w/c 7 January: so, what do I actually do?

I skipped a week, so here’s my first weeknote of 2019. Happy new year!

What do I actually do?

I try to make sure that I meet with everyone who joins our team within the first month of them starting and during a recent one of these welcome meetings I was asked what I do in my role. I thought that was a really good question and I’ve found thinking about the answer a useful exercise.

The first response that sprang to mind was email and admin. I try to batch up the myriad approvals and requests to review documents that I receive and work through those first thing every morning. This helps me focus on the things I want to get done during the rest of the day, but I always find it a bit of a challenge to keep myself focused on things that are important and avoid getting distracted with catching up with day to day stuff.

Then I thought about a range of the more valuable things that I spend time on. These include reviewing budgets, plans and progress updates, making myself available to help people with problems they’re trying to think through * and looking at ideas that colleagues are developing to help me keep in touch with the work we’re doing and able to make sure that we’re heading in the right direction.

But having mulled it over during the Christmas break ** I’ve concluded that the most important thing I do is paying attention to the intersections between teams and their work. These are the spaces where work can become disproportionately complex and where tensions between teams can arise. I think that a key responsibility of management is to be mindful of this and make sure that as well as setting the direction for the service as a whole we’re also checking that we are creating the conditions for success and supporting our teams in their delivery by looking for ways that we can configure our work so that everyone is able to keep up the level of pace and quality of results that we’re aiming for.

* I talked about that in this recent post: https://bytherye.com/2018/12/11/personal-reflections-on-how-i-prefer-to-work/.

** Hackney has a brilliant set up for Christmas where the Council shuts down between Christmas and New Year. Critical services continue to operate and our team still run an on-call service (and I also had a couple of days on duty as the ‘gold’ officer responsible for the Council’s response to any major crises), but most of the day to day ‘business as usual’ takes a pause for a few days. This means that your email box isn’t filling up with a ready made backlog for the return to work and makes the Christmas period a real break – as a result I feel that I’ve started the new year properly refreshed.

Refining our management team approach

Having thought that through I’ve realised that we haven’t been spending enough of our management team time looking at those intersections. We’re not ignoring them, but having talked it through with Cate, Henry and Matthew we thought we could do more to make this core to our rhythm of work and take a more structured approach to intervening in areas most in need of support. With that in mind we’ve now agreed to rejig our management team cycle along the following lines:

  • Our first meeting of the month (we have two each month) will retain the usual more operational focus. We’ll use these to track our service performance and other key operational areas such as our budgets, audit follow up and risk management. Not the most exciting parts of our work, but important parts of knowing our business nonetheless.
  • The second of our monthly management team meetings will have a delivery focus, using a more open workshop approach to identify key cross-cutting areas for our attention and identifying ways to address these with a focus on actions we can take within a 30 day timeframe. The goal for this is not to create a parallel universe of projects outside of our main portfolio of work, but to make sure that we are helping to keep the delivery of key initiatives on track and working well.
  • Finally, we’ll design our quarterly strategy days to include a wider set of colleagues from across the team (as we did for the recent one at the end of November: https://bytherye.com/2018/12/01/weeknote-20181201/), using these to dig into bigger strategic topics and make sure that we’re continuing to grow the impact and contribution that our service is making across the Council, helping to deliver services so good people prefer to use them.

We got the ball rolling by taking a workshop focus for last week’s management meeting and deciding on the areas that we want to focus on for January. I’m pleased with the shape that’s taken and am hopeful that it will help us make 2019 even more successful than 2018.

Looking back at the week before Christmas and the ten days since New Year, my other highlights were:

  • A session with colleagues from other councils looking at our different strategic approaches for our business systems and how we harness these to deliver great services for users. We didn’t define a blueprint, but it was great to talk through our common challenges together and tease out some of our thinking.
  • My first attempt at Wardley mapping, working with a group of HackIT colleagues and people from the Government Digital Service and Crown Commercial Service to see how this technique can help us understand challenges we are working on.
  • A good show and tell presented by the team who are working on improving our asset management practices. It was encouraging to see that they have developed a clear picture of the data that matters and identified where our service processes need to be redesigned to maintain good data quality.
  • Looking at our telephony provision, including exploring ways that we might better meet our users’ needs for mobile telephony. Cate and I worked together on some further development of our thinking and we’re hoping to get feedback from the management board on this later in the week.
  • A pre-meet with the Chair of our Audit Committee talking through the key areas that I’ll cover when I present my update to the Committee later in the month. I continue to find it refreshing that this conversation is focused on the contribution that technology and data are making to improving services for our residents, not just a tick list of audit reports.
  • Jasmeen and I caught up with senior colleagues in housing to look over the progress that we’ve made in our work to support the modernisation of housing services. It was a good reminder that Agile and design led approaches are still some way off being the norm, so it’s important for us to take the time to help new colleagues who are unfamiliar with these get assurance in the approach we’re taking.
  • And I’ve also had welcome meetings with several of the new people who’ve joined our team, including Humairaa, Shakti and Liudvikas who are part of our new cohort of apprentices.

Something I’m learning

I’m still a novice at the Agile approaches that we’re taking across our portfolio of work. It’s exciting to see the impact that this is having in terms of the pace and quality of delivery, but I’m conscious that I need to make sure that I’m taking the opportunity to learn how best to contribute to projects that I’m most closely involved in. As part of that Matthew’s helping me reflect on the role of Product Owner and how I can carry out that role in the Space Bank project which we’ve started recently.

(As an aside, I’m finding the Hackney Agile Lifecycle tool a handy reference for that: https://lbhackney-it.github.io/HAL/)

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