Our next best hope for linking government silos

A consultation is underway now to define the principles our government  will use to guide its digital transformation. A draft principle says “build the right team: create and empower multidisciplinary teams, linking policy with delivery.”

Stating a principle and executing on it however will require the federal government to manage a new set of activities in organizations that are historically siloed as discrete business units. Silos in and of themselves are not bad things: it’s the lack of integration and collaboration across them that create redundancy, gaps and communication issues.

If a GC digital principle about multidisciplinary teams goes forward, government will need to address three core challenges to have its departmental silos work efficiently together:

  1. Executive performance pay – Government compensates its senior staff for how they perform on the departmental mandate and priorities. If execution of that mandate or priority is not shared by multiple branches via similar key performance indicators, then it’s unlikely that single branches have the political will to reach across the organization and find the best talent to solve their information, IT and service delivery issues. Siloed performance measures create siloed solutions.
  2. Outdated classification models – I’m still gobsmacked when a government director tells me they can’t have a computer systems (CS) employee working in communications. Or that an enterprising communications staffer who knows Java is not allowed to code. The traditional HR classifications no longer fit with the kind of work that is required for digital transformation. I see three potential streams for action:
    • HR needs to step up and work with the GC UX teams sprouting up in Ottawa and Gatineau and IT to finalize new classifications that support multidisciplinary roles.
    • Unions need to be brought to the table throughout this transformation to get their input and guidance.
    • Executives need to form, lead and enable multidisciplinary teams under new leadership that puts Canadians’ needs above all else.
  3. Gating processes missing user needs – Government’s IT gating processes are not new. Trouble is, those processes don’t include user needs analysis, prototyping or usability testing. This is an excellent opportunity for IT and its business partners to infuse IT project management with user-centred design principles. The project team is then comprised of IT, UX, data and communications specialists. (And while you’re at it, complement traditional change request management with change management of people as a core practice to manage the human side of transformative change projects.)

The drumbeat at this month’s CanUX, a user experience design conference in Ottawa, called on government and the private sector to build and mature their user experience teams. American writer online casinos, researcher, educator, and expert on usability, software, design, and research Jared Spool characterized this evolution as a continuum:

No resources
for design. All resources go to business and technological needs
Occasional UX projects with limited success. UX team serves projects on an
as-needed basis.
Project teams
get their own
UX resources.
Every project team member
has fluent design skills.

I think government has moved out of the dark ages and is currently practicing spot UX design with some success. Building on that success will require leadership to create multidisciplinary teams and then supporting those teams as they adopt more mature practices for service delivery.

How is your organization using multi-disciplinary teams for service delivery?



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