#weeknotes 9: review, recap, engage

This week has been hugely busy. Too busy really — I was already trying to fit a lot in when Ofsted rang on Monday to say they’d be coming in for an inspection to the school where I’m chair of governors. We’ve been prepared for this visit, and the school is in really good shape, but equally it’s a thorough review of every aspect of the school, and that includes how effective the governing body is . . .



This week I’ve been working with our submit a notification team on preparing for their GDS assessment next week, and starting to think about the scope of the beta phase so we can ask GDS for spend approval. I left early (ish) so that I could get ready for the Ofsted inspection the next day. I’m the chair of governors so it’s my responsibility to make sure that we’re all prepared, and can demonstrate how we’re effective in supporting the school.


On Tuesday morning we hosted Chris, Joe and Leighton from GDS who are doing user research on the draft Government Service Standard. It was a really interesting discussion — good to see the draft standard and have a chance to comment, and useful to see how they approach user research and their techniques. Hopefully we gave them helpful insight from our perspective. At lunchtime I dashed to the school for our meeting with the Ofsted inspector, then back again to work with Noel and his team on their assessment evidence.


Today was our sprint review day, and the start of sprint 3, and we had Dan Barrett visit us. We also welcomed Michelle Bayley into the team which is very exciting. It was a great day. There were of course cakes. . .

Gluten free . . .

As ever I was hugely inspired and impressed by the outcomes of sprint 2 – a great first prototype and really useful insight from our first round of user testing. The content design team have done a great job, and the design is looking awesome. More importantly – users fed back that they trusted the information they were reading – and that’s a key product goal for us.

We haven’t got everything right yet though – user testing showed that ‘leave year’ isn’t a phrase that users understand so we’re going to look again at how we can make that clearer. And then test again in the next sprint.

Dan Barrett’s talk at lunchtime was excellent — really interesting, thoughtful and thought provoking. Lots of people came from various teams, and it’s sparked further conversations. Thank you Dan, and thank you to Charlotte for organising it. Oh and he didn’t get stuck in our revolving doors either, which was a bonus.

At the end of the day we had in house yoga – if I’m honest I arrived like this:


And left like this:


Thankyou Jacqui for restoring and reviving me. I can absolutely recommend organising yoga sessions at work – all it took to get it off the ground was a meeting room booking and a trello board. And knowing a great teacher!


Three of us went to volunteer at Bromley by Bow this week, helping people get online at one of the centres regular drop in sessions. Always a highlight — this month I worked with two women who were practicing their online skills. It’s a two hour session — which is a long time for the users to be learning for.

Lunch in their great cafe did not disappoint:

Veggie curry, yum

In the afternoon it was our sprint 2 show and tell — a good turn out to this, and the team were able to show the prototypes and what we’d learnt from our testing to our colleagues.


A trip to Birmingham to attend a one day workshop with the rest of the Acas leadership team. Useful to catch up with colleagues I don’t see very often, and to have the chance to share ideas, challenges and successes across the organisation. Philippa did a fab job of presenting our work on the digital advice service to everyone — an opportunity for colleagues based in other offices to talk to us and hear about what we’re doing.

What am I reading this week?

A seat at the table, Mark Schwarz

This book is great so far. I’m still on the bit where Mark Schwartz describes all the problems (quite depressing) but am looking forward to practical solutions and guidance in the next chapter. . .

Kit Collingwood wrote a brilliant blog post this week which articulated lots of what I’d been thinking — especially around diversity of teams that we’re bringing in on contracts. Jenny Vass wrote about a week of self care — really good advice on what could help when things are feeling too much. . . .

#weeknotes 8: sharing experience, show the thing, supporting others

#weeknotes 8 means the fourth week using the what have I learnt and what has inspired me format. This format has made me think harder about what I write about, and it’s been ok on the whole.

What have I learnt this week?

I was invited to the GDS service managers course by Sharon Dale to share my experiences with the group. I’ve done this once before and really enjoyed it, and met some great people as a result. I got a lot out of sharing our story, and the conversation about change, common frustrations, and shared values that happened afterwards. I had some lovely feedback that was really positive and more importantly some really useful feedback on what I could do to make it better. Show the thing seems to be the main theme:

This was hugely helpful (thank you for sharing Sharon Dale)

If I’m invited back I know what I can do to make the session more useful to people. These leads me neatly to:

What’s inspired me this week?

Luka and Anton have produced our first wireframes and the beginnings of our component library. This week we did our first round of user testing of the initial wireframes and the new advice content produced by Sarah and Cass, amd we’ll improve them each sprint. What inspired me was the whole team effort that has resulted in having something ready to test that we can learn from.


This week I worked in our Nottingham office for a couple of days. It’s where our team working on our submit a notification project are based. They’re coming to the end of their alpha phase — and presented a final show and tell to staff in the office. Some of their internal champions have been at user testing over the past couple of weeks and spoke about the impact this had — watching users trying to answer the questions we ask them online, and they spoke passionately about wanting to improve our services based on user need. Our customers matter is one of our four values — and this session really brought that to life.


What have I read this week?

Warren Fauvel wrote this piece Understanding policy better inspired by attending One Team Gov Wales unconference, which I thought was good. I was reminded that I’d also read Beatrice Karol Burks post Forget policy start with people recently. Also a really interesting read.

#weeknotes 7: meetings, inspiration, cakes and balance

This is my penultimate go at the question format — after next week I think I’m going to go back to the Mon-Fri format, which still feels more natural to me. And feedback I’ve had is that reading about my week in that way feels more engaging for people who work alongside me but in other teams.

So, what inspired me this week?

We had our first sprint review on our digital advice beta project— I was hugely inspired by how much the team had achieved in the first sprint, and how well everyone has worked together to do this. Sprint 1’s goal was to get the foundations right — and that’s what we’ve done.

I was part of an excellent workshop led by our transformation director katenowicki. She and her team worked with senior leaders to lay out our change roadmap — it was inspiring to see the range of things we want to do, and are already doing, and to see it brought to life on the wall for everyone to see.

The ace Kate N in action

What did I learn this week?

I think we all take capability building seriously in our team — and are role modelling an open and curious mindset. This week I learnt A LOT about technical user stories – we worked with our technical architect James to group and prioritise (hopefully) everything we’ll need to think about during private beta. We did this in collaboration with our IT colleagues so that we’ve got a shared understanding of the decisions we need to make, how we’ll do that, and who will be responsible for managing each one.

Charlotte is shadowing each member of the Digi2al team as we go through the project — this sprint it was our UX designer Anton. Charlotte’s feedback in retro was that having tasks to own herself has made a big difference in being able apply to her learning and contribute to the success of the sprint.


Lastly it was a very cake heavy week this week (not a bad thing in any way in my book). On Monday we had brownies (a birthday), Wednesday carrot cakes (sprint 2 planning) and Friday was banana and coconut (saying goodbye to Jess). I’ve been adapting recipes to meet the needs of the team (egg free, gluten free). It was a challenge that was worth the effort though, and they were all very tasty. If you’d like the recipes let me know.

Stylishly photographed as well . . .

What did I read this week?

An interesting blog from Bracknell Forest Digital Services about EasyRead, which I liked both because I didn’t know about EasyRead and because it’s a work in progress for them, which they’re writing about. I really like that they’re working in the open — and talking about things they haven’t quite got right yet.

And this post by Richard McLean about user manuals reminded me that I started some thinking on this for myself but haven’t progressed it. It inspired me to go back to it, so watch this space.

#weeknotes 6 inspiration, learning and reflection

I’m trying the questions format again this week — it’s been a really busy week this week so it feels like maybe the Mon-Fri format would be easier. But here goes . . .

What inspired me this week?

This week I had time to go and visit Office of the Public Guardian in Nottingham along with our associate delivery manager Curtis and Chris, who’s joined us as a product manager to look at how we could manage cases in Acas in the future and what technology we’ll need to help us to do that. Kaz and Simon from OPG were incredibly generous with their time and shared their experiences with us. It was inspiring to see an organisation that’s made the journey we’re just starting on, and the generosity of colleagues in other departments in helping us avoid some of the pitfalls and blind alleys. OPG have done amazing work on their services, their back end systems and building capability.

I also got to ride the tram in to work at our Nottingham office (always fun) and I’m now the proud owner of a Robin Hood travel card*

What did I learn this week?

Jonny, our user researcher on the digital advice beta project did a great bit of research into our initial information architecture using treejack testing. James and Charlotte had already done some additional user research between alpha and beta on where users would expect to find what they’re looking for using card sorting exercises. Jonny has taken that to see if we can find out more using this method. He wrote some great slides for us to explain what he was doing to the team so that we can all learn. I hadn’t heard of treejack testing before so it was good to learn more about it.



When I started writing weeknotes I promised myself I’d write about good and bad, success and failure. So — in that spirit — Monday. I know Monday gets a bad rap most weeks, but this week, meh. No single reason – a combination of not sleeping well, the weather (sleeting rain anyone?), and an ill teenager at home meant that the day I’d planned wasn’t the day that happened. A couple of things at work annoyed me, unreasonably so. What I learnt though was that a) it’s ok to have a bad day (as it says on Giles Turnbull fantastic team poster) b) the team are incredibly supportive (thank you!) and c) I got a chance to reflect and review what happens for me when things don’t go according to plan.


Later on in the week though . . .

James, the technical architect on our digital advice beta gave us some really useful homework this week to read up on:

This piece from Dan North was excellent —

In praise of SWARMing

and that piece led me to this talk which is worth watching/listening to and ref the Richard Gurnall 5 stages. . .

The journey of change screenshot from Dan North talk ref above, shows resistance over time, people, tools, governance, customer, money, organisation.

I’m also further through Conversations of change, by Dr Jen Frahm, and am inspired (and reassured) by the building change capability chapter, mainly because I think our team are doing a lot of this already.

Learning by doing

I also went with our submit a notification team to the workshop that GDS ran for us — and it was hugely useful as most the team haven’t been to an assessment before. This is our first transactional service to go through an alpha assessment and we’re all keen to make sure we’ve met the GDS standards. Not everyone made it down from Nottingham because of the snow, so we made best use of tech to get everyone connected and talking. There were loads of great questions from the assessors and great feedback for the project team for the final sprint (and the real thing at the end of March).

*I’m originally from Nottingham so am predisposed to be proud all things Robin Hood branded.