From the Hip: Othniel Palomino, Chief Administrative Officer, District Court  

Implementing change management effectively

Othniel Palomino, Chief Administrative Officer, District Court

Managing the process of a major change is one of the most significant leadership challenges that most of us will face in our careers. King County District Court is currently in the middle of one of the most significant organizational changes in its history. We are leaving the 34 year old IBM mainframe based system managed by the Washington Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC). We manage over 200,000 case filings annually using this system. The project has required us to replace 14 ancillary systems developed over time, which touch every process, interact with hundreds of court forms, and affect every internal and external person who interacts with the Court.

Our first realization when we started the project was that we needed buy-in and significant involvement from all our major stakeholders such as judges, court staff, and attorneys. The court has eight court locations that historically operated independently and had different ways of producing the same work product. We needed to inventory these processes and repurposed our training team to lead an effort to map every business process in every court location. This work was used to define the scope of our project. During the mapping process, we engaged over 20% of our judicial and non-judicial stakeholders. In reviewing the business processes, we realized that we had some significant issues with our case data.

A group of our judges and court clerks convened to clean up these cases with issues. Over the past two years, we have rotated about half of our judicial bench in and out of this project. As a result, the rotation increased awareness of problems that the project was trying to address and the outcomes that we were seeking.

Following receipt of approval from the Executive and Council, we convened a group of 3 judges and 10 court staff to view vendor products in other jurisdictions. In addition, half of our judicial bench, probation, clerical staff, attorneys, KCIT, and city partners provided input and feedback during final product demonstrations. The logistics of managing the large group was challenging, but in the end, we had broad awareness, input, and buy-in for the selection of a vendor.

We increased communication and stakeholder involvement by creating an Ambassador program. Each location selected an Ambassador as well as our union selected three Ambassadors. The Ambassadors receive frequent briefings on our progress and are the information conduit between their location, work groups, and the project.

To eliminate the mystery of a new system, we provided access for any member of the court to see the new system and our progress in near real time. Transparency is critical to building trust between the future users of the system and the system builders. We are closing in on launching Phase 1, and have initiated Scavenger Hunts. These are scripted tasks guiding users through modules of the new system. We had over 80% participation across the court and to incentivize participation, participants are entered into a nominal prize drawing.

Standardization is important for court-wide consistency and thus have created a committee to review all forms and business processes. Their job is to ensure we select the best process for achieving outcomes and implement it broadly across the court.

Throughout our project, one major takeaway is that stakeholder engagement is critical for any significant organizational change. We have not yet started training but over 80% of the court has had some firsthand exposure to the system, provided input, and feedback. The input and feedback from our stakeholders have made significant changes to our initial configuration. Ultimately, their engagement has resulted in developing a better system for all. You cannot start the process of stakeholder engagement early enough.