Empowered teams make services better, faster

    We heard lots of great stories when we went to Harvard earlier this year. One of our favourites was this one, from Hillary Hartley, about how her team spotted a problem, found a way to fix it, and just got on with doing that.

    Rather than asking for permission up front, they built prototype – which they then showed to the senior figure in charge, who instantly offered support.

    Hillary tells the whole story in this 2 minute film.

    Like many people, we have a lot of time and respect for Hillary. We helped to set up the Ontario Digital Service, and hire her to lead it. This story is typical Hillary: her approach to leadership is what gives the teams in Ontario the confidence to grab opportunities like this, and make things better for citizens there.

    Our definition of digital refers to “applying the culture of the Internet era … to meet people’s raised expectations.” This is the sort of culture we mean.


    Hillary Hartley: This ecosystem talks a lot about multidisciplinary, empowered teams, but it’s not until you truly see that in action that you start to understand, as a leader, what that means.

    The team essentially noticed that thousands and thousands of people are hitting a URL and immediately running away screaming. The bounce rate was like 90%.

    So they looked into it, and found out that it was a page built for pharmacists and doctors. What was happening was that people were on Google or searching for “Is this medication covered in Ontario?”

    It truly is just column after column of information and numbers and this and that, that pharmacists and doctors, again – they clearly understand the outcome. I, as a person searching for medication and whether or not it’s covered, would absolutely not.

    So our team spots this hotspot, and they see like, this is important. We could actually fix this pretty easily. Let’s take a crack at it. Let’s fit it in. And they did this sort of, kind of, on their own.

    They decided to take a week, maybe, they built a prototype in 2 days, and said “this is a search product that we think would make this meet the user needs of the average Ontarian much better”.

    The Deputy is a doctor himself and starting the meeting I think pretty skeptical, saying “I know that site, I know what it’s for, how are you ever going to make that easy to use for anyone?” So he kept throwing edge-case drug names at it and the team was crossing their fingers, but it all worked, you know?

    So at the end of the meeting he said “This is fantastic, how do I support you? And get this online?”

    So again, that notion of empowerment – it’s just that they really truly are following data, following their noses, following their users, and creating their own backlog, if you will.

    That’s what this is all about, for me.

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