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.

#weeknotes 5: trying a different approach

So, having written 4 #weeknotes using a fairly linear Mon-Friday approach I though I’d try a few using the question format that other weeknoters have used. Feedback welcome . . .

So what inspired me this week?

Lots! We had sprint 1 planning this week — and I was so impressed (again) at how using agile means that a group of dedicated professionals can bring all of their skills together to plan out what we’ll deliver collectively over the next two weeks. And it involves cake:

Banana and coconut this sprint

Sprint 1 goals are all about getting the basics right before we start building in beta. Philippa, Aleks and Charlotte built a wall for us — it’s really good to get our work up and visible to our colleagues:

Digital advice beta — first iteration of the wall

Luka Alexander led a session on accessibility for the team which was awesome. The content was really well thought out and clear and we’ll be sharing it with other teams in Acas so that we can share the learning.

I read some great blog posts that inspired me — for instance the @mattcaino blog post on what they’ve learnt from their experiences at Hackney about what makes a great show and tell. And I had a really good conversation with the excellent Alex Mecklenburg from Doteveryone planning out the final session of our digital leadership pilot.

Finally Helen Bevan is always an inspiration — this week she shared the slides from the school for change agents.

And what did I learn this week?

I had some great conversations this week with various people who shared their knowledge and insight with us. James Abley came in along with Roo Reynolds to discuss how we’ll plan our technical requirements as we move from private beta to public beta in June.

And for those of you reading this all the way through (!) I also learnt to make a gif for myself using giphy. It’s not quite right (I can’t work out how to make it smaller) but still, not bad for a first try. Any advice on sizing ?


Finally, what I’m reading this week:

I’m still reading Conversations of change — some really good insights in here but I haven’t had as many chances to read as I wanted this week.

Next on my list is A seat at the table: IT leadership in the age of agility, by Mark Schwarz.

and the soundtrack to my week has been: The boy who cried wolf, by Passenger. Beautiful beautiful songs.

#weeknotes 4: a short week, yoga, MVP

It was a short work week this week as I took Thursday afternoon and Friday off for a much needed break, hence shorter weeknotes.


I started my week with the team starting to plan out our MVP for beta. There were some great discussions, along with some challenges but the whole team are working really well together so it was a good session and a good outcome. We started by sharing our peaks and pits of the weekend — it was interesting that so many of the peaks involved spending time with family and friends, and reminded me how much we all have in common and why I think it’s so important to get to know people, and everything that they bring to work.


I also went to talk to our IT colleagues about our digital roadmap and how I see us working together to support the organisation to transform. It was a good session, with lots of great questions and discussion. They’re split over three sites so are making innovative use of skype for business to get together.


Was a really busy day — lots of meetings but I did find time for a really useful discussion about benefits mapping with Kate, our transformation director. At the end of the day I made it to yoga @rebelstudio. I’ve written before about how yoga helps me calm down and relax — often I have a lot of different ideas/thoughts/tasks in my head at once, and I find it useful to focus on just the breathing at yoga.


Busier than it might have been because I was trying to clear various things so that I could take the rest of the week off. We also had our second in house yoga session — Philippa and I have organised 8 sessions as a pilot to see what happens. This week we had 9 people (pretty much the max we can fit in) which was brilliant.



I managed to fit a lot into Thursday morning — including a skype call with Curtis, who’s mainly based in Nottingham at the moment, and a coaching session with Sarah Gornall. She is AMAZING and has been incredibly helpful in helping me work on all sorts of challenges and areas of development since last January.

Last but not least I had a catch up with John who’s joining us on secondment from a different team in Acas to train to be a content designer. One strand of our digital capability strategy is to train existing Acas people with new skills so that we grow our own talent. We’re doing this at the same time as recruiting in some of the skills we need and using digital marketplace to bring in teams to work alongside us. So far this approach has worked really well, and I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved so far.


What have I read this week?

Not as much as usual — but I did find an interesting blog post about meetings and how to make them better. I’m thinking about buying the book it recommends — has anyone else got a recommendation on improving meetings they can share?

I read lots of other weeknotes for inspiration for mine — thanks Dan Barrett Sam Villis and @jukesie amongst many others.

#weeknotes 3: digital strategy, this time with more gifs

apparently gifs are integral part of weeknotes (thanks for the feedback!) so one of the things I learnt last week was how to embed them.

More importantly how was my week at work and what did we do?


I caught up with my colleague from IT to collaborate on our digital roadmap for the organisation. We’ve got an ambitious programme of work on the underlying technology — so we’re working together to make sure digital and technology are aligned with each other. Later in the eve there was a governor meeting at Holy Trinity School looking at progress data for each year group — and where we need to be focussing extra effort. I love working with the school (I’ve been a governor there for 14 years) — and it’s really interesting seeing how the leadership team approach opportunities and challenges.

Ok so this isn’t exactly progress data but it is some very cute chicks that Yr2 hatched . . .


Tuesday was ace. I spent most of it with @digi2al team and my team, getting to know them. That even involved a team lunch (yay!), and a great exercise by Kerri based on the where I’m from poem . . . worth checking out. I also got time to read the content audit report on our existing site from Rebecca — it’s really good and thorough, and highlights why we’re building a new site and digital advice service.


Wednesday was also ace (it’s been a good week generally). Sarah Prag and Gavin Beckett came in to see what we’ve done since they helped us create our digital roadmap. I had a shopping list of things to talk to them about — from benefits mapping to digital leadership.



Hmm. Thursday was way too busy. I tried to fit more in than I should have — a common problem I have and one I’m trying to get better at. There were several highlights in the day though including a great chat with our Head of Advice Services about how we can work together. Jess put up some great posters too:


I made a really good decision to work from home again on Friday morning — which meant I could answer all the emails that had stacked up. In the afternoon I caught up with the whole team. It was great to end my week with them all — planning ahead for next week and hearing about everything they’ve done so far.

What I’m reading this week:

Conversations of change, by Dr Jen Frahm. One of the first lines is ‘well hello there, haven’t you got a challenge?’. Nuff’ said, it’s great.

Team space, digital inclusion and #anothergreatweek my first weeknotes 28 Jan

We’ve had another great week this week in the Digital Innovation team so I felt inspired to try writing some weeknotes. I don’t know if this will be a regular thing, but let’s see.


Most of the team got together today to look at our digital roadmap and think about what micro actions we can take to engage our colleagues in what we’re doing and why. We’ve taken the idea of micro actions from our @oneteamgov colleagues — thankyou!

We’re about to start the beta phase for our digital advice service which means adding 6 more people to our team for a few months via a digital outcomes contract. Where to put them? Desk space is a challenge so as a temporary measure we’ve created a shared workspace by clearing up an area that wasn’t being used, and asking our admin team to lend us some tables. It’s not perfect but it’s a start and means we can all sit near each other.

Welcome to our touchdown space


I had a lot of different meetings on Tuesday but the lunch and learn session from @gavinelliott stayed with me all day (and for the rest of the week) and generated loads of good conversations with colleagues about mental health in the workplace. He blogs about his experience here — def recommend reading it.


Our Nottingham colleagues demoed their first alpha prototype to us — a packed session with great questions and discussion. They’re working on improving the user’s journey into our Individual Conciliation service, alongside a team from @MethodsDigital. I’m really impressed by what they’re doing, and our team are learning lots from the project.


I was really looking forward to this morning as it was our first digital skills volunteering session @bromley_by_bow centre. Once a month we’re supporting people who are learning to get online. It was incredibly rewarding, educational, and to top it all their social enterprise cafe does a mean veggie curry.



We went to catch up with our digital colleagues in the Office of Product Safety and Standards (part of BEIS). They’re as keen as we are to see where we can work together and share learning and resource — so one of them is going to spend some time shadowing our content designer, and come on some in house training we’ve organised.

Finally Philippa Newis and I have been working together to organise some yoga sessions for Acas staff, so far there’s been lots of interest. I’m curious to see whether this will be successful or not.

Trying something new . . .