Weeknotes 40: bumper edition

I didn’t write any actual weeknotes last week — instead I had a go at writing This is how I work . . . give or take. I had some lovely feedback to that blog post both from colleagues at Hackney and wider. There’s a collection of them here if you’re interested:


Now I’m attempting to squish two weeks into one, with 6 (great) things that happened this fortnight.

  1. We published two more service assessments. This is brilliant for lots of reasons. We’d committed to running 5 before the end of December and then reviewing our approach as part of how we’re approaching governance as a service. We’ve run 4 so far so we’re doing well. One of the teams decided to take a different approach to how they prepared and demonstrated their evidence which was ace because it means we’ve tried something different. We had external assessors from GLA and LGSS (thanks Michelle and Josie), and we’ve iterated how we brief assessors so that we support them better. Lastly — publishing them is part of our commitment to working in the open — which I’m really passionate about. Kahar and I had a brilliant chat with Hattie from BEIS about what it’s like to be a GDS assessor so that we could glean some top tips from her on what a great service assessment feels like as an assessor. In December we’re running our final one of the five, and then as a team we’re going to review and iterate how we organise, run and publish them in 2019.


2. I spent the day at MCHLG’s ‘vendor declaration project co-design day’ with a host of interesting and engaged people — looking at how we might design ways for suppliers to support the local digital declaration.

3. We kick started our discovery into printing as a service – we’re looking at how we’re currently using our multi functional devices across the council. This sprint we’re planning out our user research and looking at the data we have already. This is part of how as a team I want us to approach procurement and contract management — using agile methods and a user centred approach to join up the skills and knowledge in different teams to problem solve.

4. I worked with Emilia, Chris and Warren to pull together our discovery bid for the MHCLG local digital fund – looking at how we might build capability in digital commissioning and supplier relationship management. Fingers crossed we’re successful. As a team at Hackney we’re either leading or partnering on several bids – it’s been great to see so many people collaborating on shared problems. Esko Reinikainen and his team have produced an interesting network map from the data published so far:


5. Matthew Cain and I spent time prepping for the agile training we’re running this week. I think it’s shaping up really well, but it’s still an experiment in time/content/effort/participation* which won’t necessarily all work perfectly first time (and that’s ok). We’ve also roped in some colleagues to help us deliver it (thanks in advance to Rahma Mohamed Philippa, Nic, Emma and Marian.)


6. Our apprenticeship programme is coming together nicely – all 21 have started now and we’re working closely with the 3 training providers to make sure they’re up and running on working towards their qualifications. This week two apprentices have gone to work for a couple of hours a day with adult social care on a data project – it’s been great to be able to help out another team and it’ll give Bruno and Micah a really good insight into that service, spend some time with users and understand more about how the team uses data and evidence to design services for the future. Philip Glanville the Mayor of Hackney, came to meet the teams this week – and spoke passionately about creating apprenticeship opportunities in the borough. I’ve also been working with Amazon to design a wider building a digital career event for our apprentices in December and Hackney and Amazon are also jointly hosting an event for local employers in a couple of weeks:

Philip Glanville talking to some of our apprentices

What I read this week:

Hattie gave me a link to a great post about seeing feedback as a gift:


and Richard McLean pointed me in the direction of this (which reminded me to finish reading Accelerate**).


Cassie Robinson. wrote weeknotes about her new role – I really liked their open, iterative approach to what they’re doing:


and this just made me laugh out loud***.

Last but not least this – a sensible and clearly written reminder about how users see services:


*I was distracted by the new Jack Reacher book. I know.

**this includes a big tin of good biscuits and decent coffee.


Weeknotes 39: This is how I work… give or take

Location: London. I really love living and working in London. 
Current Gig: Head of Delivery for ICT, London Borough of Hackney 
Current mobile device: iphone 8
Current computer: Ipad (work) and a MacBook Air (home). We have chrome boxes on the desks as well.
One word that best describes how you work: openly

First of all, tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.

I have an undergraduate degree in Dutch. Yes that’s right. I started out in publishing as a typesetter and print manager*, then moved into media handling and website management in my first government role at OfTel (now OfCom). I worked at the Local Government Commission for England as the Head of PR and Communications where I collaborated with the University of London Computer Centre and Ordnance Survey on some very early online mapping of ward boundaries. After that I worked at the Cabinet Office — government comms standards and communities, Home Office — corporate comms, and at Acas as Head of Communications. Those last 3 jobs I job shared with the awesome Michelle Bayley, a brilliantly effective partnership, and hopefully in a ‘role model for a younger generation of working parents’ sort of way. All things comes to an end eventually though and I moved on to develop and lead Acas’ digital innovation team. And now I’m at Hackney.

Take us through a recent workday.

I tend to be up at 0630 and out of the door by 0700. I catch the train to Hackney Central and am at my desk around 0800. Once a week I get up earlier and swim first at London Fields Lido. Having the lido behind the office is an enormous joy. I usually check my diary on the way to work to scan what I need to focus on that day and answer any straightforward emails.

When I get to the office I try to write out my daily goals before I do anything else. I don’t always succeed. This is something that I learnt from reading Getting results the agile way, by J.D Meier. When I do remember/make time to do this it’s really helpful — and at the end of the week I check back to see how I’ve done against them.

Most days are a mix of conversations, meetings and reading/writing. We have show and tells for our projects and I try to make sure that I get to as many as possible each week — they’re the best way for me to know what’s happening each sprint and hear from the teams about how it’s going. I also have regular chats with my team, and with Rob, Henry and Matthew so that we’re making sure we’re keeping in touch about what we’re doing and sharing ideas. We all work openly which I think really helps to foster collaboration and also useful challenge. And we hot desk — the advantage for me is that I sit next to different people all the time, and that generates interesting conversations too.

I try to make sure that I spend some time outside at lunchtime — I’d love to be someone who brought their own lunch but I’ve never really managed it.


I also try to schedule in some keep free time so that I can focus on longer term projects and plan ahead. In the afternoons sometimes I’ll sit in a beanbag rather than a desk, especially if there’s a sunny patch near a window**.

By 1730 I’m usually on my way home or out to a yoga class. The train journey home is useful for catching up on emails/reading.

I started writing weeknotes earlier this year and I’m finding them a great way to reflect on my week, and work more openly.

What apps, gadgets, or tools can’t you live without?

My phone

Sharpies and post its. I know it’s a cliche.

Apps: Monzo.

What’s your best shortcut or life hack?

I’m not sure. Life is very busy most of the time so I probably have lots that I don’t even realise I’m doing. We have a family what’s app group that’s a really useful way to quickly sort out family admin/plans/find out where everyone is. Work wise I’d say it’s applying the so that? to any request for a thing/meeting, it never fails to start a good conversation.

Take us through an interesting, unusual, or finicky process you have in place at work.

Our online HR system has two separate log ins depending on if you’re doing something for yourself or something as a manager. So if you’re authorising someone’s leave, and that reminds you to book your own you have to log out and log back in again separately. I’m not sure what the user need is behind that, but it is finicky. ***

How do you keep track of what you have to do?

Trello. My Calendar. And in my head.

What’s your favourite side project?

ThisGirlTechs. I’m working on this with Gurpreet Sehmi and Christina Hammond-Aziz which is awesome in itself. We want to inspire disadvantaged girls into digital and tech roles by connecting opportunities we can generate through our networks to year 10 girls looking for work experience. I think we’ve just signed up our first pilot school which is very exciting.

What are you currently reading, or what do you recommend?

Fiction wise – I’ve just finished A line becomes a river, by Francisco Cantù. Beautifully written, and informative.

Work wise – I recommend anything written by Janet Hughes, Kit Collingwood or Richard McLean and in terms of books I’m currently reading Accelerate by Nicole Forsgren and Jez Humble.

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?

I’d like to see more people working in local authorities writing about what they’re doing generally.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Be bold. Thanks Janet.

*a mix of Terry Pratchett books and Cats and Kitten in Counted Cross Stitch. I kid you not.

** I know this makes me sound a bit like a cat. Light is really important to me so come winter I try to find as many opportunities as possible to be in sunshine.

***writing this I am now worried that this will turn out to be user error and someone will point out a really obvious shortcut I haven’t spotted.

Weeknotes 38: learning from others, shared experiences

I wrote most of these weeknotes whilst it poured with rain outside. Winter is here and I can sense that the dark mornings and evenings already have the potential to have an effect on my general well being*. There’s also been sunshine too though:

6 (great) things that happened this week:

  1. A group of us from Hackney went to the Diversity in Digital event at Parliament. There were some ace speakers on a variety of subjects, and I saw Jenny Vass and Nour Sidawi and Julie Byrne which was fabulous.

2. Britt and Diane from Food Standards Agency invited me along to their digital strategy workshop, as an external participant/observer, along with Emma Stace. It was really interesting to learn more about FSA’s challenges and think about how they might move forward as a team.

3. Kahar drafted a great MVP guide for assessors ** at Hackney (we’re using the excellent GDS guidance as our starting point — standing on the shoulders of giants. We’re testing it out next week with two separate service assessments. Assessing our work against the Digital Service Standard is a key part of our governance as a service — an opportunity for the team to share learning, discuss challenges, and provide assurance that we are building the right things, to the right standard, in the right way. Simply put — they’re a way of answering the question “How’s it going?”.

4. On Wednesday Stephen, Karim, Jackie and I (aka the contracts team) spent time with Steven from Camden talking about mobile data and print contracts. We were effectively sucking all the knowledge and recent experience from him so that we can learn from Camden’s recent successes in both of these areas. There’s lots to think about as well as opportunities for improvement in the way we provide these services at Hackney. Overall on contracts and procurement we’re taking an agile, user centred design approach to thinking about future services. Our plan is to work through an internal discovery process on key services before starting any new procurement — this month it’s our multi functional devices***. In 3 two week sprints as a cross functional team we’re going to learn more about our current service, our users needs and what the data is telling us at the moment. We think there’ll be improvements we can make to the current service as we go, as well as learning more about what’s needed in the future.

5. On Thursday Keith, our lead architect, ran an open session with his team to present the high level network design . This was a really good session, and a great example of why we open up our work to external challenge at an early stage so that we can iterate and improve. He’d invited a range of people — from other local authorities and other industries, and there were thoughtful questions and discussions as a result. I was quietly pleased to understand almost all of the conversation (there were some quite technical moments) — it’s not my background or area of expertise by any means but I’ve been reading widely, and asking questions at every opportunity so that I can learn more about it.

Keith outlining his teams‘ high level network design

6. Our regular HackIT team strategy stand up was so popular I had to peer from the back — Rashmi and her team along with Made Tech sharing their work on our APIs.

What I read this week:

This from Jonathan Kerr, I really liked this format and Dan Barrett mentioned me in his as well:


Challenge accepted. This from Amanda was excellent:


This from Alex Mecklenburg — I worked with Doteveryone in my last role at Acas on the pilot and it’s great to see the format iterate and develop:


Philippa Newis wrote a great blog about whe she wanted to join HackIT:


and Gill from our design team wrote a really useful blog post about our recent empathy lab pop up:


*this happens every year and I manage it through a combination of plenty of outdoor exercise, a light box and a Lumie light alarm clock.


**feedback on these would be awesome

***printers . . .

Weeknotes 37: the power of productive conversations

I’ve had some really productive conversations this week, where setting the conversation up with the right people, a clear outcome, and early shared understanding of the reason we’re talking has meant we’ve been able to move forward on work at pace.

5 (great) things (conversations) that happened this week:

  1. Martin Chaney and David Durant asked me over to the GLA to be part of one their service assessments. It was really good to see the approaches the GLA team are taking and an opportunity for me to learn from other teams, and think about the sorts of questions an external assessor can usefully ask. Plus — seriously they have an amazing view:

Tower Bridge at night

2. Rob Miller and I had a great conversation with Sarah Gornall, who I’m doing some coaching with as I navigate my role. I’ve worked with Sarah before, and she is awesome. Having a joint conversation really helped to set up an open and honest discussion of what I want to get from the coaching, and what benefits it will bring to HackIT.

3. I had several brilliant conversations about Governance as a service this week. First with with Rashmi, our lead developer to find out more about our API standards, and Hackney development playbook. Both of these are looking great and they’re a key part of how we’re approaching governance as a service.

Then with Ste from Citizens Advice who’d read my original blog post. We talked about everything from team empowerment to running effective meetings to Catwigs*. And finally with Warren and Emilia from GDS/Crown Commercial Service who are doing really exciting work about the bigger procurement/commercial skills picture. We’re collaborating with them both on an MCHLG local digital fund bid – a Discovery phase to understand how we might build capability in digital commercial, procurement and contract/supplier relationship management across local government. **

4. Emma Harley gave a lightening talk at MCHLG on the work we’re doing on Submit my plan. The team’s show and tell was also this week – featuring brilliant collaboration and innovation with our GIS team and our planners.


Love the innovative use of lockers to display the user journey too, which generated a good conversation about what decisions the team have made this sprint and why:

submit my plan user journey on the best bit of space available

5. Rob Miller, Joe and I chatted about the 2018 ICT survey results in more detail — and thought about what we wanted to analyse further. We need to balance what we’re just curious about against what analysis of the data will really help us move forward, and help us have useful conversations with colleagues about where we should focus next. Joe’s done some great visualisations already which we can use to start those conversations over the next few weeks.

What I read this week

This from Cassie Robinson. looking innovatively at increasing public engagement with health research:


and this from Prateek Buch on using agile principles for leadership


This from Mark Schwartz on anti-patterns — IT mental models and traditional behaviors that just don’t work well in the digital era. I particularly love the names they’ve been given . . .


Thankfully here are the potential anti dotes in the follow up blog:


*a set of cards designed to help you think about your project, not the apparent thing that is wigs for cats.

**talking of which, I’m running an experimental Wardley mapping session in December to see if we can use it to better understand our skills landscape and work out where we need to focus on building new skills in HackIT so that we are able to deliver in the future. If you’re interested** and want to help us give me a shout.

***there will be tea and cake involved.