Weeknotes 18: to-do lists, the return of the lamuts, Janet’s list

My to do list is getting shorter. Well, my Acas one is. It’s a weird feeling. The more general life admin to do list obviously remains about the same, a constant, just slightly more than feels doable, and ever replenishing. My Hackney ‘things to think about when I start’ list is getting longer, and that’s exciting. 3 weeks to go . . .


I spent most of the day sifting initial bids from suppliers for our most recent digital marketplace opportunity — we had a really good range of bids in. This is great — and it included companies we haven’t had bids from before, which is also good.


The team had sprint planning — powered by Crosstown donuts. I forgot to take a photo before all the donuts went . . .


The focus of this sprint is — what remains for us to do before we make the first content public? It’s oh so tempting to try and make everything perfect beforehand, but we’re trying to focus on good enough.

In the afternoon I moderated my scores on the bids with Curtis and Noel, and our ace procurement manager Cedric. I’m always conscious that behind the words on the bids are teams of people who’ve worked hard to provide us with the information we’ve asked for — and that some of them will be disappointed to be sifted out. We have a shortlist of 5 — and I’m looking forward to seeing them all in a couple of weeks.


We had a show and tell — and co opted the lovely Sam Villis to test the beta content. People came, the room was full, but they were quiet, and not many questions. I can’t work out if it’s because people aren’t sure what to ask, if it’s the way we’re running the sessions, or it’s the room set up. So we’re going to try the next one in our new team space to see if it works differently that way.

The snack vision was sticks — carrot, kit kats, chocolate fingers, breadsticks, you get the gist.

Later on I interviewed over at BEIS — helping a different team find a new Product Manager. Afterwards instead of heading back to the office I took myself off to a cafe to work quietly on some admin I’d been putting off.


In the morning I had a coffee with Philippa who’d been off for a few days. I’d been working on lots of things that it was good to catch up on, check my thinking, and plan out how we’ll move things forwards together.

The afternoon was spent writing up end of year reviews — I have done them ALL now which is brilliant* and is one of the reasons why my to do list is getting shorter.



I don’t normally write about weekends — but this weekend I finally caught up with the fabulous Janet Oganah. And heard all about Janet’s List— I’m so pleased to see how it’s going so well, and in awe of Janet and her drive and determination. We miss her at Acas . . .

What did I read this week?

I finally finished A seat at the table by Mark Schwarz, it’s taken ages not because I wasn’t enjoying it – I was – but because I was trying to read it on my commute, instead of looking at twitter and emails and medium and etc. I didn’t do very well.

Anyway – it was very good. It’s given me lots of food for thought, ideas and pointers for further reading.

The best thing a manager can do is to help the team do what it knows how to do by removing impediments. Tell the team what you need, let them do their work, and ask them how you can help.

I’ve got a copy of his other book The Art of Business Value — think that’s my next read.

I read this via Sam Villis

and this from Jocelyn Goldfein on culture which was interesting.

You have a powerful incentive at your fingertips: praise, criticism, and story-telling. Wield them thoughtfully and you can be a culture carrier who transmits and strengthens company values.


#weeknotes 15 — time off, telling our story, more yoga

I gave myself the week off from writing over the bank holiday weekend and focussed instead on the sunshine, being outside and exercising. I decided when I started writing weeknotes that I would plan in some breaks, so that it didn’t start to feel like a chore.

This did mean though that I didn’t write about a great day spent in Bristol with Sarah Prag and Gavin Beckett, meeting people from the web team at Bristol City Council who were happy to share their experiences with us. And I also didn’t write about discovering the incredible http://www.hartsbakery.co.uk.

Cardamom buns . . . yum

Or the great show and tell on our latest user testing we ran at the end of sprint 5, led by Michelle Bayley and Charlotte*.

So, back to this week — feeling energised and refreshed . . .


I caught up with Paul Dowse, our head of Digital Data and Technology to look at our budgets for the coming year, ahead of a discussion about priorities and business planning with Board colleagues. The rest of the day I spent with the beta team preparing for our assessment in a couple of weeks time. We’ve got loads to show the assessors and lots to say — and Philippa Newis has done a great job of organising our thoughts into a trello board that the whole team is contributing to. We’ve only been working with our colleagues from Digi2al since March and it’s felt very much like #oneteam from the start. Huge thanks to all of them, and to Roo Reynolds for helping us build this project team.



Started early with a coaching session with the awesome Sarah Gornall. I’ve been working with her for a few months now, and it’s been hugely useful and impactful. We talked about leaving — people, systems, processes, organisations, and she helped me think through some ideas that have been going round in my head for a while.


Wednesday evening is yoga @ acas. Our second in house yoga course is well under way — and popular. We’ve iterated and improved our admin processes, signing colleagues up for a 6 week block has made it much easier to manage! As ever — it was a great way to relax at the end of the day.


I worked from home which meant I could catch up on emails, bits of paperwork I’d put off and finalise our GDS spend control submission for the beta phase of submit a notification. Charlotte and I caught up via skype about how it’s been going for her on user research (really well) and her training provider for her apprenticeship (a tiny bit frustrating tbh).

Later on I popped over to Hackney to catch up with Rob Miller and talk about their (our? at what point do I say that?) apprenticeship programme, which is very exciting and ambitious. I’m really looking forward to starting my new role at the end of June . . . Recruitment for the apprentice roles will be in June and July.

Coding week 6 was all about javascript and jquery — including some discussion about boolean values. A tiny bit hard going at times, and def out of my comfort zone, but that’s the point of learning something new** .



Lee joined us — he’s from our comms team and is going to be spending every Friday with us to learn from John and Luka Alexander during the rest of the project. It was great watching knowledge sharing and shadowing in action — sat round our communal workspace.

We were testing the coded pages today with users — they’re looking awesome thanks to the hard work of all the team — partic the fabulous Luka Alexander who worked over the bank holiday to make sure they were all ready in time. Next week is our accessibility audit — testing the code and the designs to make sure we’ve made it fully accessible.

Fridays are often quiet in the office so it’s a good chance to catch up with people who are there and find out more about what’s happening in other teams. I had some good conversations with people I haven’t seen for a while. First off with Jon, our head of research, analysis and insight about building internal user research capability. And also with Gill Dix our head of workplace policy around bigger picture policy themes for Acas.

What did I learn this week?

Many many coding things — how to add twitter bootstrap, how not to commit to github (and subsequently how to).

I read this via Helen Bevan and Harvard Business Review:

‘We cannot change anything unless we first see our own self as powerful enough to act” (oh so true)

Also over the bank holiday I read a novel — A line made by walking, by Sara Baume. Beautifully written and haunting.

*our snack vision was fruit. And cake.

**said through gritted teeth

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 12: Goede Dag from Groningen

It was another short week – I took a couple of days off to go to the Netherlands which is always fun*

I managed to pack a lot in to Mon-Wed though. . .


I met Richard McLean for a coffee. I was unforgivably late and he was both immensely forgiving and very helpful – sage advice about strategic transformation and making space for change away from business as usual activity. I’m hoping we’ll be able to catch up again soon to carry on the conversation.

At work we talked about KPIs – what are the best things we can measure and how can we do this most effectively? We’re building an open performance platform for our digital advice service but trying to decide what’s needed as MVP and what we’ll need as we grow the beta site. We don’t have to publish on the gov.uk platform but we’re committed to meeting the GDS standard in this area. So far ONS seems to have done lots of similar work that we can borrow from – but if anyone else has ideas it’d be great to catch up about it.

I did my coding for girls homework in the evening – and set up some lunchtime homework sessions for Philippa, Cheryl and I. I think it’s the only way I’m going to make sure I keep up.

Hacker Coding GIF by Monstercat - Find & Share on GIPHY


I had great conversations with the team about the project and how it’s going, and a good discussion with the submit a notification team about plans for beta. We have some great feedback from our alpha assessment that we want to work on before we start the beta project with contractors. That way we’ll start in the best place possible in June, once we’ve procured a team to help us.

And I caught up with Paul and Joanne Brown from our technology team to talk about governance and how we’ll manage IT change projects more effectively in the future. I shared with them the blog James Abley shared with me about documenting architecture decisions.



Was mainly taken up with meetings – our transformation board and the weekly get together of senior managers with our CEO. At the transformation board we had two of our change champions sitting in and participating – I find the best way to get the most out of a meeting is to involve the right people from across the organisation in it, so that we get the most value out of meeting together.

DILBERT © 2011 Scott Adams. Used By permission of ANDREWS MCMEEL SYNDICATION. All rights reserved.

What have I learnt this week?


This – from Leonard Cohen via a cafe in Groningen sums up what I’ve been thinking about taking on new challenges, trying new things and imposter syndrome (but see Gavin Elliott for really good work on this if you haven’t come across him already).

@jukesie wrote a great piece on digital being about people – and tech. Really well articulated.

Amazon knows me better than I know myself — apparently my life consists mainly of Sharpies and chilli sauce. Not far off tbh.

*being in the Netherlands is a mix of love and frustration. It’s a great place, and in another life maybe I’d have made my home here but I don’t speak Dutch as well as I used to** which is frustrating.

**I have a degree in Dutch. It’s a long (and quite interesting) story.

#weeknotes 10 and 11: lots (and lots) of learning

I’m combining a couple of weeks here because of two short weeks at work with Easter in the middle — it’s been a fortnight full of learning, all of which has been really valuable.

Learning more about scrum and agile

Last week I spent two days on a course with Tobias Mayer learning more about what makes a great scrum master, and revisiting the core agile principles. It was an excellent two days — made even better by having people from a wide range of sectors participating. It was valuable hearing experiences from start ups, the financial sector and commercial sector— and being able to compare them to the public sector. I came away buzzing with ideas to take back to the office and try.


Learning more about the beta phase (and GDS assessments)

I’ve been working with our submit a notification team helping them prepare and last week we had our GDS alpha assessment. I am so impressed by the team and the work they’ve done*. Now we’re planning out the beta phase in more detail so we can submit our spend control request to GDS, and then go out to procure a team to help us deliver the work.

On our digital advice service we’re (almost)halfway through the private beta and starting to tackle our next advice topic, redundancy. We think this topic will help us break the templates we’ve designed so far so that we can improve them. We know that redundancy is a more complex and emotional topic for our users so it’s going to give us really valuable feedback and insight to help us improve our content and design overall.

At our show and tell we had cake (of course) and Luka Alexander demoed our new component library that they’ve built at our sprint 3 show and tell — it’s looking great, really clear and easy for us to use.

Lemon and almond cake

Learning more about coding

Philippa, Cheryl and I started our Codefirstgirls course this week — and it was ace. We’ve all committed to learning how to code a static website in 8 weeks alongside other professional women from a variety of . So far we’ve learnt how the basics of HTML, CSS and Javascript and how they work together. And a brilliant but simple hack which amused us all:

I used a @mysadcat tweet as my inspiration . . .

Am looking forward to learning more as we go. There is homework though . . .

Learning from others

This week I read some great weeknotes from Sam Villis, Jenny Vass, Dan Barrett and Matt Jukes. 5 beta lessons from Carl Burton was really useful. I also liked this from Greg Satell on building an innovative culture.

and finally . . .

*Ace news this week for the team — we passed the alpha assessment, it’s the first GDS assessment on a transactional service for Acas, and we are super proud of ourselves! Go team!


#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. . . .

#weeknotes 6 inspiration, learning and reflection

I’m trying the questions format again this week — it’s been a really busy week this week so it feels like maybe the Mon-Fri format would be easier. But here goes . . .

What inspired me this week?

This week I had time to go and visit Office of the Public Guardian in Nottingham along with our associate delivery manager Curtis and Chris, who’s joined us as a product manager to look at how we could manage cases in Acas in the future and what technology we’ll need to help us to do that. Kaz and Simon from OPG were incredibly generous with their time and shared their experiences with us. It was inspiring to see an organisation that’s made the journey we’re just starting on, and the generosity of colleagues in other departments in helping us avoid some of the pitfalls and blind alleys. OPG have done amazing work on their services, their back end systems and building capability.

I also got to ride the tram in to work at our Nottingham office (always fun) and I’m now the proud owner of a Robin Hood travel card*

What did I learn this week?

Jonny, our user researcher on the digital advice beta project did a great bit of research into our initial information architecture using treejack testing. James and Charlotte had already done some additional user research between alpha and beta on where users would expect to find what they’re looking for using card sorting exercises. Jonny has taken that to see if we can find out more using this method. He wrote some great slides for us to explain what he was doing to the team so that we can all learn. I hadn’t heard of treejack testing before so it was good to learn more about it.



When I started writing weeknotes I promised myself I’d write about good and bad, success and failure. So — in that spirit — Monday. I know Monday gets a bad rap most weeks, but this week, meh. No single reason – a combination of not sleeping well, the weather (sleeting rain anyone?), and an ill teenager at home meant that the day I’d planned wasn’t the day that happened. A couple of things at work annoyed me, unreasonably so. What I learnt though was that a) it’s ok to have a bad day (as it says on Giles Turnbull fantastic team poster) b) the team are incredibly supportive (thank you!) and c) I got a chance to reflect and review what happens for me when things don’t go according to plan.


Later on in the week though . . .

James, the technical architect on our digital advice beta gave us some really useful homework this week to read up on:

This piece from Dan North was excellent —

In praise of SWARMing

and that piece led me to this talk which is worth watching/listening to and ref the Richard Gurnall 5 stages. . .

The journey of change screenshot from Dan North talk ref above, shows resistance over time, people, tools, governance, customer, money, organisation.

I’m also further through Conversations of change, by Dr Jen Frahm, and am inspired (and reassured) by the building change capability chapter, mainly because I think our team are doing a lot of this already.

Learning by doing

I also went with our submit a notification team to the workshop that GDS ran for us — and it was hugely useful as most the team haven’t been to an assessment before. This is our first transactional service to go through an alpha assessment and we’re all keen to make sure we’ve met the GDS standards. Not everyone made it down from Nottingham because of the snow, so we made best use of tech to get everyone connected and talking. There were loads of great questions from the assessors and great feedback for the project team for the final sprint (and the real thing at the end of March).

*I’m originally from Nottingham so am predisposed to be proud all things Robin Hood branded.