Joyce Popp: Hi, this is Joyce Popp. I am the Bureau Chief for Application and Development and Support at the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.
AgileCxO: Welcome to this month’s edition of the Agile Leadership Podcast from agileco.org. I’m your host Jeff Dalton, and this month, we’re speaking with Joyce Popp. Bureau Chief from the Department of Health and Welfare from the great State of Idaho.
Joyce Popp: I started my career out in corporate America, working for high tech companies, and moved into IT, and then into leadership roles in IT. I was there for approximately 30 years in the corporate world. And then I left, and joined the Idaho Department of Education, where I was the CIO.
Really my initiative there was just to help people understand how technology can be used in classrooms, along with getting wireless set up, and how to enable students who may not have the opportunity to have technology. Also, in support of accountability for all the dollars that are spent in Education, I set up a data collection system for educators to start making data driven decisions.
From there, I went and worked for a company called AEM Corporation out of Reston, Virginia, that had many federal contracts. I worked directly with the US Department of Education in their Privacy and Technical Assistance Center, giving guidance on how to protect data, and how to utilize data. It was much the same thing that I was doing at the Idaho Department of Education, just at a federal level. I was a senior advisor for them and program manager at that area.
I found that I was not enjoying being on the road nearly as much. I wanted to come home. So, I came back and accepted a position at the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. They had been without a Bureau Chief in this position for some time. As a result, there were a lot of things that hadn’t been dealt with. Things were just kind of moving along and weren’t progressing in the manner that they probably could have been. This last year a fun journey, a very busy journey, and we’re getting things to where we really feel like we’re able to utilize the Agile principles to their fullest, and ensuring that we’re providing what the customers need here.
AgileCxO: That sounds like a fantastic life’s journey. Congratulations! You’re known as a leader that embraces Agile methods and frameworks. That certainly is difficult to do in some environments, especially in the states that I work with. Let’s start with Agile values a little bit. It seems like one of the most difficult things is to get people on board with some of the most basic Agile values, like failing fast, transparency, collaboration, co-location and those types of things. Talk a little bit about how you address those and how you made that successful in Idaho.
Joyce Popp: Idaho Department of Health and Welfare had embraced the Agile principles prior to me arriving here. However, they were not being utilized to the best of their ability. And so, we just started looking at where some of the areas where we could look at improvement. And I think transparency, communication, and having those conversations was one of the largest components. Anytime you walk into a new job, you have to feel out where everything is at. And the right words were being used but I think one of the biggest things is that they hadn’t really embraced putting it in action. Everybody spoke about continuous improvement, and everybody spoke about failing fast. Yet a lot of the things weren’t coming out and being evident that they were being truly implemented. So, my challenge was working on that, and bringing those set of values and principles to the forefront. And it’s like any organizational change. It’s not a one and done time. It is living it every single day. I think one of the biggest things is taking the management team that I work with and helping them to understand how they can continually improve to be a good leader, to be that servant leader. That is really what drives Agile principles. Rather than feeling like they have to manage anything, it’s really leading by example.
So, my job was probably easier here because a lot of the ground work had been put into place. It was really just starting to live it on a day to day basis. And giving support to the teams realizing that empowerment, and being able to not be worried about if they do fail. And what does failure really mean? Did we miss something? What did miss? I think a lot of times there’s a culture where people come into, they don’t really understand what you mean by “it’s ok to fail”. Because all your life you’re told never to fail. It was really an interesting journey. We have a tremendous amount of contractors versus State staff here. So, you’re really dealing with a different culture.
And so, bringing that all together, I think one of the biggest things that I’m a proponent of, is being actively involved in the process. You don’t just hand it off to people. People have to see that you’re there and you’re supporting that process, and that there are really good things that can come from it.
AgileCxO: This whole question of ‘fail fast’ comes up a lot. We’re certainly not trained in our IT careers to even acknowledge that failure is possible and it seems to me that Scrum especially is based on the notion that failure is inevitable. So, when working with your business customers, how do you get them comfortable with the notion of the short iterations and the failing fast, and the refactoring, etc. A lot of time the business customers just say, “That’s just going to add a whole lot overhead” but when they learn about it, they find out that it is positive. So how did you convince the business customers that was a good idea?
~ Joyce Popp of the State of Idaho