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Showing the whole iceberg

“I believe offices like CDS are change management offices disguised as digital service offices.” - Aaron Snow, CEO

Sure, officially we’re a digital service office. But by being as transparent as possible about how we work, we can show the art of the possible and amplify the delivery of better, faster, and easier services that Canadians expect and deserve.

At our latest Show & Tell event, the Canadian Digital Service’s (CDS) CEO, Aaron Snow, talked about a delivery-first culture that works in the open.

To get there, we want to bring departments along for the ride. That means acknowledging that it’s okay to show things that aren’t live or complete yet. It also means sharing both the wins and failures, even when it feels uncomfortable to do so. If we hide the ugly parts, no one learns but us.

While working alongside partner departments, CDS also wants to absorb risk and break taboos, which will ultimately make it easier for others to point to us as an example of how to do things differently. And for good reason: with a team of 50, CDS can only ship so many products in a year. However, with a team 250,000+ public servants all rowing in the same direction, the possibilities are endless.

Here are a couple things we’re doing to be open. We’d love your feedback on what works, and how we can do it better.

Sharing

One of the main ways CDS is working in the open is through Github. (Please feel free to clone, make pull requests, and fork away!) What’s great is it isn’t a one-way street. While we’re hoping others can learn from us and reuse our code, we also have the awesome opportunity to learn from the open source community too.

We, of course, have this blog and a mirrored Medium account where CDS subject matter experts in research, design, coding, technology, and more, weigh in on what they’re working on, what challenges they’re experiencing, and what insights they’re drawing from it all.

We also have a products page, where you can see what services we’ve shipped, and which we’re currently working on.

The CDS team is also active on social media, often sharing day-to-day “aha” moments. Our team page gives you access to personal Twitter and LinkedIn accounts to follow along the journey.

Showing

Every two weeks, CDS hosts “Show the Thing” as an internal opportunity to, in rapid-fire-style, share a five minute presentation of projects followed by five minutes of Q&A. This becomes a good way for other teams to apply lesson-learned to their own challenges so mistakes aren’t repeated.

Externally, CDS has held a couple “Show & Tells” where teams demo product work and learnings publicly. These small-scale events are meant to be a way for us to share what we are working on. It could be a completed product we can demo, a prototype in the works, or even post-retro insights, which helped us pivot in a different direction than originally planned.

Latest Show & Tell summary

Our latest Show & Tell was in mid-June. If you weren’t able to attend that one in person, you can check out the full recording of the talks on Youtube.

At this talk, teams shared product demos of the API partnership with Natural Resources Canada, and the partnership with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to make it easier to reschedule a citizenship test.

This was also where Aaron reflected on why CDS was formed one year ago, and outlined some important principles for CDS as we look to the future: delivery and working in the open being front and centre.

But even the very concept of working in the open comes with its own set of challenges that we’re learning from. While we strive to be as open as we can (in as close to real-time as possible), there’s still room for improvement. Privacy and accessibility around publicly sharing documents continue to be something we’re learning to do better. It’s also been a challenge to find tools that both meet our needs for agile work, and are also available for public servants to access.

But working in the open is what we’ll continue to make a priority and iterate on. With a delivery-first culture, we’re here to listen to government partners, empathize with them, understand their challenges, think, learn, and deliver great services together. But perhaps most importantly, doing this all as transparently and openly as we possibly can.

To get there, it’s important for us to show the whole iceberg along the journey: the good, the bad, and the not-so-pretty, so we can help others in the future navigate the waters a little smoother. Just as we have been able to do because of those who have come before us.

We’re excited to be on the journey with our partners and the public to help Canadians. Let us know what you want to learn more about.