special operations, I launched, structured, and led the TechStat performance management program under CTOs Vivek Kundra, Chris Willey, and Bryan Sivak, to examine more than 30 topics between 2007 and 2010.
TechStat provides a solution-oriented approach to technical issues by leveraging best-practice research and open communications between functions that better serve OCTO, its sister agencies, and residents of the city. With session topics varying from examining persistent issues, to seeking accelerated solutions, the CTO convened all responsible parties to improve performance, examine data, explore ways to improve services, and hold teams accountable for follow-up actions in a 60-minute session.
- My team would meet with the staff involved in a selected topic to work together on compiling the presentation and data, with an average lead time of 10 days.
- We would not only meet with the program manager, but also with line staff because they had some of the best solutions to the problems in their areas. Prep with the team would include rigorous Q&A, compiling well-documented situations, and summarizing the findings to present at the session.
- We conducted surveys of the staff, customers, and vendors to find better solutions and to get feedback about how the program was actually performing – a real 360 degree approach. While the teams believed that they were performing well, we were able to elicit a more honest response by bringing an outside perspective when collecting feedback.
- Some of the more common issues that we resolved were those that were a result of a lack of resources. Managers were afraid to ask for additional staff or more money, and through this process, we could examine what was needed and clear away any red tape.
Each session resulted in action items with agreed-upon deadlines posted in a shared Google document to encourage transparency, with my team following up on each outstanding action item on a weekly basis. By keeping the feedback loop open with the teams involved, we achieved a high completion rate of action items, e.g. 95 percent of 253 action items in FY2009.
- Each TechStat session took place in a collaborative format in the CTO’s War Room – a conference room equipped with multiple display screens, several laptops to pull up information in real-time, and audio conferencing to call vendors in the moment.
- These were large sessions that hosted 20 or more, including the CTO, agencies’ leads for finance, HR and contracting, representatives from the Project Management Office (PMO), and the entire program team from the Deputy CTO to the project staff – to ensure that all questions could be answered in the 60-minute session.
In developing the TechStat program, educating the teams about the benefits and sharing session results within the agency and across the District, it was enlightening to see that the participating teams had a stronger sense of organizational culture, openness to ask for help and improved deliverable rates. With each change of the CTO across the program’s tenure, 3 total, agency programs that participated in TechStat were able to better demonstrate strategic alignment to the new agency director. In turn, the agency director knew that a program that underwent the TechStat process aligned with the Mayoral vision for the city’s services.
A key source for TechStat topics was the Office of the CTO’s annual performance plan; when I saw the agency’s key performance indicators (KPIs) go off track for more than one quarter, I was able to convene a TechStat.
A good example of how this process worked was our public safety KPI to install more than 1,000 toughbooks in police cruisers and fire trucks in one fiscal year. After looking at the installation rate data from the police department – four per day, we contacted the vendor to see what was possible – 20 per day – to achieve the goal.
We realized that the fire department had not started the initiative, so we were able to guide their installation process based on the police department’s rollout, amend existing contracts, and work with vendors to ensure timely delivery of parts. Today, when I walk past a police cruiser or fire truck with a toughbook inside, I know what it took to get them in there: our TechStat feedback loop.
Asha Aravindakshan is the director of Talent Operations at Ashoka. She has more than a decade of impact in the private, government, and philanthropic sectors leading strategic, financial, and operational initiatives.
Previously, as chief of staff to the Chief Technology Officer for Washington, D.C., she created the award-winning TechStat performance management program and led critical citywide initiatives related to public safety, health, and economic development. She is passionate about the potential of applying innovative solutions across sectors, and their ability to strengthen governance, improve education, and transform lives. Asha holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration in finance from The George Washington University.