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 48 – relentless user focus

We talk a lot at Hackney about users – trying to make sure that everything we do is rooted in a deep understanding of our user’s needs. There’s often a gentle fluttering of PostIts at various whiteboards and any spare wall space – as teams think through the insights they’ve gained. This week I’ve been thinking about what I’ve done in terms of understanding our users.

  1. I’ve been working with Karim to pull insight from the data we’ve got on how and why people are printing stuff*. Going through the responses we underlined each time the same theme came up. It’s clear that (and it’s no surprise) reliability is the biggest need. A colleagues summed it up nicely:

When I press print, I need to know my stuff is going to come out the other end

Our first go at identifying some key needs

2. The skilled, and very lovely, Audree Fletcher came in on Friday and ran a ‘make your user stories great’ workshop with us. This was awesome, and I learnt loads. We spent time recapping what makes great user stories, and the thread back to needs. In the second half we spent time critiquing each others’ stories, helping each other to improve them.



3. The team that’s been thinking about how we manage ICT assets better gave a great show and tell, led by Mercy, one of our digital apprentices. The team have been working with Philippa Newis who’s been coaching them in agile practices. This has helped the team work out what their MVP is going to be. It was a great example of starting with a few things that deliver value to the user and iterating from there.

4. My user needs. I needed time and space this week to plan ahead, and finish some key bits of work off. That went well at the start of the week, but by Friday not so much. I ended the week with a couple of meetings that could have gone much better, if I’d prepared better, and had given myself the space I needed. Timely then that I came across this:

View at Medium.com

I missed this session at Gov Camp, there are just so many sessions to chose from. So I really appreciated this thoughtful write up and it’s given me some ideas to go and try.

5. I had lunch with both Nic and Susan this week, having conversations about what they need from me, and what’s coming up. Taking the time to talk over lunch gave me a much better understanding of what they’re thinking about, and how I might support them better.

Other things I’m working on

One of the areas we’re looking at on our apprenticeship programme is where the current standards don’t really fit with how we work. One of the key areas is around Agile delivery management. We’re currently using the L4 associate project manager standard. It’s ok, and has lots of great content about risk, budgets, and it’s also teaching our apprentices to recognise a Gantt chart in the wild**. But I can’t help feeling that we’re missing a trick if we don’t think about delivery management more holistically – and train people to think team first, working in the open as standard, with the agile manifesto at the heart. So, I’m starting a trailblazer group, and so far I’m working with James Reeve, Made Tech, and Philippa Newis – if you’re interested please get in touch. We need 10–12 organisations to get started and it’s a well defined process we need to follow.

There’s an open trello board here if you’re interested:

View at Medium.com

What I learnt this week:

That working from home a day a week makes a big difference to my energy and my ability to work effectively. I didn’t work from home this week (for various reasons) and I noticed the impact by Friday evening.

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


*There’s lots of kinds of stuff ranging from letters to committee papers. And lots of data we can use for insight as well.

**I’ve convinced myself this is a valuable skill to have.

Weeknotes 47 – skills, talent and practise

Six prayers, from the Anni Albers exhibition. This was an amazing and humbling piece. Talent, skill, practise all in one. My photo doesn’t do it justice. .

This week I’m trying some different headers to give a structure to the week, after last week’s day by day account. On reflection I think I prefer the more random nature of different headers, it’s less diary style. I’m also always aware that there’s loads that happens each that I don’t write about – that’s ok too, but writing under daily headings makes me notice it more. Although trying all the different styles in Sam Villis’s blog is really making me think about what I’m writing each week.

Some things I’ve been doing

It’s 5 months since we recruited our first cohort of apprentices. This week I’ve been talking to the line managers about how it’s going for them – what’s going well, what isn’t, and ideas for how we might improve our programme. As a group they’ve taken on responsibility for mentoring, coaching, and the training of each apprentice. I wrote up the feedback, and some thoughts as a separate blog post.

Some of our apprentices meeting with Cllr Williams

I’ve also been listening to the apprentices this week – they met with Cllr Williams, our lead member for Employment and Skills this week and talked to her about how it’s going for them, Hackney’s commitment to apprenticeships and what led them to apply. It was a great discussion and Emma and Nadine are going to write a blog post about it.

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

I’ve spent quite a bit of time this week talking to colleagues about their projects/programmes and how they might use agile techniques to help them focus in on delivering value quickly. They’ve been great conversations and it’s a really nice part of my role*. I really like working with people to help them step back from the detail, and from all the things that need** to happen. I often ask – what’s the next most important thing you can do? Why is it that thing? What value will that bring?

On Tuesday Nic and I finalised the shortlisting for the candidates for the Senior Delivery Manager and Delivery Manager roles. We had a really good field of applicants and I’m looking forward to interviewing in a couple of weeks time.

Some other things I’ve been working on

Steve, Karim and I got together to plan out a presentation on how we’re supporting our contract managers to build their confidence in contract management and procurement. We caught up as a team on the printing as a service project — we’ve done some initial user research and analysed the usage data, and this has given us some good insight into patterns of behaviour. Hidayat has done a fantastic job of tidying up the project trello board and adding acceptance criteria to each task, so we’re in a much better place this sprint, and the work is going much more smoothly.

Matthew presenting about How to HackIT

Matthew did a great presentation to the team about How to HackIT. We’ve started thinking about how we make sure that we’ve got repeatable processes, that we can iterate easily, and that we’ve created together. We’ve developed some things as a team already – the API playbook on github, our template for writing Digital Marketplace briefs and our guide for assessors on HackIT service assessments, to name just 3. But we know that there’s loads more that’d be both valuable and helpful to look at.

Some puzzles (things I’m thinking about)

How do I distill to my colleagues in my teams everything that’s happening/being discussed/on the horizon each week? It’s not these weeknotes (although they give an insight), and a conversation isn’t always enough each week. But I also don’t want to write a formal email. So I’m trying a ‘5 things you should know this week’ message on slack first thing on a Monday for now, and asking for feedback on how useful that is.

What’s the role of an intranet in a modern organisation that has access to a whole host of channels we can and do use to communicate, collaborate and transact? Matthew and I met with colleagues this week to talk about future plans for the intranet. I think the role of an intranet is changing for most organisations, and it’s an opportunity to think about what it’s purpose is at Hackney.

What I read this week:

This from Amy Everett at the Home Office on observational research:

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

This awesome blog from Adele Murray on designing letters:

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

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

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

I’ve got a big presentation coming up at Agile in the City in April, so I’m thinking now about what I want to say and how I want to say it.


*I’m basically quite nosy, and genuinely curious about most things.

**often it turns out that what we think we need to do, we don’t. Hello assumption, nice to see you again.

Weeknotes 45 – asking stretching questions

Winter Lights art festival @ Canary Wharf, London*

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

Satori labs 10 questions

What did I do today that I do every day?

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

What surprised me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did I learn?

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

and I really liked this reflective piece from Mathilde Collin:

https://link.medium.com/FmICOdZuzT

GovCamp 2019

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

https://link.medium.com/FmICOdZuzT

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

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

https://link.medium.com/FmICOdZuzT


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

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


Weeknotes 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