Full “Sprint” Ahead

By: Kayleen Carter, CA DCSS

The California Department of Child Support Services (CA DCSS) has been successfully tackling departmentwide system changes and improvements through a new series of fast-paced and focused problem-solving tactics called “sprints.” These sprints are designed to last only for a short span of time, ranging from five days to two weeks. CA DCSS began implementing the use of sprints in the Technology Services Division (TSD) as part of the move to an Agile software development methodology.

Information Technology Manager II Catherine Lanzaro, said that the department originally followed a “waterfall” approach, which was a very “structured” and “siloed” system with little room for adaption or change along the way. However, with Agile, the focus is on shortening the development timeframe and adapting during the process of solving the problem.

“Agile allows for continuous incremental delivery, and it brings people together,” said Lanzaro. “TSD staff would have to guess what the customer wanted if we didn’t have Child Support Program experts to guide us. The Program areas can only do so many manual processes before they need an automated solution. So, we work together.” With this type of collaboration, the department has made progress on some stand-out projects.

From February 15th through February 22nd, the department made improvements to the guideline calculator low-income adjustment (GC LIA). The “Alliance” Agile team in TSD completed the work, along with the visioning provided by Child Support Services Deputy Director Vickie Contreras, on getting GC LIA updated in lightning speed. The guideline calculator is required to be updated annually to ensure accuracy in compliance with California law, and guideline calculations need to be accurate every time child support orders are created. If the GC LIA is incorrect then inaccurate child support orders are made—which we know hurts us, it hurts children, and it hurts the parents involved.

The GC LIA change effort was assigned to the Alliance Agile team who met with Vickie Contreras to provide visioning for the changes. By February 22nd the code was completed and it was included in the March 2019 technology release.

This was one of the first projects under the new sprint process that combined both the child support business area and TSD. Contreras also mentioned that this was the first time the calculator had been updated on time. She attributed the successful timing to the sprint process, which gave the Child Support Program the ability to engage in a collaborative effort and helped TSD understand the program needs as well as the “why” of the project.

From February 25th to February 28th five executives at CA DCSS, including CA DCSS Director David Kilgore, convened to develop a new data research branch in the “Policy Meets Analytics” sprint. The idea behind this sprint was to improve how the department extracts and uses relevant child support data.

“Most of the child support data used in regular federal reports is accessible in the Child Support Enforcement (CSE) system,” explained Assistant Chief Counsel Maria Gianelli, who facilitated the sprint. “However, other relevant data such as participant demographic information is also in the system but not easily accessible.” Although the Data Performance Analysis Branch at the department handles the regular federal reports, there is a need to have staff that could specifically address other queries as they come up.

The sprint established a process for extracting data and a role and responsibility matrix and created a team of classified staff whose main priority will be to pull this type of previously inaccessible data. These staff members—made up of researchers and child support specialists—will either be selected from other divisions within the department on a temporary basis or hired externally.

Gianelli praised the sprint process, noting that the short timeframe and fast pace contributed to a more focused effort that made it easy to maintain discipline and structure.

“There’s like this synergy,” she explained. “Because of the time pressure, people start moving. Everyone who has done it has really ended up enjoying it. It’s a good, collaborative process where everyone is equal on the team.”

Since July 2018, there have been several sprints revolving around Assembly Bill (AB) 976. This massive effort has been detailed in the CA DCSS Organizational Change Management (OCM) AB 976 newsletter. Stay aware of important changes happening as a result of this effort by checking out the CA DCSS OCM updates.

Adopting the Agile process has been a big change for CA DCSS but a huge success in terms of the number of projects – some that were pending for years – which have been completed and implemented using these focused sprints. There is sure to be lots more to come!