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.

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/)

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!