w/c 10 December: first service assessment and Christmas approaches rapidly

Joining the My Rent Account Service Assessment

On Wednesday last week I took part in my first Service Assessment, where we got together as a team to look closely at the work to develop Hackney’s ‘My Rent Account’ service. This was one of a series of Assessments that our Delivery team have been running this month, which will be reviewed in January to look at how we can use these as part of our work to further improve our governance in HackIT.

My Rent Account is a further development that builds on the very successful ‘Check My Rent’ service that we launched last year, providing tenants with a digital service that makes it easy for them to check and pay their rent. The original service has been really well received by residents and we’ve seen great uptake, and we’re continuing to iterate it to respond to user needs and make it even more useful for our users.

One of the features that I particularly liked was including external expertise to make sure that we’re challenging our thinking and learning from work elsewhere. For this assessment Ian from the UK Land Registry came up to Hackney from the south west to help us look at the service and consider whether we had met the principles set out in the Local Government Digital Service Standard which we’ve committed to follow.

I was impressed by the thoroughness of the work. The Assessment itself had been well prepared for (including very delicious home baked cake!) and there were lots of highlights from the team’s work which showed how diligently they’ve worked to make sure that this service will meet users’ needs. These included:

  • Involvement of service leaders, including a senior member of the housing service as Product Owner – making sure that this is part of core business, not ‘just an IT project’.
  • Extensive user research to understand the needs of the people who will use the service, which included analysis of how people use the existing service, interviews with users and a visit to the GDS Empathy Lab to consider accessibility needs.
  • Our development team’s work on developing APIs to make it easier to deliver and iterate digital services is showing real impact. The project has been able to switch from point-to-point integrations to connecting via our Hackney API, which will help provide consistent data across services and simplify future iteration of the service.
  • Thought has been given to the way that users will authenticate to the service, making sure that this is as simple as possible so that users can succeed first time, unaided.
  • Small details which can have a big impact have also been picked up – for example, user research showed that users found the standard green we use for confirmation buttons confusing as it’s very similar to the Council’s branding, so they sometimes assumed it was brand dressing not something they need to click.
  • The assessment also highlighted a number of areas for follow up in other areas of work that we’re doing, which was really valuable.

Service assessments are definitely a good thing when there’s cake involved.

I found this a much more valuable exercise than a traditional project board meeting. Getting closer to the detail was extremely useful in terms of giving assurance about the quality of the work that the team have done (I thought it was particularly useful that we were asked to ‘use the thing’ as part of the assessment so we experienced the service first hand) and it was also useful to reflect on how findings from this project can be applied across other areas of our work.

We are publishing our Service Assessments in the open (http://hackit.org.uk/how-we-work/service-standard-assessments) and the My Rent Account assessment will be available to read soon.

Other topics I worked on last week included:

  • Meeting up with peers from another council to share the work we’re each doing on connectivity in our boroughs.
  • Taking some time with Cate to go through the thinking that we’re starting to develop for a potential shift to a ‘bring your own’ model for mobile telephony. We’re considering whether we can move away from the Council providing devices and connections corporately and instead pay an allowance which people can use towards their own contracts or to arrange their own separate phone for work. We think that this could help save money, significantly reduce admin, be better for users and could also help to reduce waste material as fewer users would choose to have separate devices.
  • Looking at a proposal to replace a legacy system – where we’ve agreed to pause the work briefly to make sure that we’ve properly considered user needs and future technology developments. I was concerned that time pressures might mean expedience took precedence, but we agreed that we’ll take the time to get it right and also noted that if we procure through G Cloud the cost and time of procurement will be significantly reduced.
  • Met up with colleagues from the Civil Contingencies team to look at work we’ve done together to help them use some of the tools from G Suite to prepare for the response to potential emergencies. It was really encouraging to see how readily they’ve grabbed this opportunity and are able to move their ideas forward without needing a large amount of IT help.
  • We also had the HackIT Christmas party! The elves had done sterling work organising it, which included a magnificent feast at lunchtime on Thursday where people from across the team showed off their culinary skills.

Something I’m learning

Following on from my last weeknote, I’ve jotted down some reflections on how I prefer to work here: https://bytherye.com/2018/12/11/personal-reflections-on-how-i-prefer-to-work/. This includes continuing to learn how to focus on the things I most need to get done and how to encourage teams to solve problems together.

So, that’ll be it for my weeknotes in 2018. Normal service will resume from c 7 January and I hope everyone reading this has a wonderful Christmas break and an excellent start to 2019!