Doing the hard work in order to make things better

September 13, 2016

I've been employed at Government of Yukon in the eServices for Citizens branch for more than a year and a half.

In this time, I've been part of a very small team - me, my director, several local programmers and a development company out of Vancouver/Edmonton - that has built from scratch a new common government technology platform, created numerous pilot projects on said platform and continued to add to a growing service design manual.

I've also run countless user tests, conducted research sessions, completed complex audits and assessments, managed projects through from Discovery all the way to public Beta, analyzed boatloads of data, designed lots of screens and facilitated far too many workshops. On some days I've been in meetings at nearly the highest level of government while later on the same afternoon I'm showing someone how to add an Alt tag to an image.

Let's just said it's been an adventure.

I wouldn't be truthful if I didn't admit there's been more than a few days where I simply wanted to quit. To walk out the door and find a street gutter to lay down in. To be able to shut out the regular din of resistance, reluctance and at times ridiculous process that surrounds the very notions of progress and change within a large organization such as ours.

Mass production of airplanes. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

What I've learned is this: All things considered, designing and building digital government services is relatively easy. That's what I came into my job knowing how to do: I knew how to ship. I knew how to get stuff done and out the door, at which point I'd move onto the next contract and start up the engine again. Plan, design, build, ship, iterate. Repeat.

This is not the same as when you are employed inside government. Whereas contracting and consulting is really a sprint, building and shipping stuff from inside government is truly a marathon with no discernable finish line. The end is always just on the horizon, but it constantly feels like you're never really going to make it there.

The emotional and psychological highs and lows come at me weekly. It's no wonder government employees sometimes have the unfair label of being unmotivated and slow to act. The machine we've created for ourselves is often our own worst enemy.

I think what working for government has taught me most is how to navigate the world of rules and policies (or lack thereof), manage cultural change, be able to deal with many different personality types and to value the importance of over-communication. I've also learned techniques (although not always successfully applied) to sustain project momentum while simultaneously doing all of the above.

I still very much love my job; it's truly a privilege and blessing to be able to get paid for what I'm doing. I still get up every morning knowing that in some way I'm going to make peoples' lives better and government services simpler, clearer and more accessible. I've shown the work we're doing with enough people outside of government to see this impact first-hand.

Most importantly, I've come to realize that as a Yukoner, this territory is my home and it's only going to be as good as I and others are willing to make it. There are big problems to solve and this is my chance to take action.