Weeknote w/c 4 and 11 March: getting out to learn about colleagues’ work

A ‘fortnight note’ to get myself back in step. I’m loving seeing spring arrive, especially the brighter mornings which I find a big improvement after the winter gloom!

A day with the waste team

When I joined Hackney I promised myself that I’d take time to get some first hand experience of our users’ work and reduce my risk of ‘ivory tower syndrome’. I’d planned to do something similar at my previous job but didn’t manage to follow through on that, so I’m resolved to do better at Hackney.

I’ve had really valuable visits to colleagues in Housing and Children’s services, and this spring I’m learning more about the work the Council’s Public Realm teams do. Two Mondays ago I started that with a day visiting our waste teams at Millfields. This covered several teams including the commercial waste service (the Council sells waste collection services to businesses, competing with private sector providers), cleaning on the Council’s estates, dealing with pests, the kennels where stray dogs are looked after and learning from the team who manage the waste collection shifts and requests from the public.

I came back with a list of things to follow up on, some of them smaller issues that our support team have picked up and some of them ideas for opportunities that we can look at together to help the services and explore links with other services in the Council. I can highly recommend taking time to do this and I’m looking forward to taking time with the libraries and parks teams in the next few weeks to learn about their services too.

How to HackIT

Last month I mentioned the work we are doing to create ‘How to HackIT’ – as part of developing an effective but light touch approach to governance and standards across the team (https://bytherye.com/2019/02/18/weeknote-20190218/). On Thursday a group of us from across different HackIT teams got together to look at the approach we’ve proposed, carry out a mini-assessment of some of the guides we’ve produced so far so that we can make sure they’re useful and clear, and agreed some areas that we will prioritise for the next month or two. It was really useful to take this time to reflect and it was a lively and enjoyable session. Our notes from the session are here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/118xLCcfmBHrIc-kS3IptMa2MTs8ZDydM5j5vXpLs5bg/edit?usp=sharing.

Linked to this, I think the single best thing that’s happened over the last two weeks was a note from a colleague in another part of the Council sharing a version of the induction plan that they’ve developed based on the ‘How to HackIT’ guide we developed for welcoming new starters into our team. They wanted to share their version because ‘there may be elements you may want to use to develop the ICT one and more importantly to let you know that your ‘working in the open / sharing’ has prompted us to adapt the way we work!’. I’m thoroughly chuffed about that!!

Other highlights from the last fortnight were:

  • I took some time with Ollie, Sarah and Tom to look at our position statement to make sure that we are providing colleagues with clear information about our plans for moving away from eDocs. It’s complicated because eDocs is used in a number of different ways and the volume of historic data means that a simple ‘lift and shift’ isn’t likely to meet our users’ needs. We’re going to be updating comms to colleagues shortly which will hopefully help to provide clear guidance on what they should expect.
  • Every three months senior managers from across the Council’s services get together for our Senior Managers’ Network meeting. We had one of these the week before last and it was the best that I’ve been to. This sort of cross-organisation meeting can often feel like a corporate broadcast, but this was quite different and included updates from across the Council’s work. We learned about new approaches to safeguarding, strategic Planning policy, work to promote healthy living, the work that Scrutiny do and the supported internships which are helping young people with special educational needs into work. It was a brilliant reminder of the important work that local authorities do and a good opportunity to look for ways that services might link up. Cate and I also used this as an opportunity to ask colleagues to help design the staff engagement we’re planning to get feedback on our thinking for the future mobile telephony service we will provide. I was really chuffed with the quality of response we got and we’re now looking at how we use that to develop our approach to the engagement work.
  • Tapan gave me an interesting overview of the work that he and colleagues in the Data & Insight team are doing to explore ways to publish more open data, including using AWS Lambda to help deliver that. Our hypothesis is that by linking this with our smart search tool for FOIs we can make a meaningful reduction in the number of freedom of information requests that colleagues receive, helping to reduce the significant cost of FOIs to the Council.
  • I joined a visit to a primary school in Dalston where we saw some great work that they’re doing using technology to support teaching and learning.
  • On Friday last week the Mayor and I did a joint presentation to a ‘data and digital masterclass’ for Councillors run by the Local Government Association. This was attended by Councillors from a range of authorities, including unitary boroughs, county councils and district councils and I found it really interesting to hear their experiences of working with data and technology in their authorities and enjoyed sharing our experience at Hackney.
  • We’ve had a challenging week and a half following the go live of the new pan-London Libraries system which Hackney is part of. This has particularly affected the self-service systems for borrowing and returning books, causing some pain for residents and libraries staff, and I’m really grateful for the hard work that has gone into resolving this (there are a few things outstanding but things are much improved now and heading in the right direction). We’ll need to make sure that we work through the causes of these issues and identify lessons that we can learn for future upgrades. From an initial look these are likely to include issues covering the technical set up, testing process and the way that support for externally managed systems like this is organised.
  • In happier news, the work to migrate the Council’s payments system has gone well and this was successfully completed last week. A huge thank you to everyone who helped to make this happen and put in lots of work to make sure that it ran smoothly.

Something I’m learning

We had our quarterly Divisional Management Team away day last week and we began that with a session that Cate ran, inspired by a post shared by Emily Webber (https://emilywebber.co.uk/the-team-manual-a-exercise-to-help-build-empathy-in-teams/). The Delivery team have used this recently but we were a little nervous that it might not work so well with a smaller group. I thought it was great, and it worked very well as a catalyst to a very productive day.

The exercise is designed to build understanding and empathy in teams and I liked how it helped to bring out some of our key motivations and the aspects of work that we enjoy and / or find more difficult. I’ve put my notes below in case it’s of interest (let me know if you can’t read my writing!).

Three of the things that I found thought provoking from this personally were:

  • When I began my career I got a lot of fulfilment from personal successes (for example, achieving strong sales results at the shop I managed) but I realise that what matters most to me now is feeling that I’ve been able to help others succeed.
  • I know that one of my challenges is delegation and resisting my urge to micro-manage. I find this especially difficult when something significant has broken operationally, because I feel a strong sense of personal responsibility (even guilt) for that.
  • I’ve never been very good at knowing clearly what I want to do for my career in the longer term. I used to wonder whether that ought to worry me, but I’ve now decided it shouldn’t and as a result I can enjoy what I’m doing without fretting too much.

Weeknote w/c 25 February: talking with suppliers about better ways to sell

A slight improvement in the timeliness of my weeknotes, but not much!

Selling to councils – a Croydon Digital Service event

On Tuesday last week I went south to the borderlands of London and Surrey to take part in an event that our colleagues in the Croydon Digital Service had arranged for their local digital businesses, sharing advice on selling to local government. It was very well attended and it was fun to be part of a panel with a wealth of experience of selling and buying digital services in local government and sharing some of my thoughts on this. Dave Briggs has done a write up of the event on Croydon’s blog (https://croydon.digital/2019/03/01/helping-our-digital-business-community-sell-to-the-public-sector/) and I focused my part of the talks on:

Demonstrating agility as well as being Agile

Sometimes in our line of work carefully crafted plans have to be set aside so that we can respond to urgent priorities which take us by surprise. An example of that last week was the need to make a switch over for the Council’s payment system, which we knew was in the offing but hadn’t expected to be needed as quickly as has been the case. I’ve been really impressed by the way that everyone involved has responded to this. We’ll need to check in so that we’re clear about which other important work has been delayed as a result, but the focused, professional and swift response from across the team has been fantastic and it looks like we’ve got everything on track. Thank you to everyone who’s been part of getting this done.

Other highlights from my week were:

  • Chairing the meeting of the Council’s Apprenticeship Steering Group. Hackney is showing real leadership in promoting apprenticeships within the Council and more widely across the borough, and it was particularly good to hear about the successes that apprentices are having after they complete their apprenticeships.
  • Further conversations about developing ‘How to HackIT’ guides for our technical and coding standards. We’ve got a workshop next week to go through the approach and agree our next areas to focus on, so these were about making sure that we’re well prepared for that.
  • I was part of the initial test group for having the SIM in my iPad swapped out. The team have done great work preparing for this and it was a really easy experience, which gives me confidence that everything will run smoothly when other users come in to have their SIMs swapped over the coming weeks.
  • I was pleased to hear about the progress with our ‘Web first’ redesign of our network, which will provide our users with faster and more reliable access to our systems. I did think that Chidi was a little bold in laying down the gauntlet to Cate for a Post-it challenge though…!
  • I had a catch up with the Mayor to give him an overview of the work we’re involved in across the Council’s services. I ran through these slides which cover a range of headlines and delve into a bit more detail for some of the projects we’re working on: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/119oLTBsBQFl8NeJHVZbia2v8Ep6xq2SAvnyW5YpMDjY.
  • And I wrapped up my week with a detailed look through the guidance that our information management team have been developing for use of G Suite to organise and share information. ‘Test the service from beginning to end with appropriate council member or senior manager responsible for it.’ is an important principle in the Service Standard we are committed to following (https://localgov.digital/service-standard) and I found this a very helpful way to make sure I have a good understanding of the details.

Something I’m learning

When you have a team as good as ours it’s sometimes easy to feel a little bit superfluous, with the best thing you can do being to make sure that you don’t get in people’s way! There were a couple of instances last week where I felt I was able to be helpful in navigating through some tricky dynamics which were looking like they might slow work down. Time will tell whether or not my suggestions actually were helpful, but it was a good reminder of what I enjoy about my job.

Weeknote w/c 18 February: learning from experts and promoting positive working styles

Half-term made for a change to my normal routine, and I was glad to have the flexibility to do some work from home and also a grandparent who could offer a couple of days of childcare. The working week was still very good though, with some pleasing progress.

Mayor’s digital advisory panel

On Thursday we had the second meeting of the Mayor’s digital advisory panel. Hackney is fortunate to count leading digital experts among our local residents and the businesses who are based in the borough, and this group gives us an opportunity to test out some of our thinking and explore new ideas. I find it really encouraging that the Mayor gives us time from his very busy diary to take part in these, which reflects his support and commitment for the work that we are doing to help Hackney realise its goals for the future.

At this meeting we focused on three topics, starting with a really useful discussion about data ethics. We are exploring ways that we can engage with our residents to demystify the ways that we use data now and in the future and to get their thoughts on the things we should do to make sure that as well as following the letter of the law we are also continuing to build trust. The panel made some really helpful suggestions which will help us reshape some of the ideas we were considering for this and also suggested some other steps that we could take.

Following that we then talked about ways that digital technology and approaches might help support the Council’s work with our communities and suggestions for ways that we can showcase Hackney as a leading tech borough in London Tech Week later this year. All in all a really thoughtful and valuable session and a great example of where working with local experts can help us with our work.

Positive working styles and mental health

I’ve had several conversations recently about how we can make sure that changes in technology and working styles are supporting positive mental health. Last week I caught up with a colleague in Public Health to discuss how we can contribute to the wellbeing strategy that the Council is developing. Many of the challenges aren’t new and I am a strong advocate for the benefits that more flexible and connected technology can provide and how these can be a positive contributor to a healthy work-life balance (I blogged some thoughts on how that works for me here: https://bytherye.com/2018/12/11/personal-reflections-on-how-i-prefer-to-work/).

But there’s also the risk that work might become a 24/7 thing with people finding it difficult to switch off if we’re not careful. We had a really good discussion about ways to guard against this, ranging from simple tips on how to disconnect from work apps during down time through to behaviours that we should be modelling to encourage positive working styles. I’m looking forward to being part of the conversation to develop this further and making sure that we are helping to promote wellbeing.

Other highlights from my week were:

  • A couple of great meetings as a management team, one to look through what the recent staff survey results tell us about how our service is developing and the second to catch up on the priorities we set last month and agree the areas we will focus on for the month ahead.
  • My regular catch up with the leads for the Council’s unions, where we talked about the changes we are helping services across the Council deliver and ideas Cate and I are developing for our future provision of mobile telephony.
  • A series of updates to the Housing steering group covering the digital services we are delivering.
  • Our regular security meeting, checking in on the work we are doing to keep our systems secure and develop a proactive approach to managing security risks.
  • Sharing the thinking that we did for our service structure with colleagues from another borough.
  • And a very useful discussion with our Comms team to look at how we can make sure that our work is plugged into the Council’s strategic communication planning.

Something I’m learning

At the end of the week I was trying to figure out why I hadn’t responded to a helpful set of suggestions that someone had shared with me in an email earlier in the week. I realised that it was because they’d included a link to an article that provided context for the ideas they’d shared and I’d allowed myself to think that I couldn’t respond until I’d read that through and taken time to think it all through – I’d basically turned an easy thing to do into a more complicated task, and then parked it and moved on. On reflection I could have made it easier for myself and been more responsive if I’d not done this. I’m going to ask myself whether I’m over-complicating my response to things and whether I can get things done more quickly if I keep them simpler. (Those who know me reasonably well will realise that this is not a trivial challenge!)

Weeknote w/c 11 February: developing the way we work

‘How to HackIT’

At our strategy stand up a couple of weeks ago Matthew explained how we’ve been developing our model for supporting consistent ways of working across our team, while also retaining our lightweight governance approach in line with the principles that Cate set out previously (Matthew’s slides are here: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1jnF5Ey7qqBHAAlYA7j28-RvmwEOOWUPMXi2afpGbXsg and Cate’s blog post explaining our governance principles is here: https://blogs.hackney.gov.uk/hackit/governance-so-good-people-prefer-to-use-it).

We’re calling this ‘How to HackIT’ and we’re envisaging this as a set of guides that will explain our approach across the work we do. This will never be a ‘finished product’ — the context we work in, the technologies we work with and the challenges we need to address will continue to change, so it’s important that this remains a living thing which is continually iterated so that it remains relevant.

We identified a set of user needs for ‘How to HackIT’ guides at our away day before Christmas. This week I took some time to look through these to rationalise them into what I’m hoping will be a clear first set that we can work through with colleagues from across the team and agree the priority user stories for us to work on first.

I’m also excited to hear that other people across the team have been working at producing ‘How to HackIT’ guides based on things that they’ve been working on. This is great because it’s important that this isn’t just a ‘top down’ thing, in line with our HackIT manifesto commitment to ‘trust the team’. To help with that we want to put in place a simple approach that anyone can use to share work in a consistent way so that it will benefit other colleagues, and we’ve defined that as one of our user stories.

We’ve had a first go at bringing this together and that’s now up as an Alpha which we can use to test out our thinking and get feedback: http://hackit.org.uk/how-we-work/how-to-hackit. As it’s an Alpha it’s still quite rough (some of the guides are more fully developed than others) but I’m very interested to hear your feedback and suggestions for how we can improve this.

The future for end-user kit

We’ve been looking at some of the ways that end-user computing is changing and thinking about ways we can adapt to that. Alongside pressing on with refresh of the Council’s PCs and laptops (which is much needed as many are over ten years old…) we are looking at how we can support a wider range of devices effectively. For example, we have a number of teams who use Macs for their work and lots of different types of personal computer that users use to connect to our systems when they’re working from home. As well as making sure that we’re using the right technology for management and security of kit and data, it’s also important that our support teams have the opportunity to gain the knowledge needed to help with queries — which is quite different from the traditional highly standardised model for business computing.

In addition to that we’re considering our options for how we provide mobile phones in future. The current ‘one size fits all’ approach is cumbersome to manage, expensive and a common cause of grumbles. It’s hard for the low cost phones that we currently provide to compete with the quality of devices that most people have for their personal use, and given the range of different flavours of Android that are available as well as users who prefer iPhones there aren’t many people for whom the corporate standard is a good fit for their needs and preferences. We’re exploring ways that we could do this quite differently and give people greater choice and flexibility while also making the service simpler to manage. We’ll be doing more work on this over the coming weeks and I’ll keep you posted with progress.

Other highlights from last week were:

  • Some useful conversations about how we manage our business applications and adapt so that we are able to support new digital services effectively
  • More work with colleagues in finance to make sure we’re managing our budgets well
  • A catch up with the Mayor to make sure that the preparations for the Digital Advisory Panel meeting we’re holding later this week are in hand
  • Progress updates for our work to support transformation in housing services (which includes Hackney being shortlisted for the ‘digital landlord of the year’ award at the UK Housing Awards — the only local authority shortlisted in the category)

Something I’m learning

I spent a little bit of time this weekend finding out more about how Amazon’s self-publishing platform works (helping someone else out, not because I’m planning to write a novel!). I was interested in the analogies between selling physical books and publishing a book for digital sales (Amazon describe their metadata concepts by comparison to bookshelves and the advice you get from booksellers). I also think it’s interesting to see how traditional publishing is being affected by it now being so easy for authors to publish their own work to a global audience, with services like Kindle Unlimited making it very low cost and low risk for readers to try out their books.

Weeknote w/c 4 February: hats and making change human

A slightly briefer weeknote than normal because my week was partly spent with my school governor / trustee hat on. I find this very valuable experience as it gives me a different perspective on public service delivery and it’s rewarding to have the opportunity to play a part in helping to make sure that the schools our trust is responsible for are providing an inspiring education for the children in spite of the challenges presented by changes to the education system and funding.

Thinking about how we change the way we work

I had a useful discussion mid-week with our chief exec and some other senior colleagues, talking through some of the challenges and opportunities we need to consider as we look to embrace collaborative and flexible ways of working across the organisation, enabled by better technology. One of the points we discussed was the trade off between efficiency and consistency, and people being able to work in a way that suits their personal preferences. Personally, I prefer to be ‘lighter touch’ in the rules we apply and to let people adapt their working styles in ways that work best for them and their teams. But it made for an interesting discussion as the benefits of a more flexible approach tend to be harder to boil down into clear measures of success.

DMT – shifting our focus

We’re having some useful conversations about how we can make sure that we’re using our DMT meetings to best effect. Our operational meetings are intended to make sure that we’re keeping on top of the key areas of our performance across the service, but it feels like we need to do a bit more work on this. I think they key is for us to make sure that we have a shared picture of our performance, are making sure that we celebrate progress and success (which I find can get lost if we’re not careful) and are focusing together on the things we need to do as a team to help address underlying factors that might be making it difficult for our teams to make progress.

Other highlights from my last couple of weeks were:

  • Our quarterly information governance group meeting, which included positive progress and growing collaboration with services to embed good information management practices.
  • An update on the work our team are doing to update our asset management for IT equipment. With our imminent refresh of PCs and laptops it’s really important that we get this right and I was encouraged by the progress.
  • A couple of useful discussions looking at how we can support leaders across the Council in learning more about how digital approaches, technology and data can help them develop their service improvement and transformation strategies. I think it’s important that this doesn’t fall into the trap of looking like a fad that we’re trying to impose on our colleagues and we talked through ways that we can make the concepts relevant and useful.
  • I was pleased that a number of colleagues mentioned that they’re looking at writing up ‘How to HackIT’ guides that we can use to help develop our governance approach and working practices across the team. And this reminded me that I’m feeling guilty about being slow with my part of that… Something I need to fix this week.
  • And linking in with the discussion about helping colleagues use technology to modernise ways of working in their teams, I was pleased to wrap up the week with a very encouraging catch up with Tom and a colleague from a team in public realm and catching up with the work they’ve been doing together to use Drive to help make information accessible from any device, anywhere, any time.

Something I’m learning

Coming back to my school governor / trustee work, this presents an interesting challenge in terms of the different roles I have, as I am both a trustee of a small multi-academy trust and also chair of governors at an individual school within the trust. This means that I am learning to remember which hat I’m wearing, as in some of the work my responsibility is directly for one school whereas in other meetings I need to focus on the trust as a whole. The two aren’t fundamentally in conflict but there are some decisions where the right choice for the trust might not always be the most popular at the local level.

w/c 21 and 28 January: sniffles and a bit of culture

Two weeknotes in one. Partly because I took a day off to do Cultural Things and partly because I spent last week feeling sorry for myself while I battled with a cold. I’m pleased to report that copious doses of hot Ribena have had the desired effect and I’m feeling much better this week.

Feedback from Members

I had the opportunity to give updates on our team’s work to elected Members at the Council’s Scrutiny Panel and Audit Committee over the last fortnight. Both of these conversations were very encouraging and I was especially pleased to hear Members giving positive feedback about the work we’ve done together with our colleagues in fostering and housing. Our elected Members are an important link with our residents and it was positive to hear that they’re getting good feedback about the impact of the work we’re doing.

I was asked some good questions about how we are working to make sure that we are designing inclusive services and how we’re building partnerships with colleagues in other service areas to make sure that Hackney is being ambitious and looking to maximise the positive impact that digital service design, technology and data can have for our residents. It was good to have plenty of examples to refer to which illustrated how we’re meeting these challenges.

(For anyone who enjoys reading Council reports, the reports I took are here: http://mginternet.hackney.gov.uk/documents/s63672/20190121%20Scrutiny%20ICT%20and%20digital.pdf and here: http://mginternet.hackney.gov.uk/documents/s63751/20190128%20Audit%20Sub%20Committee%20report%20ICT%20update.pdf).

Linking up with other services

Last Monday we had a joint management team session with colleagues in the Council’s Strategy, Policy & Economic Development division. This was a good opportunity to look at ways that we might work together to be ‘more than the sum of our parts’ and we used the 1–2–4-All approach to distill out a small set of ideas that we can explore further together over the next month. The ideas we agreed to focus on were:

How might we…?

  • Build on our work focussing on user needs to design equalities and sustainability into services
  • Grow a network of enthusiastic change practitioners
  • Help colleagues with insight into political leadership and the ‘golden thread’ between the work they are delivering and the corporate plan
  • Develop deliberative and accountable approaches for community engagement

We identified groups of 2 or 3 people who are going to explore each of these through quick, targeted actions and have agreed that we will get back together for a follow up session at the end of the month to reflect on what we’ve learned through that.

This discussion links with a report that I read a few years ago and thought was interesting, suggesting that support services should be seen as ‘force multipliers’ for ‘frontline’ services (https://drive.google.com/open?id=1_XZW4DHCz2IlfqFH8z2f6cnHVPik7-HH). It’s become fashionable to talk about ‘back office’ services as overheads that aren’t core to service delivery, but I think this misses the really important point that, done well, support services can liberate time and add focus to ‘frontline’ service delivery and if they’re not working well ‘back office’ services can have a significant negative impact on the ‘frontline’. I think it’s really important to define our success as being measured by the impact that we have together on delivering services to our residents, not simply carrying out our different professional disciplines.

Other highlights from my last couple of weeks were:

  • An interesting conversation about data and analytics with Liz and colleagues from Camden and Waltham Forest.
  • Good progress with colleagues in housing, agreeing how we will update our governance arrangements to help maintain the momentum that has been built for the work we’re doing together.
  • Joining the One Team Gov breakfast that Cate organised in our Town Hall, which included interesting conversations about public service reform and culture change.
  • The end of Discovery for our project to explore the Hackney Spacebank manifesto pledge. The team have done great work digging into the opportunities and challenges, and we’ve agreed to move forward into an alpha stage that will test out some prototypes for ways we might deliver on this.
  • Introducing Cllr Carole Williams (Hackney’s lead for employment and skills) to some of our new apprentices and a great conversation talking about the different things they had done before they joined Hackney and their thoughts on starting work with the Council.
  • A great catch up with the director for another service which included very positive feedback about the ways that our teams are working together to help shape and deliver transformed services for our residents.
  • Meeting some new colleagues from other services as part of the ‘Let’s Network Hackney’ introductions programme, which was also a good opportunity to show them how we can use video meetings to meet up even if we’re not in the same location (I was working from home shaking off my cold).
  • Some really inspiring progress updates from the work with colleagues in Temporary Accommodation which Matthew shared with me. This is a really important part of the Council’s work and I was incredibly impressed by the work that the teams have done together.
  • Intro meetings with Matthew and Bukky from our development team and Susan and John from our Print team, finding out about how their experiences of joining our team and what they were doing before they joined Hackney.

Something I’m learning

Like @Cate (https://weeknot.es/weeknotes-47-skills-talent-and-practise-3e8b33c37b66) I went to the Tate Modern to see the exhibition of Anni Albers’ work. As well as being impressed by the quality and detail of her work and finding the history of her life very interesting, there were also a few things I noticed that I found thought provoking.

The first was the observation that Anni made to her students about the importance of understanding how products will be manufactured in factories once the design part is done and thinking that through from the beginning of a piece of work. I liked the respect this showed for the whole process of making a thing, not just the ‘glamorous’ artistic bit. I also thought it was interesting to see the photos of textile factories from the 1950s and 60s, which I thought had interesting parallels with the discussions about robots taking over people’s work that you read in today’s media.

I also liked looking at the letters and correspondence that the Tate put on display as part of the exhibition. I thought it was interesting to see how brief some of them were — much more along the lines of what we’d put into a text message these days, whereas in my mind I’d expect an actual letter to be a much longer piece of prose.

w/c 14 January: getting partnerships right

The year is well underway and I’m now well into my annual ‘is it too far into January to still be wishing people happy new year?’ quandary. But 2019 has had plenty of variety so far, which is making for a good start to the year.

We’re continuing to focus on the January priorities that we set at our management team meeting at the start of the month. For me that’s meant taking time with Henry and Ollie to look at the work to refresh our ageing PCs and laptops; with Matthew looking at ways we can make sure we’re helping colleagues get the most from the new productivity tools we’ve been deploying; and working on our thinking for moving forward with some of the work we outlined at our November away day.


A colleague asked for a chat about something that I’d included in my last weeknote and it turned out that I’d used some terminology in a way that had caused a bit of concern and confusion (I think I’d picked up the wrong term). I was really pleased about this. It’s always encouraging to know that someone’s reading my weeknotes and this felt like an example of them being effective. Through sharing work in the open we were able to spot a misunderstanding quickly, talk together to clarify what we were doing and make sure that we’re all pointing in the same direction.

Building confident relationships with our colleagues

Something that’s really important to me is that we (ICT) work in a partnership of equal status with our colleagues in other services. I don’t like terms like ‘the business’, as that’s often used in a way that suggests that ICT are not part of the business, and I am keen to avoid us getting into a customer / supplier relationship with our colleagues because that disempowers us and can limit our contribution to driving improvement (and we all share the same customer – our residents). But it’s also important that we are working as partners and are seen to be listening and responding to priorities, pressures and concerns in the services we’re working with.

This month there have been a couple of examples of where we’ve had to test this approach – making sure that we’re standing up for principles that are important to us but also staying in listening mode and making sure that we don’t get locked into squabbles with colleagues. One of these relates to lack of familiarity with delivering change using an Agile approach and the other a proposed software decision which feels a bit rushed.

I’ve been encouraged by the progress with these and it feels like we’ve taken some steps forward in developing mutual understanding. My hunch is that neither is going to result in the ideal outcome that we would like if it was just down to us, but where a compromise is needed I think we’ll have a better understanding of why that needs to be the case and will have also strengthened our working relationship with our peers.

Other highlights from my week were:

  • Starting the week at the GDS offices in Whitechapel looking at the leadership training that they’re developing to support the Local Digital Declaration and sharing thoughts and experience to help shape that.
  • A good discussion with colleagues from other councils and the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government agreeing how we will move forward with the next steps of development for the Pipeline collaboration platform.
  • Cate and I went to the management board to share our thinking on future models for mobile telephony provision. This was a productive discussion and we got a helpful steer which we’ll be using to develop a more detailed recommendation to take back in a few weeks time.
  • Planning a joint Divisional Management Team meeting with colleagues in another service – which we’re hoping to use as an opportunity to develop thinking for ways that central services can work together to help colleagues in other areas drive change and further improvement in their services.
  • Wrapping up the week with an excellent discussion with Catherine Howe and her team from Cancer Research, comparing notes and identifying areas that we might continue to learn from one another’s experiences and share thinking as we develop our work.

Something I’m learning

I instinctively avoid conflict where possible, which often makes me wonder whether I’m reaching reasonable compromises or whether I ought to push harder for things I think are important. The discussions I mentioned above have been a good opportunity to test how I’m getting on with learning to strike the right balance.