Galen Low is joined by Martin Gelb and Bill Moroz to dive deep into a project that truly put agile methodologies and blockchain technology to the test to get vaccines into the hands of those who needed it during the pandemic.
- Martin and Bill’s background [2:16]
- Martin started as a technical writer. It got him very interested in technology as a concept, and how products get completed.
- He was doing more things on the marketing side for a while, but got dragged into product management by the person who brought him to the government.
- Being a product manager is literally like herding cats.
- Bill is a technical project manager or program manager. He started off out of McGill University way back in the day in dBase three programming. His legacy is data – it’s data aggregation, it’s content aggregation.
- He got a call from Martin asking for his help. And it was the best call that he’s ever had.
- Martin started as a technical writer. It got him very interested in technology as a concept, and how products get completed.
- The pandemic has hit. Governments around the world are on the hook to distribute vaccines as they become available to the communities and areas that need it the most. What was the challenge that was handed to you? [6:09]
- A proof of concept.
- The Canadian Armed forces built a system – they started on spreadsheets. When Martin came in, they had already designed an MVP.
- They are highly manual – they could put 40 to 50 people on either side of the process, take the order into SAP, pull it out, etc.
- It was something that they obviously had to fix. They had S/4HANA – full premium, like enterprise ERP package and the development resources and the money.
- From a project manager perspective, it brought in a new facet of experience for Bill because they had to build quality of life as a parameter.
- It’s all about the data at the end of the day.
- On the front end, there’s a secure portal where they have about 50 or 60 users across Canada that order for their jurisdictions – the jurisdictions being from province territories. Part of the portal design was for a customer experience.
- They’ve created a user group to have a feedback channel and incorporate those comments into their future releases.
- They’re doing one-on-one interviews with people – trying to get as much feedback as they can.
- What were some of the challenges that you faced in being nimble? [14:52]
- They were given a looser set of guardrails.
- They put together a plan called 2.0. But meanwhile, they still did 9 versions under one and four subversions in there. So it’s 13 releases over a year.
- How did you manage to get 14 releases out in that short period of time? How did the collaboration work? [18:19]
- Over emphasizing communication – it’s all day every day communicating, working sessions, demonstrated results, objective focused – it’s what they want to accomplish in the 45 minutes together in the discovery session.
- The factor of success is understanding what the big picture is, understanding what the objective is at a big picture level, and celebrating the successes.
It’s not about what we can’t do, it’s about what can we do and how can we do it.Bill Moroz
- For a lot of people, digital transformation is still spreadsheets. Excel is the best piece of software that Microsoft has ever put to market – but it’s not a data management tool, especially not when it’s on somebody’s OneDrive.
- They really focus on eliminating spreadsheets, but at the same time, not making life difficult.
- Bill and Martin worked with a team at FedEx Mothership in Memphis. They got to meet the CTO of FedEx at Don Tapscott’s blockchain conference a little while ago.
- At the end of the day, it’s about the ledger. Ledgers are not a new thing – ancient people were keeping ledgers. But we now have computing power and smart people and incredible networks so we can do some pretty cool stuff around ledger – and blockchain is that.
- The data is as important, if not more important than what’s in the actual box. It’s data-driven.
- Two things that we do with products: we either save money or we make money. How can we apply blockchain? It’s about saving time and money with it, and locking down our data.
- They had a lot of really great resources – a great dev team and lots of good projects and support. It’s a team effort. At the end of the day, it’s service.
- It’s about making a difference for Canada – that is a very propelling motivator.
- Bill and Martin talk about challenges, team burnout and how they all manage that [31:26]
- Their agency has been very good to them. They sent everyone who’s been on the pandemic response, on a two week decompression program, which is virtual.
- They have some support people, security folks, support in the frontline, like first level support. And then it gets escalated into a professional managed service environment.
- In terms of the rest of the team, they have a vendor management function that’s helping them manage their SI and some of the other contracts that they have in place for data and other things.
- You can’t just buy a piece of software and install it. You have to procure it – and it has to be generally through a process.
- Adhesiveness is so important.
- What’s your go-to method for getting people aligned on what technology can and can’t do? [40:20]
- Just ask them – What is the problem that you have that you think we can solve? Or, what are the reports you wish to see? What is the data that you wish to see presented and how?
Manage expectations, focus on the data, do what we know we can do, and be very customer-focused. At the end of the day, that’s all you can do as a product manager.Martin Gelb
- If you have leadership support, if you have that great customer, if you have all the things that you need to consider in your product – then you’re in a great spot.
- Keep the technology modern, and you’ll have to keep iterating.
- How to have the voice of the customer installed into your daily standups? Do you think that will continue? Or is it more of just a one-off? [47:14]
- It’s an example of a methodology that can be portable, that can be used again for delivery, cause it’s all about delivery.
- Can’t answer if it will continue because it’s propelled by the people.
- Agile is owned by the people that use it. Agile is defined in every organization differently. So if you embrace it and you embrace the concepts, then certainly yes.
Meet Our Guest
William (Bill) Moroz is an Agile client facing, Digital Delivery Champion. He currently enables digital transformation, for supply chain strengthening, in the delivery of mission critical technology platform applications for Health Canada COVID 19.
Bill leverages over 25 years of solid experience in the private sector telecom and financial services sectors. He successfully promotes, develops, delivers, migrates, and recovers complex multi-dimensional enterprise-wide web portal, product catalogue, order management data driven projects.
Bill is a graduate from McGill University and is based in Toronto, Canada.
Regardless as to what the technology platform is and how the reporting is, it’s about getting stuff at the right place, at the right time with integrity and quality.Bill Moroz
After a long career helping businesses solve problems with technology, Martin is honoured to be directing the team that designed, developed and delivered the supply chain platform in support of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine roll-out. Working with vaccine experts, internal resources, external system integrators, vaccine manufacturers and 3rd party logistics service providers, the team continues to ensure that vaccines are available for all Canadians.
It’s important for people to get the vaccine into their arms. But they don’t get the vaccine into their arms if we don’t do our jobs and we don’t know that we delivered that thing and that the integrity was maintained.Martin Gelb
Resources from this episode:
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- Connect with Martin and Bill on LinkedIn
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Read The Transcript:
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Galen Low: The COVID-19 pandemic took the world by storm, spinning up thousands of projects to respond to the crisis. And yet, now that the pandemic has been deemed officially over by public health authorities around the world, we still haven't truly paused to celebrate the human collaborations that literally helped humanity pull through.
Needless to say, I was ecstatic when today's two guests agreed to talk with me about how their team helped their government spin up an innovative, purpose-built, blockchain-based intelligent supply chain in a matter of months to ensure vaccines were delivered safely and within tolerances across a massive geographical area.
So if you are interested in peeking behind the scenes on a truly agile, truly mission-critical digital project from the perspective of the lead project manager and the lead product owner, keep listening. We're going to be lifting the lid on the challenges they faced around technology, user experience design, team burnout, and the not-so-nimble restrictions within government processes and how they overcame them to keep their country safe.
Hey folks, thanks for tuning in. My name is Galen Low with The Digital Project Manager. We are a community of digital professionals on a mission to help each other get skilled, get confident, and get connected so that we can amplify the value of project management in a digital world. If you wanna hear more about that, head over to thedigitaprojectmanager.com.
Okay. Today we're going to be diving deep into a project that truly put agile methodologies and blockchain technology to the test to get vaccines into the hands of those who needed it during the pandemic. With me today are Martin Gelb and Bill Moroz, the Product Manager and the Project Manager that spearheaded the project.
Gentlemen, thank you for joining me today.
Martin Gelb: Thank you, Galen. We're pretty thrilled to be able to tell a bit about what the team was able to do during this time.
Galen Low: No, I appreciate it. And it's so rare that we get to dig into projects. And especially with this pairing to have the product manager and the project manager for a project of this scale. I know we can share some really good insights with our listeners today. So thank you again for being on the show. I'm excited to dig in.
But first I wondered if maybe you could tell our listeners just a little bit more about yourselves. Martin, you described yourself as a technology product manager who loves to write. Could you tell our listeners just a bit about the types of products that you've been involved with and how you fell into product management in the first place?
Martin Gelb: Well, it was, it was interesting because I really started as a technical writer a long time ago. And it got me very interested in technology as a concept, and then how do these products get completed?
How, how does it happen? And so some of the first things I was doing were requirements and discovery sessions. So I got to understand the methodology and got to understand how to talk to developers a little bit at that time. But it grew on me. I was doing more things on the marketing side for a while, but got dragged into product management really by the gentleman who brought me here to the government.
We worked together a long time ago and it was a very early cloud application. I won't date myself but that was one of the first really fun and successful products that I'd ever been able to manage. And it was more like a scheduling and a time and attendance for healthcare in Ontario, working with a German partner.
And then the next one that I really am very proud of is in the financial services. I also knew a gentleman who was starting up a compliance company, but for financial services. So KYC - AML kind of thing, what they now called, I think FinTech. But this was around 2013, 2014, so that acronym hadn't hit the market yet.
But we're very early pivoted to KYC - AML and went to market with that very successfully and then did a few things and then the pandemic hit. And then the gentleman I worked with called and anyway, the rest is history. Here we are two years later and last week the pandemic was declared officially over.
Galen Low: It's officially over. There you go. There's three things I love about that. A) I love this notion of, in the digital world, folks just get dragged into it, right? Like you mentioned, you kinda got dragged into product management. And then all these technologies are burgeoning. They don't just appear, on day one and ta-da, here's FinTech, here's blockchain, here's all these things.
They're all, emerging slowly and have iterated along the way.
Martin Gelb: Yeah, and it's like herding cats, right? Like being a product manager is literally like herding cats. I knew right away when I got, when I ended up here that the first person I needed to call was Bill.
Galen Low: It's probably a good segue, Bill, regular listeners of the show, they probably know you, but folks who are new to this, could you give just a bit of background on the types of projects and programs that you've led in the past?
Bill Moroz: So it's about mission-critical delivery system platforms. I am a technical project manager, program manager, whatever you want. I starting off out of McGill University way back in the day in dBase three programming, my legacy is data, it's data aggregation, it's content aggregation.
There's always a business problem that needs to be resolved. Then get a call from Martin and say, you got it. You free? Because I really need your help. And it was like honestly, the best call that I've ever had because we're making a difference and we've set up to continue making a difference regardless of us being there or not.
This is a, self-propelling forward with the foundations and the pillars that we've put in place on this important initiative.
Galen Low: I love it. And yeah, in terms of mission criticality, this is it. I know we've been dancing around the description of the project, but I think maybe that's a good segue. Let's just get into it.
I guess in terms of the context, the scene is this: the pandemic has hit. Governments around the world are on the hook to distribute vaccines as they become available to the communities and areas that need it the most. What would you say that the challenge was that was handed to you?
Martin Gelb: So it was really a proof of concept, Galen. And let's be clear, they had already built a system. It wasn't cloud-based. It was built by the Canadian Armed forces who they had brought in to do this because like literally, who else could they get? Where could they get a hundred or 150 or 200 people like that and man up this thing?
So they were brought in. They started on spreadsheets and they're really good at spreadsheets. And they had a hundred, like I said, a couple hundred people that could, you know, pan bang spreadsheets all day and all night long. And not only that, it was 24/7 operation at that point.
So when I came in, they had already done or at least designed what they called an MVP based on the platform that I described to you. And it was minimally like really MVP, like in the very truest sense of the word. It was maybe BVP - barely viable product. So we had a lot of work to do. Plus there was not a lot of control around the business requirements, the development, like the product management stuff. This wasn't happening.
Bill Moroz: So that being said, it was working, but it was working in a very...
Martin Gelb: Highly manual. Like it was so manual, what was going on. Because they could, because they could put 40, 50 people on either side of the process, take the order in, into SAP, pull it out, do whatever, like that's how it was working.
So this was something that we obviously had to fix and we had the tools to fix it. We had this, S/4HANA - full premium, like enterprise ERP package and the development resources and the money. So right away we, Bill and I put a pretty strong framework around it. And then, I don't want to go too much farther into how much we had to crack the whip there, but by sort of September, October, the armed forces were moving out and we were transitioning to civilian rule.
And it was difficult because they clearly were not gonna, they didn't have 150 people to bring in. You just couldn't find people at that time. So we went from 150 people down to about 30 or 40 people. So we had to do a lot of really quick work, agile around processes and start taking it like a salami, so here's what we got automated, so let's start moving out in either direction as far as we can. Let's try and figure out if there's other stuff that we can do out here to make, to bring it in as well. So that, just conceptually, that was how we approached it and by the time we got to Christmas we realized actually there's a lot of really custom code processes, APIs, all kinds of crap in there, basically.
Bill Moroz: This is where it actually, from a project manager perspective, it brought in a new facet of experience for me because we had to build for quality of life as a parameter. And quality of life of the operators going from a classic digital transformation from hundred-ish to 30-ish to the next phase of that, which is where we're at.
Martin Gelb: We're down to about less than 10 now, people operating the system.
Galen Low: Wow. So, to put a fine point on it, it's a crisis in terms of crisis management and response, pretty typical of any government. Right? Bring in where you have the resources, probably the army to come in and put something into place. What you're describing to me was the BVP, it was still pretty clever, right?
It's got an S/4HANA backend. You've got a lot of people, you've got the manpower operating it, but it is still very spreadsheet driven. They're taking data out, they're putting it back in, they're manipulating it on their own. There's a lot of hands in that pie and there's a lot of margin for error.
And as we go on, yes, we need to whatever, put a bandage on the wound, but then we also need to be more clever about it. The margin for error is actually so small in something like a pandemic that it needs to get smarter so that there are fewer sort of points of failure. And that's where you've come in to say, well listen, how can we improve this, know, BVP, MVP system and take parts of it and make it more intelligent as we go so that it can be operated by fewer people with more accuracy in terms of the data that they're dealing with.
And not necessarily having this point of failure where someone can be like, oh yeah, I forgot that the formula for this cell needed to be fixed. And suddenly, vaccines are not getting delivered to the people who need it across these regions.
Martin Gelb: For us, it's all about the data at the end of the day. Because we're not standing on the loading dock watching trucks roll off with rat skids in the back and checking them off on a clipboard. All we have is the data, and if we can lock that down somehow and ensure that, yeah, those vaccines passed QA, they're ready for shipment.
There's the lot number, there's the expiry date, there are the temperature thresholds, there is where it needs to go. Okay, it's on its way. Okay, it's been delivered. It's within temperature threshold. It's now in the Dell facility over there, wherever that is, and we're good, right? And so that's what we need to know. And some of that data is available to us, but some of it wasn't.
And we were getting it asynchronously from a few different places and I, I don't wanna talk too much about all of that, but so what we have, right? What are we working on? What's our platform? I'll talk about that just for a quick second. So what we have is an SAP S/4HANA backend. So it's, it's the full-blown ERP.
We're using mostly the materials management and the sales and delivery modules with a few business process orchestration and a few other things in there. And then on the front end there's a portal, a secure portal that we have about 50 or 60 users across Canada that order for their jurisdictions, the jurisdictions being from province territories.
And then there's some federal agencies that have their own ordering as well. So that's on React that, that's fairly common front end. And then, that's the ordering function. There's also some data being presented there to them. It's a pretty decent portal, actually.
Bill Moroz: Martin, just so I can add, so part of the portal design was for a customer experience, right?
We do have customers and it's, ease of use. What we didn't want this to be was just another government, I would say, flat or boring, whatever portal. I wanna emphasize the, the user experience, the customer experience, the ease of use. Okay? Because, this is an important product.
These are essentially vaccines that are going into people's arms to save lives. Because, COVID-19 has killed a lot of people, right? And so, the ease of that user experience, listening to the customers on how they would like to see things through their usability. So, actually, we've actually created a user group in this to have that feedback channel and incorporate those comments into future releases.
Martin Gelb: Yeah. Yeah. We were doing one-on-one interviews with people and really trying to get as much feedback as we could because we knew this was something and let's be honest, these were public health employees in the various jurisdictions that were press ganged into doing this.
And they're not like logisticians or, none of that for the most part. So we wanted to be as friendly to them and as collaborative in terms of rebuilding the portal. The initial one wasn't great, but we rebuilt it with a lot of feedback and, reviewing showcases, so on and so forth.
Traditional product management kind of stuff. So I was able to, come in and say, okay, here are the things we need to do. And Bill just said, okay, here's why we need to do them, and made everybody do that. So that was, we work as a pretty good team in that.
Galen Low: I love that. I love that.
I have to ask because as a Canadian myself, when we think of the Canadian government, we don't normally think of agile as being something that our government is good at. And I say that perceptually like I think the average Canadian or someone looking in from the outside, like we are doing some great things in the Canadian government, especially in terms of digital, but that's not how it's generally perceived.
But it's still a lot of red tape, I imagine. You're running at speed. You shared with me a timeframe that went from sometime after March 2020 to October, having done multiple iterations, getting customer feedback, like how was that? Is like what were some of the challenges that you faced in like being nimble?
Martin Gelb: Now we were given, a sort of a looser set of guardrails than would ordinarily be the case. Not that we took advantage of that in any way, but we saw where the, how far we could possibly go and how fast we could go and we did. So it was just about making, as Bill said life better for the operators because they were overwhelmed. And we were all working like insane hours at that point and, nights and weekends and it was just, all hands on deck all the time.
We were all monitoring our, the system and our emails and our messages all the time because stuff was happening all the time. And and all of a sudden there's a new variant and all of a sudden we have to do a new product and all of a sudden there's these therapeutics and we have to onboard those.
And then there's the prophylactics and we have to onboard those. And then, like I was saying, we got to the point where we realized we did some analysis. There were over like 50, 60, incidents of like custom stuff in there that really wasn't, not SAP standard. Not even like supply chain standard kind of stuff.
So we did that. We put together a plan and Bill did this incredibly well, put together a plan on what we were gonna call 2.0. But meanwhile we still did nine versions under one and four subversions in there. So if really like 13 releases little over a year. So that is incredible in any in any environment that I've ever been in, like on an enterprise scale, that's unbelievable.
Now we had, 35, 40 developers and other project managers on the other side, and there's a bunch of people in there. This didn't didn't happen without the team, without Bill, without some of the other people that, I don't want to say their names here, but these are people that have been so key to making this happen and I keep saying, I don't do like I, Martin, I don't do anything.
Literally, these guys do all the work and they deserve medals, every one of them, for their service during this time. And for me it's it's incredible, like a career highlight, but to get to this, do all those releases, then do 2.0, which is like just literally rewrote everything.
And not quite, but really went, best practice, SAP standards, data-focused, user-focused, like all those things bake that right in there. And then we also, in the meanwhile, we built a data warehouse. And so we...
Bill Moroz: Why not?
Martin Gelb: Yeah. Yeah. Why not? If we're already, we're already blowing and going.
Galen Low: I love that. Bill, I wonder if we could dig into just the team and the method.
We've been talking about the developers, we've been talking about the folks doing a research. We've been talking about agile like, what did that look like on the ground? How did you manage to get 14 releases out in that short period of time? What flavor of agile were you using and how were the teams working together? How did the collaboration work?
Bill Moroz: Over emphasizing communication, right? That's all about over communicating about, not essentially not having a calendar invites across your day, but it's all day every day communicating, working sessions, demonstrated results, objective focused, this is what we wanna accomplish in the 45 minutes together in this discovery session.
Did we meet the target? Yes. Okay, celebrating that success, right? As much as we could in a virtual environment. And again, the overlay here is, all of us are virtual. Martin, you will say that, there's some people on my team I have not yet met in person. And we did have a a team meeting with some of our vendors here in Toronto, a number of months back.
And it was like, we've been working together for two years, or close to two years, and it was the first time we were actually getting, but it was seamless. It was like we've been working together all the time in the same, collaboration room. So the factor of success, understanding what the big picture is, understanding what the objective is at a big picture level, but then also each of the micro objectives that are getting us there and celebrating the successes and ensuring that, again, the attitude about, it's not about what we can't do, it's about what can we do and how can we do it. Right? And managing that expectation.
This is very heavily technology-based. Martin, you wanna go ahead? Some people think of what technology is, push the button.
Martin Gelb: For a lot of people, digital transformation is spreadsheets still. And we, it's been my, the bane of my existence has been spreadsheet. Now, don't get me wrong, I think honestly, Excel is the best piece of software that Microsoft has ever put to market.
But it's not a data management tool, especially not when it's on somebody's OneDrive. So this is for us, we had to, really focus on eliminating that, but at the same time, not making life difficult, not being as disruptive as we. Because these guys, they have job to do all day, every day, processing vaccines, making sure the vaccines are going on, bringing orders in, bringing 'em out, so on and so forth.
So the way we worked though, I think it's pretty classic product management methodology. Daily standup, blockers, impediments. What do you need? Anybody here can help you? Can I reach out to anyone for you? Blah, blah. You know that regular meetings on particular discussions. So around the blockchain, we were, we were meeting on a weekly basis.
We, okay, what's, next step, next step. Okay. And the way we did that specifically, we were working with a team at FedEx Mothership in Memphis and the team here in Canada as well. So what we did, and Bill actually engineered this whole process, but we put together a series of shipments, a bunch to the same place, a bunch to different places, doing some crossover, doing some movement reallocating, doing some things like that.
We're now still looking to do an international one. And FedEx has to figure out how, where their sensors work in some of these places. So we're still looking to do that as well because that's, internationally is really interesting.
Galen Low: Could you talk a little bit about the FedEx relationship?
Martin Gelb: Yeah, absolutely. We got to meet the CTO of FedEx. Actually, Bill and I got to meet him at the blockchain conference at Don Tapscott's blockchain conference a little while ago. Fantastic guy, and he spoke glowingly about it and because it is really important in terms of like these kinds of materials, especially, obviously bananas are important, and t-shirts are important and ball caps are important. But these have a lot of criteria that need to be maintained in not only when stationary, but when a movement and when delivered.
There's a whole QA process out in front before they even go into allocation, into stock. So that all has to be, documented. And the ledger, it's at the end of the day, it's about the ledger. So, ledgers are not a new thing and, ancient people were keeping ledgers. But we now have some pretty wicked computing power and we have some really smart people and we have some incredible networks so we can do some pretty cool stuff around ledger. And blockchain is that.
So as you're moving your materials through the process or you're moving, it doesn't even matter. Let's take it up a level, right? You're moving whatever through the process and different parties are touching it or adding to it, or taking away from it, or doing something with it, moving it further down the chain for you.
This, and that this material, whatever it is, has maintained its integrity throughout that process. And whatever the numerical values are that get added there, that's not material. But at the end of the day, you know what happened from beginning to end and you can lock that down. So that immutable ledger, that provenance is priceless.
Especially when you're talking about materials like this. So the fact that we can...
Bill Moroz: I think, sir, there are some statements that there is, I don't know if this was from FedEx or from one of the other carriers, that the data is as important, if not more important than what's in the actual box. It's data-driven.
Martin Gelb: Yeah. That's their motto. And I agree with it. Like from our perspective, of course, for the person in this case, vaccine, it's important for them to get the vaccine into their arm. But they don't get the vaccine into their arm if we don't do our jobs and we don't know that we delivered that thing and that it's in, the integrity was maintained, right? That's the key part of that.
Bill Moroz: So for vaccines, it's about cold chain, right? This is, again, this is public knowledge. It's about cold chain. So these vaccines have to be at negative 200 or some incredible temperature.
Martin Gelb: It depends on the product. And let's not go into all that detail here, but what we want to be able to do is understand. So we, again, we are working with FedEx from the very beginning. And they are a really nice partner. We got a great relationship with them and their team. We met them all at the blockchain when Rob was there, that it was like, cuz we didn't know any of these people.
We'd seen them like in emails and meetings and stuff but now we got to actually see them. So it was, it was a lot of fun and we'd been working with them for a long time already at that point. So, it was great to be able to do this with a partner. Obviously, FedEx, what can you say?
So we'll see where this goes in terms of, and again, this is a point solution for me, right? And all these things are point solution. So blockchain, I know it's a wonderful technology and that people are, bought in and still trying to find business applications for it. And that's what the key, like where can you apply it to either, save money or make money, right?
Those are the two things that we do with products. We either save money or we make money. So how can we apply blockchain? So for us it's about saving time and money with it. And not only that, locking down our data, cuz the data's all we got and so we know now we can gather most of this asynchronously.
But it's not good because because once you know you okay. Oh, but now this has changed back here. Because we got this email or what, don't even get me started. Facts. I don't even know. So that, that's how we're piecing it together a little bit now, I exaggerate most of it comes from system but it's still, it's asynchronous a little bit and we wanna obviously synchronize those transactions as they move down the chain and be able to point back to it.
And as in the government we have the auditor, right? The auditor comes and says, okay, where's all this? What did you do here? What did you do there? Well, you know what? Here's the immutable ledger. Yeah. Immutable, blockchain lock down and, you know, fill your boots.
Bill Moroz: The Auditor General of Canada is everywhere and for all the right reasons and it's assuring that, we have to, again, another parameter of the platform has to meet audit standard.
Martin Gelb: This is a great idea that we've hit on here. No, I really think it is. So when you talk about audits, audit, blockchain, obviously they go together. But in the government audits, right? And then there's not a lot, there's either, it's black and white. You did what you said you were gonna do or you did not. Right? There's no back and forth.
Galen Low: In a way, this was the ultimate challenge because not only is it a high stakes sort of rapid challenge that you had to address, but it is something that required, the logistics side of things, right? Real time data, hyper accurate data, a sort of user interface that will allow a, a smaller crew, an efficient crew of people to operate with very high stakes and very high mission criticality.
And yes, it was a challenge. But to your point, there are so many applications for this because you have implemented this at such an intense scale with such scrutiny that now, as I understand it, this is this is one of the sort of early blockchain projects in terms of blockchain applications at this scale.
But now with all of that sort of figured out, there's a lot of opportunity to do other things with it like auditable trails for other processes and anything that requires visibility and transparency into a process or into a transfer of data or into a transfer of goods.
It was like this moment of moments of very stressful innovation.
Martin Gelb: Yeah. We weren't thinking about it as, it was zen, almost Galen, because we were literally. Building the plane as we were flying it, we thought, okay, what can we, what kind of bailing wire and duct tape can we use now?
So you know, I exaggerate, but we had a lot of really great resources, like I said, a great dev team and lots of them and lots of good project and support. And, and our core team also, really a couple really good analysts, data people, support people.
It's just, it's a team effort. There's no way this happens without a whole lot of people really dedicated and serving, really at the end of the day, it's service, at the end of the day. Of course we get a paycheck, but I think people were way, punching way above their weight here, if what I mean.
Bill Moroz: Again it's about making a difference for Canada. And that is a very propelling motivator, right? Because all of us were here for the right reasons of making a difference. Unfortunately, we did have a couple of people that, didn't march to that drum and unfortunately they're, they've come and gone.
But, the riding, I would say, statement is about, we're here to make a difference and to get the job done because of this is a mission-critical. People's lives are at stake. Canadians lives are at stake. That is again, the, one of the prime motivators, the aspect of looking at this and, understanding that it's not vaccines, it's products, right?
So it's product centricity across a product catalog that needs an order management system, an order fulfillment system, and then a reporting layer, right? So, let's turn it, again, try to take that technology and make it, I would say, more digestible for non-technical people. And, using the platform that we have products that need to be managed, need to be delivered, need to be fulfilled.
And regardless as to what the technology platform is and how that reporting is it's about getting stuff into, to at the right place, at the right time with integrity and quality.
Galen Low: Love that. And isn't that the sort of crux of digital products and digital projects, just this orientation, the integration of technology, sometimes emerging technology, the business layer, or in this case your sort of government stakeholders.
The users, right? The folks who are actually going to interface with this to get the job done to make the process work. I wonder if you'd talk to me about challenges though. Martin, you said you're flying the plane as you're building it, folks are working really hard, so I guess, talk to me about like team burnout and how you all manage that?
Martin Gelb: I'll be frank with you, I'm burned out at this point. Honestly, it's been two years for me going at, 120. And I'm gonna take some time a little bit after this, but the, actually, the agency has been very good to us. They sent us, everyone who's been on the pandemic response, on two week decompression program, which is virtual.
Involve the third party counseling, therapy. You're with your peers across the agency. People you may not necessarily know. I didn't know anyone in my group, but it was fantastic. And it touched on a lot of things. I made sure that everyone on my team went on it and I wasn't gonna go, but they all came back and it was like fight club, right?
They, I said, well, what is it like? And they said, well, we can't talk about it, but you need to go. Right?
Bill Moroz: But you need to go.
Martin Gelb: So, and, and they were right. It was amazing. I don't think I've ever had an employer do that for me, but I think this was a testimony to the kind, the recognition at kind of the leadership level that people were actually fallen by the wayside at this point.
And we saw it coming. Bill and I have been, like I say, been around the block more than once. We were talking, seeing it, and people around us as early as, I'm gonna say, a year in before that even some people were really showing up and and I've always felt like I, I could sort of power through a lot of situations, but you know, you can't do it for, you can sacrifice yourself for a certain period and, two years I found out two years is my limit.
So I just need some time to go fishing a little bit. In terms of, building that team virtually, finding the right people, Bill was the right person. We found senior analyst that we, I, I read some notes from another meeting and I said, who wrote these notes?
Okay. She's over here and, we got some support people, we have some security folks, we have support into the frontline, like first level support I lost my password. That kind of stuff for the most part. And then we, it gets escalated into a more, a managed services environment, a professional managed service environment.
Anything beyond that goes right up into that. And it's, that's been really well executed as well, that whole piece. In terms of the rest of the team, we have vendor management function that's helping us manage our SI and some of the other contracts that we have in place for data and other things.
Also helping us with various sort of procurements that have to go on in the government environment, of course, you can't just buy a piece of software and install it. You have to procure it. And it has to be generally through a process. So we've been, the team's been writing a lot of documents for business requirements and so on and so forth.
So we have some good resources around that. Like I, like you said at the beginning, Galen, I'm a product manager who loves to write. I love doing that stuff. I actually love writing business requirements and taking those and turning those into some kind of design and then getting people, everybody to agree to that.
And then we go to the developers and we try to translate that into the developer speak, discrete work items for them. Figure out what, okay, what's the acceptance criteria? And we get them, working on that and cuz then back up and down the chain. So it's a continual process.
And again, it's like those daily standups, it's, the individual meetings on specific things, but also we have showcases, regular showcases for all the pieces that we're working on. Obviously, know UAT is a really big event in our calendar. Every release and then our release right is always, he's always like a big proponent of this is Bill, and a big component of this is change management, and this is really like if I could say anything to a product manager that really doesn't wanna listen, I'd say pay attention to the change management piece.
Because for sure if you're a product manager functioning like you know how to do business requirements and do all that other stuff that I talked about, right? If you're working as a product manager, but the change management piece for the users, not only that for the people who have like actually acquired the, whatever that is whether it's in business or in government, make sure that their leadership understands how this is gonna roll out and make sure that the users understand how this is gonna roll out and how it's gonna impact their lives and make it as easy as you can for them.
Because a lot of what happens with these things, so they just get shit, right and then it's dropped on these people. And I've seen this movie so many times and their leadership has bought this this whatever, into this thing. Or this new version or this new piece of software, whatever it is, to manage whatever process, it doesn't even matter. And they get dropped into it and they're like, well what the hell do I do with this now? And cuz I've been using my spreadsheets for the last 30 years, or I've been whatever, right?
I have my own methodology, my own way, my own tools. So that piece, as far out in front of that as you can get, that will serve you so well to make your product successful. I can't even, I can't even emphasize that strongly enough.
Bill Moroz: Rubber hits the road there. It's called adoption, but not just adoption. Also the adhesiveness, right? It's so important because I've seen environments where, okay, fine, we have a new system that rolls out great, but I'll continue using the spreadsheets after work or early in the morning or you won't see me cuz I'm like, keys on, new system. But underneath my desk, the spreadsheets are still there.
And that is the worst case scenario because you're not adopting, you're not absorbing the absorption of that change as a, the new way, the better way. And then, I mean that, that mindset, as Martin was saying, so we, yeah, we have a lot of sessions, a lot of discovery sessions, a lot of, but it's in a, always have a positive attitude for.
It's not just another meeting, right? This is a working session and this is what we're looking at accomplishing, and we can say we accomplished it and everybody's proud and let's keep moving forward. If you come into the mindset of, okay, just another meeting, I have 10 meetings today I'm tired.
Again, the that overwhelming factor right of the work that we have to do will put you into a burnout category. Or you'll just, what I call, you'll disconnect, okay? And you know that what I was mentioning earlier about people coming in and suffer and having the right attitude and stuff, some of 'em disconnected and then decided that this was not for them.
It was too much. Right? And again, you gotta respect that and that's fine, but we gotta keep moving forward. So part of the critical success factor here is, on margin I will mention it. Martin and I have been in many different environments with many different customers on many different platforms for if we put our combined years of experience together.
And that, that understanding the different experiences, having the lessons learned from things that have gone well, things that have failed, different methodologies, and all sorts of different people that we've been working with over the last, now 20, 30 years has brought this to I, I'd say a pinnacle of how we made this and how we continue to make this successful with the government of Canada.
Galen Low: I love that. Right team. The right attitude. Big mission.
Martin Gelb: It's all about the team though. Like I can't, again, that's another thing I can't see strongly enough. This doesn't happen without the right people and the right kind of attitudes and in terms of motivation, everybody's highly motivated here.
Bill Moroz: And sometimes we make it look easy, but it's not easy.
Martin Gelb: That's what the pros do, Bill. The pros make it look easy. You ever see those guys hit those 325 yard drives? It looks like they're just out for a stroll in the park.
Galen Low: There you go. That's the thing about digital. We've made it look too easy. People talk about technology, they think it's pressing a button because it's folks like you and your teams who actually made it look easy.
Martin Gelb: No, it's an interesting point, Galen, because the digital literacy is a big challenge, not only in government, but everywhere, even in industry, even in technology sometimes.
Galen Low: How are you educating the stakeholders around you? Like at speed when you're moving fast and you have to explain a thing, what's your go-to method for getting people aligned on what technology can and can't do?
Martin Gelb: I just ask them, I try and ask them like, what is the problem? What's your problem?
I don't say it like that. What's your problem? No, but what is the problem that you have that you think we can solve? Okay. And then they talk, and they say, well integrate this and integrate that. I said, no, don't tell me how to solve it. Tell me what your problem is.
Actually, let me take, let me make it even simpler for you. What are the reports you wish to see? What is the data that you wish to see presented and how? Okay, that they can usually describe, if you start like really poking at them and then you say, okay, thank you. And then you go back and you reverse engineer that out to software requirements.
You may already have much of what their problem is in house and you can just present it to them somehow, but you may have to do some work as well. We're extremely lucky that we have a gentleman on our team who is actually in the operating group, but is for all intents and purposes, part of our team.
So he's like our Vulcan mind meld to the National Operating Center. And he's a great guy and we love him, and we had a guy like him before. So this is also a, you know, this is a critical thing. If you can have somebody in your like that super Uber user, right? That's actually part of your team.
It's like that is Nirvana for a product manager. So we had that. I made sure that we had that because there's no way this is gonna get done in any sort of reasonable manner without that. Cuz we just not there, we're not there sitting in the operation center. So we need that, those eyes on.
And it's really important, like all those eyes on and all these different processes and all these things, so we understand. Okay. And sometimes they can't articulate their problem very clearly, but they can usually articulate what it is they want to see. Right? Or what they would like to see in terms of a report or some sort of, information.
So that we can work with. And it's not easy sometimes cuz you often have to go back and clarification and so on and so forth. But we can generally get to a design around that and then we can, drive it down from there. That's basically our process.
It's not like this not rocket, this is we didn't invent this. If you go back and look at any kind of pragmatic marketing or Marty Kegan and Silicon Valley or any this is all just an amalgam of all of that. And just trying to be like Bill says, making sure we, a) manage expectations, focus on the data, do what we, we know we can do, and be very customer-focused.
And that's, at the end of the day, that's all you can do as a product manager. And if you have leadership support, if you have that great customer Uber user, if you have the other support around you that you need in terms of development and security and accessibility, all the things that you need to consider in your product, then you're in a great spot.
And we were in a really great spot for quite a long time. I'm sure you've seen your listeners perhaps, or the budget recently that came down. So it wasn't what people expected in terms, at least not on healthcare side. So there's going to be some cutbacks, I believe, and they're going to have to be very ruthlessly prioritizing what it is they want to build here, what they want to continue to use this for.
Now, there's, I can tell you that the real focus now is because we got caught with our pants down, basically, and so did everyone. Nobody was ready for what happened, and we found ourselves very dependent upon foreign resources. And this is something that's obviously very concerning. And not having a system, like there was nothing, there was no supply chain system, there was nothing.
So, preparedness, readiness, God forbid that this should happen again, in our lifetimes, one would hope not, but you don't know. And this one was predicted fully and we weren't ready, so let's not do that again. Okay? That's a, that's a bad decision if we are not making sure that we are ready for the next time and making sure that our children and our grandchildren, and their children are all going to be protected.
Now, I'm not, that's not to say, you know, S/4HANA is gonna live out into, who knows what it's gonna iterate into or what it's gonna become. But the point, let's not even talk about the software. Let's talk about the actual concept of being ready and what does that mean, and
Bill Moroz: it's about the ecosystem and the preparedness and the readiness and the, platform agnostic. But we need to be I'll say we need to be agile in the preparedness and assured that there's a standard, normalized, interoperable platform ready to respond to X.
Martin Gelb: Just keep the technology modern, and it's, you'll have to keep iterating. But not at the pace we were going at. We've got another version coming out.
We've done one since 2.0 and we've got another one coming out in June and another one coming out after that. So we're gonna get up to 2.3 under the, under the COVID budget basically. And it'll be like, pretty awesome system actually. But there's lots more that can be, there's always more.
And this is another thing that people don't understand. Well, when's it finished? Well, it's never finished. It's a software system, right? It's never finished, so you know, you can always keep adding things. There's always, demand planning, forecasting, full on track and trace, product serialization, like the, you can go on and on.
All the things that you keep, building this thing out if you really wanted to. Do you need to? I don't know. I'm not the guy to answer that question, but I would suggest that you constantly keep your eye on it and keep it on the on, not on the back burner, keep it ready.
Galen Low: You raise a really good point, especially in terms of the budgets, right?
Will this get ruthlessly deprioritized because the pandemic's over? Versus this mindset of yeah, readiness equals always keeping things up to date iterating so that we're prepared for next time, which isn't always the easiest sell when we're talking about a national budget.
And one last question. I'm gonna, I'm gonna point it at Bill. Bill, we were talking earlier about agile in government. We were talking about, it was a press gang custom situation, special case scenario, which obviously, it still had the due diligence, but at speed.
With some exceptions in terms of the way normally, things normally work. But do you feel like this project has helped build that muscle in the Canadian government to execute projects in an agile way? Has it built up that sensibility of the folks involved of how to work iteratively? How to have the voice of the customer installed into your daily standups? What do you think that will continue? Or do you feel like this is more of just a one-off?
Bill Moroz: So definitely yes. This is a, an example of a methodology that can be portable, that can be used again for delivery, cause it's all about delivery. I can't answers the fact will it continue because it, it's propelled by the people.
Agile is owned by the people that use it. So, and, agile is defined in, in, in every organization differently. So if you embrace it and you embrace the concepts, and you embrace the reliance on communication, on, effectiveness, on spontaneity, on creativity, on listening and on celebrating, the, I'll say the quick wins then certainly yes.
And I, I do want to see it go forward in the government. It's fun. It's serious. And at the end of the day, it delivers, right? It delivers with the team that delivered it, that, I would say in our case, are willing to do it all over again in the same team, in the same way because it embraces, a propulsion forward.
Galen Low: Love that. Love that. Awesome. Martin, Bill - thanks so much for your insights today. It's been a real pleasure having you both on the show. Thank you for coming and sharing your story. Would love to have you back and maybe even get you in our community for folks who are listening who may have more questions about the project and how it worked and the challenges you faced and how you overcame it.
Martin Gelb: Thank you, Galen. It's been, it's a great to be able to tell our, tell the story. I'm not sure it'll ever get told officially, but it was, it was incredible. An incredible ride for both Bill and myself and couldn't be prouder of the team and grateful for the opportunity to serve our country.
Galen Low: Big thanks to you and the team. The unsung heroes, to your point, these stories don't get told that often. But there's a lot of people behind this, making sure that we're all safe.
Bill Moroz: Thank you.
Galen Low: Alright folks, there you have it. As always, if you'd like to join the conversation with over a thousand like-minded project management champions, come join our collective. Head over to thedigitalprojectmanager.com/membership to learn more. And if you like what you heard today, please subscribe and stay in touch on thedigitalprojectmanager.com.
Until next time, thanks for listening.