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

Author: Matthew Cain (Page 1 of 4)

Weeknote v10.28

Week beginning 19 July

A week where we achieved every goal that I set. But we also grappled with a couple of significant things that blew us off course and were generally a bit demoralising. There are two things that I find challenging about these scenarios. As a leader I want to be consistent and proportionate. So when bad things happen I need to work hard to channel how I feel in the right way. And it’s also important not to carry feelings from one meeting into the next. That’s particularly hard when the only thing separating two meetings is the ‘hang up’ and ‘join’ buttons on the screen. 

We had a productive session when Rob’s management team on Tuesday. We spent a healthy amount of time in the park, and everyone else was too grown-up for me to suggest taking the logical next step to Pub on the Park. We made a useful contribution to the thinking about how we can meet the savings challenge (but gosh that’s hard to do well) and thought about how we can set clearer expectations for our teams. Potentially the most powerful thing we did was to make some personal commitments for the next six weeks or so, and found a way that we can hold each other to account for whether or not we succeed.  

A couple of times I sensed a kind of tiredness/grumpiness in a couple of the issues that I dealt with. And we had to deal with some tricky (though not unusual) situations in our service centre. I feel awkward about looking forward to a break, because it’s only 7 weeks since my last one. But I suspect the heat has made the last week harder. 

I used the goals for the week (and my endless lists) as a device to bring myself back on course on Thursday morning. It was a way of checking whether I was finding enough focus on the things that mattered. But I’d also like to think more actively about what things I need to make sure are done really well, as opposed to just finished. I’m having to make lots of trade-offs at the moment and would benefit from having just enough opportunities to retain a clear sense of what ‘excellence’ looks like. 

I learnt most this week in a session with our development team. We were hoping to meet face to face but that didn’t feel responsible given the infection rates and, frankly, how central they all are to the delivery of so many important pieces of work. I facilitated a session to find out their ambitions for the next 18 months and what needed to change for them to achieve them. There were a few themes that I was expecting, but three things I wasn’t. There’s a real desire to play a more dominant role alongside our agency partners, to have a clearer strategy for our approach to front-end development and an ongoing challenge to balance delivery, learning and wellbeing. I’ve got partial answers for some of this but frustratingly I had to leave the session before we’d really finished. So a challenge to return to. 

We’re shifting to fortnightly goal settings from next week. That will help us fit into the rhythms of the teams more neatly and introduce a less frenetic cadence to our work. But it will also place more emphasis on ensuring that we look long as well as short so that we know we’re on the right track. We’ll also need to keep a close eye on blockers so that they are identified and resolved quickly. I’m also expecting to spend a significant amount of time on recruitment over the next few weeks, so it’ll be important to plan my diary appropriately.

Weeknote v10.27

Week beginning 11 July

Strange week. I actually did some useful things, I think and twice managed to avoid doing things that would have been disruptive. But it felt unsatisfactory to be part of. There isn’t a single cause. And sat in the sun this morning, it could be worse!

The five main things that I took responsibility for . . . 

Developing a business case for the next phase of work with social care. I was lucky enough to have two decent-length train journeys which was enough to take a deep breath and tell the whole story in a way that (hopefully) is simple enough to make sense without being so simple that it could be misleading. 

How we’re going to tackle voids management in our housing programme. Voids (the process which manages a home from the point at which it’s becoming vacant to the point at which it’s occupied), is, I’m learning, a meta process. It draws together processes which work on their own and need to be joined-up to keep to a minimum the period where the home is empty. Thankfully there’s some good public literature we can draw from and we could orchestrate a good conversation with the product teams in repairs and tenancy management. 

How we’re managing asset data in housing The Building Safety Act requires a golden thread of safety information for landlords managing a building. There are lots of asset management databases that do these tasks. But we also need to manage adjacent activities – like repairs, rent accounts and supporting vulnerable tenants. So making sure we have a single source of truth, whilst ensuring that tools support those workflows isn’t trivial. So I wanted to make sure that we were approaching this in the right way. 

How we’re embedding an engineering mindset in development. Rashmi has been leading some really impressive work to codify more of the work we’re doing in solution architecture, security and reusable components. None of that’s mine, but I wanted to make sure we had oversight of it at Cyber Silver so we could ensure we’re having the right conversations and scrutiny throughout the development lifecycle. 

We’re at a different stage of development with our cloud platform but similarly, we need to take stock and capture what we’ve achieved, where we’re making progress and also reflect the things we haven’t yet done. I gave some thought to the areas we needed to cover and hoped that I’d left enough space for James and Darren to figure out how best to convert that into something useful. 

I looked at these in a different light thanks to my Steve Gerrard revelation last week. It was probably too late (or I was too slow) to work appreciably differently. But it did help me think more deliberately about the holes I was leaving elsewhere on the pitch.  

I was fortunate that there were so many things that I could just glance at. A full list would be too long. Marian is leading the next stage of the rollout of our new phone system and has taken forward the useful things we learnt from the initial release into a set of further phased releases. Zoe has led the new stage of work on Here to Help which has involved an evaluation by UCL’s Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose and collaborating with Newham Council to create a toolkit for services looking to adopt preventative approaches. The housing finance products team has brought our arrears management tools back into use to support the income collection team.  

But I also started making a list of the things I wasn’t doing. In theory, it should give me a reference point either for times when I’ve got spare capacity and/or when those things move from being important to urgent. That’s three lists now: the things I actually need to do; the things I need to watch and the things I’m not doing. 

There’s a possibility that next week is my last full week at work for a couple of weeks. I’ve got a vague plan for a holiday. I’m often reluctant to really commit to a break – and COVID provides cover for legitimising that. But as we think about the shape of recovery, it feels as though we’re coming towards the end of a phase where some really big ticket items are coming to a conclusion. Some of the next wave of projects have taken longer to get going than we’d have liked (typically for reasons beyond our control). But they’re no less important. So we need to be careful to ensure they have the same energy, commitment and focus whilst being realistic that it’s going to be hard to muster that over the 6 weeks around August particularly if parts of a team are unavailable at different times. 

In the meantime, I have a list of three to attend to . . . 

Weeknote v10.26

Week beginning 5 July

PSN: we did it. There was, inevitably, another unexpected step required. But some three months after I thought it could be done, it was. Clive Woodward talks about conducting post-mortems after success and letting go after failure. But on an occasion like this, you reach the finish line and it’s hard to muster the energy for very much. 

I’m not a fan of programmes, mostly. Too often they design a heavy governance structure that removes senior decision makers from the messy reality of project delivery; suck up time in unnecessary levels of coordination and work within artificial boundaries. But our work in housing is benefitting from some of the positive aspects of programmes: an emerging sense of community and common purpose, a forum to talk about dependencies where they’re identified, and just enough independence that each team can deliver on its own merits. That’s particularly important now we’re working through cross-cutting processes like managing housing ‘voids’, citizen sign-on and cautionary alerts.  

Emma’s done a cracking job in supporting the teams developing modern tools for social care, which I’ve also learnt from. I’ve a constant fear with Agile that it’s too interested in itself – the process. But the social care technology teams were in crisis mode for a long time – always scrambling towards the next big milestone. Eventually that came at the cost of our ability to deliver value continuously. By prioritising how the team was working she’s helped unblock what they’re doing. 

Most of my week wasn’t about the efforts to convert the Hackney Service Centre into a vaccinations site. That was the work of the public health, facilities team with the support of customer services managers and user research. But there I wager that these sorts of efforts have done more to integrate councils and local health services than a year worth of health integration boards.  

I’ve been thinking about the early-stage career of Steven Gerrard this week. Not just because I’ve been trying to identify the root cause of my Ingerland fatigue. Gerrard was thrilling to watch – tackling, shooting,passing, defending, scoring. All action. But every job he was doing meant that there was another job he wasn’t. There are a few things that I’ve worked hard to really immerse myself in. But I was wondering whether this comes at a price. Do I just vacates a space that I should be occupying: to be able to stand-back and view something more objectively? I know that there are some things I struggle to critique because I feel responsible for it as a co-creator. 

We talk of technology being an enabler of providing value to residents. But in a context where we’ve simply not had enough of the basics, it’s easy for technology to become the end in itself. Sometimes in our recovery that’s the right approach. But the combined impacts of COVID, the cyberattack and the vulnerability of our residents means it won’t necessarily be. I’ve been thinking about our portfolio of activities and working to steer a couple towards an approach which is more holistic. 

Next week

We’re looking to confirm the key goals for the next three months of cyberattack recovery. With so much to do, there’s real merit in forming a shared opinion of how our performance will be judged. But it’s hard to know how far to push this: either in describing how ‘priorities’ will be treated relative to all the other things that should, and will happen and the extent to which it matters that we’ve got common priorities. At some point soon, I also need to look ahead to the end of the year: where do we want to be and have we got sufficient focus and impetus to get there? Doing this before September feels important so that we’ve got time to respond. 

Weeknote v10.25

Week beginning 28 June

I’ve struggled to hit my stride with weeknotes in the last few weeks. My oldest friend asked last weekend why I share them publicly. And when I’m not writing well, I wonder the same. At the moment my weeknotes are particularly conditioned by how I feel on a Friday evening. But I do it because the habit helps for when I really need it. So bear with me. 

The best thing happened right at the end of the week. I ran a session with customer services officers to understand what we could do to support their career development. The Council created a redeployment pool to support service delivery during COVID and I wondered how we could build on that. 

Some of the team were frustrated by the knock-backs and even talked about “giving up”. But there were some cracking ideas for how to change the situation, including establishing a peer support group, and analysing job descriptions to identify particular skills they might be missing. We’re also going to explore how we can showcase the skills in the team so that hiring managers can consider secondments when looking for short-term roles. It was energising and impressive to hear people wanting help, but who were also willing to commit to tackling the problem. 

I had a catch up with the team exploring how we can use technology better to support the administration of elections. They’ve got a clear brief, and their weeknotes have provided enough depth to understand progress. But part of what we’re asking was necessarily about working in ‘splendid isolation; whilst also exploring how many of our existing assets they could re-use to explore this solution. It was impressive to see the clarity of thinking and how well they’ve stuck to the task. 

We also had a productive discussion with social care leaders on our work to support the service.  We’ve got a shared understanding of the roadmap over the next three months and Emma’s been able to work hard on how the team is working so that we’ve a more sustainable approach to delivery.

But the most meaningful achievement was working with the NHS to turn the Hackney Service Centre into a vaccination site for the weekend. I sat back and watched in awe as the facilities and customer services team worked with our user researchers, data protection team and public health colleagues to design the experience and manage everything from the temperature of the building to the way we’d use SMS to manage supply and demand. And I can claim absolutely no credit for any of it.

All those good things notwithstanding, there were some pretty tricky bits this week, too. I set too many goals and failed to meet them. We did as good a job as we could with the launch of the new phone system (given how I’d framed the project) but we learnt late about some of the questions that users had, which I hadn’t anticipated. And there were some people things which I found personally challenging.

I was also frustrated with myself when I failed to be an active participant in a couple of short and tells. There was one in particular that didn’t quite work – but I couldn’t quite work out why. And promptly got distracted by another meeting. I need to do better by actively thinking about what I’m hoping to learn from the event so that one got a clear criteria by which to judge it.

So next week I’ve “rolled over” a few goals and need to magic some time out of thin air to attended to the growing number of things which need my input if they’re to move forward. Success for the week probably looks like getting to the end without dropping anything too pressing. But that dynamic often helps me focus.

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 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. 

Weeknote v10.21

Week beginning 24 May

This week was mostly about people. Perhaps most weeks in most jobs are. This week was about how to manage people’s unexpected reactions. To ensure that things that could have been perceived to be climactic were still thoughtfully considered. And to try and build areas of agreement where it might appear that there was more that separated us. 

One of the consequences of the cyberattack was that there were certain options that, to my mind, blatantly weren’t available and others that were distinctly undesirable. But we didn’t have time or space to construct an argument around that or develop a consensus. We simply had to deliver value. And for a while that was enough. But it’s inevitable that people ask why alternative routes weren’t available and, perhaps, wish that they might have been. And we need to ensure there’s enough space for that and sufficient opportunity to listen whilst remaining focused on delivering value. 

This week was also about teams. I was immensely fortunate that my first experience of working in a multidisciplinary digital team was made to look effortless by its participants. And having been through that experience I can sometimes rely on the processes of user centred design and Agile being enough to make a team work well. But as I was removing some dated artefacts from the office wall I stumbled across a team charter where people had committed to ways of working that I had taken for granted. And it provided me a fresh perspective on our work and helped me value more, the investment that colleagues make in building truly diverse and inclusive multidisciplinary teams.

Based on that, I’ve also been reflecting on how we evolve as a customer, digital and data team.  We’ve talked about transitioning ‘from start-up to scale-up’ and much of that is about putting more structure, processes and routine than we had four years ago. It’s often easy to see the limitations of what you have. But in the last few days I’ve also had a chance to reflect on some of the intentional benefits which, honestly, I’d forgotten about. There was more method than might have been apparent at first glance. And so as we respond to the need to run Agile at greater scale and ever greater pace, and coordinate more complex work, we still need to hold the ambiguities inherent in the pursuit of a multi-faceted goal over an unknown timeframe through a period of flux. 

This is the period that will do most to shape the year to define the decade. Can we deliver sufficient value between now and summer? Can we come to a resolution on the major pieces of recovery work that we’ve been pursuing for the last six months or so? Will we have the focus and energy to begin well the new activities that come our way? And can we embed the changes we’ve made to how we support our residents following COVID to ensure they become ’just how we work’?

So with all those questions and all that learning, I bugger off to Portugal for a few days. Having had some time off over Easter it feels too soon to have another break. But I know I’ve been short of that extra energy needed to make things happen. And so weeknote v10.22, if it ever sees the light of day, might simply be a reading list. 

Weeknote v10.20

Week beginning 17 May 2021

You might have noticed that I’m struggling a bit to be enthusiastic about my weeknotes at the moment. We’ve had a period where the most obvious things haven’t been quite going to plan and at lot of effort has been going into things that are less obvious. And this is the longest running format I’ve used for weeknotes ever. And the more the world changes around us, the more my world seems to stay the same. I’m also aware that some things that would ordinarily dominate my week have had to be dealt with in a more contained way.

In our weekly updates to the Council’s Silver group of Directors and Heads of Service I’ve worked hard to stick to the discipline of sharing only what we’ve delivered rather than things where we’re making steps along the way, which has felt important given that often we don’t know how many steps are needed to complete a task. But that constraint has also made some weeks harder to account for than others. 

But there were plenty of reasons to feel optimistic this week. We’re now testing a recovered document store which will support the recovery of the revenues and benefits service. Our regeneration team has access to two recovered applications that enable us to plan our programmes. The Repairs Hub tool has an authorisation workflow for higher cost repairs, enabling us to extend it to our larger contractors. 

And there’s even more to look forward to next week. All being well, our document evidence store will be ready for use to support our housing repairs service. Our social care case recording tool will show relationships between people. And we may be testing the Modern Gov application which enables us to manage the publication of Council papers (we’ve been doing this in a less efficient way, but used effective work-arounds hitherto). 

But it also highlights some of the challenge around prioritisation, planning and context switching. Much of the team would prefer to be working on a single activity at any one point with a goal and set of clear outcomes. If that were the case, it would also be significantly easier to manage. But the majority of our work involves hand-offs which are often unpredictable. Often these are important partnerships with software vendors where our contribution comes in bursts and the level of technical input we need to provide is often less predictable than perhaps it should be. Prioritising and planning this is difficult – particularly when trying to deliver at pace across the whole Council. My preferred approach is to have more plates spinning than we can handle on the assumption that they won’t all need equal care at the same time. But I’m also doing some work to look ahead three months and consider the balance between capacity, delivery and resilience.  

Personally, I got involved in the design of our first use case for our data platform – how we might re-use data about our residents to prioritise housing repairs. I wanted to support the team to make sure that the use-case would enable other services to see how it could apply to their circumstances and that the experiment could leave us with some clear outcomes and business benefits so that we could show its value. 

I also played an active role in helping design the next stage of the recovery of our social care application. We’ve got lots of knowledge about how the application worked previously and we need to harness this, with just enough governance to make sure that we’re making the right decisions for now and the medium term. 

I wasn’t courageous enough to seek feedback as actively as I’d hoped. I didn’t feel up to it on Tuesday – and on Wednesday I was acutely aware of what I needed to do differently! However, I used the public commitment I made last week to force myself to do something – and asked one of the team to facilitate a retrospective so that I could learn more. And the habit I’d been working on over the last few weeks now feels less of a conscious choice, which feels positive and so I’m now ready to share it. I’ve been trying to give more active feedback around our show & tells so that I’m not just a supporter or an observer. 

Oh and this week I got my vaccine – my prize for actually getting around to registering with a GP – and ran a half marathon at the weekend. One left me feeling worse than the other!

Weeknote v10.19

Week beginning 10 May

The good

The Council’s annual staff awards took place on Thursday. I had skin in the game – our team had four nominations: Tim, as manager of the year, Annalivia as Star, registrars, who won team of the year, and the food distribution and Here to Help service for project of the year. Each were well deserving in a year that’s thrown so much at us – both opportunities and challenges. It was a cracking way to bring the week to a close (although I could have been more productive on Friday, in truth). 

And the less good

I reckon over the years I’ve read every piece of good advice there is to read about leadership. And for some random reason I was thinking earlier this week about what I’d say to my younger self and stumbled across: “stop looking for the secret. It’s simpler than you think. It’s just hard to do”. That brings us to Tuesday. I was in a bad mood. I’ve noted before how ‘leadership is how you respond when you’re having a bad day’. But I couldn’t. It’s curious how intense things can become when it’s you, a screen and your living room. 

Focus for the week

I set five goals for the week across the three recovery workstreams I’m leading. I can reasonably say that I met three, with one in progress. Setting weekly goals distorts things – where the work wasn’t expecting to hit the goal, what it means for things that aren’t goals, how to make space for all the other things. But it still feels like a healthy dose of accountability. Without getting too meta, I’m interested in what we could learn by looking at the evolution of the goals over time – which are achieved and which aren’t – and what this means for how we work. 

What I’m learning 

Building a routine – I’ve been working to build some new routines around giving feedback. I’ve been doing it consciously for four weeks now – not quite long enough that it comes naturally. I suspect the next couple of weeks are critical to see if I can turn it from being something I have to remind myself to do, into something that feels strange when it’s absent. 

Balancing the short and longer term – A crisis demands a short term focus. But a sustained recovery also needs a longer term view. I can see the mission and I can see next week. But I’m starting to find it harder to judge the pace. Is what we’re doing next week sufficient to get us towards the goal? So I’m spending some time next week to find out. 

Even better if – I’m actively making time to think about how the things that are going well could be even better. General busy-ness and pace can pull you towards asking ‘what’s next?’ at the expense of giving things the chance to really sing. 

Ones to watch

Noise reporting – we had a good show & tell from our project with Society Works about how we can improve the experience of reporting and actioning noise complaints. It’s taken time to win the confidence of the teams involved so it was gratifying to receive positive feedback from the head of service. 

Social care case recording – we launched a couple of key features for editing records and creating warning notes over the last fortnight which had been harder to achieve than we expected. We’re trying to strike a careful balance between making rapid progress but not at the expense of technical debt, which slows down progress later or taking shortcuts which jeopardise security. 

Reusable components – we’ve been talking about the benefits of reusable components for about 18 months. It started with APIs that exposed data that was needed by multiple applications and consuming common services like GOV.UK Notify. Single sign-on is another important building block. It was good to see the housing register project benefiting from the work of other projects by being able to use this for signing on to the admin interface. 

Next week

Given all of the above, I need to make a concerted effort to seek more feedback, starting next week. Be warned. 

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