On the heels of its latest awards as a Prime and subcontractor in support of CMS and VA, we caught up with some members of Nava’s leadership team, Jodi Leo, Chief Delivery Officer; Marvin McLain, FedHealth Program Director; and Julian Burton Senior Client Solutions Manager, to understand the power of quick wins, a success that is not driven by profit first, and what the future holds.

Quick Wins

Building on past performance and demonstrated success with its federal partners, Nava focuses on making an impact, improving the quality of care for 63 million Medicare beneficiaries, and “supporting the VA as they improve how Veterans apply for disability compensation,” the company said in a recent news release.

Part of Nava’s continuing success in these and other areas has been the team’s proven ability to deliver quick wins, its trusted relationships with stakeholders, and its long-term view of potential impact. “With five key delivery principles centered on trust and the human view of what we do, one of our win themes for this recent effort at CMS was proving we can deliver quick wins by building accelerators to improve time to market,” Jodi Leo said.

Maintaining Relationships

It’s crucial that civic tech companies understand the federal landscape. For Nava, that means knowing the ins-and-outs of its many stakeholders and of the community at large. “We try to maintain light touches as people move around. This isn’t about an upsell or pushing an agenda, but it’s based in relationships, in deep respect, in wanting to know where people land, and in sharing and taking part in an exchange of intel as it makes sense with those we know and trust,” Leo said.

This respect, empathy, and value of expertise reflects Nava’s focus on the long-term and ensures it is positioned to support and make an impact on the public good.

Knowing Who you Are

In order to build trust with partners and stakeholders, government contractors must understand stakeholders and how they fit into the civic tech landscape.

“There are teams who will have the opportunity to win as a Prime without serving as a sub first. In order to succeed, those teams need to ensure they have taken time, years really, to understand  the connections between systems. Attend industry days, happy hours, meet with small business specialists within agencies, and develop relationships with people who can speak up for you,” Julian Burton said.

It’s equally as important for government contractors to know where their company fits into the civic tech space. This means understanding that your company cannot take on everything. Knowing your niche and your capabilities, and building alliances within the space you want to operate in allows you to develop a focused vision with partners, clients, and stakeholders. “There can be an us-against-them view that evolves, but if you can maintain a human-centered approach, if you can develop a shared and explicit understanding of the tasks, the environment, and the needs of all stakeholders, you are in a better position to succeed,” added Marvin McLain.

It’s not possible to build custom applications every time. Nava says they avoid failures in COTS applications by ensuring they’re building the right product for the right reason with custom or hybrid approaches, depending upon what will actually work for the agency’s staff and end users. “There can be a host of negative incentives pulling vendors toward maximizing revenue. It is critical to stay aligned with the mission and to drive forward with deep empathy and a focus on real outcomes,” Leo said.

Building on momentum for change within agencies

At its core, Nava focuses on delivery for its partners’ needs, the impact its work can deliver, and how it can achieve sustainable success. “We deeply value clients’ drive to move the needle for their agencies and the public, and we feed off of that momentum. Their subject matter expertise helps us accelerate to faster and better outcomes. Just as user research helps us understand how to deliver the most human-centered and effective digital services, clients help us understand organizational structure, approval processes like authority to operate, and if we do well, they help us extend our impact by growing contracts,” Leo explained.

Diligent in its bid process and pipeline, Nava ensures that any pursuit aligns with its mission to improve experiences for  the most vulnerable. “How we build our approach, and our team, and how we strategize to help stakeholders meet their goals separates us from other vendors,” added Burton.

This approach also attracts clients with big ideas and an interest  in taking on big challenges. Building relationships with other vendors and government stakeholders can help contractors move forward with significant initiatives.


“Making software is hard. Modernizing old systems means collaborating with stakeholders and partners across a range of roles. So much goes into systems that are decades old. You have to actively listen, develop a shared vision, and work with respect,” said Leo.

That means having a deep curiosity about the SMEs behind a project and recognizing the talent within your team and within government. For Nava, that also means using a human-centered approach. “We don’t always get it right, but when we tie delivery principles to our values to get to who we are—a team dedicated to helping public institutions earn trust—getting it right seems to follow naturally,” Leo said.

The Future

As a growing mid-sized company, Nava says there are many exciting opportunities ahead that it wants to be the team to deliver on. “During 2021, there was $200B spent in Government IT and only $1B of that was for digital services. As the Government expands the role of the Biden Administration’s Customer Experience Executive Order, it seeks to position itself as a good service provider. We hope to see the investment in digital services grow, a visible pattern moving away from the negative incentives pulling vendors in the wrong direction,” said McLain.

Nava is driven by a diversity in its team, in its thinking, and in its approach. The company will continue to apply that diverse perspective to recruiting, partnering, and working on  government’s most critical missions.

About Nava

Nava is a consultancy and public benefit corporation working to make government services simple, effective, and accessible to all. Nava emerged from the effort to help rebuild HealthCare.gov after its troubled launch, and exists to address some of the most complex challenges in the public sector.

Our expert staff think holistically about what we build:

  • simple and accessible service experiences,
  • programs that effectively produce the intended outcomes for the populations they serve, and
  • agencies that are adaptable in a world of continuous change.

Under the highest degrees of constraint, Nava has shown we are a trustworthy partner. We minimize risk, steward our clients’ missions, and achieve outcomes that traditional approaches have never delivered before. We weave these accomplishments into a magnetic and compelling story of transformation, showing we are a force powerful enough to replace the prevailing industry pattern of acceptable and rationalized failure with a new normal. A normal where the default expectation is that transforming services, programs, and agencies so they can always meet people’s needs is achievable and within reach.


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