Designing the Ontario Digital Service
Over the past few months, we’ve asked ourselves a simple question, with a less simple answer:
How do we need to organize the Ontario Digital Service to best support individuals, and enable team members to do their best work?
We weren’t coming in from scratch — the ODS was founded on the Ontario.ca and digital government teams — but we were afforded a blank canvas to create an organizational design that was unique to us as a digital skills collective, working inside government.
Over the next few months, we’ll share insight (including what worked well, and where we made assumptions that were wrong) on how we iterated to our current organizational design — from our literal napkin drawings, to using agile sprints to implement, co-creating initial project teams, and everything in between — but we wanted to start by showing you what the ODS looks like, and a bit of why it looks the way it does.
Although our org model is new to the ODS, it is not a new approach. We drew inspiration from both the public and private sector. You will see many similarities between our model and Spotify’s. There are also many similarities with 18F, which our CDO helped build. We have taken bits from a bunch of places and built them into something that works for us at this stage of our mandate.
Our goal was to create a structure that could help us scale as we enter a period of rapid growth and continuous delivery. We plan to iterate and evolve as we need to, based on our environment, and shifting business or organizational needs.
A sports team, of sorts
During our org redesign, I played the role of scrum master: keeping our sprints on track, making sure we had the right people involved in the right tasks, talking a lot about our process as well as our product (the org model), running retrospectives, and keeping the team focused on a minimum viable org model.
I’ve been a baseball fan for many years, so the easiest way for me to describe the ODS structure is by comparing it to a baseball team. (Some people on the team use football instead of baseball; the analogy still works.)
The players are the heart of the team, the people who play each game and who, ultimately, deliver the outcomes produced. In the case of the ODS, those players are organized into what we call ‘chapters’. Like on a baseball team, where each player has a position (e.g., pitchers, outfielders, infielders, etc.), each team member is organized into a chapter that reflects their primary skill area of expertise: technology, content, experience design, product management, and policy.
Each chapter has a chapter lead. Chapter leads support their members’ growth and development, provide guidance, and assess performance. The role of Head of Chapters (which we’ll be recruiting for soon, stay tuned!) is our ultimate people and discipline advocate, ensuring that the skills and expertise of subject-matter experts are cultivated across all domains. Like players on a sports team, our chapter members require coaching and support to focus their collective efforts and produce good outcomes.
On a sports team, coaches and scouts would help guide and develop teams in their work; in the ODS, our Business Unit performs this important function. They scout our partners, working with Ministries to develop projects and build long term relationships. They assesses incoming projects, coordinate resources, and ensure that project teams have what they need to deliver effectively (and win games!). At the core of our principles is building the right team, that doesn’t always mean we are just drawing from the ODS. For many of our projects we work closely with partners. The Business Unit helps bring these partnerships together so that we have the right team at the table.
Sports teams also have Front Offices, which house all of the major support functions of the organization that enable teams to operate well and maximize value. For example, Front Offices oversee the customer experience, coordinate marketing and communications, advance ticket sales, lead hiring and recruitment, and manage finances. The ODS, similarly, has a front office that includes the teams who oversee operations, talent, strategy and engagement.
Office of the Chief Digital Officer
Our Chief Digital Officer is our team president — and our head cheerleader. Our CDO, and the team she directly has around her, is there to set team direction, share our story and approach, and provide guidance to the organization.
The chapter members are at the core of the ODS — the players, in each game — but the success of the team only comes when all the component parts work together to get things done.
Playing the game
The ODS works on several projects concurrently; a baseball team doesn’t play more than one game at the same time. The sports team analogy tends to break a little when we think of the daily operations of the ODS, but it still makes sense if you extend it: A baseball team chooses a particular mix of players, from across their sub-units, to take the field at any given time in response to the particular game situation.
The project teams in the ODS represent that mix of players.
Our projects vary — from maintaining and upgrading the current Ontario.ca platform, to working with partners on ministry projects like OSAP, Health, or the Environmental Registry — and the resource mix varies along with the project.
Each project requires a unique collection of people from each chapter. The Head of Chapters works with the Business Unit, chapter leads and chapter members to identify whose skills are most needed for each project.
For each game, on each play, the unique ODS roster is created to give us the best chance at success.
Finding the balance
We don’t yet know if this is the ideal design for the ODS, but we’re trying it out, testing out our assumptions, and will re-evaluate how it’s working in a few months.
In the meantime, we’ll share more about how we got to this point, and even more about what we’re learning in our current iteration.
When it comes to designing the Ontario Digital Service, we’re making sure we focus clearly on people. Success look like making it easy and joyful for our team members to do their work, and giving them the tools and support they need to do that work well. We’ll keep iterating until we get there.