Personal blog. Day job: Customer services, digital and data in Hackney

Month: April 2021

Weeknote v10.16

Week beginning 19 April

Focus for the week

I can’t believe there was a time when I didn’t set goals for the week. I should consider handing back a proportion of my salary to previous employers. This week they served to give me a kick on Tuesday evening when I realised how little I’d done to progress them. And now, they’re all pretty much done. But the other reason they’re so valuable is that I can’t actually say that they’re done because they’re written down and visible to my team. 

  • We have a tool to aid collaboration with social care, but it needs a worked example to know whether the tool succeeds. 
  • We had a show & share with more people attending and strong practioner voices – but there’s more work needed to start defining and capturing the value of what we’re doing. 
  • We have a plan for data from our M3 application but it’s currently in my head rather than articulated in the way that;’s needed. 
  • The data platform team didn’t just clearly communicate the value they’ll provide users first but sketched out a coherent roadmap for the initial scope of the project, which was really exciting. 

But we also had some findings this week from our resident satisfaction survey which need attention. One of the exciting things about customer services is the availability of near realtime data. But I know that we need to have the courage and capacity to make strategic improvements as well as managing the day to day. But there’s obviously a balance to be struck between these two – and it’s a balance I’m still learning about. And this week my goals probably orientated me too much towards software recovery to respond to what we’re learning. 

Ones to watch

Care package builder – the focus of our social care work has necessarily been on the practitioner experience of case recording. But one of the other important tools we’ve been lacking is to enable the creation of care packages. Our partners Nudge have been beavering away to understand the user needs, map the business process and use some of our common components to develop something and we’ve now got some UIs to help show the thing.

Single View – I had a thrill this week when I saw a tool that Jaye had put together to automatically commit an email from gmail to our single view tool. It’s a really nice example of how working with smart, creative people can surprise and delight if they’ve also got a little bit of space, and I can see all sorts of potential use cases. 

What I’m learning

From knowing to learning – I gave a presentation this week. I was excited about it and instinctively knew that I had a lot to say. I thought it would be easy. But when I had to prepare the presentation, that long list of things that I thought I knew didn’t immediately form into a coherent set of thoughts. I was struggling to convert what I knew into what I learnt.  I’d spent time thinking about what I knew but I hadn’t forced myself into enough depth to convert that into things I’d learnt. 

Energy – I was slightly too effective at finishing work at around 5.30pm, this week and an extra 10 hours across the week would have been particularly helpful. But I’m also back running after a calf injury so the start to the day has improved by becoming more focused. It matters because I reckon I need my energy for all the things that don’t naturally generate their own energy. 

Next week

I’ve set myself goals which aren’t entirely within the gift of our team but where I reckon a bit of focus can reduce the risks of it not being achieved because we don’t anticipate what needs to be done next. But I’m also spending a bit of time looking forward. One of the consequences of our current position is that it reduces our planning horizons to ‘what next’. There are some really positive aspects of this, But we’re almost 25% through the year to define the decade, so it’s good to use that to look forward so that we can work backwards.

Weeknote v10.15

Week beginning 12 April

Focus for the week

I set four goals for this week and spent just enough time on each to feel like I contributed towards their progress (one is probably better not shared openly). 

  • An agreed approach for document management in revenues and benefits which is clear communicated
  • Define the remaining  work & timeframes involved in providing access to services over PSN and connecting an older application which requires access over VPN 
  • The data platform project is clear what value it will deliver first to users

Whilst two are still work in progress, it felt like a week with more comprehensive progress. I also avoided the Friday morning anxiety that I get most weeks as we prepared the update for ‘Silver’ – the Directors and Heads of Service meeting to discuss recovery progress. 

In addition to the work I expected at the start of the week, we also grappled with a system outage over the weekend and in to Monday afternoon. I didn’t contribute much, in truth, but tried to hold the ring between teams but not so tightly that I was a blocker. We were fortunate that it resolved on Monday because I suspect that any longer would have had a material impact on the rest of the week. 

The process of setting the goals across the different workstreams is also starting to generate a useful conversation both amongst the workstream leads and at our recovery meetings. We’ve been working in this way for four weeks now so it’s a helpful reminder that sometimes it takes a few goes before it something new starts to take hold. 

Ones to watch

Find my polling station – You can’t choose where you vote and it isn’t necessarily the closest place to where you live. It doesn’t change much, but before you know, you need to know. There’s a clear user need to find my polling station. And Democracy Club, an independent social enterprise, has built a service that’s better than what we can do. So we’re making sure the data about our polling stations is in good shape for Democracy Club’s tools to provide the right information to residents. 

Delivering and improving – we’ve got a couple of teams that are delivering significant new features whilst also listening and responding to user feedback about what we’ve done already (Repairs Hub and social care case recording are probably the best examples). That creates a challenge in everything that we do: How can show & tells find space to reflect and learn, whilst talking about what’s new? How do we make space for improvements whilst delivering new features? How do we prioritise improvements sufficiently to keep users’ confidence whilst focusing on the big things? How can we use the performance of the live service to teach us about prioritisation? 

Managing our housing finances – a significant number of council services found ways to design interim approaches for continuing through the cyberattack. And as we start to put those on a firmer footing, we need to manage the data as was, the data processed whilst the software was unavailable, and the new data. The work we’ve done in housing services with our partners Nudge conducted a Service Standard assessment to ensure we’re doing that as well as we can. It’s pretty damn bold not just to be recovering from the cyberattack but also be aiming high. 

What I’m learning

Digital chairing – I spend far more time facilitating or leading meetings than chairing. And I did a pretty ordinary job of chairing one meeting this week. Partly I’m blaming the software. Bad workmen do tend to blame the tool. But I reckon the video algorithm gives more prominence to those more active in the meeting. And when you’re chairing, that means they’re more visible to you in a way that silent participants are more visible when you’re face to face. 

Feedback – I received some feedback this week which was hard to hear. I knew it was right, I know it’s harder to solve than it looks. And I don’t know if I can. This was also the week where the determination to tackle the last piece of feedback started to fade. I think that the right thing to do is make sure I’m consistently adopting the previous piece of advice, not forget this, and promise to tackle it when I have the time.

Next week

I’ve set goals that aren’t the most pressing issues for any of the workstreams. There’s a logic, which I’m interested in setting: the pressing issues are well attended to and they may or may not be resolved in the next five days but my shadow won’t help that positively. Therefore, I’m better off setting goals which are about making the most of some important but not urgent tasks and thinking ahead to what next. It’ll be interesting to see how well this works or whether it risks causing a disconnection with the teams and their work.

Weeknote v10.14

Week beginning 5 April

Focus for the week

This week will have been dominated by the launch of the consultation on our new structure in customer services for some of the team. We’ve achieved an immense amount in the last 12 months – in fact 32 new ways to help our residents. 

A set of initiatives introduced in customer services in the last year

But mostly that’s been despite the way we’re organised. The proposals for a new structure are designed to make it easier to continue our ambitious plans and are the product of lots of conversations – with residents, colleagues in the service, people across the Council and our senior leaders through the Mayor’s customer services steering group. As a result, I hope they’re not surprising. Change can always be worrying but I hope we’ve reduced the stress by clearly signposting the direction of travel.

It’s taken longer than I wanted to get to this point and the nature of these things is that when I had to work hardest on the proposals, I had the least to say. But next week we can meet to discuss them together and I can start to get a sense of how they’ve been received. And whilst we’ve worked hard on the proposals, it’s important to listen carefully to the thoughts and ideas of the team. They know better than me what it takes to run a successful customer services operation. 

The vast majority of my time remains on the software and data recovery, cloud unless and data platform workstreams that I’m leading. After a week away, it took me a day to get up to speed But I was well supported by coming back to a number of handover notes – thanks particularly James and Soraya – and weeknotes. Yet even now, there remain 45 unattended-to emails in my inbox. I wrote three well-crafted goals for the week:

  1. A clear way timeline and process map for document processing in revenues and benefits that we have communicated to the heads of service, is consistent with our technology strategy
  2. Timeframes and documented tasks for establishing access to two important services which can only be accessed over a VPN 
  3. A social care show & tell which works towards a practitioner-led conversation and shows that we’re delivering value early and often

In hindsight they were too ambitious to achieve in 5 days, let alone just the three that I had available. However, we made progress on all three fronts. I was particularly pleased with the social care ‘show & share’ because we heard directly from practitioners and had useful feedback on how we could improve the record history for a service user. 

Ones to watch

Repairs Hub – I’ve been watching from the sidelines as Repairs Hub gets rolled out to more contractors. As our head of housing transformation told the Mayor on Friday, it’s a good example of where we’re building back better. It gives us visibility of a repair from start to finish, regardless of who does the job – as well as a view of possibly related jobs. After a period of gestation it’s good to see things really accelerating. 

Change Support – we’ve been incubating the Change Support Team for a little over a year. We thought its success would be judged on whether it made visible and calculable impact in the Council (done), whether it would stimulate further demand for those skills (done) and have a compound impact. The team has started to create a microsite to share its stories of change, underpinned by the tools of change (more powerfully, in my view). It’s still early days but I’m really pleased they’ve made this step.  

Housing register – this project is just beginning and I caught up with the early progress at the recent show & share. But perhaps the most exciting thing was to see how the project is enveloped in the way the benefits and housing team now work. The team has been communicating through weekly show & shares for more than a year and the housing register work was just one of four initiatives they showcased at the session. 

What I’m learning

A fresh perspective – One of the consistent benefits of having a break is being able to take a fresh perspective. Our rhythms and routines are great for creating predictability but the familiarity has costs, too. I used to work for someone who would routinely reorganise the office every six months and every time she did, it would have a ‘first day back at school’ affect. I’d particularly like to contribute towards making sure the good things are even better.  

The importance of teams, for better and worse – I read four books* about accomplishments last week. Three were historical accounts and one was a theory of how to achieve change, based on the author’s experience. And it reminded me that nearly every advice book underestimates the impact of people and their teams. And nearly every book that’s about a person is actually about a team. 

* The China Mission: George Marshall’s Unfinished War, 1945-1947 by Daniel Kurtz-Phelan

The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson

The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company by William Dalrymple

Accomplishment: How to Achieve Ambitious and Challenging Things by Michael Barber

Next week

I’ve got two important papers to produce at the start of the week for senior leaders so I need enough space to do those well leaving enough energy that I’m not playing catch-up for the next four days. 

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