Weeknote w/c 17 June: an anniversary

Reflections on getting to three years in

On Thursday I completed my third year with Hackney, it’s amazing how fast the time has passed. * I’m enormously proud of how much we’ve accomplished in that time, building on a strong legacy from previous years’ work at Hackney which provided solid foundations in terms of infrastructure that worked, a real commitment to our residents and users across the team, and a long-standing focus on the importance of data.

Some of the things I’m particularly proud of from the last three years include:

  • The work we’ve done to develop our team: reducing vacancies and hiring great new people into the team, developing new skills and capabilities and launching a sector leading apprenticeship programme
  • Some of the most exciting work that I’ve seen in either the retail or local government sectors, where use of modern digital technology, user research, service design and APIs is helping us to develop dramatically better digital services and reduce our dependency on legacy local government systems
  • The modernisation of our workplace technology, providing users with fast, easy to use tools, devices, wifi and meeting room technology – helping them to work together from any device, anywhere, any time
  • Good progress with continuing to modernise our applications, infrastructure, security and commissioning – setting a strong direction for future developments
  • Big steps forward in getting the most from our information assets, including a growing number of examples that show how data and analytics can support service design and delivery across the Council and great work to embed the principles of GDPR across the Council
  • Continued improvements in the service we provide for our users, especially the introduction of services such as bookable appointments which have received really positive feedback from users
  • Increasingly effective partnership working with other Council services and external partners, getting us closer to strategic conversations where we can make a real difference
  • And I’m also really pleased that our work isn’t just benefitting Hackney – by working in the open across our teams we are getting really useful input from peers in other organisations and also helping other organisations to deliver change

There’s much more that we still need to do and our work won’t ever be ‘done’. But I think we should all feel proud of the contribution we’re making to Hackney and the wider community of public servants who are looking to make the most of data and technology for the benefit of citizens.

With this in mind, the timing of the Quarter 2 retro which Matthew led on Thursday was really good. It was great to see people from across our team come together to look at the progress that we’ve made over the previous three months. David pulled together a slide deck that summarises the highlights from the retro and if you’ve not skimmed through those yet I strongly recommend you grab a cup of tea / coffee / non-caffeinated beverage of choice and take a look: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1Z4bu46wT44Jtv6S7twC4r4FcwuU2oxU2CxYMoQf48mE/edit?usp=sharing. There are lots of examples of the important work we’re helping to deliver and I also really liked the honest reflection about areas where we need to improve.

Thursday also saw the show & tell for the end of the discovery phase of the DevOps project. This is a really important next step in how we work as a team. I liked Roo’s description of us as being ‘like a start up’ and the openness that had come out through the discovery work. But along with the energy and team ethos that comes with this, there are also tensions between pace and coordination which we need to work on. I thought that the hypotheses that the team put forward looked like good ones for us to focus on and I’m looking forward to seeing how these develop. What strikes me as particularly important is that every set of standards we put in place must also contain a clear way to change them (often) in future so they we don’t lose sight of the importance of remaining adaptive as our context and technology changes.

* Although Matthew pointed out that the Empire State Building was constructed in thirteen and a half months, which puts things in context…

Delivery DMT

On Monday last week, we had our monthly delivery focused DMT (divisional management team) meeting. We use these to look at the bigger picture strategic topics that we need to prioritise, with particular emphasis on cross-cutting pieces of work which depend on the contribution of more than one part of our team.

We agreed that we’d made sufficient progress on a few of the things that we’d prioritised the month before to move them off our list. This included recruitment (reflecting our recent recruitment event and some work that Matthew has planned), the refresh of the ‘HackIT Manifesto’ (Henry has set up workshops to get input from across the team), and the work on applying digital design to improve the user experience of Hackney’s support services (we agreed a way forward for this at our recent away day). We don’t wait until things are ‘done’ before we move them off the DMT list, our goal is to make sure that we’re confident that we’ve set up an approach that brings the right people together to move things forward in the right direction.

Areas we want to focus on this month are:

  • Continuing the work to make sure that our finances are in good order
  • The set up of the new Member led Customer Services board
  • Work on telephony, including getting agreement to the new model for mobile telephony that we’re developing and a tidy up of landline set up to help reduce costs
  • The actions that will be prioritised following the end of the discovery phase for the DevOps work

Other highlights from last week were:

  • We published another four ‘How To HackIT’ guides covering a wide range of topics (you can find the growing collection of guides here: http://hackit.org.uk/how-we-work/how-to-hackit). I’m liking the momentum that we’re developing with this and it’s becoming a useful tool to help align ways of working across our team. I’m also encouraged to see a positive response to these from people elsewhere, which suggests that other colleagues will find them useful too.
  • The updates at our monthly ICT Security Group meeting showed continued good progress with our work to keep information secure. I was particularly pleased with the work to simplify secure email and the results of the latest phishing test, which suggests significant improvement (I was also amused by how hard the team had had to work to get the test phishing email past Google’s built in security protections).
  • I took a half day on Tuesday for a visit to one of the primary schools in the small Multi-Academy Trust that I’m a Trustee for. It was a great visit and I loved talking to the children at the school and hearing what they thought of their experiences there. They were friendly, welcoming and full of interesting ideas. I’m learning loads from my governor and Trustee roles and it’s definitely something I would recommend if the opportunity comes up.
  • Henry and I met with our Cabinet Member for Housing on Wednesday to discuss how we will engage with tenants and leaseholders as part of the connectivity work that Henry’s leading. This was a productive conversation and we got a good steer for how we will develop this.
  • Marian and I met with colleagues from Corporate Procurement to discuss ways that we can help them adapt to using the G Suite tools. We were able to show them some features that they weren’t aware of and discussed some of the concerns they had collated from across their team. The next step will be an exercise to map the main processes across their work so that we can recommend ways that they can get the most out of the improvements that G Suite and other modern productivity technologies can offer.
  • On Thursday evening, a group of us went to the Digital Leaders 100 awards, where Hackney had been nominated as Digital Council of the Year. We didn’t win, but we were in competition with several councils who have long standing records as leaders in digital transformation (Leeds were the deserving winners) and I’m really proud that we were nominated and shortlisted among a group of such inspiring peers.
  • On Friday afternoon, I joined the Infrastructure team to look at work they’re doing to review some of our security controls for end-user devices. I was really pleased to see that they are approaching this with a focus on user needs, not simply as a technical exercise – it was a really positive example of how understanding user needs is for all of us, not just a ‘digital’ thing.

Something I’m learning

Online ordering is a great way to save time travelling to shops and to avoid the faff of dragging children around while trying to make buying decisions. I did, however, wonder whether I’d actually made any net saving as I trudged around at the weekend taking back all the returns from my over-zealous panic shopping. I guess that return on investment calculations apply just as much in the personal realm as they do at work!