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.

https://media.giphy.com/media/C1Fdach2R4HSg/giphy.gif


*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.

https://media.giphy.com/media/Jir3toQTWW9Ne/giphy.gif

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:

https://hodigital.blog.gov.uk/2019/01/18/observational-research-5-tips-for-improving-your-approach%E2%80%AF%E2%80%AF/

This awesome blog from Adele Murray on designing letters:

https://hodigital.blog.gov.uk/2019/01/18/observational-research-5-tips-for-improving-your-approach%E2%80%AF%E2%80%AF/

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

https://hodigital.blog.gov.uk/2019/01/18/observational-research-5-tips-for-improving-your-approach%E2%80%AF%E2%80%AF/

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.

Weeknotes 46: day by day, minute by minute*

My new lobster clock arrived this week!

This week I’m trying what should be a straightforward and intuitive approach — the daily breakdown. I used this format a lot when I first started writing weeknotes but I’m always worried about it becoming stale (and also very long if I documented everything everyday). So here’s a snapshot of my week:

Monday

Monday started with a swim (yay!) and then straight into a row of meetings.

I joined the contracts team for the weekly catch up so that we could discuss our priorities for the next quarter — these include replacing the sims in all of the tablets and ipads with a cheaper contract (this’ll save us a substantial amount of money), and working on our ‘printing as a service’ offer to staff so that we’re ready to re-procure that contract later this year. For both of these we’ve already done a discovery phase which has given us much better insight into the current service.

It was great to welcome Eko into the team, and also catch up with Karim who’s just been on a scrum master course with Tobias Mayer and come back full of ideas and raring to put them into practice.

Tuesday

On Tuesday I caught up with Nic, our Lead Delivery Manager and had a great chat about recruitment**, skills development, and the flow of work coming into the team. Later on we worked with our financial systems team to look at our user needs for both payment and managing income, finishing off the short discovery we’ve done over the past two weeks. I had some quiet desk time in the afternoon which meant I managed to catch up on a whole load of small things I’d promised to either do/send/read.

Wednesday

One Team Gov post-its

One Team Gov breakfast in Hackney — what a great start to the day this was. This was a bit of an experiment — would people want to come to Hackney, would the logistics work etc***. It was a great discussion — thank you to everyone who came and helped make it so. Rahma Mohamed wrote up some great notes from the discussion.

Talking of One Team Gov — James Reeve wrote this great piece on bureaucracy this week, and is proposing a bureaucracy hack (I am very excited by this idea), and it chimed really well with discussions I’ve been having with henry lewis, looking at how we can use used centred design and agile methods to improve our internal processes. It’s the sort of thing that, done badly (and we’ve all seen it done badly), distracts, de-energises and slows down teams, and makes them less productive. We’ve been thinking about this for ourselves at Hackney — governance so good, people prefer to use it.

The afternoon was mainly about show and tells — three very different projects, but all of them were informative, engaging and open. First up was Rahma Mohamed and Joanne Moore talking about the work they’re doing to iterate our Hackney Agile Lifecycle, then our adult social care colleagues who are working with Convivio Team on developing a directory of services. Finally our architecture and infrastructure colleagues showed us what they’ve been doing around single sign on for staff, which will make it much easier for us to access our work on any device, any time, securely.

https://media.giphy.com/media/3oKIPnAiaMCws8nOsE/giphy.gif

Thursday

As a public servant I want to understand Agile so that I can better manage complex change

I started to focus on how we’ll run our intro to agile course for the second time — we learnt a lot from the pilot, and this is our chance to make it even better. Matthew and I spent some time thinking about what the next most important things are we need to do so that we’re ready for the end of February. I spent some time with Hidayat, one of our delivery apprentices, helping him refine his trello board for our printing as a service project, thinking about the skills needed to writing great acceptance criteria and how he might structure the board so that the team can work more effectively together.

I also had a cup of tea with a colleague from our parking service, who wanted to know more about what we’re doing, how she might learn more about agile ways of working and what my job actually involves. I love talking to new people, and finding out more about what they’re thinking about, and I was able to point her in the direction of some further reading/thinking that she can do, and I’m going to organise for her to shadow some of the team as well.

Friday

I worked from home in the morning, and managed to write my application for the London Leadership programme. It’s a relatively new programme and something I’d really like to be part of, but it’s also really competitive (there’s only a couple of spaces per borough). Fingers crossed . . .

In the afternoon I had a few meetings, including catching up with Mal, one of the line managers of our apprentices. He can’t come to the retro I’m running on Monday to look at how we’re doing with our apprenticeship programme, from the line managers’ point of view. So we sat down together and chatted about his feedback — what’s working really well, what we need to focus on next, and what do we need to improve. Mal’s really proud of the work they’re doing in his team, and of being part of the programme, and he’s already thinking ahead to what happens next for this first cohort next year, and how we’ll help them move on to a job (either with us or somewhere else — success is progression on to the next thing).

What I read this week:

Louise Cato published the reading list we’d collated at bookcamp. I’ve started reading Radical Candor, and am really enjoying it.

View at Medium.com

I didn’t get to see Cassie Robinson. this week (we were meant to catch up but couldn’t) but I read this excellent piece from her on the Tech For Good movement:

View at Medium.com


*in all honesty the minute by minute bit of the title was an excuse to include a picture of the clock. Sorry — a totally gratuitous lobster reference.

**we’ve had a great response to our delivery ads, and are working our way through the shortlisting process. Am really looking forward to interviewing potential new team members.

***as ever I distracted myself from my nervousness by over catering. Deep down I firmly believe that if you get the food right very little can go wrong . . . this may or may not be true.

Weeknotes 45 – asking stretching questions

Winter Lights art festival @ Canary Wharf, London*

This week I thought I’d try using 4 of the questions from Sartori Labs as the basis for my weeknotes, to see what happens.

Satori labs 10 questions

What did I do today that I do every day?

This is a tough one – no two days are the same and there are lots of things I wish I did every day but I don’t. Most days I start by writing down the 3 things I want to focus on that day. I know that when I do that, I’m much more productive. But I still don’t do it every day. To answer the question though — asking questions when I don’t understand what’s being said.

What surprised me?

I surprised myself on Wednesday by feeling much more confident about presenting in public. Emilia had asked me to talk at the Crown Commercial Service buyers conference about Hackney’s use of Digital Marketplace and what we’ve learnt. I used it as an opportunity to also talk about the wider culture, behaviours and skills I think you need to be successful at procurement**. And thanks to Matthew’s help I’d made my content much more engaging.

https://media.giphy.com/media/AFdcYElkoNAUE/giphy.gif

What happened this week that gave me a glimpse of the future?

Our development team held a show and tell on the work they’ve been doing to put together our API hub. It was a great presentation and another really good example of how we’re working in the open.

On Friday the gov.pay team came in and talked to us about their product. We’ve been doing some collaborative discovery work about our user needs and pain points with our banking and finance systems teams in this area.

We know that a poor payment process affects how our users feel about a service, and that we’re not meeting all our user needs at the moment. There isn’t a magic answer to this – and we won’t get there in one go. The gov.pay team were great — really engaging and thoughtful.

What did I learn?

I like this question — it invites reflection. Every week I learn a lot. This week I started to read through this thread about managing your time – some great advice and tips:

and I really liked this reflective piece from Mathilde Collin:

https://link.medium.com/FmICOdZuzT

GovCamp 2019

As always at events like this there were more sessions than I could go to, so there’s also a long list of things I missed out on. I went to some excellent sessions though — weeknotes, wardley mapping, delivery vs project manager (go Philippa Newis for pitching this one), book club, and user story mapping. I got to meet a whole host of new people, including the very lovely Audree Fletcher who’s kindly offered to come to Hackney to run a ‘write your very best user stories’ workshop in February.

https://link.medium.com/FmICOdZuzT

I also liked this from Ben Holliday – there’s a real knack I think to asking the right questions at the right time, and in the right way.

And finally this from Catherine Howe – the challenge of how to work across disciplines. Thoughtful and useful.

https://link.medium.com/FmICOdZuzT


*there’s no link to my weeknotes for this photo, I just really liked the photo. And the art trail.

* *and this week I got to meet another procurement hero davidkershaw . Yes I have procurement heroes. This is from David at GovCamp :


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:

https://link.medium.com/YFCn6rumMR
https://link.medium.com/YFCn6rumMR

Challenge accepted. This from Amanda was excellent:

https://link.medium.com/YFCn6rumMR

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:

https://link.medium.com/YFCn6rumMR

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

https://link.medium.com/YFCn6rumMR

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

https://link.medium.com/YFCn6rumMR


*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.

https://media.giphy.com/media/szcMRrPe1BaCY/giphy.gif

**feedback on these would be awesome

***printers . . .

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

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

So — 5 great things that happened this week

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

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/advice-new-delivery-manager-beverley-byford/?published=t

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I read this week

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

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

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/advice-new-delivery-manager-beverley-byford/?published=t
https://media.giphy.com/media/5b5B4CnAvhAu74aRpQ/giphy.gif

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

Emily Webber — should I say resources? Answer: no

What I learnt this week:

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

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/advice-new-delivery-manager-beverley-byford/?published=t


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

**And I got to meet him, finally!

Weeknotes 30: From snowflakes to insects

Thought of the week — from Tobias Mayer. In his ‘The retrospective is now’ essay he puts forward a different take on Norm Kerth’s Prime Directive on retrospectives:

We are emotional and vulnerable beings, subject to a continuous flow of influences from a myriad of sources. Sometimes we perform magnificently; other times we mess up. Mostly we are somewhere between these extremes. In this last period of work everyone did what they did, and likely had reasons for doing so. Accept what is. And now, what can we learn from our past actions and thinking that will inform and guide our future ones?

6 (great) things that happened this week

  1. We’ve agreed to take on 21 apprentices, instead of 18. This is awesome news and I blogged about it more here.
  2. Riccardo published the first elements on our pattern library. I’m really proud of the pattern library built at Acas and really pleased that we’re doing the same at Hackney.


3. Lindsay from our infrastructure team gave a really engaging and informative session to colleagues about serverless computing. Using a snowflake, pets, cattle, chickens, insects analogy which made it really very simple to follow and gave me the interesting title for this week’s weeknotes. Lindsay also took the opportunity to tell us about the work his teams been doing in this area — I’m hoping he’ll blog about it too. This link covers the same ground if you’re interested . . .

The pets and cattle analogy demonstrates how serverless fits into the software infrastructure landscape

4. We’ve been working with Rainmaker Solutions on developing the local government pipeline, building on the work that #localgovdigital did. It’s still in development but it’s open for anyone to have a look at here. Nic, our lead delivery manager is demoing it at#localgovcamp next week so that we get a chance to show what we’re working on to colleagues from across local government.

5. Thinking back to my gremlins in weeknotes 28, I did a lot of work to better understand and be able to track the data on one of the projects I’m working on. And as a result feel much more confident about tracking success.

6. Swim 7 of 8. still brilliant, far fewer people (it was raining).*

https://media.giphy.com/media/6T7lPSMHpNdle/giphy.gif


What I read this week

One Team Gov published their goals for the year — def well worth a read, and I’m now thinking about how we can contribute to them through the work we’re doing at Hackney.

This blog series about Canada’s Free Agents from Abe Greenspoon was honest, clear and interesting. And links directly to One Team Gov goals.

The pets and cattle analogy demonstrates how serverless fits into the software infrastructure landscape

And this from Mark Schwartz — why it’s a hypothesis not a requirement, and the link between agile principles and servant leadership:

The pets and cattle analogy demonstrates how serverless fits into the software infrastructure landscape


*I also swam on Sunday, as had I visitors who’d heard me talk about how lovely it was and demanded to be taken. But, using the same logic as before, that is still not swim no8.