Saturday, February 23, 2013

Sneak preview of the new Lean UX Book

Lean Startups require cross-functional teams working closely together. This is especially true when designing a great product. In this excerpt from the newest addition to the Lean Series, Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden discuss the idea of collaborative design -- an opening up of the product design process to all members of the team -- and why they feel this way of working produces not just better products but better teams as well.

What follows is an excerpt from Chapter 4 (Collaborative Design) of Lean UX: Applying lean principles to improve user experience by Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden

The most effective way I’ve found to rally a team around a design direction is through collaboration. Over the long haul, collaboration yields bet- ter results than hero-based design (the practice of calling in a designer or design team to drop in, come up with something beautiful, and take off to rescue the next project). Teams rarely learn or get better from working with heroes. Instead, designing together increases the design IQ of the entire team. It allows every member of the team to articulate his or her ideas. It gives designers a much broader set of ideas to draw upon as they refine the user experience. This collaboration, in turn, breeds increased feelings of ownership over the work being done by the entire team. Finally, collaborative design builds team-wide shared understanding. It is this shared under- standing that is the currency of Lean UX. The more the team collectively understands, the less it has to document in order to move forward.

Collaborative design is an approach that allows a team to create product concepts together. It helps teams build a shared understanding of the design problem and solution. It allows them to work together to decide which functionality and interface elements best implement the feature in their hypothesis.
Collaborative design is still a designer-led activity. It’s the designer’s responsibility not only to call these meetings but to facilitate them as well. Sometimes you’ll have one-on-one sessions with a developer at a whiteboard. Other times, you’ll gather the whole team for a Design Studio exercise. The key is to collaborate with a diverse group of team members.

In a typical collaborative design session, teams sketch together, critique the work as it emerges, and ultimately converge on a solution that they feel has the greatest chance of success. The designer, while still producing designs, takes on the additional role of facilitator to lead the team through a series of exercises.

The output of these sessions typically consists of low-fidelity sketches and wireframes. This level of fidelity is critical to maintaining the malleability of the work, which allows the team to pivot quickly if their tests reveal that the approach isn’t working. It’s much easier to pivot from a failed approach if you haven’t spent too much time laboriously documenting and detailing that approach.

Collaborative Design in Practice

In 2010, I was designing a dashboard for a web app targeted at TheLadders’ recruiter and employer audience. There was a lot of information to fit on one screen and I was struggling to make it all work. Instead of burn- ing too much time at my desk pushing pixels, I grabbed a whiteboard and called the lead developer over. I sketched my original idea about how to lay out all the content and functionality for this dashboard. We discussed it and then I handed him the marker. He sketched his ideas on the same whiteboard. We went back and forth, ultimately converging on a layout and interaction schema that was not only usable but feasible given our two- week sprint timeframes (see Figure 4-2). At the end of that two-hour session, we returned to our desks and started working. I refined our sketch into a more formal wireframe and workflow and he began to write the infrastructure code necessary to get the data we needed to the presentation layer.

We had built a shared understanding through our collaborative design session. We both knew what we were going to build and what it needed to do. We didn’t need to wait to document it. This approach allowed us to get the first version of this idea built within our two-week timeframe.
Figure 4-2. Whiteboard sketch that we arrived at together.

Style guides

One tool that makes collaborative design easier is the style guide. A style guide is a broadly accepted pattern library that codifies the interactive, visual, and copy elements of a user interface and system. Style guides (also known as pattern libraries) are a living collection of all of your product’s customer-facing components. If it’s made of pixels, it goes in the style guide. Headers, footers, grids, forms, labels, button logic, and everything else that goes into your product’s user experience goes in the style guide. Because they capture all of the detailed elements of your design system, your collaborative work sessions can focus on customer need, business problem, interaction, flow, structure, business rules—all things that are productive to work on in a team setting.

Some companies use wikis for their style guides, which allows the collection to stay current and accessible to everyone on the team. Other teams choose to create “live” style guides. These are repositories of front-end code and design that not only define how the product looks and behaves, but actually function as the underlying markup and stylesheets for that experience. If you change the style guide, you change the product.

Style guides create efficiency. They provide a repository of ready-to-go, approved interface components that can be assembled and aligned to form a workflow. By minimizing debate over mundane elements like the placement of labels in forms or the never-ending debate over left/right placement of the “positive” action button, developers can get started creating core UI components without waiting for a designer to define and specify these assets. The assets are already designed, defined, and collected in one place.

Interaction and visual designers benefit as well. They no longer have to recreate representations of experiences that already exist. They become free to focus on new design challenges—novel interaction problems or extending the visual system to new elements. Approval cycles are streamlined because the repetitive elements (e.g., the treatment of the global navigation) are no longer up for debate. Reviews become more focused on the core product challenge and broader views of the proposed solution.

Creating a Style guide

There are two basic approaches to creating a style guide:

Big bang
In this approach, your team takes a limited amount of time (e.g., one to two weeks or sometimes months) away from their current efforts to document all of your product’s UI elements in a style guide. The benefit here is that the style guide gets created in a relatively short amount of time. The negative is that your team is not learning anything new about your product during this time.

Slow drip
In this approach, your team adds an element to the style guide each time they create or change one for the project. The biggest benefit here is that the team continues to work on the project. However, the drawback is that the style guide is rarely completed and therefore fails to provide some of the efficiencies that a complete one does.

Maintaining a Style guide

When planning your style guide, it’s important to plan for maintenance. You’re going to need to create a process and dedicate people to keeping your style guide up to date. Think of a style guide as a living process that you launch and maintain, rather than a static thing you create. When you have an up-to-date and easy-to-use style guide, you make it easy for the team to actually use the style guide—and your goal should be to make it easier to use the style guide than to avoid it. You want to make compliance easy! So plan to dedicate people and time to keeping your style guide current.

Want to read more? Order the book.

Interested in applying these ideas but not sure where to begin? The authors are also the organizers of Lean Day: UX, March 1st, 2013 in NYC, brings together 9 practitioners of Lean Startup and Lean UX in the enterprise sharing case studies of how they put these tactics to use every day. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Lean Entrepreneur is here

Last May, I shared the news that long-time Lean Startup advocates Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits were working on a new book called The Lean Entrepreneur featuring illustrations by FAKEGRIMLOCK. That new book is about to hit bookstores everywhere.

I was honored that they asked me to write the foreword, and with their permission I'm posting an excerpt below. After the 2012 conference I viewed it as an opportunity to reflect on the growth and evolution of the movement as a whole.

One of the things that I love about what Brant and Patrick have done with The Lean Entrepreneur are the numerous case studies of how entrepreneurs are tackling new ventures, minimizing risk and learning their way to success - these case studies will speak to garage startups and corporate entrepreneurs alike.

A few of the detailed case studies include:
  • Tech legend Bill Gross building an MVP in 1999 to test demand for online car sales, which grew into
  • LitMotors approach to using Lean Startup to create a new vehicle category.
  • AppFog creating "high-hurdle" experiments to surface authentic early adopters with real pain.
  • The Embrace infant warmer was developed - by getting out of the country -- and how Rob Emrich learned and scaled his non-profit, Road of Life. (Social entrepreneurs take note!)
  • BetaBrand building apparel MVPs and testing them quickly with targeted customer communities.
  • Telecom O2 learning to move at the speed of the internet
  • 500 Startups and their accelerated feedback loops on what works, and what doesn't work in early-stage investing.
  • Scott Summitt iteratively leveraging the emerging technologies of digital fabrication and 3d-scanning to change people's lives.
  • PayPal, under the leadership of David Marcus and Bill Scott, re-defining and re-engineering itself by embracing Lean Startup to improve the product experience.
  • KISSmetrics building and empowering cross-functional teams to attack problems in their sales funnels via hypothesis testing.
  • Intuit showing large organizations how to combine Lean Startup with horizon planning to nurture internal innovation and startup experiments.
  • Berkeley Pizza: from pizza in the farmer's market to a sit-down restaurant.
Another thing I love about The Lean Entrepreneur is how Brant and Patrick are treating their book like a startup. One example is in their marketing, which in today's environment requires providing value. This doesn't mean pointing to the product and describing the product's value, but rather the marketing provides value itself.

As part of their book campaign, Brant and Patrick have teamed up with General Assembly to offer 4 free online video classes, including:
Lean UX Research Techniques - Rapid Prototyping - How to Hire Developers - Growth Hacking
Every book pre-order get access to all of these classes - and quite a bit more. You can pre-order on their site until February 10th 2013, and after that on Amazon.

Lastly, I wanted to share with you the foreword I wrote for The Lean Entrepreneur. As we head into 2013, it's a good time to reflect on how far the Lean Startup movement has come:

When I first started blogging in August of 2008, I had no idea what to expect. Startup blogging was hardly "cool" back then. Plenty of venture capitalists advised me against it. 
My personal background was as an engineer and my companies had been Web-based startups, so that is what I wrote about. Struggling to explain the successes and failures of those companies, I discussed principles like continuous deployment, customer development, and a hyper-accelerated form of agile. When I delved into lean manufacturing, I discovered the concepts and terminology dovetailed. The result: a new idea I called The Lean Startup. 
I started with some basic theory: that a startup is an institution designed to thrive in the soil of extreme uncertainty; that traditional management techniques rooted in forecasting and planning would not work well in the face of that uncertainty. Therefore, we needed a new management toolkit designed explicitly for iteration, scientific learning, and rapid experimentation. 
At the time, I viewed it as incidental that the theory might be tied to a particular industry, such as high-tech startups or web-based environments. Lean, after all, emerged from Toyota, a huge automobile manufacturing company. I simply stated my belief that Lean Startup principles would work in other types of startups and in other areas of business where uncertainty reigned. 
Boy, was I unprepared for what happened next. I was hopeful that we would change the way startups are built - but I didn't know.Fast-forward more than 4 years and I'm astounded by what has emerged. A nascent community has blossomed into a full-fledged movement. Entrepreneurs, both new and experienced, proudly share their Lean Startup learning in case studies, conferences, and many, many blogs. Books, workshops and courses authored by passionate practitioners relate experience, share insight, and create tools to teach students ways to make Lean Startup principles their own. Many investors, advisors, mentors and even celebrity entrepreneur icons speak the Lean Startup language. 
It's a big tent. We stand on the shoulders of giants: customer development, the theory of disruptive innovation, the technology life-cycle adoption theory, and agile development. Complementary lines of thinking, such as that of user experience professionals, design thinking practitioners and the functional disciplines of sales, marketing, operations and even accounting, come together to share practices that lift us all. 
Lean Startup has gone mainstream. I wish I could say that this was all part of some master plan, that I knew all along that companies of all sizes - far outside the high-technology world - would embrace Lean Startup. I wish I had foreseen that within a year of publishing The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Achieve Radically Successful Businesses, many large organizations, including such monsters as the United States Federal government (!) would have recognized that to cope with today's world -faster, more competitive, and inundated with data - new methods are needed to keep up. The truth is that all of this change has happened faster and more thoroughly than any of us imagined. And - as you're about to see - we're just getting started. 
That's why I am so excited by the volume you hold in your hands. The Lean Entrepreneur is about those new methods. Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits are among the earliest adopters of new ideas such as Lean Startup and customer development. Their new work turns their lens on three primary focal points: how to interact with customers, run experiments, and use actionable data to move the needle of any uncertain business endeavor. 
As with all of their work, theirs is not just a book of theory. Brant and Patrick provide great tactical depth in each of these areas. 
They endeavor to answer the question: No matter where you are as an organization, how do you know where to focus your Lean Startup activities? The Lean Entrepreneur offers new thinking, tools and activities that help organizations identify and act upon business model challenges in a waste-eliminating manner. Following the precepts of traditional lean thinking, Brant and Patrick introduce the value stream discovery process, which helps organizations hypothesize what they must do, including product development, marketing, and sales in order to create value. These business model assumptions are then ripe for testing, measuring and iterating upon. 
Further, the value you create is meaningless without a customer who needs, wants, desires and ultimately, determines the final value of your creation. Brant and Patrick spend considerable time helping you think through your customer segments. Cleverly and in the spirit of the scientific method, they even help you discover where your customer theory is wrong. 
Everyone likes a good story; Brant and Patrick interviewed dozens of entrepreneurs and documented numerous case studies both inside and outside of high-tech, in both startups and large enterprises. There's even a classic Wizard of Oz minimum viable product that dates back to 1998! 
Make no mistake, Brant and Patrick have been here since the beginning. They self-published The Entrepreneur's Guide to Customer Development in April of 2010
From the outset, they were both practitioners and mentors, urging entrepreneurs not to follow a paint-by-numbers approach, but rather to think lean: fast, agile and continuously learning. Over the last two years they've traveled around the world speaking, advising, and teaching Lean Startup. 
The Lean Entrepreneur is an important addition to the growing library of principles and practices designed to improve how we tackle innovation and uncertainty, be it in tech startups, Fortune 100, non-profits or government. 
I consider myself lucky to count Brant and Patrick as friends and colleagues. It is my hope that from this book you will gain valuable insights, make Lean Startup your own, and - much more importantly - that you are successful in changing the world for the better. 
Eric Ries,
San Francisco, December 2012

If you want to read more, you can find an excerpt of Chapter 6, Viability Experiments here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Presidential Innovation Fellows, round two

Yes, there are Lean Startups even in the United States federal government. I know this is an unpopular thing to say, since it sounds so patently absurd. But I've seen the teams with my own eyes and witnessed their results first hand. For my take on how this is possible, you can see my previous post on Lean Government here. Today, I'm excited to share the latest round of startups that are being run by the Presidential Innovation Fellows program. If you'd like to try your hand at being an entrepreneur inside one of the world's largest bureaucracies, you can apply right here starting today. 
I've excerpted descriptions of the program and summaries of all the projects below. Take a look and judge for yourself.

The Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) program pairs top innovators from the private sector, non-profits, and academia with top innovators in government to collaborate during focused 6-12 month “tours of duty” to develop solutions that can save lives, save taxpayer money, and fuel job creation. Each team of innovators is supported by a broader community of interested citizens throughout the country. 
The 1st round of five projects – MyUSA (formerly known as MyGov), RFP-EZ, Blue Button, Better Than Cash, and Open Data Initiatives – launched in August 2012 with 18 inaugural Fellows.  Each of these five project teams have made remarkable progress. 
The 2nd round of the Presidential Innovation Fellows program will include nine projects, described below – four that are the second phases of Round 1 projects and five new projects. Presidential Innovation Fellows have a unique opportunity to serve our Nation and make an impact on a truly massive scale.  We will be accepting applications to be a Round 2 Fellow from February 5 through March 17, and are looking to put together a dynamic, diverse, innovative class that will produce tremendous results for the American people.    
  • has information about the program, past PIFs, and will serve as the gateway through which to apply (just click on the “Apply Here” button starting February 5th) 
  • Those interested can follow @WhiteHouseOSTP on Twitter and can discuss the program on social media using: #InnovateGov 
  • Applications to be a Round 2 Fellow will be accepted through March 17th
Disaster Response & Recovery
Collaboratively building and “pre-positioning" needed tech tools ahead of future emergencies or natural disasters in order to mitigate economic damage and save lives.
During an emergency or natural disaster, it is essential that first responders, government agencies, volunteers, the private sector, and the public have access to real-time information about the critical needs of survivors and resources that can help them. The goals of the Disaster Response & Recovery project are to: (1) identify information critical to saving lives and mitigating damage in a disaster; (2) identify existing and new tools to be built and deployed that can collect, synthesize and distribute that information; and (3) build out these tools and train disaster response personnel in their use. 
Once these tools are built and rolled out, they can be used collaboratively by the private sector, first responders, local officials, volunteers, and survivors themselves in order to get information where it needs to be in real-time.  This improved ability to collect and disseminate information will support disaster response and recovery efforts for years to come.  The potential savings – in terms of both American lives and taxpayer dollars – are dramatic.
Simplifying the process of finding and accessing information and government services that are right for you.  Helping American businesses access the information and services that will help them grow, hire American workers, and export to foreign markets.

MyUSA (formerly known as MyGov) is creating a new service that helps Americans find the information and services they need across the Federal Government. Rather than organizing services around the agencies that deliver them, as most Federal websites do today, MyUSA organizes services around people and the specific tasks they need to complete.  Building on the work of the inaugural class of MyUSA Presidential Innovation Fellows, motivated by President Obama's call for a smarter, leaner government, and inspired by innovative models of collaboration in the private sector, the US Chief Technology Officer, the US Chief Information Officer, and the White House Director of Digital Strategy will work closely with and support the Round 2 MyUSA Fellows as they take the MyUSA service to the next level.
In particular, small businesses and exporters have a fundamental problem navigating the Federal Government’s myriad resources.  It can be difficult to locate information about government assistance programs or find and complete the correct forms for taxes or business operations.  MyUSA is working to solve these problems.  The project team will build and beta-test new features and tools for entrepreneurs and businesses with the purpose of cutting red tape, increasing efficiency, and supporting American businesses and American jobs.
MyUSA will save people and businesses time when transacting with the government, increase awareness of available government services, and speed up notifications and updates. MyUSA has the potential not only to save Americans time and money, but to reshape how they interact with and view their government.
@ProjectMyUSA on Twitter.

RFP-EZ and Innovative Contracting Tools
Making it easier for the government to do business with small, high-growth tech companies, and enabling the government to buy better, lower-cost tech solutions from the full range of American businesses. 

RFP-EZ improves the operations of government by making it easier for small businesses to sell their services to government buyers, and by making it easier for contracting officers within government to navigate the process of purchasing.  In Round 1 of the PIF program, the RFP-EZ team opened the door to small businesses by building a platform for small, creative businesses to more effectively sell to the Federal Government. The objective of the RFP-EZ 2.0 team is to improve upon the existing product and scale the tool across additional government agencies so that fewer taxpayer dollars are spent getting the technology that government needs to do its work for the American people. 

As RFP-EZ is tested and scaled, a new effort will be launched to improve Federal procurement by building a portal of prices paid by agencies under their contracts.  Improved information sharing, both within and between agencies, about prices paid for common-use goods and services will make it easier for agencies to find “best in class” spending options.  More informed decision making promises to help save substantial amounts of money each year by pooling resources in the vehicles that offer the best value for the taxpayer. and follow @ProjectRFPEZ on Twitter.

Cyber-Physical Systems
Working with government and industry to create standards for a new generation of interoperable, dynamic, and efficient “smart systems” – an “industrial Internet” – that combines distributed sensing, control, and data analytics to help grow new high-value American jobs and the economy.

The emerging “industrial Internet” revolution, enabled by the convergence of networking and information technology with engineered physical systems and associated services, is enabling a new generation of “smart systems” and an innovation-based growth engine for the U.S. economy in a broad range of industries including manufacturing, transportation, energy, healthcare, defense, agriculture, and emergency response.  These cyber-physical systems (CPS) will combine distributed sensing, monitoring, actuation, and control networks with interoperable systems integration, advanced analytics, and user interfaces featuring customized degrees of autonomy to enable adaptive, predictive, and collaborative optimization of system performance over the entire life cycle of a device (e.g. design, build, operate/use, maintain, and service).  These innovations could lead to entirely new markets and platforms for growth in the economy, increase U.S. competitiveness, catalyze the creation and retention of U.S. jobs, enable cost-effective renewable clean energy, enhance national security, and help support affordable health care and improved quality of life for our citizens.

Realizing this potential will require partnerships between industry and government to develop a  framework and best practices for cyber-physical-systems platform technologies that include integrated architectures, standards and protocols, advanced analytics, evaluation testbeds, and reference implementations to ensure such systems perform reliably, correctly, safely and securely.  These platform technologies will leverage advances in control systems and process engineering, big data and cloud computing, broadband communications, and cybersecurity.
Open Data Initiatives
Accelerating and expanding efforts to make government information resources more publicly accessible in “computer-readable” form and spurring the use of those data by entrepreneurs as fuel for the creation of new products, services, and jobs. 
The Open Data Initiatives project is “liberating” government data and voluntarily-contributed corporate data to fuel entrepreneurship, create jobs, and improve the lives of Americans in tangible ways. As a model, decades ago, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began making weather data available for free electronic download by anyone. Entrepreneurs used these data to create weather newscasts, websites, mobile applications, insurance, and much more. Similarly, the government’s decision to make the Global Positioning System (GPS) freely available has fueled a vast array of private-sector innovations ranging from navigation systems to precision crop farming, creating massive public benefit and contributing significantly to economic growth. More recently, the Health Data Initiative, launched by the Institute of Medicine and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2010, has opened growing amounts of health-related knowledge and information in computer-readable form from the vaults of the government and publicized the availability of these data to entrepreneurs and innovators. Hundreds of companies and nonprofits have used these data to develop new products and services that are helping millions of Americans and creating jobs of the future in the process.
Working closely with the US Chief Technology Officer, the US Chief Information Officer, and an array of agencies, the Open Data Initiatives team has launched and is continuing to scale open data efforts in Health, Energy, Education, Finance, Public Safety, and Global Development. These efforts involve government releasing general data resources in computer-readable form and in accordance with policies that rigorously protect privacy. The goal is to stimulate a rising tide of private-sector entrepreneurship that leverages these data to create tools that help Americans find the right health care provider for them, identify the college that provides the best value for their money, save money on their electricity bills through smarter shopping for the right rate plan, keep their families safe by knowing which products have been recalled, and much more – a rising tide of innovation that also contributes to economic growth and creates jobs. 
@ProjectOpenData on Twitter.
For Round 2, we are looking for Presidential Innovation Fellows to work on the existing Open Data Initiatives in Health, Energy, Education, Finance, Public Safety, and Global Development, as well as the following new data innovation efforts:
Building Virtual Learning at National Scale
Harness new techniques in big data and learning analytics to help students master core academic subjects such as math and science. 
Digital Tools for the Smithsonian
Develop new ways for the Smithsonian Institution to engage in the historic effort to make its unparalleled collections in science, history, art, and culture more open and available to the American public – from researchers to schoolchildren and everyone in between.
Build upon the success of (launched in 2009) – and recent improvements such as – to create an optimal hub for the growing open data work of the Federal Government.
@USDataGov on Twitter.
MyData Initiatives
Empowering the American people with secure access to their own personal health, energy, and education data. 
The MyData Initiatives seek to spread the ability for people to securely access to their own data while spurring the growth of private-sector applications and services that a person can use to crunch his or her own data for a growing array of useful purposes.
Existing MyData Initiatives are paving the way. For example, through Blue Button – a growing initiative across the public and private sectors – patients can download their own health information from a growing array of organizations (the Department of Veterans Affairs’s health system, private-sector health care providers, etc.) and securely share their medical histories with caregivers, import their prescription histories into mobile reminder apps, and more. Similarly, the Green Button team at the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Institute of Standards and Technology is working collaboratively with industry to enable millions of residential and commercial energy customers to securely download their own energy usage data in a standardized machine-readable format directly from their utilities. The MyData Initiative at the U.S. Department of Education is empowering learners of all ages in hundreds of school districts to access machine-readable copies of their academic transcripts and student loan/grant histories, including their own Federal student loan and FAFSA data.
The Round 2 MyData team will work with public sector and private sector organizations to continue to expand the ability for Americans to securely and privately access their own data from wherever it might be, and encourage the development of private-sector tools and services that help people utilize their own data for their own benefit.       
 @ProjectBlueBtn on Twitter.

Innovation Toolkit
Developing an innovation toolkit that empowers our Federal workforce to respond to national priorities more quickly and more efficiently. 
Inspired by President Obama’s pledge to “make government cool again,” the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, in connection with the General Services Administration and the U.S. Department of State, will lead an effort to apply technology to augment and tap into the skills, creativity, and capacity for innovation of the Federal workforce.  There are a variety of ways the Federal Government can improve the efficiency and productivity of its talented people – by connecting employees through an intuitive online collaboration platform, by providing opportunities for online learning and skills sharing (particularly since 85% of the Federal workforce is located outside of the Washington, DC metro area), and by offering dynamic libraries of case studies, guides, and “how to” documents – an “innovation toolkit” – for employees looking to think out-of-the-box without having to reinvent the wheel. Using these and other tools, we can deliver on President Obama’s call for a smarter, leaner government and enable the Federal workforce to deliver greater value to the American taxpayer by saving time, money, and resources.  
21st Century Financial Systems
Moving financial accounting systems of Federal agencies out of the era of unwieldy agency-specific implementations to one that favors more nimble, modular, scalable, and cost-effective approaches. 
The Federal Government has traditionally approached new financial system implementations by focusing on implementing commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS) packages and adapting them to agency-specific needs.  This approach has resulted in many cost and schedule over-runs, aborted implementations, and overly complex systems that are not used to their full potential. The Office of Management and Budget and the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Financial Innovation and Transformation (FIT) are charting a new course for Financial Systems focused on using shared services, standardized requirements, and fewer agency-specific tweaks. The 21st Century Financial Systems project is focused on designing and building an evidence-based “test” that Treasury will use to ensure agencies don’t put out over-engineered requirements.  The key to this effort will be designing and implementing a credible and efficient process to determine which agency deviations from a standard set of requirements are truly required and what would be the best way to accommodate those deviations. The success of this program could lead to dramatic and lasting cost savings on behalf of American taxpayers.
Development Innovation Ventures
Enabling the US government to identify, test, and scale breakthrough solutions to the world’s toughest problems. 
Great ideas and breakthrough solutions come from all kinds of different places, and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) has recently pioneered a competitive method for sourcing and scaling innovations to drive faster, more cost effective, and more reliable results. It uses staged financing to make small investments in promising approaches and technologies and larger investments when there is clear evidence that the method is producing significant results. It accepts proposals from startup or established businesses, social enterprises, academic institutions or non-profits, both domestically and internationally. Over 2000 proposals have been reviewed and over 40 investments made across the world in a wide range of sectors, with many more under negotiation.
Building on this innovative approach to government financing, there are opportunities to scale this effort to reach millions of people more quickly and ensure that the program structure is sustainable (through either profitability or host country adoption, not long-term donor support). Of particular interest would be supporting enterprises that are scaling through the private sector. In addition, there is a desire among domestic Federal Government agencies to optimize the use of taxpayer resources and further their missions by adapting this model of broad competitions and tiered funding for additional missions, to produce the most cost-effective, evidence-based, and scalable solutions., and @DIVatUSAID on Twitter.