Department of the Interior Bison fenced in angle bracketsOpen data, design, & development at the U.S. Department of the Interior

Breaking down silos by cross training

December 2, 2021

Are you tired of the doing the same job, the same way, with the same people—even if you love them—every day? If you answered yes to any of these, then it’s time to find some inspiration for change and try cross training!

You may be starting to list the reasons in your head why it’s not the right time, that you’re worried you won’t fit in, or even that you’ll fail.

That is normal!

The pull towards change outweighed those worries. Knowing deep down that if I put in my best effort and learned from my failures, that I would come out a more capable person, professional, and teammate from cross training—so can you!

Stay with me, and I’ll share my journey with cross training and why you should cross train too.

How I got to cross training

In October 2019 I filled in for my supervisor, Dave, at an ONRR Leadership Team meeting. On that same day, the Open Data, Design, & Development (ODDD) team—formerly the Data Display team—gave a presentation to the ONRR Leadership Team.

First impression of the ODDD team—impressed by their communication, team accomplishments, and how they planned and organized their work. Shannon and Lindsay gave an engaging presentation, from their data to their communication style.

So, when the half-time, 3-month cross training opportunity for the ODDD team appeared in my inbox, I was immediately interested…and worried about the timing.

At that time, I was working towards completing my Certified Internal Auditor designation. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to focus on completing that, meet my team goals, and learn a new job.

Maroya, ODDD Product Manager and Supervisor, and Nancy, ONRR Workforce Development, resolved that worry and gave two flexible start date options. This flexibility allowed me to earn my Certified Internal Auditor designation and meet my team goals in addition to the cross-training opportunity. I’m grateful to our leadership for being flexible and supportive while challenging me to learn and expand my skill sets.

After sending in my application, I felt a sense of relief and inspiration—I was ready for this change.

Experience joining the team

The ODDD team is incredibly organized and runs their team with an agile methodology. They use ZenHub and GitHub to track their work issues/tasks. I love agile because it forces you to be organized and…

“It forces you to be accountable” Lindsay Goldstein

They have a structured meeting schedule with daily standups and organize their work in two week sprints, and for larger goals have roadmapping every six weeks. They have documented basics for making distributed work work that everyone should read because it is relevant to our current remote working.

“Default to video for most meetings (especially daily standups, collaboration, and coworking). Things move faster because you can rely on nonverbal feedback and cues to keep the conversation moving. They also help build team empathy and avoid alienation.” Corey Mahoney

They are a diverse and highly skilled team with a product manager, program analysts, user experience designer, developers, a content strategist, and interns from Virtual Student Federal Service. Their main products are Natural Resources Revenue Data website and are working towards redesigning onrr.gov, but they also work on many other projects.

As a newbie cross trainer, the team made me feel welcome and empowered me to make improvements from day one. They had an amazing onboarding checklist that helped me get set up—every team should have an onboarding checklist, specific to their team, to get new team members set up and contributing quickly.

The team patiently took time to share their knowledge—even when they were still learning the job themselves—and they were always willing to answer questions and help.

Daily takeaways

So maybe I won’t give you all my daily takeaways but here are a few of them…

Day 1 – First day

  • Notes: Busy first day. Roadmap (every 6 weeks) and Sprint Planning (every 2 weeks) meetings. Ice breaker for the meeting was latest movie and book—Vivo and Tikki Tikki Tembo. Try saying that nervously on your first day—I felt like Chang!
  • Takeaways: This is a high functioning team! Impressed is an understatement. How can I bring this type of agile methodology back to help my team? All cross trainers must get this agile working bug when working with this team.

Day 2 – Onboarding

  • Notes: Cross trainer kick off meeting! Get through the onboarding checklist. First daily stand up.
  • Takeaway: Use wiki page to follow steps, it’s impossible to remember everything. Their wiki page is amazing—every team should have their processes this well documented.

Day 5 – Indian Index Zone Prices

  • Notes: Excited, short day to a long weekend. Worked on updating September Indian Index Zone prices on onrr.gov.
  • Takeaways: Full cycle—I previously performed an internal control review evaluating controls over ONRR’s publicly posted pricing; it was great to see these internal controls functioning! I should have reviewed the GitHub flow before today.

Day 6 – First GitHub issues

  • Notes: Created my first issues in GitHub—issues are how the team tracks tasks to work on or bugs to fix. “Add a minimum pixel for the bars on the Explore Data Page” and “Mobile monthly snapshot with invalid dates in charts.”
  • Takeaways: It’s gratifying to be able to add ideas on ways to improve the product.

Day 20 – Consolidate onrr.gov wireframe user experience interview findings

  • Notes: From the notes taken at each user experience (UX) interview, the team inputted the findings by participant number into a spreadsheet. Next, Lindsay and I determined finding statements for each grouping and then made a recommendation to resolve.
  • Takeaways: Usability testing feedback is critical to continuously improving and making the website usable and accessible to everyone! Enjoyed experiencing this project from recruiting and observing interviews to consolidating findings.

Day 21 – Markdown

  • Notes: Dan walked me through putting a blog post into markdown—a way to write content for the web—using the text editor Atom. He provided a markdown guide to review, and I also took a markdown tutorial to prepare. He walked me through making some of the changes in Atom.
  • Takeaways: Markdown seemed straightforward, but with all things it takes practice; and it was fun learning and doing something new!

Day 24 – 508 document project

  • Notes: Uploaded the last accessible document for Phase 2 of the 508 accessibility project using one of the ODDD’s checklists:

    1. Recheck document for accessibility
    2. Upload document in dev (development) site
    3. Review document in dev site
    4. Publish to the live site
    5. Update Accessibility tracking sheet
    6. Check the live site
  • Takeaways: Felt honored to play a small part in this important, massive project that involved many employees helping to determine if documents on onrr.gov still needed to be on the website and then making those needed documents accessible. Thankful for Christine patiently teaching me so that I was able to follow the checklist and update documents on onrr.gov, with an important peer review check at the end.

Day 36 – Check-in with Maroya, Product Manager and Supervisor

  • Notes: Team members have a weekly or bi-weekly check-in, one-on-one, with Maroya. As a cross trainer, I was able to experience these check-ins. The check-in meeting is informal, and you can talk about any issues that you may have questions on or talk in general about workload.
  • Takeaway: Great check-in with Maroya—gained her perspectives and experience transitioning to leadership, which was helpful to plan my career goals. Recommend reading Maroya’s blog post Stepping out of my comfort zone - into management, and getting other’s perspectives.

Day 47 – Sprint Demo

  • Notes: The ODDD team has an end of sprint demo every other Thursday. This is a good time to see everything the team worked on in the sprint and has attendees from outside the team. Redirects was one of the issues I worked on that took several weeks of effort. The goal of this issue was to add new Uniform Resource Locator (URL) internal or external redirect links for the 2,525 documents that the team removed as part of the 508 accessibility project. Presented the status of adding all the redirects and the next steps to add redirects for the new, in development, onrr.gov site.
  • Takeaways: Presenting is always nerve-racking, but it was great to feel a sense of accomplishment after giving an update on the redirects issue to the team and others.

The ODDD team works on such a variety of issues. Those daily takeaways were a glimpse into the issues you work on as a cross trainer in this team.

Overall takeaways

I won’t sugar coat it—some of the days were hard especially at the beginning trying to continue to meet my team’s goals. But I got through it. As the weeks went on, juggling the two jobs got easier! The lessons learned from the ODDD team—how to better collaborate, iterate, and communicate—helped me grow personally and professionally; and will fuel my aspiration for continuous growth.

The team’s open communication, motivation, and how the team is always helping each other was impressive. They are hardworking, expect excellence, and have a culture of continuous improvement—always bringing up ways to improve their product.

“…it’s one of the nice parts about iterative development - if a team member sees potential improvements, we can make the improvements” Dan Coleman

And if there isn’t time for it, they either create a list or add an issue in GitHub and keep it in the backlog for future product improvements.

The ODDD team’s open communication enables them to have a strong risk awareness culture—they openly communicated, as a team, about their risks as they came up and whether they needed to mitigate or accept those risks so that they could achieve their team’s objectives. And, as an auditor, I also respected that they have a peer review control built into all their processes.

Get out of your comfort zone

If that title makes you hold your breath for a moment—I am with you. But without getting out of your comfort zone, you cannot grow and improve yourself or your team, and ultimately provide better services to the American people.

“Someone once told me growth and comfort do not coexist. And I think it’s a really good thing to remember.” Ginni Rometty

There will always be reasons to not jump right in and try something new, but you’ll find that the benefits and lessons learned will outweigh those risks. And you might even add some fun back into your work.

“Work should be 20% fun.” Mojo Nichols

What are you waiting for? Go find a cross training, or other opportunity, that will help you be a better version of yourself, meet new people, and bring diverse ideas and perspectives to help another team.

Additional cross training information

Cross training blog posts

If you want to read about other cross training experiences with the ODDD team and get some inspiration, go check out these blog posts:

For ONRR employees

ONRResource has cross training and job rotation opportunities (connect to VPN to access). If you have any questions about my cross training experience feel free to connect with me.


Cat Vojslavek profile image

Cat Vojslavek is a Auditor at the Office of Natural Resources Revenue.