You might suspect that the State of California is the fifth largest economy in the world. What might be a surprise is that The State of California Courts System is the largest single court system in the world—larger than any court system in any other country. When all of the trial courts and the superior courts are included, the entire system has over 20,000 employees. In addition to those employees, literally hundreds of thousands of individuals are involved with and rely upon data, education and processes in this system.
Our story focuses on The Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) an organization of about 700-800 people and the Court of Appeals in California with almost 600 employees.
As the California court system grew exponentially, these two organizations realized that issues and problems were also growing. They initiated a project to address issues with their website, with content management and their education. While they agreed on the importance of the project, there was little clarity on the definition of the problem and less on how to solve it.
To bring definition to the problem and begin resolution quickly, management opted to engage a consultant. Their goal was not only to clarify what was needed for the long term, but also to help them to prepare for the RFP process in the short term, as was required by law.
Melissa Land was contracted by the California Administrative Office of the Courts to complete a requirements analysis and position the AOC for an efficient and effective RFP process. Although Melissa’s expertise was in the redesign of public websites, she understood the scope of the problem went far beyond the internet.
Melissa began interviews to define the project and to set the scope. “It was important to strike the right balance between too general and too narrow,” she explains. For example, defining the project as ‘web content management’ was too general to result in an appropriate RFP. Yet, focusing on simply improving the website was far too narrow to result in a cohesive venue for proposal. In this effort, Melissa contacted 96 interviews and established three areas of focus: requirements analysis, web content and document content management (education).
When Melissa accepted the project, one of her first questions was: “Do you have a core team?” As a result, one of her initial accomplishments was the establishment of a balanced core team to participate in the research and the proposal process. “Typically….” she says, “…the best people for this type of effort are not high level people. I wanted people that are in the trenches and that know the processes.”
“Because of the complexity of the organization and its decision making process, it took about four months to establish a core team in the early summer with kick off in July,” reports Melissa.
By design, the core team was a very diverse group but with a cohesive understanding of their mission, their role in the project, the project itself, the technology and how they hoped to help their organization. They made authoring the RFP and analyzing the resulting proposals their team goal. The initial team grew over time. Many of the early members were involved in the Melissa’s extensive interview process while others joined closer to the communication of the RFP.
The project consisted of three distinct yet interdependent parts: the website, the enterprise content management and education.
Those who would benefit from the three part project would include internal and external users. For example, document management would benefit everybody involved in the court system. Over 20,000 people within the court system and any lawyer in the state of California would benefit from the education section.
The benefits of the content management system would not be as obvious to anyone external to the system but it would make it easier for anyone internally to provide them with information.
From Melissa’s extensive interview process and analysis, it became clear that the problem went far beyond the website redesign. “They didn’t know who needed it, what the current problem was, how the process worked, how they wanted it to work or how complicated it was going to be to fix it,” she reports.
Melissa discovered that the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court support a very heavy caseload using broken, antiquated processes. For example, they were shipping boxes of paper to warehouses for storage instead of scanning the documents and storing them in a records retention system. The Supreme Court was using a Microsoft Word based system to manage cases. Melissa explains, “There were processes in place to manage the cases but the systems had been outgrown.”
Melissa found there was no archiving, workflow, revision control or audit trails. “None of this was documented and none of the internal people understood how a new system could help them.” Melissa and her team brought in Seth Earley and Bob Boiko to develop a ‘cohesive, well educated’ understanding of what the required new system and subsequent improvements and changes represented stakeholders.
“We needed people to get a clear vision of what they wanted to do, what the technology could do for them and what the world of content management meant.” She continues, “I wanted people to review the proposals with a better frame of reference for what was important."
Melissa found Seth while looking for an industry expert on content management systems. “I sat in on a few of his Community of Practice calls. He was a really good facilitator and great at capturing the big picture,” she reports. “When I was first talking to him I knew that he was someone who could come and get a pretty quick feel for what the situation and what was needed—fast!”
Melissa knew that she needed someone with tremendous depth and expertise. “Seth came in having seen dozens of different companies’ content management projects and had seen them implemented.
Seth and Bob conducted a series of workshops to support the planning phase of the project. The timing was just after the RFP has been completed and released and proposals were coming in. No one on the core team had seen any of the proposals and Melissa wanted to prepare them for vendor selection.
Prior to the working sessions, Seth and Bob conducted research to better structure the workshop time and assure success. They reviewed background materials, finalized the agenda, built out exercise and scenarios, and prepared the attendees for the event.
The working session was designed to mix education, discussion and decision making. The exercises and feedback sections helped the participants internalize the learnings and prepare for team decision making.
“It is worth mentioning that Seth and Bob did a really good job reacting to the situation once they were on site.” reports Melissa “It was a challenge. They came back after the first day with a revised agenda for the second day. They paid attention to things that were obviously important to the people in the room and what they thought should be important. They added another level of detail on topics participants were having difficulty grasping. That was really great. It was customization right in the process!”
“Seth and Bob facilitated the conversation in a really nice way. Seth was not only able to facilitate our group discussion, he could a perspective on what works and what doesn’t work, based on our situation,” explains Melissa.
Melissa was glad that she has found a seasoned expert with a successful process to supply the core team with context and direction. “It was obvious that Seth was implementing a proven, successful process. Bob Boiko teaches a class on content management and also had very specific methodologies and processes. I was confident that that what they were saying could be applied in our organization effectively.”
“They did a combination of education and facilitation of a guided discussion with an aim toward orienting the team toward vendor selection,” says Melissa.
After the working session, Seth and Bob created a report offering analysis, diagnosis, insights, recommendations and a prescription for the future.
“I’d call it a successful workshop hands down,” offers Melissa. “It accomplished everything we’d hoped. The team was educated and prepared for vendor selection.”
But Seth and Bob delivered more than was expected. As an additional benefit they also helped Melissa structure the vendor selection process and offered guidance on how to review and analyze the proposals in light of what the project needed to accomplish.
The core team accomplished a lot based on the work Seth and Bob did and have utilized their recommendations. Melissa is hoping to expand the core team and even offer another round of workshops.
“Seth and Bob were our guides. They brought a combination of experience to be applied to our situation; they provided reference points and created a platform to apply that knowledge to what we wanted to do and how to do it. Their expertise made a significant difference. They were very good to work with and had processes which they tailored to our needs,” Melissa concludes.