Weeknotes 36: iteration and improvement

A shorter week this week – and slightly quieter because half term*. An opportunity to catch up, and think about what next.

5 (great) things that happened this week

  1. Service assessments. They’re a key part of how we’re governing ourselves, and this week we started to look at how we might iterate and improve on how we are organising, running and publishing them. I got together with Dennis, Susan and Kahar to think about ideas and ‘how might we’ questions based on our conversation experiences so far. As a result we’ve got some things to try (such as having a conversation with the team before they start prepping, adding a ‘what we learnt from doing the assessment’ section ) and some questions to answer – how might we track and analyse the areas where we’re not quite meeting the standard so that we surface wider issues?

A picture of our ideas for iterating and improving how we run, organise and publish service assessments

2. Local digital fund @MCHLG. Nic and I met with Linda and her team to talk about pipeline and how we might develop it further so that they can use it to publish the projects that are funded by the digital fund. They had some really good ideas about future functionality for the product and valuable insight and perspective gained from their work across local authorities. Linda and her team have done an amazing job in sorting through all the expressions of interest, reading through them shows just how many ideas there are in local government for improving how we deliver services. Also I got to see the ace Gavin Beckett twice this week.

3. Building digital skills. A great meeting with Joash from Amazon Web Services – they’re partnering with us to help build digital skills in Hackney. As part of this they’re offering our apprentices exciting opportunities – we now have 4 events planned out including speakers on innovation, building your digital career workshops and support through mentoring and coaching.

4. One Team Gov. I made it to the Westminster breakfast this week — as ever, a really interesting range of topics and discussion. Sam Villis did a fab job of recording the discussion:

5. Human centred design. Rahma Mohamed and Will ran a session with us on thinking user first. It was great to spend time reminding myself just how much work needs to go into working out user needs – it’s easy to forget when you’re not involved in a project day to day. My goal for the whole team is to spend at least 2 hours a month with users (I should be aiming for 6 – but pragmatically I’m starting small and deliverable).

User research is a team sport

What I learned this week:

I gave an update at a meeting which didn’t go brilliantly. It was ok, but doing some really simple things differently would have made it much better. So I’ve been reflecting** and as a result I have:

  1. Bought some connectors to keep in my bag so that I can always plug my iPad in and project my slides.
  2. Resolved to remember to ask more questions before preparing so I have a better sense of the context.
  3. And I’m going to meet a couple of people who talked to me afterwards – so that I can listen to their feedback and think about what their needs are. That way I think I’ll be better prepared next time.

Writing these weeknotes: usually I write them in one go, on a Sunday evening and post them Monday morning. This week, knowing that I had a short week, and wondering if I could do it differently, I’ve written a short bit every day on the train to work. I still ended up finishing them off at the weekend. I think it works better if I reflect on the week as a whole, rather than day by day, but it was an interesting experiment.

What I read this week:


This, from Philippa Peasland was great, and very thoughtful:

View at Medium.com

I’ve started reading A Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantú. It’s about the border between US and Mexico, part memoir, part history. It is very good.

I’ve bought Accelerate by Nicole Forsgren, Jez Humble and Gene Kim as recommended by Richard McLean, but have yet to start reading it . . .

View at Medium.com

Rahma Mohamed weeknotes were really interesting – and reflective, and I really liked this series by Dr Joanna Choukeir . I’m looking forward to reading the new story each week:

View at Medium.com

*and a day off on Friday.

**to be honest there has been some dwelling as well, but that’s not as healthy.

Weeknotes 13: all about design, a brilliant snack vision and a job move*

Quite a week: really busy, but when isn’t it?


My first day back from a short break in the Netherlands (see weeknotes 12). As a team we discussed our approach to navigation on the new site — how do we make it as easy and accessible as possible, using GDS design patterns where we can and taking the best from other websites we think work really well such as Citizen’s Advice. I think we’ve come up with a good plan based on the feedback from our discovery and alpha which we will test in sprint 5 with users.



We had a great conversation with senior managers about content: how will we improve our internal processes and workflows so that we get better at commissioning, governing, designing and retiring content in the future. I’ve been working with our workplace policy team lead Gill Dix, and our new content design function to work out how best to do this at Acas.

Tuesday evening I had a baking disaster . . . probably because I was more focussed on catching up on the Code First Girls homework that I’d missed last week.



Started early with a quick trip to Lola’s bakery (see above re baking disaster) and then to my first One Team Gov breakfast. I met some really interesting people (and some familiar faces – Sam Villis) and had some good wide ranging discussions, which sparked lots of ideas in my head. I’ve been wanting to go for ages but somehow Wed mornings haven’t worked out. Huge thanks to James Arthur Cattell for organising it and welcoming us.

Back at work it was sprint review and sprint planning day. I can’t believe we’ve got to sprint 5 already — the team has made brilliant progress but there’s still lots to do before we go into public beta and before our assessment at the end of May.



We held our sprint 4 show and tell: Philippa had delegated the introducing of it to me as lots of the team were out at a design thinking course (run by the excellent Rebecca Kemp). We showed the results of some remote testing, the initial analysis of how the current website footer is performing (and based on that what we’re including in the new one for testing), and wireframes for landing page templates. Charlotte had a genuis snack vision: ice lollies. Perfect for a packed room on a hot day.**

Thursday evening was coding course session 3. Philippa, Cheryl and I are working together to build a simple website to help us advertise and manage bookings for our in house yoga. I think I’m starting to get the hang of it . . .


I woke up feeling really enthused about building the yoga website so started with a quick half hour starting to build the page I said I’d work on.

Later on we had a good conversation with our enterprise architecture colleagues about the beta website and how we’ll make sure we’re making the right decisions at the right time together.

What I’ve been reading:

I’ve been rereading the Kristina Halvorson book: content strategy for the web. Ace stuff, and very clear.

CSS Zen Garden was suggested as further reading on the Code First Girls course —amazing site with v useful styles and suggestions.

Richard McLean published this:

View at Medium.com

which articulated lots of things I’ve been thinking about recently about how to get the right governance at the right time and at the right level. I can’t wait for part 2. . .

In other news:

*I’m moving to Hackney LA to be the new Head of Delivery. I’m really excited about this move, and looking forward to joining Rob Miller Matthew Cain and the rest of the team in June.

View at Medium.com

**Our office does not react well to sudden changes in temperature. It has pretty amazing views though.

#weeknotes 9: review, recap, engage

This week has been hugely busy. Too busy really — I was already trying to fit a lot in when Ofsted rang on Monday to say they’d be coming in for an inspection to the school where I’m chair of governors. We’ve been prepared for this visit, and the school is in really good shape, but equally it’s a thorough review of every aspect of the school, and that includes how effective the governing body is . . .



This week I’ve been working with our submit a notification team on preparing for their GDS assessment next week, and starting to think about the scope of the beta phase so we can ask GDS for spend approval. I left early (ish) so that I could get ready for the Ofsted inspection the next day. I’m the chair of governors so it’s my responsibility to make sure that we’re all prepared, and can demonstrate how we’re effective in supporting the school.


On Tuesday morning we hosted Chris, Joe and Leighton from GDS who are doing user research on the draft Government Service Standard. It was a really interesting discussion — good to see the draft standard and have a chance to comment, and useful to see how they approach user research and their techniques. Hopefully we gave them helpful insight from our perspective. At lunchtime I dashed to the school for our meeting with the Ofsted inspector, then back again to work with Noel and his team on their assessment evidence.


Today was our sprint review day, and the start of sprint 3, and we had Dan Barrett visit us. We also welcomed Michelle Bayley into the team which is very exciting. It was a great day. There were of course cakes. . .

Gluten free . . .

As ever I was hugely inspired and impressed by the outcomes of sprint 2 – a great first prototype and really useful insight from our first round of user testing. The content design team have done a great job, and the design is looking awesome. More importantly – users fed back that they trusted the information they were reading – and that’s a key product goal for us.

We haven’t got everything right yet though – user testing showed that ‘leave year’ isn’t a phrase that users understand so we’re going to look again at how we can make that clearer. And then test again in the next sprint.

Dan Barrett’s talk at lunchtime was excellent — really interesting, thoughtful and thought provoking. Lots of people came from various teams, and it’s sparked further conversations. Thank you Dan, and thank you to Charlotte for organising it. Oh and he didn’t get stuck in our revolving doors either, which was a bonus.

At the end of the day we had in house yoga – if I’m honest I arrived like this:


And left like this:


Thankyou Jacqui for restoring and reviving me. I can absolutely recommend organising yoga sessions at work – all it took to get it off the ground was a meeting room booking and a trello board. And knowing a great teacher!


Three of us went to volunteer at Bromley by Bow this week, helping people get online at one of the centres regular drop in sessions. Always a highlight — this month I worked with two women who were practicing their online skills. It’s a two hour session — which is a long time for the users to be learning for.

Lunch in their great cafe did not disappoint:

Veggie curry, yum

In the afternoon it was our sprint 2 show and tell — a good turn out to this, and the team were able to show the prototypes and what we’d learnt from our testing to our colleagues.


A trip to Birmingham to attend a one day workshop with the rest of the Acas leadership team. Useful to catch up with colleagues I don’t see very often, and to have the chance to share ideas, challenges and successes across the organisation. Philippa did a fab job of presenting our work on the digital advice service to everyone — an opportunity for colleagues based in other offices to talk to us and hear about what we’re doing.

What am I reading this week?

A seat at the table, Mark Schwarz

This book is great so far. I’m still on the bit where Mark Schwartz describes all the problems (quite depressing) but am looking forward to practical solutions and guidance in the next chapter. . .

Kit Collingwood wrote a brilliant blog post this week which articulated lots of what I’d been thinking — especially around diversity of teams that we’re bringing in on contracts. Jenny Vass wrote about a week of self care — really good advice on what could help when things are feeling too much. . . .