California Health & Human Services Agency - Office of Innovation

A collaboration to build the California Health and Human Services Agency’s capacity for digital craftsmanship.


The California Health and Human Services Agency (CHHS) supports healthy and resilient communities by driving health policy and delivering services for millions of California’s most disadvantaged and at-risk residents. CHHS provides policy leadership and direction to over a dozen departments and offices that offer a wide range of services, such as health care, mental health, public health, alcohol and drug treatment, income assistance, social services, and assistance to people with disabilities.

The Problem

The CHHS Office of Innovation is dedicated to improving the products and services that CHHS provides its clients. Staff from across all CHHS departments work together in an effort to transform the entire 33,000 person agency through expertise in product development, service and experience design, modern engineering, and technology and delivery practices. Members of the innovation team bring their new skills back to projects within their departments, gradually building the capacity within the agency as a whole.

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In the summer of 2018, CHHS’s innovation team approached Exygy, and our partner TrussWorks, to facilitate a Product Strategy and Management Training. CHHS wanted to enable their innovation team to disrupt the traditional government approach to product building – which is largely inflexible and time-consuming – through modern design and engineering practices. The training would empower the innovation team to lead their own department teams and broader stakeholders in an effective product build-out process that can be applied across all departments within the CHHS agency.

The Approach

"Story maps, conceptualized by Jeff Patton, give insight into the big-picture vision of a product. Our trainings deconstruct top product management techniques, making technical approaches accessible to everyone"

— Roshen Sethna, Partner

The goal of our training was to build the innovation team’s capacity for digital craftsmanship. Participants in our training came from diverse backgrounds: analysts, healthcare providers, IT specialists, policy experts, and project managers, just to name a few. We wanted to scale our “Exygy skills” – human-centered design, iterative product development, and a passion for building healthy and resilient communities – into an agency that designs programs and services for people seeking critical health services across the state. To accomplish this, we needed to develop a training that was directly relevant to the innovation team’s everyday work.

Our training covered skill-building techniques to guide the lifecycle of any given project:

Building proto-personas: Proto-personas allow us to ideate around key users demographics, motivations, and challenges. They help product decisions orient around the user by painting a well-informed picture of the users’ needs.

Identifying success metrics: Metrics capture the success of the product. We define what success metrics look like through looking back on the key user pain-points we intend to address, and then gather data that measures changes in those areas.

Story mapping: Story maps lay out the broad vision for the user’s journey through a product, identifying the goals the user will be able to reach each step of the way. They are a great way to bring broader stakeholders, like department directors, along in the product build-out process.

Feature Prioritization: Once solutions have been tested and validated, they are effectively prioritized in the form of product features within the story map. Take into account what will best serve users and stakeholders, manage budget, work within technical complexity, and adhere to a variety of other project constraints.

Exygy user development technology

Some theoretical concepts, like building proto-personas or story mapping, can seem abstract for those without technical backgrounds. By putting these concepts into a hands-on, scenario-based context, we were able to make them more useful to a wider audience. During the training, participants picked a real-life project scenario that they wanted to focus on during the training. Then, throughout the day, they practiced  management strategies through the mindset of an engineer, designer, or product expert.

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I was impressed with the level of care and craftsmanship that they put into making this training right for us and leaving us with tools that we can use in our day-to-day work."

— Chaeney Emanavin, Director of Innovation, California Health & Human Services

The Impact

Since our training, the CHHS innovation team has applied their new product lifecycle skills into a wide range of projects in multiple departments. For example, some team members are implementing their skillsets through creating a product that will support CHHS’ ability to find other passionate, dedicated employees through their job posting and communication outreach work. Wherever the innovation team applies their skills, they are working to ensure their department is focused on solving the right problem – radically increasing CHHS’s capacity to prototype, test, and launch user-centered products and services within government.

When innovative leaders in CHHS departments are backed with tested tools that allow them to apply the mindset of a digital craftsperson to their work, they are transforming the agency to be more impactful, efficient, empowered, and, in turn, supporting a healthier California.

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Exygy not only trained our team in agile product development and human centered design, but also made hard-to-reach concepts accessible to everyone in the room, pairing these concepts to the work that we do every day. It’s clear that they understand how government projects operate.

— Chaeney Emanavin, Director of Innovation, California Health & Human Services

Want to work together?

We are always looking to get in touch with partners to help build healthy and resilient communities together
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