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?

Weeknotes 51 – what happened this week?

One of those weeks with much variety, some great conversations and value delivered in lots of places.

6 (great) things that happened:

picture of the primary school where I’m chair of governors (jobshare)
  1. I spent a couple of hours at the school where I’m chair of governors*, reviewing the headteachers performance against 3 key objectives. This is a really thorough process every six months, and we have support from our improvement partner to make sure that as a governing body we get it right. It’s really useful to see how objectives, impact and outcomes are described and measured in a different context to the one I work in normally, and just how much emphasis is (rightly) put on delivering the right outcomes for the children.

2. Kylie Havelock invited me to an awayday for the customer journey team at Citizen’s Advice to talk about the work we’re doing and how we’re approaching it at Hackney. As always I was v nervous** (I wonder if that ever goes away – and maybe it doesn’t and that’s ok too), but I gave myself time to prepare content that met the brief, asked for help from Matthew Cain and it went well. One thing that I did during the presentation was have a pause for a conversation – and that worked. These are my slides if you’re interested.


3. Chidi led a show and tell on the work the infrastructure team have been doing to redesign our low level network. I now know what that means, because the team did a great job of explaining it – and in explaining what they’re going to deliver for Hackney. It was clear the team themselves had learnt a lot about working together, and designing for the future.

Chidi presenting on Hackney’s low-level network design

4. On Friday I went to the One Team Gov discovery event on leadership development. This gave me an opportunity to hear from a wide range of people about talent management, leadership schemes and how and why you might want (or not want) to focus on potential. I really liked Audree Fletcher’s analysis of the core elements of various schemes that are available, and in particular the idea of developing your own personal board. A group of people that you trust and admire who you can check in with, get advice from and discuss ideas with. I realised as she was talking that I’ve done that (you know who you are and thank you) – and how valuable it is.

It also made me think about (and talk about) the importance of teams, and the dangers of hero leadership. I think that the teams and the culture that people find themselves working in is as important (if not more important) to how they thrive than someone’s leadership potential (and I’m still not sure how you measure that). I wonder what a team development scheme might look like . . .

View at Medium.com
View at Medium.com

6. Dan Barrett wrote two blog posts this week about talking about data. This is fab because he is a great writer, and I think if anyone outside my immediate colleagues can help me understand data better, and why it’s important to talk about it, it will be him. Also he is totally ok with eating dessert in the sunshine when it’s not part of a meal, just because we can.

View at Medium.com

6. Stephen, Karim, Eko and Jackie piloted their process for swapping the SIM cards out on all the tablets/iPads we have across the council. Their persistence and planning paid off – with over 70 sims swapped in the first few hours, and they’ve used that experience to review and iterate the approach so that next week it goes even more smoothly. This project is delivering value already – each sim swapped out will save us 2/3rds of the cost of the original, and we’re helping users manage their devices better as well.

What I read this week:

View at Medium.com

I thought this was an interesting blog post from the Canadian Digital Service (CDS) about bringing policy and digital together to solve problems.

And these weeknotes from Hidayat Deen — great to see him writing these regularly.

View at Medium.com

What I learnt this week:

I wasn’t all that well this week which meant that I needed to slow down a bit, do less, and recover.***

Whilst that was frustrating it did mean that I had to really think about what the priorities were this week and what I could let go of. This from Oliver Burkeman on Saturday was timely:

View at Medium.com

*I’m currently job sharing this role – having been chair for over 10 years, I’m stepping back gradually. So far this arrangement is working well – and means my co-chair gets to try out the role with the support of someone experienced.

**my New Years resolution was to say yes to invites like this and then worry about being nervous. It’s working so far 😉. This advice helped:

View at Medium.com

***I’m really not very good at this.

Bureaucracy Hack problem no 1: To Collaborate or Not to Collaborate? Oh! If only I had the choice!

To Collaborate or Not to Collaborate? Oh! If only I had the choice!

They’re penetrating the bureaucracy!

We’ve been working with colleagues across government to think about bureaucracy – what is it, when is it needed, and what does good (and bad) look like. We all have examples of processes, rules, myths and behaviours that get in the way of us being able to spend time on doing our actual jobs.

Our hypothesis is that if we can #HackTheSystem and make our working lives easier we’ll deliver better outcomes for our users, and that it is possible to make a positive difference to bureaucracy.

James has written about the overall plan and what we’re thinking about initially:


We have identified several problems as a group. This is the first one we’re exploring to see if it’s one that fits our criteria.

What is the problem that we are trying to solve?

The problem, as experienced by users, can be summed up by our own experience of trying to plan for this event. Communicating across all the organisations where the team members are based, when using an online collaboration tool, was impossible.

The various departmental security policies blocked us and we had to give up and use our own phones instead. The underlying reasons why security people sometimes don’t want to open up systems are more difficult to understand but we hypothesise that it is as much about their interpretation of their main responsibilities (to protect us!) and the departmental culture, as it is about any actual technical issues.

For #HackTheSystem we’re using five criteria to work out if this is a problem we want to include on the day:

Does it happen in lots of different places in the public sector – as in, is it a structural and widely recognised problem?

We know from some early research that James did that our experience was not unusual, and anecdotally we’ve heard lots of examples where permissions, architecture, approach to security, and people’s behaviours means that collaboration is difficult. We’ve all admired organisations who make it look easy, and become frustrated in organisations where it isn’t. We also know that there are examples of where people are subverting their organisation – maybe they’ve simply started using trello and slack without asking for permission.

Is it a problem we can do something about? Is it actionable?

We think the problems aren’t just about technology (but that’s a big part), it’s as much about culture. We know it’s possible to do something because some people have already done it. At Hackney we have made some progress – most of our productivity tools can be accessed easily from anywhere using any device by accessing the internet. Next henry lewis and his team are going to implement a new network design so that all our applications can be accessed in this way.

Can it be solved (or prototyped) in a day?

We think so. So long as we keep the scope manageable, are clear about what we’re not doing, and set ourselves achievable goals. The technology solution is quite straightforward so the focus might be upon how we can share solutions in ways that make sense to colleagues managing security and infrastructure, how we communicate and collaborate rather than the technical details. We might also want to explore why. collaborating outside our organisations is so important – what’s our elevator pitch?

We might want to think about which organisations we could target to share our design solutions, such as the National Cyber Security Centre, organisations that security colleagues work with regularly and trust. Who are our potential advocates?

Will it lead to a real difference – will fixing it give us more time as public servants to deliver value?

Taking the ability to easily video conference as an example, we think that collaboration builds trust between people and teams, and that in turn allows people to achieve more than they can by themselves. This isn’t a public sector only problem – we need to improve productivity generally: making use of 21st century tools would enable us to work more effectively. Thinking about culture, if we can create a culture in our organisations that says “Yes, if…” rather than. “No” that will have an impact beyond the problem we’re trying to solve here.

Is this something that is easily grasped?

A lot of the language used by security experts isn’t very accessible to everyone, so we will need to be careful about the use of jargon. But the core ideas behind Hackney’s technical solutions are quite straightforward to explain in a way that can generate a good discussion on the day. We ran a recent open session with colleagues from other organisations to open our work and get feedback on the design; this worked really well and delegates didn’t need lots of technical knowledge to be able to engage.

Look out for more posts coming soon as we continue to think about what we would like to cover in the hack.

If you’d be interested in coming along on 3 July – block it out in your diary now, and (simple!) sign up details will follow soon.

Weeknotes 50 – standards so good, people prefer to use them

Scenes from my morning run no2.

I’m diving right in this week – in what is possibly the last style of weeknotes I’m trying out. It’s the most daunting – having a structure helps me organise my thoughts. @jukesie makes it look easy . . . and so I’m willing to try this out at least once to see what happens.

I’ve been thinking and reading about standards this week on and off so if there’s a theme this week, then that’s it. I thought this article from the NY Times was interesting — about who gets to set standards in the first place.

This week the spacebank team ran a service assessment on their discovery phase project. They’d asked me for some advice on how to do this well — and we had an initial discussion about how to use the right standards to assess their work. And then the team went off and self organized. At the assessment they’d used both the checklist in our Hackney Agile Lifecycle and relevant points from the local digital service standard to tell their story, and focus in on the key outcomes and ways of working. They did a fantastic job — open, honest and focussed. There was a really strong thread of learning — 4 of the team are apprentices so they’ve been working on things for the first time, and using their existing skills to benefit the team. It was brilliant to have Ste from Citizen’s Advice there as well as an external assessor, giving the team feedback and asking questions that explored what they’d done.

I also read this from Nabeeha Ahmed on her experience of discovery phases at the Ministry of Justice – thoughtful, useful reflections.

On Wednesday I worked with Steve to create a first draft of a how to HackIT guide on writing really good requirements when you’re buying something. We know from our user research that this is something that our contract managers don’t always feel that confident about, and we also know that it’s not an easy thing to get right. Working side by side we were able to write something, that’s good enough to be tried by a colleague — and that we can use to learn from, iterate and improve. A good example of doing something quickly to a standard that’s good enough for now, but where we’ve got clear plans to improve based on user feedback.

On Monday I went to our quarterly security meeting where the team talk about the work they’ve done. I’ve invited myself along to these — because I know it’s an area where I have the least amount of expertise and knowledge (although I am learning quickly). I was really impressed with our use of (and the design of) the webcheck and mail check services from National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC)— to provide us with both assurance and automated monitoring. The NCSC has some fantastic advice and standards to follow — and it’s great that we’re making use of this to guide our work.


This week was made super busy by the addition of an agile training course that Matthew and I ran for 7 colleagues on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings. Overall it went really well and the participants got a lot out of it. However one of the sections that I delivered — on assumptions and hypotheses — didn’t go as well as it should have done. I need to revisit the content, and how I’m introducing the ideas, before we run this course again.

A picture of some toilet paper. This is relevant I promise.

Our personal standards are a key part of how we all operate — and they’re unique to us as individuals. And they can be incredibly useful — helping us to do our best even when we’re maybe not feeling it that day. But they can also be unhelpful — this week I managed to get into a terrible negative mental loop during a yoga class, simply by being late* and unprepared**.

This, by Alice Goldfuss, was a great reminder of how easy it is to get into that mindset, and really good advice about what to do about it.

On a more positive note I followed Small Action’s today suggestion about reducing plastic waste which made me feel cheerful that I’d done something practical.

I’ve been reading Radical Candor by Kim Scott — and one paragraph really jumped out at me.

Decision making: kick-ass bosses often do not decide themselves, but rather create a clear decision-making process that empowers people closest to the facts to make as many decisions as possible. Not only does that result in better decisions, it results in better morale.

and lastly this from Emily Fairfax was brilliant — I love the idea of an elevator video:

*I really hate being late. and the consequence was a mat right at the front by the mirrors.

**no hairband. Just supremely annoying.

Weeknotes 49 – doing the hard work to make our own work simple

my morning run — feels like spring may be here

I’m writing these after a beautifully sunny day, where it feel like winter might be over. This is good news — I find winter really quite hard work, and look forward to the sunshine and light each year.

This week I’ve been thinking about all the things that make it harder for us to do our jobs well — from processes that aren’t as efficient as they could be, to meetings and conversations that aren’t as productive as we could make them.

  1. I’ve been supporting the planning and developing of a Bureaucracy Hack event from One Team Gov. It’s been great to talk to others aross government about the processes that can get in the way, how we might tackle them, and what an event might look like.

2. I’ve been thinking about leadership generally, and also how we work in teams together when we’re trying to work in an more agile way. Not just on projects, but across all of our work. This article (via Sam Villis) was great, and thought provoking . . .


3. I spent quite a bit of time this week interviewing candidates with Nic, Richard and Philippa for our new roles in the delivery team. I like interviewing — having the chance to talk to people about what they’d like to achieve in the job. But it’s also tiring — I feel very responsible for making sure that everyone has a chance to demonstrate their skills and experience to their best ability in a process that’s often nerve wracking for the candidate. I’m not sure I have any wise thoughts on a different way of doing things other than interviews, but I do work hard to make sure that it’s a conversation as much as possible, and to remember what it’s like to be interviewed.

I also came across this blog post this week by Laura Portal Avelar, related to what I’ve been thinking about hiring/development/training/putting teams together.


4. I asked for help this week from Emma in our delivery team, I’ve got stuck with a project I’m working on and I’ve realised that I can’t get unstuck without some advice. It felt good to be able to say out loud what I’ve been puzzling over in my head, and I’m looking forward to working with her next week on it.

5. I spent some time with colleagues at City Hall talking about why governance is good, and why bad governance processes or elements of processes makes everyone’s work so much harder. It was a really interesting discussion and useful to hear from people working in different areas pulling at common threads.


Other things that happened this week:

We put out an opportunity on the Digital Marketplace to help us with our work to build our current team’s capability and skills — we think this approach will help us in a way that engages everyone in the teams involved.


Matthew launched our API competition, a really good example of thinking creatively about something, and then working out how to make it happen.


I’m looking forward to how seeing the responses to both of these helps us move forwards.

Weeknotes 48 – relentless user focus

We talk a lot at Hackney about users – trying to make sure that everything we do is rooted in a deep understanding of our user’s needs. There’s often a gentle fluttering of PostIts at various whiteboards and any spare wall space – as teams think through the insights they’ve gained. This week I’ve been thinking about what I’ve done in terms of understanding our users.

  1. I’ve been working with Karim to pull insight from the data we’ve got on how and why people are printing stuff*. Going through the responses we underlined each time the same theme came up. It’s clear that (and it’s no surprise) reliability is the biggest need. A colleagues summed it up nicely:

When I press print, I need to know my stuff is going to come out the other end

Our first go at identifying some key needs

2. The skilled, and very lovely, Audree Fletcher came in on Friday and ran a ‘make your user stories great’ workshop with us. This was awesome, and I learnt loads. We spent time recapping what makes great user stories, and the thread back to needs. In the second half we spent time critiquing each others’ stories, helping each other to improve them.

3. The team that’s been thinking about how we manage ICT assets better gave a great show and tell, led by Mercy, one of our digital apprentices. The team have been working with Philippa Newis who’s been coaching them in agile practices. This has helped the team work out what their MVP is going to be. It was a great example of starting with a few things that deliver value to the user and iterating from there.

4. My user needs. I needed time and space this week to plan ahead, and finish some key bits of work off. That went well at the start of the week, but by Friday not so much. I ended the week with a couple of meetings that could have gone much better, if I’d prepared better, and had given myself the space I needed. Timely then that I came across this:

View at Medium.com

I missed this session at Gov Camp, there are just so many sessions to chose from. So I really appreciated this thoughtful write up and it’s given me some ideas to go and try.

5. I had lunch with both Nic and Susan this week, having conversations about what they need from me, and what’s coming up. Taking the time to talk over lunch gave me a much better understanding of what they’re thinking about, and how I might support them better.

Other things I’m working on

One of the areas we’re looking at on our apprenticeship programme is where the current standards don’t really fit with how we work. One of the key areas is around Agile delivery management. We’re currently using the L4 associate project manager standard. It’s ok, and has lots of great content about risk, budgets, and it’s also teaching our apprentices to recognise a Gantt chart in the wild**. But I can’t help feeling that we’re missing a trick if we don’t think about delivery management more holistically – and train people to think team first, working in the open as standard, with the agile manifesto at the heart. So, I’m starting a trailblazer group, and so far I’m working with James Reeve, Made Tech, and Philippa Newis – if you’re interested please get in touch. We need 10–12 organisations to get started and it’s a well defined process we need to follow.

There’s an open trello board here if you’re interested:

View at Medium.com

What I learnt this week:

That working from home a day a week makes a big difference to my energy and my ability to work effectively. I didn’t work from home this week (for various reasons) and I noticed the impact by Friday evening.


*There’s lots of kinds of stuff ranging from letters to committee papers. And lots of data we can use for insight as well.

**I’ve convinced myself this is a valuable skill to have.

Weeknotes 47 – skills, talent and practise

Six prayers, from the Anni Albers exhibition. This was an amazing and humbling piece. Talent, skill, practise all in one. My photo doesn’t do it justice. .

This week I’m trying some different headers to give a structure to the week, after last week’s day by day account. On reflection I think I prefer the more random nature of different headers, it’s less diary style. I’m also always aware that there’s loads that happens each that I don’t write about – that’s ok too, but writing under daily headings makes me notice it more. Although trying all the different styles in Sam Villis’s blog is really making me think about what I’m writing each week.

Some things I’ve been doing

It’s 5 months since we recruited our first cohort of apprentices. This week I’ve been talking to the line managers about how it’s going for them – what’s going well, what isn’t, and ideas for how we might improve our programme. As a group they’ve taken on responsibility for mentoring, coaching, and the training of each apprentice. I wrote up the feedback, and some thoughts as a separate blog post.

Some of our apprentices meeting with Cllr Williams

I’ve also been listening to the apprentices this week – they met with Cllr Williams, our lead member for Employment and Skills this week and talked to her about how it’s going for them, Hackney’s commitment to apprenticeships and what led them to apply. It was a great discussion and Emma and Nadine are going to write a blog post about it.


I’ve spent quite a bit of time this week talking to colleagues about their projects/programmes and how they might use agile techniques to help them focus in on delivering value quickly. They’ve been great conversations and it’s a really nice part of my role*. I really like working with people to help them step back from the detail, and from all the things that need** to happen. I often ask – what’s the next most important thing you can do? Why is it that thing? What value will that bring?

On Tuesday Nic and I finalised the shortlisting for the candidates for the Senior Delivery Manager and Delivery Manager roles. We had a really good field of applicants and I’m looking forward to interviewing in a couple of weeks time.

Some other things I’ve been working on

Steve, Karim and I got together to plan out a presentation on how we’re supporting our contract managers to build their confidence in contract management and procurement. We caught up as a team on the printing as a service project — we’ve done some initial user research and analysed the usage data, and this has given us some good insight into patterns of behaviour. Hidayat has done a fantastic job of tidying up the project trello board and adding acceptance criteria to each task, so we’re in a much better place this sprint, and the work is going much more smoothly.

Matthew presenting about How to HackIT

Matthew did a great presentation to the team about How to HackIT. We’ve started thinking about how we make sure that we’ve got repeatable processes, that we can iterate easily, and that we’ve created together. We’ve developed some things as a team already – the API playbook on github, our template for writing Digital Marketplace briefs and our guide for assessors on HackIT service assessments, to name just 3. But we know that there’s loads more that’d be both valuable and helpful to look at.

Some puzzles (things I’m thinking about)

How do I distill to my colleagues in my teams everything that’s happening/being discussed/on the horizon each week? It’s not these weeknotes (although they give an insight), and a conversation isn’t always enough each week. But I also don’t want to write a formal email. So I’m trying a ‘5 things you should know this week’ message on slack first thing on a Monday for now, and asking for feedback on how useful that is.

What’s the role of an intranet in a modern organisation that has access to a whole host of channels we can and do use to communicate, collaborate and transact? Matthew and I met with colleagues this week to talk about future plans for the intranet. I think the role of an intranet is changing for most organisations, and it’s an opportunity to think about what it’s purpose is at Hackney.

What I read this week:

This from Amy Everett at the Home Office on observational research:


This awesome blog from Adele Murray on designing letters:


James Arthur Cattell mentioned PechaKucha in his day notes — thinking about delivering good presentations.


I’ve got a big presentation coming up at Agile in the City in April, so I’m thinking now about what I want to say and how I want to say it.

*I’m basically quite nosy, and genuinely curious about most things.

**often it turns out that what we think we need to do, we don’t. Hello assumption, nice to see you again.