Reading Time: 2 minutes

My book review is on Jennifer Pahlka’s book, Recoding America:  Why Government Is Failing in the Digital Age and How We Can Do BetterThis brand new book offers a hopeful path for solving some of the major challenges that governments in America are facing.

The author’s background includes time in Washington, serving as deputy chief technology officer for government innovation for the US government under Obama. She is a business woman who co-founded the United States Digital Response, a Silicon Valley non-profit which provides technology volunteers to state and local governments. It was founded in responds to COVID and the demands from that.

A few takeaways from the book include:

  • Having a big project budget at the beginning can be a curse, particularly if leaders expect a detailed project plan – since you will not have the ability to be agile in your execution. I just keep wondering why we need a rigid schedule to have a sound project plan. There is a better way.
  • Frequently, technology improvements are provided as an update to an existing system – layering feature after feature – and change after change. The result can be a system which breaks down under stress – which explains why more modernized state unemployment systems have often fared worse than more ancient state unemployment systems.
  • In a waterfall organization data functions as a report card at the end. In a more agile organization, data functions as a dashboard of insights, allowing you to turn the wheel.
  • Product managers are critically important to solving the challenges that face us. And until very recently they have been almost non-existent in the federal government. One of the benefits of a strong product manager is their ability to strip away the unnecessary features, allowing the creation of a first generation product that solves the core problem. Then, nice-to-have functions can be added. But we need to understand that this mindset is contrary to the government contracting reality that bidders need to satisfy ALL of the requirements.
  • If we want governments to work well in the future, we do need modern technological solutions. But more importantly, we need to change our mindset from a rigid rule following one to a collaborative problem solving one.