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

Month: June 2021

Weeknote v10.24

Week beginning 21 June

I feel basically pretty positive about this week. There are good reasons to. The launch of Repairs Hub was basically successful and within 24 hours reduced the length of the average emergency repairs call by a minute and by the end the week to about two minutes, or 16%. That’s the power of designing tools with staff, that work the way they need to. 

Accompanying that, Kelly had built out the action plan so that we could share with councillors and residents the steps we’re taking to manage the expected high demand for repairs, now that normal service has resumed. 

I also had time to design the high-level plan for a career development scheme in customer services, sufficient to start a discussion with colleagues as we tailor it to their needs. 

On three occasions I had enough time to do things that were important, rather than just those which my diary determined to be important. So lots of reasons to feel positive. 

But it’s all about perspective. We still haven’t been able to solve access to the PSN. I committed to doing a document to help progress our elections work, and did one but not the other. We solved a capacity constraint, but because of Soraya’s hard work and because we got lucky, rather than anything I did. 

What I’m learning

I need a bit of an ego to keep going. But a saga like PSN is a healthy reminder that I can’t make things better by getting stuck-in. I also managed to break hackit.org.uk by trying to rush a software update (I think). There must be a sweet spot somewhere in the middle – where you’ve enough confidence and sense of possible achievement to get the extra motivation you need but not so much that you expect to succeed. Optimism of the will, pessimism of the intellect. Sadly, Gramsci might also have contributed to the culture wars. 

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I did three creative things this week. It was playing on my mind that I’d spent so long thinking technically that I’d not actively thought imaginatively or creatively of late. The first time was on a task that I did in a car park in Barnet during my daughter’s swimming lesson, but it seemed to make it easier to do two more. I’ve got low expectations: the results don’t need to be particularly impressive, but I do enjoy weeks more when I have done different types of tasks. 

Next week

I’ve got several things to dig into next week which are only loosely aligned to the cyberattack recovery. We’ve got the first wave of users adopting the new phone system; some questions about property data architecture to resolve and need to agree an approach for how we design citizen login as a reusable component. 

Whilst it’s good to have the variety, we’re also reaching the middle of the year so it’s time to revisit the ‘year to define a decade’ and reflect on what we’re learning, where existing plans are maturing and where we need to accelerate. 

Weeknote v10.23

Week beginning 14 June

Being ready to learn

I didn’t set my goals for the week particularly thoughtfully. But they were still useful enough that at our midweek checkpoint they helped remind me to push forward some important things. In particular, we’re creating a couple of fixed term roles which both reflect the new skillsets we need to support recovery and an opportunity to reduce the costs, by insourcing talent. We also committed to providing senior leaders with a clear way forward for recovery of records from our corporate document management system by the end of the month. It’s not my workstream so I got to reveal other people’s hard work at our regular Silver command meeting on Friday. 

Our PSN saga is closer to its ending but took an unexpected turn as we learnt another layer of detail about how it works. But depending on our partners, we should be able to finish it off next week. It was frustrating to learn something new, at a late stage in a piece of work where we tried to anticipate and remove every hurdle. But there are some things about our circumstances that mean this is inevitable. 

We spent some time preparing more content to help people applying for our new customer services posts: Head of Customer Experience and Head of Customer Operations. I made a video explaining more about the roles, and some team members shared what they wanted from their new boss. Whilst we’re hoping to fill these internally, the content is designed to help encourage applications, support people to make good applications and show the team how important these appointments are.

A bit of flex in my diary meant I had time to help support the Repairs Hub team prepare for the next release. From Monday the software will be used to support repairs conducted by our direct labour organisation (DLO) coinciding with the return to a full service as part of easing COVID restrictions. There are risks involved but most of exist already. The hardest thing in the last fortnight has been wrangling with a piece of software we’ve bought which needed some extra work to conform with security best practice. 

I feel responsible both for the success of Repairs Hub, and the performance of the contact centre which will be most immediately affected if something goes wrong. That uncomfortable balance is probably exactly what they had in mind when joining customer services and digital!

I had a couple of powerful learning points this week. Partly that was a consequence of how meetings fell in the diary. But I’ve observed before that there have been occasions where I’ve thought I must be learning – but that’s different from actually having the space to learn. I got some invaluable feedback from some team members and in a very different context, got to spend some time with our registrars in one of their team quizzes.) I gained a lot from both sessions because I had the space to listen and reflect properly. Occasionally I felt myself about to get too drawn into wallowing in praise or defending myself on a point – but I think / hope I was just about aware enough to pull back. I also benefited from people emphasising something that was obvious (and recognise that I’m typically bad at this) so made sure that when another team did something obviously well this week, I took a moment to point out the obvious. 

Next week

I’ve had just enough space in my diary to make time to think about the career development offer we could design for customer services. So next week I’ll have something ready to share with the team and learn about what we could do which would be most attractive and helpful. It’s really important, so I need to create enough of a self-imposed constraint to make it urgent, too. 

We’ve also got a new phone system coming – and our first 400 users will be using it in a couple of weeks time. The timing is a response to the contract cycle and my sense is that we need to manage the transition well enough but with little fuss and disruption for staff. So I’ve also freed up a bit of time to make sure we’re on top of all the detail and – if my assumption is wrong – that we can respond accordingly. 

But mostly next week my diary is bizarrely empty. I feel quite socially awkward about this so will have to be disciplined to make sure I use the time productively.

Weeknote v.10.22

Week beginning 7 June

It happened on the beach. I summarised my performance over the last three months and committed to three things I wanted to achieve next. I know that I’ve fallen short since April. There’s not one thing, just as there wasn’t a single cause. And I can’t describe what needs to change, but I know I need to step it up – and I know how that’s different. And I’d only gone to the water’s edge to clean my hands!

There was a moment on Monday afternoon when I reflected ruefully on that moment: 6 hours in and I’d achieved nothing very much. But actually that is the point: to be effective you need to be able to ignore the noise, just enough to get something important done. 

Reconnecting to the public services network has been of our challenges which has just been more complicated and painful than it looked, and probably than it really should have been. It’s featured in my goals for the week for more than a month. We got closer this week by being able to test the connection, but it’s a stretch to expect it to be completed next. 

Thanks to Kelly’s hard work we were able to advertise the two new leadership positions in customer services: our head of operations and head of customer experience. We’re aiming to create a team which can optimise customer journeys today and improve them tomorrow. We’ll combine the experience of our advisors, content designers, user researchers, service designers and data analysts so that we can learn, make improvements and measure their impact across all our customer touchpoints.

We also made available the data that we’ve recovered into the social care system. It’ll be some time before we’ve got all the tools that we need to run social services but we hope that providing access to the Mosaic application will provide greater psychological safety for staff to know that they’re making decisions based on all the available data. 

I faced an interesting decision about the document evidence store service that we’ve developed. Part of the proposal made available information over a public web address. We could have reduced the time for which this was available to a second, and whilst no one would have known, I judged that the perception would have been damaging even though fixing it means delaying the release of the service. 

I’ve also started thinking about how we could offer a structured programme to help more junior staff access opportunities for promotion. The ‘redeployment pool’ the Council created during COVID was fantastic and I’d like to discover how we could formalise this in a way that also helped put the voice of the customer at the heart of council services. 

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