Season 1, Episode 8: "How can I nurture innovation at a federal agency?" with Chad Sheridan, Chief Innovation Officer, NetImpact Strategies

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This is a podcast episode titled, Season 1, Episode 8: "How can I nurture innovation at a federal agency?" with Chad Sheridan, Chief Innovation Officer, NetImpact Strategies. The summary for this episode is: <p>Today, I talk to <a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Chad Sheridan</a>, Chief Innovation Officer at NetImpact Strategies about:</p><p>- How to measure value in the federal context</p><p>- The balance between delivering features and technical debt</p><p>- Why switching from project to product thinking matters</p><p>- The value in leveraging cloud for agencies</p><p>- How to lean on peers and overcome other technology leadership challenges</p><p>As former service delivery chief for the USDA, Chad recently moved to work at NetImpact Strategies to advise a number of agencies on what we’re about to talk about today. That is, creating and measuring value in the federal context, switching from project to product thinking to nurture innovation, the cloud’s value for agencies, and how to lean on peers to overcome the challenges that inevitably come with the territory of technology leadership.</p><p>Read more about Chad on our <a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank" style="background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255);">blog</a>.</p>
Overview of Episode
00:54 MIN
Chad Sheridan's' Background with USDA
02:26 MIN
Measuring Qualitative and Quantitative Returns
03:11 MIN
Technical Debt
02:52 MIN
Continuing Change
03:12 MIN
Cloud Infrastructure
03:17 MIN
Innovating Data Centers
02:23 MIN
The Importance of Agile Principles
02:08 MIN
NetImpact Strategies
01:20 MIN
The Power of Consulting
02:54 MIN
Driving Change Through Influence
03:32 MIN
The Value of a Peer Network
01:32 MIN
Being Vulnerable as an Executive
03:01 MIN
The Power of Resilience
02:18 MIN

Andrew: How have you enabled your infrastructure? Fundamental change over the last five years or partnering with the business is critical. Tools exist on the cloud change every rate necessary, secure by design, Network Disrupted. Hey, it's Andrew, and welcome to Network Disrupted, where IT leaders talk about navigating the disruption in our industry. In this episode, we talk with our guest, Chad Sheridan, the former Service Delivery Chief at the USDA about how to drive innovation in the federal space. Chad recently moved to work at NetImpact Strategies as Chief Innovation Officer to advise a number of agencies on what we're about to talk about, that is, creating and measuring value in the federal context, switching from a project to a product based thinking to nurture innovation. The cloud's value for agencies, and how to lean on peers to overcome the challenges that inevitably come up with the territory of technology leadership. You can find chat @ chadfsheridan on Twitter or Chad Sheridan on LinkedIn. Let me know what you thought of this episode. You can tweet me at Network Disrupted, leave a review on Spotify or Apple Podcast, or email me at andrew @ networkdisrupted. com. So Chad, thank you for joining me on Network Disrupted. It's a pleasure to meet you.

Chad Sheridan: Great, thanks for having me.

Andrew: We had a conversation before, which I thought was really interesting and certainly very near and dear to my heart, and that is starting to look at programs in IT more horizontally. Moving away from project based or program based IT that in its nature drives silos and start really trying to understand how to look at value and results of a broader program and planning for that. Obviously, you're very passionate of that too. So maybe give me some background about why you're so passionate about these sorts of things, and what you've seen in the US government for instance that's driven you to your role today, really trying to understand how to work with businesses to build higher value, higher impact programs?

Chad Sheridan: I think it started with, I had the good fortune of working when I started in government for an outfit that ran naval nuclear propulsion. It has been around for over 60 years. And so, we were... I think the people that were selected for that program and those who survived the initial five- year job trial, because everybody's brought in original as military, and you have a five- year job trial, a five- year interview. And then they decide to keep you on as a civilian or an engineering duty officer. All of the people that stayed on had this cradle to grave understanding and approach to nuclear power. And so, it's part of my being. And so, I came over to other of government and started working in IT. I saw this siloed approach to thinking that just gave me the blue screen of death in my brain around, this doesn't make sense. I don't understand this. Why don't you people see the world the way I see the world? And so, I spent the remainder of my federal career trying to break down the barriers of going, Hey, I know your program is independently authorized and appropriated. And so, you only see the world from this silo. But your customers, the citizens, don't care that you do crop insurance and you do farm programs. They care about how it impacts their farm. And so, trying to break down the barriers that keep government agencies from delivering to the citizen has been my charge, both from how I grew up, in my first jobs with the government, and through my first agency in the Department of Agriculture. Again, I had the good fortune that it was an agency that had a single federal program, Federal Crop Insurance. And so, by nature and nurture, I learned how to think holistically. And then as I jumped in the job that had, goodness, three agents, three bureaus within USDA, 40 to 50 individual programs, and then having worked with other federal agencies, I saw the world from a horizontal before people were talking about it.

Andrew: There's always a challenge to measure the output. If that's something as potentially hard to define as customer value, some things have obvious customer value. It costs us$ 3, 000 to do that. Now, it costs$ 5. We do that 500 times a year. Fantastic, there's an ROI. Many, many things, the ROI is either harder to find, or the value is harder to find, or it's over a number of years, or it's only appreciated by the next program. So it's hard to measure yours. Maybe give me some strategies how you think about measuring value from some of these larger initiatives that give the business owners the ability to justify actually doing this stuff?

Chad Sheridan: We had the great fortune. I think one of the things you can do in a larger agency or in an agency for that matter is understand where your people are spending their time. We had an effort going on in USDA focused on what was called the optimally productive office. The effort that went into that was actually first kicked off to justify the hiring plans that we had put in place, because the secretary was very keen on measures and was not going to let us do a lot of hiring in the field unless we had some objective measures of what those people were doing. And so, what that ended up giving us was, I knew by types of programs where the field was spending the most time. So I could start to develop investment portfolios to say, if I could reduce. We had anecdotal knowledge that this process is onerous and hard. I had quantitative measures that said I was spending 15% of the field staff's time on these activities. So I could say, we know they're saying qualitatively this sucks. Quantitatively, we know we're spending this amount of time and over a 10,000 person field staff. If I can make a 10% improvement in this by investing, then I'm going to get valued output. Now, the sale that we had to change with that, and I actually got to pitch this to the secretary before I left, was to pitch the value proposition. In other words, if I can deliver a better value through the field, not by reducing their hours but by increasing the value they deliver, I'm going to get the return on the investment even if I'm not going to use that to cut the staff's time.

Andrew: Right.

Chad Sheridan: Because typically what happens is, you go make those investments, and then the budget people come back and say, " Well, we're going to cut your staff by 10% because you're more efficient." Well, most people in industry don't... They invest in value up, the upside versus the downside. It doesn't mean that the downside and cost savings don't matter, but there are very few mergers and acquisitions that are not targeted towards that upside versus the downside. And so, I pitched that to the secretary and said, " Look, there's value here." He said, " There's folks on the hill aren't necessarily going to understand this, but I see where you're coming from. I'm willing to back, because you've got definitive measures of what you're going to do. You've shown capability to deliver, and you've got qualitative and quantitative measures of why this matters." That I think is where it can make a difference in government, is find ways to go after the value proposition, the upside value versus just the downside value.

Andrew: Yeah. No, for sure, because it's just... Everything always comes down to trade- offs and priorities. We see this all the time in software development. There are things you can do. I don't know, rework an entire build system, for instance, which is going to save you nine hours every week of build time. Developers will have faster access to whether something worked or not, or you going switch over to CICD pipelines and gain all these benefits. All the work in that is instead of building some features that customers want. And so you get into this, are we investing in being able to do more stuff later or are we investing in more stuff now? That sort of trade- off with a fixed amount of staff, even with the value of, okay, these people will be more efficient, it's still hard to justify. Right?

Chad Sheridan: Yeah. Actually, that's a huge trade off. Because typically, the focus has always been on prioritization of features over the sustainable delivery of value. And so, you have to change the conversation. We had a great opportunity to talk about technical debt with some of our leaders. And so, I had a senior career person ask, program person, " What is technical debt?" One of my architects explained it perfectly. He said, " Really, technical debt is the impediments for the continued rapid delivery of value by the way in which we code." And he's like, " Oh, so if I did this to rapidly get a program in place, I need to go and refactor that so that doesn't gum up the works for my ability to change that program or deliver it in the future." It's about again taking the terms that we might understand in technology delivering and turn them into understanding of future capabilities in the minds of the program people.

Andrew: Yeah, no. Those are always difficult conversations to have, because you can refactor something with all your capacity all the time and never get back around to features if you wanted to. You know?

Chad Sheridan: I think that comes back to... I think we tend to focus on the new delivery of features as the big, that's where all the money goes. Well, that's right. That's where all that new investment money goes. But the reality is, your capacity to continue delivering those new capabilities is dependent on everything underneath the waterline on that iceberg, that is the technical debt, the legacy systems, all of those other things. If you don't integrally, if I can say that word, deliver that as you're delivering features, then you're just building more of the iceberg underneath the surface, and eventually, it will swallow you whole.

Andrew: No, for sure. There's always a balance there. The technical debt exists, because we've always prioritized features and trying to get them out on specific dates. And so, we do just continue doing what we've always done, and therefore, I'm going to need more people over more time to deliver more capacity. It gets more and more like... I like a measure of the cost of change. If I can reduce the cost of change, that will speed up my ability to deliver new capabilities. But the costs of change are high when things aren't testable or things aren't automatable. I need people involved. I need.... Whatever the case might be, all those different impediments, each one of them represents lost opportunity. It's just in fighting that cost of change, there's potential lost opportunities. Yeah. If you can get the business and the business leadership to buy in to what these measures are and prove... I don't know from your experience. In my experience, start with some small things and prove so that you can justify larger spends on trying to adapt or take technology and allow it to be changed faster. Sometimes small wins help there.

Chad Sheridan: Well, I think also that's where that mindset shift from project to product is very important. The reality is, these government programs, at least my experience especially in Department of Ag, but I think everywhere across the federal government landscape, these programs are multi- decade in origin for the most part. There are very few programs that start and stop and are just like that. They are decades type programs. And so, if you think of this product line of a program, think of the technology that goes with that, the business processes that go with that, there should be a continuous improvement cycle of managing that product line throughout its life cycle. And so, it shouldn't just be a big invest to just get it out there up front. It should be, I'm continually going after it. If you can make that shift, that flip over from the tottering vertical to the continuous horizontal, then you can start to justify the continuing flow of ideas, which does a whole lot of things. It helps your technology portfolio. It actually helps you people portfolio, because you're continuously growing your product and program personnel over time, because you're constantly rethinking your business processes. I don't know how many times I've gone into a program and you're spelunking through code trying to figure out these hidden business processes that no one wrote down, or the person that understood it retired two years ago. And so this continuing capability is... It breeds a constant refresh of ideas. It gets people juiced up and it makes them own it.

Andrew: Right. No, I think that's critical, and just that engagement with your people in general over time. We talked a lot about that application layer, the layer where you're going to interact with that end customer, the consumer, or the farmer, or the whoever the case might be. There's also the broad investments in infrastructure that go under that that are able to hopefully deliver across multiple programs or projects or products inside of an organization and servertising the infrastructure well. Versus the old way where you're going to install a new purchasing system that requires, I don't know, eight servers and this amount of storage for backup and these network pipes. A project documents written with an SLA, and it's handed off to different people. They go build it, and then now you've got those eight servers dedicated to this. You were verticalizing everything from infrastructure to application. How did you look across infrastructure requirements or security requirements or other things that by nature should go across programs, but historically, we're still thought of from a project standpoint?

Chad Sheridan: I think this is where I was have been a cloud proponent for years and years and years from the standpoint of, I need an infrastructure operated by an organization that their entire life is about managing. Even if it is... Let's say I go to the lowest layer, infrastructure as a service, the providers I can choose from an infrastructure as a service are going to deliver that capability, are going to allow me to scale up and scale down 10 times better than I'm able to by myself and the federal government. This is the reality. And so, if I can get to a point where I can take at a minimum my general compute to a GovCloud or a commercial cloud, we were actually driving towards a commercial cloud, FedRAMP commercial cloud because I could get... Even with lift and shift, I could start to see advantages before I got into a better level of CICD or continuous delivery. I can get advantages with commercial cloud right out of the gate.

Andrew: Yeah. Because I think commercial cloud, at least from an AWS standpoint is FedRAMP authorized to medium level. There's no reason to go to GovCloud-

Chad Sheridan: Yeah. So if I could crosstalk in commercial cloud, and I can do so by extending my general support accreditation boundary there. We were working with a company in USDA, and I'm actually working with them a little bit in my new capacity. If I can speed the adoption and reduce the overall cost of ownership of that ATO in the cloud environment, especially if it's inaudible my boundary encompasses my on- prem and my cloud services, that's a huge advantage. Because I can start to move workloads and get the advantages of scale, and I can get out of the data center business. Because frankly, as a federal government entity, there are very few federal government data center providers that are going to give you a better product than your major cloud service providers. Sorry, that's just... We can't hire those people that Googles and Amazons and Microsofts can hire and maintain that skill set as well as they can.

Andrew: Right. Maybe it's part of that, but it's also part, those data centers have been managed for quite a long time. The contracts that exists are either cost- plus contracts or... They may have made sense when they were signed years ago, but now, the contracts themselves almost limit the ability to deliver cloud like services.

Chad Sheridan: crosstalk working capital funded, and there's only way for me to get better is generally by getting more. The amount of investment to innovate and become and give out better services, it's not nearly as strong. Frankly, I look at their business model as more people go to cloud services is, how are their costs not going to go through the roof? It's just, the cycle time for improvement and change, there's not a value proposition there. Whereas commercial cloud providers, whether they're in the GovCloud space, the inaudible, the IC space or commercial cloud space, there is an incentive to innovate, to constantly provide new services. There's enough customers there that are demanding new capabilities that your innovation cycles are moving at an order of magnitude or more faster than what you can do if you're working your own data center.

Andrew: Yeah. Somebody's innovating-

Chad Sheridan: crosstalk.

Andrew: Somebody's innovating underneath you, and therefore, over time, you'll naturally have more services you can use as those services are available. You may decide to use those services or build your own on the cloud. But if you want to get started with, I don't know, data warehousing, then don't spend any time. There's a data warehouse. There's a database specifically for that and there's something you can at least experiment with. It's available and they're innovating.

Chad Sheridan: It also allows us to get into the right space of Opex versus Capex. Part of the technical debt that's held people back is the need to throw big chunks of money at technical refresh, hardware technical refresh in lieu of, Hey, if I can Opex that, that gives me a better value proposition. I have more control over that. It keeps me from doing a penny wise and pound foolish decision of trying to extend the service life of something that really should have been refreshed two years ago.

Andrew: Yeah. No, for sure. And from a security standpoint, from a-

Chad Sheridan: Exactly.

Andrew: ...quality reliability standpoint. There's winds all over the place. Yeah. In our customer base, there's lots of cloud adoption and hybrid cloud adoption. In our large financial customers, there's still a lot of... They're building their own cloud like services, but they're able to hire those people to build those services. And so for them, they're not necessarily adopting public cloud providers at the same speed, but are creating that same underlying infrastructure as a service and platform services so that those that are building and deploying applications and services can do it rapidly. I think it's obviously a critical part. If you're going to do any sort of CICD, you need infrastructure that you can wield with software that isn't dependent on something like a hardware refresh to get faster networking, so that you can execute this. Versus just using a different instance type for instance in AWS or whatever the case might be, from a software developer standpoint, it's a playground which can get you into trouble. So obviously, there's processes and practices required. You don't want to create messes, but-

Chad Sheridan: I think that's where really the front end and the business of the office of the CIO matters. The governing and way in which... I'm very happy to be where I'm at right now as we have capabilities in that space, that at least in my journey towards continuous delivery, agile transformation, all that stuff, what I found was, it doesn't matter how well you perform in the development and operate portion of that. If you don't have a governance and picking model that is more akin with agile principles, you'll never get off the ground, or you'll sub- optimize your process. I'm really happy to bring this idea of, if I understand how to govern and manage the finance and business of technology and investing, and I start to do that with a set of agile principles and continuous improvement principles and lean all of those things, there's a huge value proposition. That actually is as valuable or more valuable than doing it on the delivery side.

Andrew: Yeah, totally understood.

Chad Sheridan: crosstalk the iron triangle on one side and you're trying to be agile on another, you're setting everybody up to fail.

Andrew: No, for sure. That was part of like the... In the early days, when we talked about agile and it was really just about how we developed software, and you didn't have quote unquote executive buy- in. But the executive buy- in that we went for those days where the execs just say, " Okay, great, you're doing your agile transformation. Here's some money for some consultants, and we're looking forward to the results." Versus understanding it from a business standpoint, of finance standpoint, this isn't just how we're going to build software differently. This is how we're going to engage with the market differently. But also just at the, how we're going to run the business of software development or run the business of IT, we need to run it and measure it differently to support being able to do these things. It's not just about hiring scrum masters and creating teams.

Chad Sheridan: No, it's really... It's the locus of your transformation of your whole business.

Andrew: Yes. Now, you're the Chief Innovation Officer at NetImpact Strategies, which gives you the ability to work across... NetImpact is mostly government- focused or commercial focused as well?

Chad Sheridan: Yeah, it's all federal government.

Andrew: It's all federal government.

Chad Sheridan: We've had some commercial, but our focus is the federal government clients. We've got a pretty heavy investment in the health community, federal health community. We've also got a heavy investment in financial oversight agencies, and I think we'll be continuing to branch out there. Yeah. Our job is to take what has been... I think the whole essence of the company was started with somebody who had worked in some of the larger federal systems integrators or product areas, and the dissatisfaction with the ability to focus on mission and focus on the customer value. So I'm very happy in that our DNA is about focusing on the needs of our customers, which goes back to my vision of focusing, not just on the business of IT, but on the mission delivery and what technology brings. I feel like we have an opportunity here to change through our customers what they can do to drive their mission value.

Andrew: Right. It's a different perspective. When I created my first startup, I was working for several years at Motorola or a company that Motorola bought and doing something, trying to make success, doing all this engineering and manufacturing supply chain stuff and software. When I left to grow my start up, I funded the startup by creating a management consulting company. And so the original product was just doing what I knew how to do at one company and trying to do it across many companies. And then that turned into eventually our product idea, and we built something. But the point being, it was... I had talked to other companies all the time when I was working in industry trying to do these things, but the amount I learned and the perspective I had now actually working as a partner to these other companies and learning the... From a broad brush, yeah, they're a high- tech electronics companies. One makes cable boxes, and one makes laptops. Things aren't going to be that different. But obviously, there's a massive difference between different companies and their cultures and their processes. I would imagine it's less extreme in fed just because of cross- cutting policies and practices that in many cases have to be there. But still, it must be fascinating to work with multiple agencies. You probably learned from that perspective, I guess is my point.

Chad Sheridan: Yeah. I had lots of opportunities when I was with the federal government. I tended to branch outside of my agency and talk to other feds. Sometimes, that's rare, but I don't know how not to do that. I spent a lot of time connecting across federal agencies and working on cross agency initiatives. I think also, there are a lot of similarities, but there are a lot of differences. I think it's very easy for the government to get single focused on their own programs and missions and not look across the horizontal. Part of my opportunity now is, I can bring good ideas from one to another, not just for the purposes of, obviously we want to grow our revenue, but also to, Hey, maybe I can speak your journey, and maybe not everybody has to burn their hand the same way on the same stove. It's human nature to learn from your own mistakes. The higher value proposition is to start to learn from others. I don't think there's ever any perfect venue for learning from other's mistakes other than, maybe I won't make quite as many as Chad did. That's at least the beginning of the hope.

Andrew: Right, right. No, I think it's... Yeah. Learning from other's mistakes or learning from our own mistakes is obviously how we learn or a huge part of how we learn regardless. You can't really have wisdom unless you've done something. It's apparent I think when working with different consulting companies over the years, management consulting or otherwise, if they've hired consultants who know how to teach something or talk about something versus working with companies where those that you're specifically working with have done the job and are of the mindset that they might not know everything. I think it used to... Sometimes, it was a... I used to work for a public company. There were times we would have to bring in a consultant because it wasn't good enough. If it was our idea, we needed the third party to come in to let the CEO know that, well, McKinsey, here's what McKinsey thinks about it. Forget what my idea was. Here's what McKinsey thinks about it, because now I've had a third- party come in and help. That was just the cost of doing business and-

Chad Sheridan: Pay for respectability. Yes.

Andrew: Yeah, exactly. Sometimes you'd bring in consultants and people would be like, had you just let us do this, we would have been able to do this. So my point is, sometimes it's not met with, okay, the person who bought your services is bought in, but not necessarily across the organization. So I'm just-

Chad Sheridan: That's the fun part of organizational change and strategy. I made a career out of being a magnet or a driver of change. I think what I try to tell people when I'm mentoring them or help them understand what works is, you've got to play the field as it lies and play the ball as it lies. The frontal approach, you can come in and beat on people with your ideas until you're blue in the face. The key is influence. I think people don't understand that you've got to learn this idea of how to make them believe it's their own. How do you do what I used to call the Jedi mind trick? How do you pull off the influence of idea the inception of an idea, and it becomes their own? I had the great fortune to work with one of the best influencers and Jedi mind trickers available that took what could have been a program killing Rumsfeld review, if you remember back when Rumsfeld was Secretary of Defense. The Rumsfeld review was the kiss of death. Well, we went into one of those on a huge acquisition program, and then came out of it with an extra$ 2 billion for development to be more transformational. That was a Jedi mind trick. It was his idea, but I know where it started. This idea that you can influence... The thing I would say that's most important one, I try to teach people, how do you drive change? I raised two or three tenets that are most important. One is, there's no limit to what you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit. That's not my original, but that's a mindset. If you embrace that, it doesn't matter who gets the credit. What matters is the mission. There's something greater than us. That there are multiple ways to go through that, and persistence is more valuable than what you can accomplish in one... There's always resistance to change. It's whether or not you can deal with the inevitable pain and slayings and false hoods and lies and beat downs you're going to get in trying to champion change. What matters is the proposition of value for the mission, that it doesn't matter who gets the credit and that, Hey, I don't care how many times they slander you as that bad guy who's just trying to change everything. As long as it moves and you don't let them see you sweat... I don't know how many meetings I sat in where I'm just getting crushed and people throwing rocks at me from five different directions. I walk out of the meeting and some of my folks go, " How did you take that?" I was just like, " It's not about me." It's not about me. They can slander me and call me whatever name they want until the cows come home as long as ultimately we continue with the mission. If I take my beatings now, it might be... If they see that that's not going to stop me, that's not going to stop us in driving this value, then the resistance melts away. Plus they start to look like the bad guys.

Andrew: Right. No, for sure. Look, I think it's hard. Certainly an attribute of a leader, but it's hard for a lot of people to get there, which is being able to separate criticisms of what you're doing from criticisms of you as a person. Those are two very different things. If while people are giving you whatever... However it's delivered, critical feedback. It might be delivered in a emotional way. It might certainly sound personal. But if you can sit there with the mind of what's actually being criticized here is my program, and what can I learn from this, or how do I drive through this, or what am I not giving my stakeholders such that they're so confused? Staying in that mindset of this being about what you're doing, not who you are is I think critical.

Chad Sheridan: What's that seeking to understand? I want to understand the environment, the problem, the people. inaudible I may think that person is a jerk, and they're playing dirty pool, or they're just afraid of everything. Okay, let me understand, how can I work to understand and influence?

Andrew: For sure. Yeah, and keep asking questions and being curious.

Chad Sheridan: It's hard and it hurts.

Andrew: Right, yeah. No, it does.

Chad Sheridan: I think that's the other piece, and I'm looking forward to in this gig in working with our customers, is to let them know, at least for the ones that are trying to drive the change, you're not alone. We're here for you. We're here to be a part of it. We're here to own that with you, to partner with you. I think the biggest thing I learned is the value of peer networks. Part of what I'm trying to bring in this environment is to make sure we stand a clear peer network, whether it's within our company or across our partners, both technology partners and other provider partners or just the larger the unwritten community of people wanting to do good is, how do we stay together? How do we reach out to each other? How do we support each other? Now more than ever, as we're all barricaded into our homes, how do you keep these peer networks going? Because I found that when you're one of those people that naturally goes to driving change, the loss of peers is probably the biggest detractor for the continuing energy to drive change. You can have all the support from above. You have a great team below you. But when you lack peers that are in it with you, all of a sudden, it gets really lonely out there.

Andrew: Yeah.

Chad Sheridan: The energy levels necessary to continue to drive positive change, you basically burn out about 10 times faster if you lack that peer network.

Andrew: Yeah. Sometimes, you need a shoulder to cry. You need to go into somebody's office and say, " Man, some days I just can't do this. What a fucking meeting we just had." You need somebody who can empathize, somebody who understands what you're going through that can then turn around, and don't even have to... Sometimes they just need to listen. But yeah, I think that that peer network is critical and... Yeah.

Chad Sheridan: It's really hard for executives. What I've found... I'm not sitting here crying to my beverage about the plight of executives. But what I find and I watch having watched a lot of executives in government, they get into their job and they're supposed to know everything. They're supposed to be in charge. Inevitably, they stop asking people for help, because they think they're supposed to know it. Man, that just tear people apart. If you can't get through that barrier of I don't know everything and so I'm going to ask for help and I'm going to display some vulnerability, that I don't have the answers to all of world hunger just because I'm a senior executive now. Unless you can speed getting through that barrier, man. I watched people flame out hard, because they're unable to express that maybe I don't know everything today.

Andrew: Yeah, no, which is... I talk about this all the time with friends, peers, colleagues, whoever. But it's that idea of certainly being vulnerable enough to not know everything or to ask for help, to have the confidence to understand it's appropriate. You couldn't possibly have known that. So why would you struggle saying, I don't know the answer to that? But also trusting those around you that they're not going to use your vulnerability in a way to, I don't know, politic internally or whatever the case might be. It's just some of that's just human nature, and it's really up to leaders and organizations to drive the culture where it's okay not to know the answer and be vulnerable. It's empowering for those around you. At the same side, if you were a chief innovation officer, or a chief strategy officer, or a chief technology officer, whatever it is, there is a basis for what you do that you should have skill in. But yeah, it was a lesson I learned very early in my career when literally I thought... In some cases, I knew the answer, but I realized, or I was told, I was mentored, I was put into a room and yelled at, " Shut up." Sometimes you might know the answer, but that doesn't mean you need to say it. This is an opportunity to learn. This is an opportunity to ask questions. This is an opportunity to get people on your side, because you're talking to them as opposed to not asking the questions because you know the answers. There's probably 1, 000 books in the business section on that, but really, those can only guide you through a journey, because you got to learn this stuff on your own. Sorry, you need experience to really understand.

Chad Sheridan: The experience that I think for me has been most valuable is the experience of taking my lumps. Nobody likes to say we embrace failure, because you don't want to fail. But the reality is, when you crash and burn and you get back up and you dust yourself off and you get back in the ring and keep going, there is a resilience. If you've gone through personal or professional, calamity might be too strong of a word, but in any case, you've taken your lumps on something, if you can get back up and get right back in and keep going, there's a power to knowing that they can beat the crap out of me, or I can crash and burn in an incredible way and I can survive. That knowledge and that inner strength of knowing that I have been through, call it a job loss or whatever calamity that is either personal professional that you've lived through, those people who have lived through it and gotten back up and thrive have an incredible power to take risk. Because they know that even if I take risk and I crash and burn, I've been through it before. I can survive. I'd been through the worst that can happen. It goes back to the stoic belief of, maybe if I just work for a month and ignore all of these things in my life. So it's like, I'm going to live like a pauper for a month. These were stoic type exercises that people used to do to show they could live without, or show you you can recover from things. It builds a resilience and strength to know that I can survive when things go... I think that our environment today, right now, coming out of what we're going through in a global pandemic, regardless of how bad it gets or right or wrong people were at the start of it, we're going to come out of this better, because we have gone through some nature of calamity and survived and thrived. Or a group of people are going to do that. That is where I think we can be of value to the people we support.

Andrew: Right, no, especially given what we're going through today. I want to agree with you. Look, this is how you build confidence when you've been through these things before, or when you're sent out into the forest with a compass and a hunting knife. You can't come back for week. Whatever it was in the past, but it certainly brings it. But, yeah, I think it's a good note to end on. I would hope... I think there will be some good out of the disaster that's going on right now across the globe. You don't want pandemics in order to create opportunities for change and innovation, but certainly not on this scale, but I think that's the human nature. I think a great deal will come from it. Anyway, Chad, it was lovely to speak to you. I really enjoyed the conversation.

Chad Sheridan: Well, thanks for having me.

Andrew: We can talk all day, but... Yeah. The best of luck at NetImpact, and I hope you and yours are healthy and enjoy this time in your house.

Chad Sheridan: I will. Thank you very much for having me.

Andrew: With your dogs. All right.

Chad Sheridan: Take care.

Andrew: Thank you for listening. I'd love to know what you thought of this episode, and I'm all ears if you have a guest recommendation. You can tweet @ netwkdisrupted, leave a review on Spotify or Apple Podcasts, or email me at andrew @ networkdisrupted. com.


Today, I talk to Chad Sheridan, Chief Innovation Officer at NetImpact Strategies. We discuss the balance between delivering features and technical debt, how to measure value in the federal context, the benefit in leveraging cloud, why switching from project to product thinking matters, and how to overcome technology leadership challenges by leaning on peers.

As former service delivery chief for the USDA, Chad recently moved to work at NetImpact Strategies to advise a number of agencies on what we’re about to talk about today. That is, creating and measuring value in the federal context, switching from project to product thinking to nurture innovation, the cloud’s value for agencies, and how to lean on peers to overcome the challenges that inevitably come with the territory of technology leadership.

P.S. Know who I should speak to next? Drop me a line at andrew [at] networkdisrupted [dot] com.

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Read more about Chad on our blog.