Joining the Canada Revenue Agency

Weeknotes #22: Oct 19–22, 2020

This week I started a new position over with the Canada Revenue Agency, in their User Centred Design Division under the Digital Design and Production Directorate, in the Public Affairs Branch. Phew, that’s a bit of a mouthful!

Being on a UCD team will be a bit of a return to my roots; I was first exposed to user experience as part of the Design and Usability (later renamed User Experience) department at LexisNexis, over 15 years ago! At LexisNexis, we worked on prototypes and tested the usability before anything went over to the development teams to build “for real”. This is where I was exposed to the thoughtfulness and consideration that went into good design. Even if you develop and release something that can enable a user to accomplish their task, that doesn’t mean it’s straightforward, simple and intuitive.

At CRA, I’ll be working on public-facing content. This is a bit of a departure from the product strategy work I’ve been doing over the past few years, and I’m really excited for it! When I spoke with my new manager about the prospect of joining this team, he described their approach as “do a baseline test, design, test again, and if there’s meaningful improvement, release”.

Having spent a lot of my career working on speculative concepts that may or may not receive funding and support, and then require months or years to get released even if they do get green-lit, this sounds SO GOOD.

I’m reminded of a sentiment I’ve heard expressed by Mithula Naik and spydergrrl, sometimes you can only move a mountain an inch… but you’ve moved .. a mountain .. an inch! In the government setting, count your small wins as huge ones. Over time, they all add up.

It can seem fun to dream about an AI-driven-virtual-reality-autonomous-who-knows-what product, but sometimes you can make a huge difference in peoples’ lives just fixing what’s broke. Or as I gleefully shared the moment I read it in Lou Downe’s book Good Services:

A sticky note with the words on it “no new ideas until everything’s fixed”
From Lou Downe’s book. “No new ideas until everything’s fixed”

Of course, we don’t just want incremental changes, making something marginally better. “Fixing something” can mean leveraging new technologies or approaches — as long as we’re applying them to real problems, and improving our users’ ability to get things done.

The team has a lot of pieces in place to run things smoothly: tools for unmoderated testing, a process for recruiting research participants, standardized UX scorecard templates. Those things make a big difference in cutting down on the logistics so that the team can focus more on the valuable parts of the work.

Although it’s been a bit of a slow first week (getting ramped up on systems, taking the requisite onboarding courses), I’m eager to jump in. The team is BUSY — there are a lot of covid-related subsidy programs that are being rolled out and ensuring people understand and can take advantage of the right programs is really important stuff. Like, life-changing stuff.

I’ve spent a lot of my career working on B2B products to ‘improve worker’s productivity’, and I’m excited for this next chapter, which really feels like I can touch peoples’ lives. Either through offering benefits, or making paying and filing taxes less daunting.

Oh, and I’m now an indeterminate Government of Canada employee — yay for that, too!

Sr UX Specialist with Canada Revenue Agency, former web dev and product person. 🔎 Lifelong learner. Unapologetic introvert. Plant-powered marathoner. Cat mom.