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Government Organizations Embrace Upskilling In-House IT Staff to Meet the Latest Executive Orders

This post was co-written by Nazhin Beiramee, Jazmin Childress, Kevin Clark, and Nick Weiss.

Advancement in technology and an ever-changing political landscape (e.g., the Executive Order on Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government, as well as billions in funding to support this mandate and a potential administration change after the 2024 election) reveal new needs, opportunities, and demands for government organizations.

“An agency that can’t update its software quickly enough to adapt to a new policy—or at least implement some creative but reasonably consistent and effective hack in the meantime—can’t do its job.”  
—Jennifer Pahlka, Recoding America: Why Government is Failing in the Digital Age and How We Can Do Better

With a citizenry that is increasingly more comfortable with adopting technology and digital interactions, now is the time for government organizations to deliver digital services that align with people’s expectations. In addition to building trust and amplifying citizen engagement, delivering great digital experiences can increase efficiency by reducing friction for them and for developers. Gartner® Research, Inc. writes in its Top Technology Trends in Government for 2023 report that “By 2026, government total experience (TX) approaches will reduce process ambiguity by 90 percent while increasing satisfaction metrics for both CX and EX by 50 percent.” [SOURCE: Top Technology Trends in Government for 2023; May 2023 by By Arthur Mickoleit, et al.]

To provide those services, organizations and product teams require new skills in software development, such as human-centered design, product management, and agile methodology. This is achieved through outsourcing, by hiring contract or in-house staff, or by upskilling government employees with the end goal of shipping quality software more quickly into the hands of the American public. Yet there are ways to simultaneously leverage contractors and upskill employees so that organizations are able to accommodate current mandates and prepare for potential future ones.

“The technology needs to be your product…You need to own the code and you need to be able to change it to meet your needs. This doesn’t mean that you can’t use contractors at all—in government, you will almost certainly use them. It means that you must have the core competencies to support a living, ever-adapting system.” —Jennifer Pahlka, Recoding America: Why Government is Failing in the Digital Age and How We Can Do Better

How government organizations are currently staffing product teams

The following is a breakdown of common factors considered by government organizations when staffing teams.

Outsourcing technical talent through contractors

As it stands today, organizations rely on contractors to supplement technical talent. In reality, there are some product development teams that could solely consist of contractors, as it may initially seem easier for government organizations to outsource software development teams through contracting agencies. This process can be a lot quicker than directly hiring civilians, as the latter involves a lengthy process of identifying the right people, interviewing candidates, and bringing them on board.

However, once contractors are hired and the paperwork is finalized, in some months (or in worse cases, some years later), these individuals join software teams that work to solve a problem and then eventually the contract ends. At this point, the initial problem may have evolved over the years and therefore the team is addressing an outdated issue by the time it is staffed.

If the team is solving a relevant problem, what happens at the end of the contract? In the worst case scenario, the IP rights to the software may belong to those contractors who were hired and not your organization, but even when that’s not the case, the knowledgeable people who helped create the solution exit. Your organization likely experiences a significant shock as the norms, knowledge, and culture are upended by the teammate's departure. You start to realize there are knowledge gaps that your own employees weren’t aware of until problems arose or you wanted to make updates.

This is why it’s important to upskill your government employees in the process of transforming your organization. Growing and filling the skills gaps of your software development teams is vital to ensuring that skills, learnings, strategy, and most importantly, culture, don’t turn over every time an individual or contract does.

Government employees working alongside contractors

In recent years, government organizations have been proactive in bringing software development expertise in-house to oversee the efforts and manage software teams composed of government employees and contractors. More technologist roles such as product managers, product designers, software engineers, and head of product, are hired which benefits the teams in the long run after contracts may end.

The ability to now have teams experienced in software development, composed of both government employees and contractors, provides multiple benefits. It elevates the procurement process as organizations can leverage competition with blanket purchase agreements, hire vendors temporarily to run a weekly sprint, and coach their procurement counterparts on what is truly needed as they grow their software. In-house expertise provides learning and career opportunities to hire, retain, and upskill junior technologists who can grow into leadership roles within the organization, beyond the end of a contract. From the start of a new team of government employees and contractors, a culture is seeded and carried forward by the people who planted it and developed the ability to recognize successful software development.

Along with the benefits of upskilling your government employees, there are potential growing pains. You may encounter blockers in your path to upskilling, including attrition in the workplace, antiquated systems, and outdated processes that slow down career advancement, as well as peers who fail to see the value of upskilling. Yet, with careful consideration and planning, these potential deterrents do not outweigh the benefits of upskilling employees in your organization.

How to better leverage contractors while growing in-house talent

To start the process of successfully upskilling staff, it is important to identify who in the organization will make the best candidates based on their current skill set and eagerness to learn. Once selected, these candidates will need a schedule that allows them to learn by doing, thus enabling their skills while delivering solutions. During this process, it is important to give these individuals the autonomy to make decisions as it helps them to trust the process and puts them in a better place to learn from their wins and failures.

Choosing the best candidates

Growing the skills of the existing team is no cheap investment.—it takes time and money. To ensure that you get the best return on investment, it is critical to back the right people who want to learn new things, evangelize to others, and set a new precedent in the organization. It takes a lot more time and is harder to gain buy-in from employees that are resistant to change. This is not to say that they shouldn’t be selected or that it is impossible to upskill these individuals. However, one must consider if the additional cost and time will be worth it, and if these are the best individuals to help deliver your expected outcomes.

It is also important to take the skill level of those who are being considered for upskilling into account. We recommend that civilians switching disciplines and looking to be retrained should start with entry-level training such as tech accelerators. Without learning some of the foundational knowledge provided in accelerators, upskilling can take a lot longer and may not be as effective.

Setting up candidates for success

Government employees have tight schedules filled with meetings and very few slots for heads-down time. However, for employees to build new skills, they need the opportunity to be productive and also have time to learn and reflect. This is hard to do if they have little to no bandwidth and are constantly putting out fires. While things will continue to be business as usual and employees will still need to focus on delivering software, it is important to free up as much time as possible for individuals. The more employees are able to reflect and understand the impacts of their decisions, the more equipped they are to share their learnings with others and shift existing processes across the organization. Some ways to free up time include cutting back on unnecessary meetings, adding cushions to timelines, and shifting from firm deadline dates to outcome-oriented roadmaps.


During the enablement process, employees should feel empowered and motivated to create and thrive. Handing out requirements removes these individuals from making product decisions, which can thwart creativity and end with individuals working on products they don’t believe in.

Employees should feel like they have the autonomy and empowerment they need to make decisions and deliver on outcomes. They should feel safe to experiment, fail, and be vulnerable. Providing this support allows them to learn which strategies work and why. It also keeps employees engaged and committed as they now have a sense of ownership over their work.

Once employees have been upskilled, not only will they have new and/or advanced skillsets, but they will also have new software development processes to share across the organization. You will see quicker decision-making, faster delivery times, and more secure products across teams.

“Building the capability we need does take funding. But it should be spent on people before contracts, operating expenditures before capital expenditures. We need to create positions within government charged with digital strategy and product management, and we need to make sure those are filled by people with the proper expertise. I don’t necessarily mean that we need to grow the government workforce overall: training our current public servants in digital skills is as important as hiring new talent.... It’s a government that feels smaller but gets more done.”
—Jennifer Pahlka, Recoding America: Why Government is Failing in the Digital Age and How We Can Do Better

Tanzu Labs' approach to upskilling employees

VMware Tanzu Labs empowers and upskills government organizations to meet organizational goals and to become better at building software using a learn by doing enablement model. Our team immerses with a government software development team to build something together—delivering software through coaching teams and individuals. As part of this enablement model, we use the I Do, We Do, You Do method while collaborating and working side-by-side through 1:1 pairing.

This approach focuses on teaching, coaching, and mentoring existing employees. We work with employees to understand their career and personal goals that align with organizational needs. Throughout the enablement process, we measure success and track each individual's journey and progress using an enablement tracker that helps to identify and build new skills while also strengthening their current abilities. This immersive experience provides an environment for government employees to rise to the level of the team of consultants. This way employees quickly learn as they deliver in the real world.

I Do, We Do, You Do

We understand that changing culture takes time. To help guide employees through this change, members from Tanzu Labs join your organization and immerse themselves within leadership teams to help shape the culture and product teams to build software. The I Do, We Do, You Do model focuses on enhancing their skills while supporting them through the process.

I Do sees our experts taking the lead while knowledge-sharing and providing clients with the right tools, thought processes, and methodologies. Once the client is comfortable and has a good understanding, we move to the We Do stage where they are able to apply their new learnings while still being supported and given continuous feedback. This instills a product-thinking mindset, improving how they rationalize and make decisions. Lastly, in the You Do stage the client is now able to take the lead and use what they learned to continue to be successful long after the engagement ends.

1:1 pairing

Also known as pair programming, 1:1 pairing focuses on having two people work together at the same time on the same task. This software development technique is typically used by development teams to produce high-quality software quickly, broaden the team's understanding of the software, and build collective ownership.

At Tanzu Labs, we too use this approach with our development team, having two developers work together to build pieces of software. However, we also have product design and product management teams pair when needed, as it provides similar benefits and encourages cross-functional collaboration. For example, engineers and designers pairing on software implementation details, product managers and engineers pairing on user story acceptance criteria, and product managers and designers pairing on user and stakeholder interview questions.

With your employees pairing daily with Tanzu Labs, they are able to complete tasks and resolve problems quickly while also sharing knowledge about the product, processes, and methodologies within their individual disciplines.

Positive impact of incorporating an enablement method

It can be hard to hire top talent in government. Enablement gives organizations a way to build top skills that are committed to the mission, as well as high-quality government services. Enablement raises the bar across your organization—setting a high standard for delivery, collaboration, feedback, and inclusion.

Let VMware Tanzu Labs help upskill your employees through enablement

Tanzu Labs doesn't just build software and teams; we build high-performing software organizations and partner with organizations worldwide to train leaders and help government organizations build systems and processes that improve service delivery to civilians.

If you're looking for advice on how to upskill your employees and transform your organization structure while shipping software in the public sector, we’re here to help.

Reach out to us today!
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