The Exchange
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The Exchange

Meet Arlen, a Common Components Product Owner

Arlen Tees

1. What is your role in BC GOV and what product are you currently working on at the Exchange Lab?

I am the Product Owner for the newly formed Modernization / Acceleration team within the Common Components program here at the Exchange Lab, which is a bit of a mouthful! Our team was formed to assist ministries with their application modernization efforts. We have also been tasked with ensuring the digital.gov web property contains relevant information that is valuable to anyone undertaking a modernization project or building a modern application. Our team is still new and not fully formed yet, so we have only just started to scratch the surface of these projects.

As well as being on a new team, I am also new to both the Exchange Lab and the BC Public Service! I joined in March of this year having spent my entire career in small companies and start-ups, most recently as a Creative Director in Vancouver.

Since my career progression has gone from design to web development to creative direction, I have become a big advocate for User Experience and UX strategies. I love the idea of being able to kick off new projects by asking a simple-to-ask but hard-to-answer question: “If we do a great job with this project, how do we improve people’s lives?” Being able to answer that is what excites me the most about being here.

2. What do you like most about working at the Exchange Lab?

The people! Since I am new, the biggest thing is how incredibly helpful everyone has been. Everything from “Here’s how to navigate this mountain of paperwork” to “Here’s the best spot for a sandwich.” The people here truly make this place incredible.

I also particularly love the fact that this is a group of people that champion agile methods, user-centric design, and research, and we’re all working to shift the focus from business outputs to user outcomes as measures of success. As someone who cares about UX, all these points align perfectly with the kind of work I want to do.

3. Do you have a favourite failure or apparent failure that has set you up for later success?

In 2008, my former company won the bid to build a new version of the official Hawaii tourism website, so we were the technical vendors working with the State’s Agency of Record. Although it was well-received by the public when it went live, it was also a huge and complex project. Many stages went over time and over budget and there were many failures and frustrations along the way. We were stressed and burnt out. After I decompressed for a bit, I proposed a shift to take our company away from being solely a technical service provider to an agency-style business that could take on design challenges as well as technical ones. I was named Creative Director in 2011 and went on to pitch and win new work that we previously wouldn’t have been able to take.

4. What is an absurd thing you love?

I have an absurd love for absurd graphic novels — a love that I am incredibly fortunate to share with my two young boys. The latest novel absurdity that came home from the library was a book called “Catwad,” about a very grumpy cat… named Catwad. We were only five minutes in and were all laughing so hard we were crying and rolling on the floor — it was hilarious!

5. What is a book that has greatly influenced your life?

“Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari. A book that suggests that we as humans are the only species that can believe in things that do not physically exist, that only live purely in our imaginations. And it is our shared agreement in these imaginations that has allowed us to gather into complex communities and societies. It is a book that asks you to consider how powerful curiosity and empathy can be and has given me a new lens to help understand current events in the world.

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