Week beginning 12 October 2020
I started writing this weeknote on Monday morning, I was that determined to write it. You hear a lot from us when we’re good. So it’s important to write when it’s not good. This week, Hackney was hacked. It’s an ongoing criminal investigation so when we know things, it’s for our residents and the police to hear them first. So I will only write about what I felt for the moment.
I didn’t much feel like working on Saturday after the week I’d had but ended up with three hours on Saturday afternoon, bored without domestic football. So I scored some tenders. And prepared for a whole team workshop on Monday morning. We were going to do some OKRs awards. I’d take Sunday off, I told myself.
It was some time between finishing my son’s rugby training on Sunday morning and deciding not to open a bottle of wine later on that I realised what we were facing. I did a bit of ‘wow’. And initially wondered whether I could help at all. But I volunteered to join our sitrep at 6pm and in the meantime Rashmi and Selwyn helped me check in on the status of our cloud infrastructure which remained untouched.
The technical work to respond to the attack was for others to focus on, so I started thinking about how we could help colleagues sustain their critical services. At the 6pm sitrep I proposed two teams: one to focus on helping colleagues maximise what we had and the other to think about what cloud-based services we could put in place to help protect our most vulnerable residents. These would be key planks of our continuity and recovery strategy. We’d have to capture data in a format that enabled us to join it back-up at a later point and we needed to manage our processes well enough that we could make good decisions based on what we knew. The latter workstream had to start now, based on the insight from setting-up the I Need Help service. We could run on forms spreadsheets for 500 people and a week or so – but we knew that wouldn’t work long for social care.
Before the children had stopped watching Countryfile, we’d sent out a whole team SMS (using Notify, natch) and Marian and Felix were briefed on the two workstreams they were going to lead. We knew this was going to be a marathon, but I was keen that colleagues could arrive on Monday morning, ready for what was to come.
In my weeknote draft I made three commitments:
- Not running around unless it’s needed and never without adding value
- Avoiding disruption to people and teams and a sense of chaos
- Checking in with people not ‘cutting to the chase’
I’ve been part of major incidents since my first job, aged 17 (sometimes of my own making) and been guilty of all these behaviours. It makes me feel purposeful, tires me out and makes me prone to mistakes.
Before the morning IT team ‘all hands’ Cate and I identified projects that could be stopped, paused unless they didn’t compromise a higher priority and those which should continue unless they couldn’t (because they’d support continuity and recover). We opened it up for comment from the team in case we were making decisions with limited information.
But I also asked for help – from Steve, to manage the procurement of our new telephony and Kelly in supporting the impact on customer services. I knew they both still needed to be delivered well and wouldn’t if I was involved. I wrote a note to my other teams explaining that I wouldn’t be on the pitch much, but tried also to make clear that I would continue to need feedback to know that we were prioritising the right things.
We briefed senior managers across the council on Monday morning. I felt shame and embarrassment and was braced for an angry reception. Colleagues couldn’t have been kinder. We were telling them that they were facing serious and prolonged disruption to their jobs, on the back of 6 months of COVID. They were calm and supportive. Many took time to send personal messages of support.
The day was meant to end with a 15 minute stand-up with Felix and Marian. They’d built teams and a Trello board and were already delivering value to users. It was really energising. Then I found a bunch of other tasks that needed to be done, which helped me miss most of Prison Break (we’re labouring through season 4).
We began the day with a 15 minute stand-up with Felix and Marian. I reckoned I could do most by making sure they had a clear goal for each day and they trusted that I had the longer-term covered. The end of day catch-up would help us set realistic goals. And between times, I just needed to stay out of the way.
Actually the day began with me feeling short tempered. I took it out on my son who didn’t practice his cello particularly enthusiastically. I didn’t run in the morning, or take him to school.
I also needed to do more to explain the strategy to managers. We couldn’t put timescales on the recovery so we knew ‘sit it out’ wouldn’t work. But it’s a hard balance to strike. I don’t want to be alarmist or push people to make snap judgements with a potentially significant impact. But I don’t want to spend the next month muddling through.
I was pleased to be invited to a number of management team meetings so that I could understand the impact and where we best needed to help. It meant a bit more ‘running around’ but felt purposeful.
By the end of the day the team had created a new virtual desktop so that the local contact tracing team could resume their important work.
At the end of the day I enjoyed some LocalGov Digital virtual drinks. We were all so touched by the offers of support that it felt more important than ever to contribute to the community.
I’d already lost track of the day of the week. It felt eerily similar to the end of March (without the bored children nagging for attention). We were settling into the daily Silver Group meetings; crises tend to make meetings but these were sufficiently tightly defined that they were useful.
At lunchtime, the Mayor and Chief Executive were scheduled to do the last of the Chief Executive Roadshow events. Most of the questions were about IT and whilst some colleagues were rightly concerned, most were also incredibly supportive. The Mayor also particularly recognised the role of customer services during COVID which was rewarding for the team.
I did duck out for a run. It was a cracking day. It felt like hard work, like not being able to breathe properly hard work, but I ran a near-record pace motivated by my Apple Watch and the need to get back for a meeting.
In the afternoon, there was a more detailed briefing to all senior managers. It clashed with the school pick-up. I wore my Hackney customer services tie (which continues to divide opinion) to convey a sense of focus and command. And then interrupted the presentation as I worried that my son was walking into the road, which put a stop to the sense of focus and command. But it was also a useful opportunity to explain to colleagues why we needed to put forms and data in place so that we could recover quicker, what support we could offer to creating basic workflows, and how we could help manage demand. Again, the supportive reception was touching. You can’t capture that in a recruitment advertisement.
I cooked with my son in the evening. It’s going to be a long haul and I can’t take it out on the children every day.
I was going to go out for a run. And then meetings kept arriving. At lunchtime Cate and I led the ‘all hands’ briefing for our teams. I gave a bang ordinary account which included the memorable reference to a ‘criminal crime scene’. Now they know why I usually do Slides. But I also did the Jerry Springer bit which had the benefit of being unexpected, coming from me.
I headed into the Hackney Service Centre in the afternoon to meet trade union representatives to discuss how we were keeping customer services staff safe during COVID. Going into the HSC was a reminder of the gravity of the situation. I was pleased to leave.
I didn’t do the normal end of day session with Felix and Marian. I felt that if I was tired, they were probably more so. And I was confident they were doing all the right things.
Was glad to have steered clear of the pub with just the 14 scheduled meetings to attend (and a further 2 I ducked into). Almost went for a run – like, had my PE kit on – but two further meetings that put a stop to that. One of those was a bit tricky. But I hope I was open about the right things and robust about the rest.
In the evening, I took my daughter swimming and tried to swim myself to have something else to think about. The routine was good.
The Trello boards were better. Team Marian and Team Felix hit their goals. They’ve achieved an incredible amount already. More people with a broader range of skills have been involved in this than any other effort we’ve made. And it’s only day five. Rob insists we don’t work over the weekend and build our reserves of energy for the week ahead, rightly, so I’m bashing out my weeknote on Friday night.
Next week, we’ll give users the first release of a very basic system to view, create and update records about vulnerable residents. Built from the ground up, natively in the cloud. Data in an open source database, the logic in the API layer presented through accessible interfaces developed using the Hackney Pattern Library. That’s what we’d prefer to be known for. Because as our manifesto says: People First. Trust the Team. Think Big, Act Small. Open Up. Learn More. And Act Ethically Always.
It’s been 8 years since I’ve needed Liverpool to win a Derby this bad.