Weeknotes 36: iteration and improvement

A shorter week this week – and slightly quieter because half term*. An opportunity to catch up, and think about what next.

5 (great) things that happened this week

  1. Service assessments. They’re a key part of how we’re governing ourselves, and this week we started to look at how we might iterate and improve on how we are organising, running and publishing them. I got together with Dennis, Susan and Kahar to think about ideas and ‘how might we’ questions based on our conversation experiences so far. As a result we’ve got some things to try (such as having a conversation with the team before they start prepping, adding a ‘what we learnt from doing the assessment’ section ) and some questions to answer – how might we track and analyse the areas where we’re not quite meeting the standard so that we surface wider issues?

A picture of our ideas for iterating and improving how we run, organise and publish service assessments

2. Local digital fund @MCHLG. Nic and I met with Linda and her team to talk about pipeline and how we might develop it further so that they can use it to publish the projects that are funded by the digital fund. They had some really good ideas about future functionality for the product and valuable insight and perspective gained from their work across local authorities. Linda and her team have done an amazing job in sorting through all the expressions of interest, reading through them shows just how many ideas there are in local government for improving how we deliver services. Also I got to see the ace Gavin Beckett twice this week.

3. Building digital skills. A great meeting with Joash from Amazon Web Services – they’re partnering with us to help build digital skills in Hackney. As part of this they’re offering our apprentices exciting opportunities – we now have 4 events planned out including speakers on innovation, building your digital career workshops and support through mentoring and coaching.

4. One Team Gov. I made it to the Westminster breakfast this week — as ever, a really interesting range of topics and discussion. Sam Villis did a fab job of recording the discussion:

5. Human centred design. Rahma Mohamed and Will ran a session with us on thinking user first. It was great to spend time reminding myself just how much work needs to go into working out user needs – it’s easy to forget when you’re not involved in a project day to day. My goal for the whole team is to spend at least 2 hours a month with users (I should be aiming for 6 – but pragmatically I’m starting small and deliverable).

User research is a team sport

What I learned this week:

I gave an update at a meeting which didn’t go brilliantly. It was ok, but doing some really simple things differently would have made it much better. So I’ve been reflecting** and as a result I have:

  1. Bought some connectors to keep in my bag so that I can always plug my iPad in and project my slides.
  2. Resolved to remember to ask more questions before preparing so I have a better sense of the context.
  3. And I’m going to meet a couple of people who talked to me afterwards – so that I can listen to their feedback and think about what their needs are. That way I think I’ll be better prepared next time.

Writing these weeknotes: usually I write them in one go, on a Sunday evening and post them Monday morning. This week, knowing that I had a short week, and wondering if I could do it differently, I’ve written a short bit every day on the train to work. I still ended up finishing them off at the weekend. I think it works better if I reflect on the week as a whole, rather than day by day, but it was an interesting experiment.

What I read this week:


This, from Philippa Peasland was great, and very thoughtful:

View at Medium.com

I’ve started reading A Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantú. It’s about the border between US and Mexico, part memoir, part history. It is very good.

I’ve bought Accelerate by Nicole Forsgren, Jez Humble and Gene Kim as recommended by Richard McLean, but have yet to start reading it . . .

View at Medium.com

Rahma Mohamed weeknotes were really interesting – and reflective, and I really liked this series by Dr Joanna Choukeir . I’m looking forward to reading the new story each week:

View at Medium.com

*and a day off on Friday.

**to be honest there has been some dwelling as well, but that’s not as healthy.

Weeknotes 35: testing assumptions

It’s been a week of trying new things, and seeing what works, and using data to test what we think we know. Another busy week, but one where I managed to mostly get my diary right*.

So 6 (great) things that happened:

  1. I worked with Joe, the data scientist in our team to a) write up the main results of our ICT survey and b) define the first few questions we’re going to ask of the data we’ve got — so that Joe can do some amazingly clever things to visualize the answers. I’m so grateful to be working with someone who’s really expert in what they do — and I’m learning loads from him. The data team generally are doing awesome things — check out this blog post from Sandrine:


2. We ran the second service assessment — this time on a service we’re building to manage repairs. It went well — the team were confident and engaged, the assessors asked pertinent questions, and provided good feedback. The team (Unboxed and Hackney working together) have done regular, informative and open show and tells which has really helped. I think the team felt that it was a positive experience (at least that’s what they said when I asked . . .) Last week we ran a service assessment on our managing rent arrears service— you can see the report here. Next week we’re going to run a reflection session to see what we’ve learnt so far, and generate ideas about how we might improve how we’re doing them. We have 3 more service assessments in the pipeline, and I’m keen that we iterate and reflect as we go.

3. I met up with Richard McLean which was awesome. A brilliant chat about all sorts of things governance and culture related which has inspired me to think more about how we’ll know if our approach to governance is working. Sadly I didn’t get to see Dan Barrett and Sam Villis at their meet up, poor co-ordination on my part 😦 .

4. I spent some time on Friday working on the intro course on Agile, Lean start up and user centred design that Matthew Cain and I are collaborating on. We have our first 8 participants signed up, and we’re running it for 3 hours on 3 consecutive days, testing our assumption that busy people can commit to that stretch of time each day. Whilst doing some research for it I found Taiichi Ohno’s ten precepts, which really appealed to me:

You are a cost. First reduce waste.

First say, “I can do it.” And try before everything.

The workplace is a teacher. You can find answers only in the workplace.

Do anything immediately. Starting something right now is the only way to win.

Once you start something, persevere with it. Do not give up until you finish it.

Explain difficult things in an easy-to-understand manner. Repeat things that are easy to understand.

Waste is hidden. Do not hide it. Make problems visible.

Valueless motions are equal to shortening one’s life.

Re-improve what was improved for further improvement.

Wisdom is given equally to everybody. The point is whether one can exercise it.

5. Hidayat, Emma and Sam organised and ran a marketplace stall alongside ICT colleagues as part of the Chief Exec’s roadshows — we’d sort of thrown them into the deep end as they’ve only just started with us, and they did a brilliant job. We also used the opportunity to support Good Things Foundation #getonlineweek and to talk to colleagues about their use of Google (we’ve rolled this out across Hackney Council over the summer).

a picture of our ICT stand

6. We had several great show and tells this week – including one from our IT security colleagues all about the work they’re doing to keep our systems and our data secure and safe and one from Ayup and London Borough of Kingston about their work on social prescribing.

Mac and Keith and all things security.

What I read this week:

Two blog posts from Matt Edgar — both of them about asking the right questions, and empowering teams to ask them too.

“the moment we start prescribing policies and freezing repeatable business processes, we limit the capacity of those involved to add the human value that comes from being, well, people-centred in the first place”


This from Coco Chan about #silentcamp was excellent:


And also this from Giles Turnbull — great advice:

*right = balanced, paced and time to think between meetings. And time for exercise built in which is really important to me, to enable sustainable effort.


Weeknotes 34: the (empowered) team is the unit of delivery

This week has been an awesome* week, where loads of great stuff happened with various teams – and I think I balanced work/home/life pretty well. Those weeks don’t happen very often — and when they do I think we should celebrate them.

So — 5 great things that happened this week

This is possibly one of the best stickers ever. #DeliverCon18 — Gather.
  1. We went to #DeliverCon18*. We, being the delivery team, including our new apprentices Hidayat and Emma, and our newest team member (so new she hasn’t started yet) Philippa Newis. It was a great gathering of agile delivery managers from across government, sharing tips, ideas and thoughts in a really well organised unconference. Well done Ian Ames, James Arthur Cattell and all the volunteers who made it happen. There were some brilliant sessions — including one pitched by Hidayat that Beverly Byford from DWP Digital wrote up here:


Nic and I both gave lightning talks — Nic on pipeline and me on Governance so good, people prefer to use it. Both went well – and we got lots of questions and interest afterwards.

2. The small team who’ve been looking at our mobile data contract got together for a last sprint planning session. We’re tying everything up now — documenting the processes we’ve come up with, and making sure we’ve captured all the insights we’ve learnt from the users and the data. It’s been great working with them all — and I’m quite sad that the discovery phase has come to an end.

3. However — we kickstarted a new discovery phase into another of our large contracts this week so we got together with colleagues from our support team to start to plan that out. It was great to work with some new people — Jacky, Colin and Michael, to figure out what we need to look at so that we can to better understand our data, customer behaviour and what our quick wins might be.

4. This week we held the first of 5 service assessments we’re holding in the run up to Christmas — this one on our managing rent arrears service. Dennis and Soraya did a great job of presenting the work of the team, and organising the panel. Colleagues from Southwark provided external challenge, whilst delivery team colleagues provided internal challenge. It was great to see the high quality of the work the team have done, and their openness and positive attitude to learning. We’ll post the full assessment on HackIT this week, alongside our other assessments so that everyone can see what we’ve been doing, the challenges we’ve faced and how we’ve dealt with them.

5. Matthew Cain and I spent Friday working on a short course for colleagues on agile, lean and user centred design. It was great to work with him on it — and it was brilliant to get down on paper what we’ve been thinking. The first pilot where we’ll test it is in November, which gives us a very real deadline to get it ready. . .

We’re going to need help from the wider team to actually deliver it — pulling them and their expertise in so that we’re sharing our knowledge and skills with colleagues.

What I read this week

Matthew Cain wrote a fantastic blog post about end to end services rather than transactions. Gavin Elliott wrote a great piece this week about culture — creating functioning environments. Tom Loosemore wrote a thoughtful piece about Internet-era ways of working. All of these are helping me think about how we can deliver better at HackIT.

I really liked this from Sam Villis on #weeknotes styles — a thoughtful guide to give you ideas if you’re thinking about writing them and aren’t sure where to start:


and finally this from the ever brilliant Emily Webber. Absolutely agree, if we mean people let’s say people, if we mean things, let’s say things. . .

Emily Webber — should I say resources? Answer: no

What I learnt this week:

Writing about when things dont go well is important too. Ian Ames #weeknotes were honest, insightful and useful**.


*Dark early mornings: 0, Swimming:1. Pool is quieter and still awesome.

**And I got to meet him, finally!

Weeknotes 33: inspiration, accessibility and sharing our work

Quite a week — where lots of things happened*, and some things didn’t because I had to let them go . . .

5 (great) things that happened

  1. Mike Bracken came to talk to us — brilliant talk, really engaging and inspiring. There were some great questions from the team — and encouragement from Mike for the work we’re doing. Our design team have done a fantastic job of inviting external speakers, running pop ups and talks this week, including an accessibility pop up where staff can experience what it’s like to access online services with a variety of access issues. I particularly liked the creative taping of buttons to Hidayat’s fingers to mimic mobility problems. (Hidayat started with us this week as one of our two delivery apprentices — it was great to welcome him to the team.)

acessibility pop up — in the pic the team are testing different ways of accessing services

2. I went to #mapcamp2018 along with my colleague Kameel. We split the day between us — I was there in the afternoon which meant I got to hear great talks by the awesome Janet Hughes, Dr Sal Freudenberg and Danielle Haugedal-Wilson. It was inspiring stuff — and as a result Kameel and I are planning to try some Wardley mapping together.

3. I’ve been working with a small team over the last few weeks looking at our use of mobile data, and how we might use agile methodology and user insight to inform our future contract management and procurement. It’s been brilliant working with them all — this week they did a presentation to the rest of their colleagues about what we’ve done, how we did it, and what we’ve learnt. I know they were all nervous — and they did a fab job. Loads of great questions from colleagues — and a chance to share our work with each other.

Show and tell — Anwar, Karim and Stephen presenting

4. I had a great call with Katie and Joash from Amazon Web Services (AWS) about the support they’re offering for our apprentices — there are loads of great ideas which we’ve focussed down into three main areas: support in building a digital career, job shadowing with AWS, and mentoring/skills workshops for women (building on work they’re already doing around diversifying talent in tech).

5. We had our regular leadership team meeting which was an opportunity for me to explain my thinking about how we might approach contract management and strategic procurement. I’m planning to use a discovery focus with a small agile team for a key contract each month so that we better understand the user needs, our current data and processes, and the commercial landscape before we think about procurement. I think this is the right approach — but we’ll only know when we’ve tried it a couple of times.

1 (great) thing that happened that I missed

Dan Barrett and lots of other brilliant weeknoters met up in Bristol. I’d had it in my diary for ages but a combination of work things plus domestic ones* meant that, in rare moment of diary sensibleness, I had to let go of it. I really missed being there though.


What I read this week

This thoughtful blog post from Cassie Robinson. who’s moving on to the Big Lottery Fund from Doteveryone. She’s awesome – one of the first people I met in my previous role, super supportive and insightful.

View at Medium.com

Following my post about Governance so good, people prefer to use it several people tweeted/messaged me about further blog posts and articles that I hadn’t seen yet (thank you!): including this one from Kent Aitken from Canada’s Public Policy forum

View at Medium.com

What I learnt this week

I learnt quite a bit about Wardley mapping — and am inspired enough that I’ve signed up for the online course from Leading Edge forum.

I’ve also started a night class at City Lit in Dutch** — this week was about numbers and I thought I’d share this wonderful video which was part of the course material. Clever and engaging . . .

*not all of it work, and included flooding and emergency building work

** when One Team Gov Netherlands is ready to go, I’m there ready to help them.

Weeknotes 32: making work visible – using snakes, data, whiteboards and weeknotes

A really interesting week – where lots of different strands of work came together, and we had some brilliant team discussions and focus.

6 (great) things that happened this week

  1. Our first two apprentices started and seem to have settled in quickly. The rest are joining us over the next few weeks – we’re partnering with Ada College for some of our apprenticeships and they came in this week to explain how the course works, and what’s expected of us as employers.
  2. The ICT survey I’ve been working on closed this week – with over 650 responses it’s going to give us useful insight into how we’re doing against our key objectives. Equally usefully it’ll tell where we need to focus next. Now I need to work with Joe in our data team to generate useful, visual insight that we can share and work with. Joe’s got some exciting ideas for analysing the free text responses and comparing them to other factors which will build up a really good picture for us. I’m really lucky to get to work with colleagues like him, experts in their field.
  3. The delivery team had a couple of ‘how might we’ sessions this week – looking at how we’re going to run service assessments (we’ve committed to running 5 in the next 3 months), and how we might improve how we start a project. Both of these were really interesting – lots of ideas and energy from a relatively new team. We’re all* going to DeliverCon in October where we’ll be pitching some sessions to our colleagues from across government.

4. Our platform teams had a backlog busting week (as well as dealing with a unplanned relocation issue). They worked really hard to do this – and I think felt supported by the rest of us. Susan and I rolled up our sleeves, got all Blue Peter ish and made their work visible as our contribution:

It got people talking about the work they were doing, and why (which was the intention). It reminded me how important it is to make the work of the team visible – this can be difficult if there’s a lack of wall space.**

5. My colleague henry lewis wrote his first blog post on medium. This is ace – and it’s great. He writes about the sort of work that often goes unnoticed, but that is completely and utterly vital in meeting the needs of users in a modern workplace.

6. Nic worked incredibly hard all week to make sure that the new pipeline tool went live on Friday. This has been a really interesting project – working collaboratively to take an existing product from @localgovdigital and build on it. We’ll be using it now to openly show our flow of work from ideas to live so that we can generate collaboration and share learning. It’s a key part of our approach to governance which I’ve blogged about here this week as well


What I struggled with this week

It’s autumn. Yes I know it’s all beautiful leaves and crisp mornings, etc etc. But – its still not summer, it’s cold in the mornings and it’s getting darker earlier. Winter is definitely coming and I’m not a fan.***


I also gave my first strategy stand up talk – on governance. Like a lot of people I find speaking in public nerve wracking – but what I’ve learnt is that if I prepare well, remember to breathe and just actually do it, it’s ok. Actually that’s probably good advice for most things come to think of it.

*including our two new apprentices Hidyat and Emma, and our new senior delivery manager Philippa Newis who starts officially with us at the end of October. 💪

**but it turns out a concrete pillar is perfect for post its.

***I swam though. And that helped. It wasn’t as cold as I imagined it might be


Why Governance is good

(or, why the right governance is good and how we’re approaching it at HackIT)

Governance as a service — governance so good, people prefer to use it

At HackIT we’ve been thinking about how we run ourselves, and our work. I’ve been looking at what we need to do next to iterate our approach to governance. Our HackIT manifesto already sets out our key principles — and there’s been lots of work done to remove some tortuous processes that weren’t working for us.

We’ve already opened up our work, use the local gov digital standards as a benchmark, have adopted the GDS tech code of practice to guide us, introduced pair programming and test driven development, and we’re using agile principles and rhythms to deliver value early, and increase pace of delivery.

But the team is changing and developing — new people are joining us from all sorts of different organisations (and we have 21 new apprentices starting). We need to be able to scale, develop and embed our approach effectively — recognising that we’ll learn along the way and we’ll want to adapt it as we go.

Why is governance important to us?

Governance helps us maximise the flow of valuable work. That’s basically its purpose — with three main functions:

  • Coordinate what we’re doing and stop doing stuff, so we can go faster
  • Focus our people and money, so we can deliver what matters
  • Answer the question “How’s it going?”

My hypothesis is that we don’t need more governance. But because we are scaling a new approach to working using agile we do need to be really clear about what we’re doing and why, communicate it well, and keep checking in with ourselves to make sure it’s effective.


We’ve got some governance principles to help us get this right:

  • Work in the open by default — because that enables us to reduce formal governance
  • Most decisions should be made at team level — that’s where the best information is
  • When a decision impacts more than one team — teams are responsible for discussing and agreeing what to do between them
  • Where a decision impacts us all — we need to discuss that more formally at a senior level
  • Clear protocols and guidance help us so we avoid overwriting each other’s decisions.

We’re still working on some of our protocols and guidance — for instance around our data strategy and our API strategy — and some, such as the GDS tech code of practice, and the local government service standard we’ve already adopted because we know they work.

What are we doing next?

We’re going to clearly delegate responsibility and decision making to team level wherever possible. To support our teams we’ll focus on growing key skills and behaviours around leadership, decision making, working in the open and use of evidence. As a senior team we’re committing to regularly and clearly communicating our approach including how we feel about risk.

These are big commitments and we know we can’t do everything at once. So over the next three months we’ve decided the focus will be on:

  • Using the updated Pipeline tool that went live this week to openly show the flow of our work
  • Running 5 service assessments, learning from doing these so that we know what our change process (production into live support) might look like in the future
  • Carrying out a discovery phase on a next iteration of our Hackney Agile Lifecycle to support our understanding of and narrative about our governance approach
  • Building a strategic procurement plan using data and insight from our contracts register

Standing on the shoulders of giants

Some really clever and thoughtful people have done great work on agile, governance and working at pace. Here’s my curation of some of the best blog posts/articles I’ve read, along with my thanks to all of them for sharing their work so openly:

Governance for service delivery

Governance for service delivery

Governance for service delivery

Governance for service delivery

Governance for service delivery

Governance for service delivery

Governance for service delivery

Governance for service delivery

Governance for service delivery

Governance for service delivery

Governance for service delivery

Governance for service delivery

Governance for service delivery

Governance for service delivery

Governance for service delivery