S2 Ep5: taking an overview

Although a short week (thankyou bank holiday 🙂 ), a lot was packed into the four days. I had some time to take a bit of a step back and think about the bigger picture as well, including some time with Rob Miller, thinking about how we’ll set ourselves up for success with our strategic budget management this year. This is really useful — it’s one of my learning goals from this role at Hackney to improve my understanding and skills in wider financial planning and investments.

5 (great) things that happened this week*

Our current portfolio wall
Our protoype portfolio wall . . .
  1. I did some more thinking about how we might have better conversations about all the work we’re doing, and what we therefore need from each other across the teams. I didn’t make as much progress on this as I wanted to, other things popped up that distracted my attention. But I have some good ideas to try out in the next few weeks, that I think will help smooth delivery – we’ll see if they work.

2. Soraya, one of our delivery managers, led an excellent show and tell this week on our Manage Arrears service. It’s an internal facing service that will enable the team in housing to spend more time helping residents, and less time on administrative tasks. It uses gov.notify, our APIs, and GDS design patterns to enable us to push the current legacy systems into the background and make better use of our existing data. It was an excellent show and tell because

  • Sarah – one of the users, talked about how it’s working for her
  • There was a demo of the thing
  • The team talked about the bugs and issues they’ve fixed over the last two weeks, and what they still need to do.

3. I ran an unstuck meeting (thanks to spydergrrl for the idea). It started out as a ‘how do we make it easier for ourselves to attract great people inside IR35 when we need someone for a thing quickly’ conversation but quickly became a good conversation about recruitment generally. We’ve come up with several ideas that we will try out – and it was great to have the right people round the table to contribute and take action.

Hackney 100 leaflet
Hackney 100 leaflet

4. Keith, Mercy, Hidayat and I met to progress our contribution to the Hackney 100 programme. This is a paid work experience programme for young people in Hackney — and we’re hosting 4–5 placements over this year. Mercy and Hidayat are two of our current apprentices and they’re taking on responsibility for organising the placements in their teams. Keith and his team are also offering a supported placement to a young person with autism, part of Hackney 100’s inclusivity work.

Keith and Mal talking about their team approach to learning
Keith and Mal talking about their team approach to learning

5. Keith and Mal delivered our weekly strategy show and tell this week – talking about their teams’ approach to learning. They’ve taken a planned and open approach – emphasising the importance of collaboration and working in the open. I really liked the team’s focus on learning outside of current job roles — and thinking about what skills they’ll need for the future.

What I read this week:

This from Chris Harper about Barnado’s new intranet:Inside.Barnardos: The Intranet Without Walls
How and why Barnardo’s opened up its new intranet to the world.link.medium.com

And this from Rosalyn Hewitt at Addaction about their ambition for designing services for a digital age:How do we design recovery services for the digital age?
Only a small number of people who need drug and alcohol services access them. How can we change the way we provide…link.medium.com

Also this** (but worth noting — this content is behind Medium’s paywall so will count towards the number of free articles you can access in a month.) The link between well being and exercise is clear, and I know that it’s an important one for me. I hadn’t thought much about the link between practice and persistence in exercise and in work (and life) though.Working Out Is Powerful Brain Training
Life is hard, and you’ll be better off if you practice doing hard things – like making your body purposefully…link.medium.com

What I (started) to learn this week:

On Friday I listened to some Made Tech academy graduates talk about their final project at an event we’d organised to support the graduates and our apprentices to learn more about each other’s work, and start to build their professional networks. The team talked about using clean architecture in their project — and gave a good explanation as to what it meant. I think I understand, but I’m going to read up a bit more and ask some colleagues about it so that I’m confident I’ve understood it.

visual diagram of clean architecture
visual diagram of clean architecture

*sometimes I find it hard to stick to just 5, and it doesn’t mean that other things aren’t great too. But it does work as a way of getting me to focus on key things (and keeps my weeknotes shorter too).

**am pretty proud of my own ability to crow pose tbh.

S2 Ep4 – thinking out loud

London’s amazing circular green walk

I’m writing this at the end of a beautiful bank holiday — full of sunshine, and being outdoors. On Sunday I discovered a new walk* from Highgate to Hackney Wick, part of the Capital Ring. It took me past new parts of Hackney I hadn’t seen before and to some old haunts as well.

5 things that happened last week (before the bank holiday!)

  1. The unit of delivery is the Team. I’ve been thinking a lot about teams recently — what makes them work well, what stops them and how to support them. There’s lots of focus on individuals, talent, skills leadership etc. but what about how individuals succeed within a team? We’re all often part of more than one team at any one time — maybe a project team, a leadership team, a professional community of practice. This week I spent some time talking to other people outside of Hackney working in a similar space which gave me the opportunity to step back from the day to day and think out loud about the journey we’re on. And I spotted this on twitter — about team safety:
Tweet from @mrcthompson -checklist for safety in a team

2. Bureaucracy Hack. We didn’t meet this week because bank holiday, so technically not a thing that happened this week but I’m including anyway because applications for the ticket lottery close soon — and I’m really keen to see lots of local gov people there.OneTeamGov bureaucracy hack
Join us at our #bureaucracyhack and help solve problems that will make our working lives easier and let us focus on the…www.oneteamgov.uk

3. We had our regular IT security meeting — these are always really interesting, and I learn loads about the work of the team, and how they’re working with all the teams to make sure that security is baked into everyone’s work. It’s a key strand of the service assessment work we’re doing — so it’s good to see different teams collaborating on the topic from different angles.

4. Matthew and I spent some time thinking about our pipeline of work — what it’s looking like today. We’ve got a budding physical wall developing (as well as publishing everything on pipeline), and with advice from Giulia Merlo I’ve got plans with Nic, our lead delivery manager, to develop it into the next iteration. Pipeline will always be where we’ll publish our work openly, but we also need to be able to visualise our programme of work in the office.

5. I ended the week with a useful discussion with henry lewis and Colin, one of our service team managers, about the sort of support arrangements we want to specify in our new printing on demand contract. It’s an opportunity to do things differently — and work out where it makes sense to have things in house, and what to outsource**.

What I read this week:

This, from Tom Scott, Head of Digital at Wellcome Collection on measuring performance:Data informed not data driven
Performance Indicators are an important ingredient in how we design Wellcome Collection’s digital services. But being…link.medium.com

This, from Chris Harper at Barnados about their open intranet:Inside.Barnardos: The Intranet Without Walls
How and why Barnardo’s opened up its new intranet to the world.blog.barnar.do

I really liked this from @jukesie on service assessments, echoing a lot of what we’ve been thinking about at Hackney. We use the local digital service standard, and they are not gateway assessments — but we are trying to make sure that we take the best from independent peer review, teams having the chance to show their work in a safe, but challenging environment.Trust but verify: reimagining service assessments
I find myself in an interesting position at the moment. A client has just significantly rebooted their portfolio of DDaT…link.medium.com

My (work reading) book at the moment is The Entrepreneurial State by Maria Mazzucato. I’m only on chapter two but it’s great so far.

*it turns out, quite a long walk. not sure the TfL website is entirely accurate . . .

**I also learnt what firmware is. Always learning new things, that’s (one of the many things) I love about this job.

S2 Ep3: doing the things that scare you

This week had all the elements of a great week at work — some things that felt easy (well in my comfort zone), some new things, where I learnt from others, and a couple of things that needed a deep breath . . .

Clefairy karaoke

5 great things that happened this week:

  1. henry lewis and I had a brilliant chat about all things printing which really helped me work out what I needed to do next, tested some of my assumptions I’d made, and generally I got great advice from a colleague. Printing is my life* at the moment, as we get the procurement ready for a new contract for on demand printing across the council. Karim and I have been working together this week through our checklist of ‘things that we mustn’t miss’.
  2. I spent Thursday morning at Cancer Research UK talking to Chris, their head of content, and Giulia Merlo, service design lead. Both chats were incredibly useful — Chris has been instrumental in setting up their blog and podcast (Cancer Research UK Tech Team), and Giulia is always a source of inspiration and advice — this time around how we might make our portfolio of work more visible, why, and what impact that might have. She’s also offered to be an assessor for us for one of our upcoming service assessments, which is fab.
  3. Kylie Havelock asked me if I’d be a guest on the One Team Gov podcast, and before I could back out I said yes. So on Wednesday I found myself having a really interesting chat with Kylie and her co host Kamala (who was joining from New Zealand). I was pretty nervous but they did a great job of making it feel relaxed.

4. I had an early planning meeting for women in tech week with one of our councillors, Carole Williams and Dujon from our employment and skills team. We’d really like to do something that showcases opportunities in Hackney, and inspires women in Hackney to think about roles in digital and technology. We have a few months to plan and prepare — and lots of ideas!

5. Maariyah came along to film for a video that’s promoting the Hackney 100 scheme. As a team we’re hosting 4–5 placements this year — it’s a great thing for us to do, and it’s one way of starting to build a network of interested candidates for when we recruit our second cohort of apprentices. Being filmed isn’t something I really enjoy* but the scheme is one that is definately worth promoting to employers in Hackney and to young people who might want to take part.

What I read this week:

This paper from Angelica Quicksey was an interesting read about service design, and it’s role in public services:Service Design for Public Policy
Originally researched and written as part of an independent study for the Harvard Graduate School of Design.link.medium.com

I really liked this piece from Emma Mulqueeny OBE on agile and governance, and the need to rethink our traditional approach:The final frontier in agile public services
This article has been published in the March 2019 edition of the Investigo Public Sector Insight Magazine. From the time…link.medium.com

*my colleagues may be a little bit bored of hearing about it, tbh.

**that’s an understatement but — as with most things, it’s getting easier with practice.

S2 Ep2 – are we nearly at spring?

Tulips, easily my favourite flower

It’s hard to tell – blossom everywhere, the magnolias are out — and there are hailstones. Welcome to April.


obligatory group photo — me, Prateek and Rebecca

I started the week with a couple of visitors from Dept of Culture, Media and Sport. Prateek Buch and Rebecca came to shadow me for the day – really interesting (I’ve never been shadowed before). I’d taken it very literally so didn’t leave their side all day, taking them to every meeting (including lunch with my son who’s home from uni and was studying in the library nearby). Listening to their questions, and discussing what we’re doing and why at Hackney was enormously useful to all of us.*


More visitors on Tuesday – this time Nabeeha Ahmed from Ministry of Justice who came in to talk to us about her research into discovery projects at MOJ and their approach to assessments. Nabeeha wrote a great blog post, and that sparked me getting in touch with her. This is one of the many things I love about working in the open — the sharing of experience and thinking, and the joining up of people across organisations. Ministry of Justice’s context is quite different to ours but that’s what makes it thought provoking, hearing from different experiences.6 Thoughts from Fifteen Discoveries
18 months ago I initiated a review process for product discoveries at the Ministry of Justice. It’s been an eye-opening…medium.com

Martin Chaney came over as well— he’s been leading the way on service assessments at the Greater London Authority so was also interested in hearing from Nabeeha. We caught up with Richard, our lead researcher to talk about our user research library and our different approaches to publishing our research.


our brilliant new delivery manager, Bea

Bea ran a retro for the iPad sims swap team. Stephen, Jackie, Eko and Karim are our contracts and procurement team but over the past few weeks they’ve been working with Philippa Newis as their agile coach/delivery manager and lots of volunteers from ICT to deliver a replacement SIM card to every tablet device. They’ve swapped over 700 in a short space of time, and the impact of their work is that we’ll be spending much less on a better service for our users. The end of project retro was a great opportunity for the team to take a breath and reflect on what had made it a success – teamwork, and what they’ve learnt – engaging with other teams early and often is vital.


A slightly nerve wracking day — I was speaking at #agileinthecity and public speaking still makes me nervous, although I am getting better at both preparing, and delivering. It went really well — and I even managed to get the live Q&A on the google slides working**. We had a good conversation in the room, and I had some great feedback afterwards

There were lots of interesting speakers at the event including a keynote from Steve Smith on continuous delivery — thinking about designing for resilience not robustness, and organisational scar tissue — the processes or things we’ve put in place because something went wrong before, but then have just become habit.

I saw this tweet on Thursday as well:Unstuck meetings

I really like the idea of doing this — and titling them as ‘unstuck’ so that colleagues know what’s expected of them. I’m going to try using this and see what happens — I’m stuck on a couple of things at the moment where this could help.


I spent the morning again at #agileinthecity conference listening to two sessions. Cat Swetel from Ticketmaster talking about the benefits of sharing OKRs openly, the dangers of ‘othering’ teams (using ‘they did this, they did that’ to create or reinforce silos). And Valerie McLean’s great talk about People are precious, time is the resource. Later on back at the office I took part in some user testing with Micah — looking how we might use Microsoft’s single sign on solution, and got to see the exciting work that We are Snook have been doing with us on planning.

Demonstrating the complexity of planning applications . . .

What I read this week:

This from John Fitzpatrick was beautiful — an open homage to colleagues, with passion and purpose. This is why we work in the public sector:“2 Years in the Grip of the Justice System”
A place where words matterrsci.app.link

I really liked this clear and engaging post from Thinkaction Hannah at Addaction on making changes to a service for it’s users:How small changes can help us support more people
Sometimes the biggest, most revolutionary changes are achieved by changing just one small thing at a time.medium.com

and this from Vimla Appadoo about designing whole services:Why digital is a service enabler, not a service solution
I’m going to start this blog off with a little diagram and then I’ll explain my thinking.I’m going to start this blog…medium.com

Rebecca at Croydon wrote about her own experiences of running a PMO and the dangers of box ticking . . .Embracing change: the agile PMO
If you asked someone what their definition of a PMO was, you’d probably get a wide variety of answers. Some responses…croydon.digital

And last but not least from the ace Louise Cato a fantastic public resource — a list of recommended books. Thanks Louise this is so helpful!Trello
Organize anything, together. Trello is a collaboration tool that organizes your projects into boards. In one glance,…trello.com

*thinking about it I probably should have given them a break from me . . .

**because adding in some extra tech at the last minute is always guaranteed to make it easier

Series 2 Episode 1 (S2Ep1) — back after a short break

I’ve had a few days off over the past fortnight — an opportunity to recharge and spend time with family. I was back at work this week though, and am starting a new series of #weeknotes*.

So, what happened this week?

  1. We’re working hard on the procurement of new printer and scanners for Hackney. This week we started working on all the documentation we’ll need for the procurement itself — we’re using the user stories we’ve developed as a result of the work the team have been doing analysing usage, talking to users and thinking about our Printing as a service. Using google docs is making collaboration between us much easier but there’s still a lot of information to gather, and plenty to do.
  2. Soraya and the Manage Arrears project team did a great show and tell — they’ve linked up with gov.notify and received their first sample letter. Now they need to integrate the new API that’s being built so that they can connect to live data and the income collection team will be all set to start using the system instead of relying on spreadsheets and mail merges.
API show and tell

3. The API factory team held a show and tell this week — explaining what they’re going to tackle first and why. And they’ve started producing weeknotes — they’re experimenting with using short videos instead of writing them**

4. I spent some time this week thinking about goals for the next quarter — taking a step back to the bigger themes of our work and then working out where we can focus in order to deliver the most impact.

5. Matthew ran an interesting session looking back at this quarter — using a retro style to engage us in talking about how the last 3 months have gone, the impact of what’s been delivered, what we’ve been learning and how it’s felt. As an exercise it was really useful, and great to talk to colleagues in other teams who I don’t always see regularly.

6. I gave myself time to write content for my talk on Governance so good, people prefer to use it at the Agile in City conference next week. I’m really excited to be presenting, and nervous, but I am getting better at preparing ahead of time.

7. I also spent some time planning a workshop for our HackIT leadership network — we’re going to spend some time together looking at why we work in the open, how we can support each other and encourage and support our teams to do so. I’ve been browsing the Liberating Structures material and thinking about how we might use their design elements to make for an engaging and successful workshop.***

What I read this week:

This from Richard Pope on Government as a platform . . .Government as a Platform, the hard problems: part 1 - Introduction
Government as a Platform is the approach of reorganizing the work of government around a network of shared APIs,…link.medium.com

This lovely piece from Nadine, our data apprentice, on international women’s day, (thanks Nadine!)#WeMadeIt: International Womens Day – Everyday Women Doing Great Things
WeMadeIt: International Women’s Day – Everyday Women Doing Great Things International Women’s Day is a special day, a…www.you-make-it.org

This from the awesome Rebecca Kemp about why how you represent your users is important:User needs: don’t go to Chino
The concept ‘don’t go to Chino’ may be my most significant intellectual contribution to GDS and digital transformation,…rebeccaindustries.com

This from the team at Southwark Council on their work (great to see them publishing in the open)Planning back office
Continuing Planning Officer user interviews across the wider council landscape, continuing with Haringey Council and…www.southwark.gov.uk

This from Harvard Business Review on productive conflict, had some useful advice about harnessing healthy tensions in teams:An Exercise to Help Your Team Feel More Comfortable with Conflict
Executive Summary The ability to get issues on the table and work through them constructively is critical to having a…hbr.org

and this from Suzanne Gibbs Howard on ambiguity:4 Tips for Navigating Ambiguity
“Teams can only handle ambiguity if there’s high trust.” -Suzanne Gibbs Howard, Dean of IDEO U Ambiguity makes people…www.ideou.com

and finally I finished this by Hilary Cottam (thanks for the recommend Audree Fletcher). I really enjoyed this book — both inspiring and thought provoking

Picture of Radical Help, Hilary Cottam

*I’m also experimenting with my own blogging platform, in part this was sparked by my husband’s genius(?) use of our surname ending in ‘in’. It’s a work in progress (so far I’ve downloaded my medium content and played around with a theme) — I’m not sure what I might do with it, if anything. I’m learning loads as I go though, including just how much time I can spend looking for the right header image. . .or the right Pokemon gif for that matter . . .

**all of our project weeknotes and updates are on pipeline so that we’re working in the open.

***I’m thinking about running this team building session. It involves chocolate, what’s not to like?