Week 12 — It’s crunch time

Matthew Chan

From the time I was in grade one, I have known that I love working under pressure. I remember being in class and would sit there and wait until the very last moment before I would start a quiz. Fast forward to my undergrad, and I would often get my inspiration for my course papers the night before the due date. I would pull an all-nighter and rush to Carleton University to make it to the physical drop box by 8:30am.

We are officially less than a month away from our governance meeting target date for PHAC’s Data Strategy, and it is getting down to crunch time. Crunch time means there’s less margin for error, the stakes are higher, and the pace is more frenetic.

Monday

There were two highlights to the day. The first was that we shared the draft Data Strategy with senior management tables across the Agency for their review and feedback. This is a significant milestone as this has been months in the making and we have worked in the open to develop the strategy.

The second highlight of the day was a meeting we had with an external consultant to talk about a video that we want to create. The video itself is interesting, but it was the dialogue within the meeting that made me realize how bureaucratic things are within government.

The consultant did not come from the public health field, or did the individual have too much background on what a data strategy was. He challenged us by asking us to define (in plain language for the average Canadian) what purpose the data strategy would serve. Admittedly, I struggled in keeping it in plain language, and most definitely dropped buzzwords like ‘efficiencies’ and maybe even used ‘synergies’ at one point. Sigh. This reminded me of when I first started in government and tried to explain to my parents what a policy analyst did.

This meeting was a great reminder for me that keeping it simple is often harder than it seems.

Tuesday

Bilat day was a good day. While I try to stagger bilats throughout the week, they all somehow fell on Tuesday.

As an extreme introvert, I used to dread one-on-one meetings. Early on, one of the ways I learned that I could manage the conversation was to develop an agenda for each bilat. Like a yoga class, an agenda helped me set an intention for the bilat — it gave me structure, purpose, and key things I wanted to accomplish, in a concise and organized fashion. It also ensured that I respected the time of the person I was meeting with, and got the key decisions I needed.

I had three separate bilats on Tuesday, and they were each productive in their own way. We focused on human resources, critical files, and checking in on progress. It was a chance to collaborate to move things forward, to resolve issues, and to rectify misunderstandings.

As we are getting into the crunch time for the Data Strategy, the formal bilats may give way to informal check-ins. I’ve started keeping a list of ‘items to raise’ for my bilats on Microsoft Notes so that I have a quick reference in case these informal check-ins pop up. What other tools do you employ in order to keep on top of things?

Wednesday

Consultation Day One. After sending our the draft Data Strategy on Monday, we met with two management tables on Wednesday. This was a good opportunity to receive more targeted feedback about what we drafted, what action/implementation items we are proposing, and about things that did not resonate with people.

As it comes down to the final weeks, the feedback we are receiving is focused more on impacts to individuals and their individual teams, and less so on the system writ large. This made me pause and reflect on Peter Senge’s writing, in which he posited that “the key to seeing reality systematically is seeing circles of influence rather than straight lines”. I often wonder if we don’t take systems thinking enough into account when we provide input on action requests, taskings, etc.

Do we focus too much on how it impacts us individually, and not enough on how it impacts the organization as a whole? Does the focus on our own self limit our ability to see circles of causality, and minimum our collect impact to drive real change?

Thursday

Thursday was the second of two blockbuster days of consultations. We received a lot of good feedback for consideration as we move towards finalizing the Data Strategy.

From a management perspective, Thursday was also an important day to take stock of where we are at, and look ahead to the final few weeks before we launch the strategy. We are also quickly heading towards our journey through governance, so it was a chance to figure out where we are lagging, and what we could focus more attention toward. In other words, crunch time.

Taking an inward look at where things are and fairly critiquing yourself or your team is an extremely challenging task. In my view, there are always things that could be improved and efficiencies gained. When it comes down to the wire, there is always a tension between delivering (on a product) and developing (an employee). This is an area we are collectively struggling with. As a well intentioned manager, I want to ensure that team members take ownership of their tasks, and are given an opportunity to fail, learn, and given the chance to succeed. As we move into the last three or four weeks ahead of the launch of the Data Strategy and launch week, I’m excited about what the team can accomplish as we collectively navigate a way to deliver on what we committed to and also develop as a team!

Friday

The bulk of the morning was spent on meetings and doing some work planning for the last few weeks pre-launch. With key team members being on well deserved holidays through the last few weeks and in the weeks to come, we’re struggling to keep pace with all the different work streams that we have underway.

As we head into crunch time, I am buoyed by the persistence of the team — the dedication, perseverance, and the sheer effort to do their best. Happy Friday friends!

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