Weeknotes 51 – what happened this week?

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

6 (great) things that happened:

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

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

https://media.giphy.com/media/2KOUaMezKiaic/giphy.gif

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

Chidi presenting on Hackney’s low-level network design

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

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

View at Medium.com
View at Medium.com

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

View at Medium.com

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

What I read this week:

View at Medium.com

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

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

View at Medium.com

What I learnt this week:

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

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

View at Medium.com


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

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

View at Medium.com

***I’m really not very good at this.

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

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

They’re penetrating the bureaucracy!

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

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

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

https://link.medium.com/wiI91xFcuU

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

What is the problem that we are trying to solve?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is this something that is easily grasped?

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

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

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

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

Scenes from my morning run no2.

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://media.giphy.com/media/X7slo1XTezvi0/giphy.gif

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

**no hairband. Just supremely annoying.

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

my morning run — feels like spring may be here

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

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

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

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

https://link.medium.com/h0EfAp5HgU

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

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

https://link.medium.com/h0EfAp5HgU

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

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

https://media.giphy.com/media/rzlP5CEsft9ug/giphy.gif

Other things that happened this week:

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

https://link.medium.com/h0EfAp5HgU

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

https://link.medium.com/h0EfAp5HgU

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

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 44: New year, new formats

Walking to #oneteamgov on Wed through St James Park

It’s a new year and so I think time to see if there’s learning and benefit to be had from trying out some different weeknote formats. I tried a few when I first started but recently I’ve pretty much stuck to ‘5 things’ format – I like it and it works for me. But, over the next few weeks I’m challenging myself to try all of the suggestions in Sam Villis’s excellent blog post. First up is this one:

  • Good things
  • Learned things
  • Difficulties
  • Achievements

Good things

Lots of good things happened. On Monday we had another building an excellent delivery team session – Nic’s set these up to help the new and growing* team to come together, and to help us focus on where we want to improve our practice. I used the session to review how we’re running our service assessments and get feedback from the delivery managers on the experience. Really interesting range of views – which I’m planning a separate HackIT blog post about, but what stood out for me was a) the honesty and reflection from the team b) getting the balance right in assessments between support and challenge.

Service assessments — liked learned lacked — cluster post its.

On Wednesday I went to the One Team Gov breakfast in Westminster – a great set of discussions (as always), and I’ve started to think about what we’ll need to run the Hackney one on 23rd Jan successfully! I was introduced to the car park theory for teams — it’s really made me think about team shape and space in a different way.

View at Medium.com

I went from breakfast back to Hackney in time for a session with henry lewis and Kirstine, looking at the programme of work around how we can support staff better at Hackney. Together we created a high level roadmap for each product/service – it’s an ambitious programme and was really interesting for me to help facilitate the discussion. We talked a lot about team – how to create a collective sense of purpose when you’ve got a distributed team.

Learned things

I was lucky enough to get useful feedback this week from a range of different people. A couple of bits made me feel sad, but at the same time incredibly grateful. There are some behaviours I wish I was better at and I’m consciously trying to improve on, so whilst it was frustrating to know that I’d got it wrong this time it was equally important that I saw that so I could learn from it.

I read quite a bit this week including this from Jenny Vass which is really good advice to anyone thinking about a new role **

View at Medium.com

I finished Michelle Obama’s autobiography Becoming, a Christmas gift from a friend. Really worth reading — and a fascinating journey.

Difficulties

My personal trello board is still too focussed on to do lists — and I think probably needs a major reorganisation, so that I can see what the next most important thing is to focus on. I’m not sure how to approach it — so I’m still at the thinking stage.

Achievements

I’ve managed to navigate a route to being able to advertise our roles on the Civil Service jobs site as loans, and the new roles went up on Wednesday. A couple of people have already been in touch as a result — this is ace.

I made space on Friday to think about priorities and goals for this quarter, and used Matthew Cain’s objectives and key results template to start mapping it out – I’ve got enough now to show the teams, so that we can have a discussion about what feels ambitiously manageable.

And I managed 2 swims this week – only 48 to go.

https://media.giphy.com/media/hllwtNe9cnAeA/giphy.gif


*we’re recruiting to new posts – http://hackit.org.uk/work-with-us/careers

** I’m not looking for a new role but did I mention we’re recruiting?

Weeknotes 43 – getting back into the swing of things

Like most people it was a short week this week, and a chance to catch up on things I’d put off till the New Year. I’d sensibly made myself some ‘do this today’ trello cards for key things coming up, and restarted my habit of reflecting about the ‘3 things I want to accomplish today’ before I open my inbox/slack/chat/twitter etc.

4 (great) things that happened this week:

  1. I drafted my slides for the Crown Commercial Service buyers conference that I’m speaking at in a couple of weeks time. Matthew gave me some great feedback on them that helped me improve them immensely, and I feel great that I’ve prepared in advance*.
  2. Not really work related but definitely great – my friend Susie started her 2019 project – Small Actions Today. I think this is an awesome reaction to feeling like it’s an increasingly depressing world and I’m really curious to see what happens to the project.
  3. After being pretty persistent – and asking ace people like James Arthur Cattell and John Fitzpatrick for advice and help, I’ve worked out how to advertise our short term** vacancies as loans on the civil service jobs site. I’m hoping that by doing this we can attract even more ace people to come and join us in 2019. We’ve got tons of interesting, innovative, challenging stuff to work on, and a genuinely brilliant team culture. Fingers crossed the first ads will go up next week.
  4. First swim of 2019, on my first day back. Can I manage 51 more? After a successful run up to Christmas where I managed a swim a week, I’m setting myself a 2019 challenge. Once a week, every week.

What I read this week:

This from Janet Hughes before Christmas is a really good guide to blogging:

https://dfedigital.blog.gov.uk/2018/12/18/where-to-start-if-you-want-to-start-blogging/

A great first set of weeknotes from Carolyn Parker

https://dfedigital.blog.gov.uk/2018/12/18/where-to-start-if-you-want-to-start-blogging/

which reminded me of this great post from Sam Villis

https://dfedigital.blog.gov.uk/2018/12/18/where-to-start-if-you-want-to-start-blogging/

I’m promising myself I’ll try some new weeknotes styles this year.

and finally I really liked Louise Cato’s thoughtful first weeknote of 2019

https://dfedigital.blog.gov.uk/2018/12/18/where-to-start-if-you-want-to-start-blogging/


*failing to prepare ahead of time/not giving myself enough time is still (one of) my Achilles heels, one of those lessons I’m possibly doomed to learn again and again. Not this time though, oh no.

https://media.giphy.com/media/FErVqfH6FLq48/giphy.gif

**up to two years