S2 Ep8 code and decoding

It’s been a funny week – lots of great things, but also lots of frustrations, and a slight sense of overwhelm at times (see ‘What I learnt this week?’.)

yellow irises by a pond
Hampstead Heath ponds on my run this week

7 (mostly great) things that happened:

1.Monday started strong with a workshop with the contracts and procurement team – thinking about our goals for the next quarter, and what we’re going to do to help us reach them. We’d done a lot of the planning a couple of weeks ago, so it was good to recap and revisit our thinking.

2. We had our second conversation around the project wall – we’ve decided it’d be useful to have a sense of size of each project. So we’re going to use t-shirt sizing to give us a visual guide* – we need to decided what we’re sizing though. Is it spend? Budget? The value we think will be delivered by doing the work? What we choose will drive the conversation in a particular direction, and I don’t think there’s one ‘right’ answer. Also the people stickers arrived this week and look great, so we can start using them to think about who we need to recruit and who can work on which project.

3. I spent some of Wednesday trying to find a form of words in our tender specification for printers that our procurement colleagues are happy with whilst still making it easy for our suppliers to make their best bids that meet our user needs. We still haven’t managed to finalise this, but I’m sure we will early next week.

4. I voted with my younger son. It was his first election, and I was super proud that a) he was really pleased to be able to vote and b) he’d really thought about how he wanted to vote and why.

5. Nic and I spent some time planning our HackIT recruitment event – it’s on 12 June from 4-6pm. There’s an eventbrite link to sign up, so we know who’s coming and roughly what time, an opportunity to meet the teams and find out more about why you’d want to come and work with us.**

6. On Friday I met some of the #bureaucracyhack organisers at the venue so that we could have a look round and plan out the day itself in more detail. I feel reassured now that I’m not the only one who’s seen the venue, and that the space will work for us on the day.

7. Later on Friday I’d volunteered to help at the verification count for the election. This is to check that the number of ballot papers in each box matches the presiding officers tally, ready for the actual vote count on Sunday. It was really interesting to be part of the process and see it first hand.

What I learnt this week:

I’ve had a few four day weeks recently (bank holidays plus a couple of extra days off). Having not been very well during February and March I’d deliberately built in some long weekends during April and May. What I didn’t do though was adjust my expectation of how much I could do during that time. Note to self: try not to have to learn this again.

I felt slightly overwhelmed by ‘the list’ of things to do this week, but what I have definitely learnt is that, if you tell people this is so, and you work with awesome, supportive colleagues you will get a) emergency chocolate b) offers of help and c) support and understanding. Thankyou all of you.

What I read this week:

Now, this is something I’ve been pondering for a while. Is knitting code? Having started a new project with my mum recently I’ve been thinking about the links between programming and knitting, the logical repeating patterns that only work if they are followed exactly. This article was really interesting and takes it to a whole new level, and also uses the word ‘floofy’ in a scientific context.

Knitting is coding

I liked this from Tom Loosemore on culture:

Tom Loosemore on culture

And also this from @mitsmr via @helenbevan:

Principles for creating the culture you need

*this involves ordering some more stickers, which can only be a good thing

**there are so many reasons why you might, come along on the 12th and find out!

S2 Ep7 setting up for success

So, what are some things that happened this week*?

London Fields Lido in the early morning sunshine
The lido in the sunshine, beautiful

Getting together around the wall

a picture of post it notes on a wall, listing the key questions. what do you need from others?, what's worrying you most? what could go from good to great? what's most important? and what do you know least about?
Questions we’re asking ourselves

I’ve organised 3 experiments this month in front of our emergent portfolio wall. I’m curious to see if having a regular conversation with the right people, asking the right questions of ourselves using the wall as a prompt will help us create smoother, faster delivery. Matthew suggested some questions we could ask ourselves, which we’re trying out and iterating as we go. I’ve also ordered some ‘people’ stickers so we can see where we need people and skills on a project (this idea came from Giulia at Cancer Research).

Learning from others

Alice Carter presenting in front of a screen
Alice Carter from MOJ

Alice Carter from Ministry of Justice (MOJ) came in to talk to us about her and her teams work with young offenders and user centred policy design. It was a great talk – the team are working in a different way with policy teams, putting the user and their needs at the forefront, and designing experiments to deliver value early. It was really interesting to hear about the insight the team got from their observations and conversations with young offenders, and a reminder of what an impact open and engaged leadership makes to effecting change.

Setting ourselves up for success (part 1)

Budgets and finance tracking is one of those things that isn’t always top of the to do list. In a lot of places I’ve worked it’s been that thing you dread because there’ll be lots of untangling to do. Rob and I spent 2 days this week taking a step back from the detail and creating a visual finance picture that we’ve put up on the wall. This helped us identify where we need to put our focus as a team, and to create a set of hypotheses about where we can a) improve our financial management processes – focussing on the knowledge we need as a team b) invest so that we improve our ICT service and c) invest so that we deliver improvements for residents.

Setting ourselves up for success (part 2)

We’re very close to publishing our specification for on demand printing across the council. I was really keen to hit a (self imposed) deadline this week, but Stephen reminded me that the few extra days we need to take will enable us to make sure we’ve made it as clear and easy as possible for suppliers to submit good bids and the advice we got from our procurement colleagues will make it easier for us to assess those bids fairly and transparently.

What I read this week:

Soraya wrote a great blog post about our use of gov.notify and the benefits it’s bringing the teams we’re working with.

Reflections from Gary Dunn in North Lincolnshire on the recent gov.pay discovery funded by MHCLG digital fund, which also included a link to a blog post from Barnsley about their self built income management system. It was great to see our earlier user research used in the discovery, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the outcomes of the alpha.

I really liked this twitter thread sparked by Janet Hughes talking about change (and who doesn’t love a good triangle?).

Janet Hughes: pace, agreement or comprehensive coverage. pick 2 and proceed accordingly

What I’ve learnt this week – it’s ok to let go

This week I made the decision to let go of something that’s been part of my life for 16 years, ever since my eldest started school. I’ve been a school governor and then chair – I’ve learnt loads, and found it really rewarding as well**. But it’s time to let go, and use my spare time on something else for a while. 

*apart from the swim, which as you can see from the picture, was a beautiful start to the day. I’m now 17 swims in towards a goal of 52 in a year.

**I’d be happy to talk to anyone thinking about being a school governor (it’s apparently the biggest volunteer group in the country), schools are always looking for skilled professionals to work with them, it’s immensely rewarding, and the local authority provides training.

S2ep6 what didn’t as go well?

California poppies in the sunshine
California poppies in the sunshine

This week I had a slightly up and down week – some great stuff, and some things that didn’t go so well*,  so here goes with some thoughts about 

5 things that happened, some good, some not so good

5 post it's that read: 1. A spiral. 2. what needs more from you? More time, more energy. 3. What practices or activities do you want to keep? What's reliably valuable? 4. What is it time to let go of? 5. What hopes and fears are stirring? What are you excited about bringing into being?
Spiral jotter – a Liberating structures idea that I tried out
  1. This week I tried something new, a liberating structures exercise. It went ‘ok’, and the team were really open to letting me experiment with them (thank you). But I don’t think I introduced well enough, and it didn’t work as well as I was hoping it would.
  2. I didn’t manage to get some things ‘done’ that were important to me, despite really planning my focus for each day. That was frustrating, and meant that the week felt, well, unresolved.
  3. I’m writing this in WordPress first, to see if that’s easier/better. I know that doing this will help me learn how to use WordPress better but at the moment it’s just annoyingly not feeling as good as Medium. Although it is already much better for accessibility as I can add alt text to images more easily.

Some great things happened as well and some highlights were:

3. Matthew organised a Dragon’s Den style afternoon for teams to present pitches to a group of venture capitalists. It was really interesting to hear the questions coming from the ‘Dragons**’ and to see the team pitch passionately for the things they’re working on.

4. We had a great management team meeting where we tracked progress against the things we said we’d focus on last month, and agreed what we’ll focus on next. I really like the way it’s enabling us to prioritise what we want to achieve, and where we want to put our energy as a leadership team.

4. I had several really good conversations with colleagues that a) contained great advice and feedback b) inspired me and c) helped me think through my approach to things.

5. I went to the API Factory show and tell – and saw a team of excited, inspired people, who’ve learnt loads over the past few weeks. That was awesome. This team does video week notes: https://youtu.be/nOweYg3KNvQ.

6. Despite the endless rain***, I went for a swim at the Lido.

What I read this week:

Nour wrote a wonderful blog post in the run up to OneTeamGov’s well being camp: https://link.medium.com/JHwRikz8uW

This was an interesting piece about teams, and governance:


A gif of Detective Pikachu looking sad.
Detective Pikachu looking sad to illustrate my mood at the rain this week
  • *I realised that I usually write about 5 great things, and that it’s as important to write about when things don’t go as well.
  • **They were incredibly friendly, asked great questions, and very incisive.
  • ***Endless rain. And cold. The pool was still really busy, obviously many other people are as obstinate as me.

S2ep6 value

Another short week* although summer has disappeared again.

5 great things that happened 

  1. We’ve moved how we publish project weeknotes and our show and tells. We were publishing them on our open G+HackIT delivers** community and on pipelineand now we’ve added a new section on the HackIT blog.

HackIT – Digital change for everyone
This is the blog of HackIT, Hackney Council’s ICT team. Here, we talk about how we’re delivering digital change

Project weeknotes were started in the teams – we’d encouraged people to work openly and a couple of teams decided that they’d do that by writing a short note each week on what they’ve been up to, and publish it. They’ve become a part of the rhythm of our weeks – Matthew’s right when he says Friday afternoons are a great time of the week, because that’s when the weeknotes start appearing. They are one of the ways that we’re working in the open by default – and this in turn means our approach to governance can be different. 

For me, traditional governance means the team disappears from view – but – the team is the unit of delivery. It’s people working together who build a thing, run and improve a thing, and provide a service to people. 

The project weeknotes and the show and tells reflect that much better than any project report or reporting dashboard. 

outcomes for the leadership workshop
Outcomes for the leadership workshop

2. We had a HackIT leadership network session this week about working in the open by default. I think we’re really good at this – see (1) above, local gov pipelineuser research libraryAPI playbook on GitHub, weeknotes from Matthew and Rob – so it was good to focus on how we can build on what we’re doing already. I used a couple of liberating structures to get the group to think out loud and discuss what’s worked so far, and what we could do more of, and in the second half we looked at the barriers and blockers we might have that are stopping us. Each of us has committed to three micro actions we’ll take over the next quarter that will enable us and our teams to work more openly. 

3. Rahma Mohamed hosted an excellent show and tell on the work the teams been doing to redesign our HR forms. Instead of a presentation Rahma set the content up as a self guided journey around the room, ending with a demo of their prototype. I really liked the conversations it generated, and the way people were able to interact with the team and the content. Some great stats for Bureaucracy Hack as well – Rahma and the team have calculated how much time they could save by redesigning the form itself and the business processes. 

Roo and Felix talking about the start of the project
Roo and Felix doing a show and tell on our new project looking at devops

4. Roo Reynolds and team came in to kick off a piece of work helping us to look at how we might adopt and embed a devops culture across the teams. Felix, our ace new delivery manager who’s just joined us this week, did a great job of a fairly impromptu show and tell. I’m really excited about this piece of work – it’s a key part of how we build our future skills and capabilities, think about teams, and how we create smooth and fast delivery of services for users, so good people prefer to use them. 

5. I ran a planning workshop with the contracts and procurement team which really helped us work out what the priority goals are for the next quarter – and what we’re going to do to get us there.

What I read this week:

This from Beth Fox on working in the open:

Tweet from @firebethfox

And this powerful piece on being yourself from Darren McCormac

The impact of being yourself
When I joined Barnardo’s last summer, I had a culture shock.

Sarah Walsh wrote about using content design at AddAction:

Why we’re using our webchat service as the starting point for our new content

Cassie Robinson wrote an excellent blog post about the Digital Fund, and change – using a fantastic cafe analogy:

What we’re learning about how the sector understands “digital”
When we launched the Digital Fund in late 2018 we didn’t anticipate 1,200 applications in four weeks, but we knew we’d…link.medium.com

Louise Cato writes such good week notes – thoughtful, open, honest. And I am massively in awe of the 100k run.

 Week 13: April 22nd – 28th. Running weeknotes.
This is a mood

 Sam Villis wrote some great notes during Purdah – again, thoughtful and open:

Purdah notes
Keeping notes through 5 weeks of Purdah

What I learnt this week:

Quite a lot about WordPress (see 1) above. I also went to a Liberating Structures meet up and learnt some new techniques for getting teams to design collaboratively.