Week beginning 18 January

Focus for the week

I tried to use this week to make sure we could complete the applications recovery goals we’d set for the month whilst thinking just far enough ahead that we could move seamlessly into the next phase of work. I made sure I didn’t do any of this alone whilst also trying to avoid distracting teams from the immediate priorities. That meant not setting an artificial timeframe, simply so I could hit a goal but as a result I’m slightly less clear what I’ve achieved. We now know the areas of focus for February but need another week or so to define what the outcome will be by the end of the month.  

But that focus came at the expense of  some important things which are close to being finished, but not actually finished and didn’t get the attention they deserved. “Basically done” (my favourite description for school work) isn’t the same as “actually done” – particularly when it comes to internal governance. I’ve got a couple of business cases and procurement awards which need pushing from basically to actually.  

I’m also brimming with ideas of things we could do in customer services but reach the end of most weeks not having given them another thought since the previous weekend. I have to find a way to get some of the simpler ones initiated. 

Ones to watch

Repairs Hub – it’s great to see this work progressing and it’ll form a key part of recovery. Our partners, Unboxed, have developed significant knowledge not just of our repairs service but we’re also benefiting from their work with other local authorities. There were 60 people at the last show & tell so it’s exciting to see that gather momentum, too. As a result, people are starting to look at the application and see how it could benefit work that we assumed we’d need to do differently. Reuse by popular demand rather than architectural design needs much less governance. 

Developer self-service – we’re working with AWS to explore how we might develop a self-service offering for developers (ok, it’s really a portal). There are lots of little frictions in how we do things currently and by having just enough automation and some clear user journeys we’ll be able to make things more efficient, more scalable and more secure. We need to do that well (or it won’t work) but be careful that we clearly explain the benefits for residents as part of the case for investment’. 

Conversation prompts – we developed a ‘conversation prompts’ tool during COVID to help support strengths-based conversations with vulnerable people. We’ve got an opportunity to develop this into a wider knowledge base, whilst exploring how recommendations can help us keep the content relevant and the tool increasingly useful (to avoid the death spiral of so many of these tools). But it’ll also challenge our product skills: how do we make sure we’re demonstrating the value of maintaining the tool, whilst keeping its scope sufficiently narrow that it supports, rather than competes with self-service and simpler customer journeys?

The small things – we often struggle to get small things done well and efficiently. Sometimes it’s because they’re not as small as expected; other times because if they’re no one’s top priority they drift. As part of applications recovery, we’ll have a lot of small things. There are three that I’ve given particular attention to, in order to find out whether, by starting them better, we can get them done better and efficiently. 

What I’m learning

Managing the downs – a couple of things happened this week that I was long-expecting but were no less disappointing for it. Emotionally, I was ready to catastrophise despite recognising that it wasn’t unexpected. But one of the things I’ve learnt over the last couple of years is how buying a bit of time through creating a process can help create a conversation that then opens up the possibility of nuance. So rather than leaping into action, I created a pathway to a meeting and consideration of the options. It’s rather less exciting but it meant that, by the following day, I was more phlegmatic about the outcome.

Embracing failure – when you read about how airlines create safe spaces to report failure it makes you feel safer – and it seems compellingly obvious. But that doesn’t make it any easier “in the moment”. I heard something this week where a team had made a mistake and not just done everything right in response, but thought really carefully about how it could turn it into a teachable moment. Yet still, on hearing the news, I was close to responding emotionally. I think I avoided it – and at one moment stepped back from actually saying the wrong thing. And that was a reminder of how hard it is to do in practice.

Making time for follow-through – I had a meeting this week where I left with three key actions. I was desperate to be useful for the team so I even summarised my actions at the end of the meeting, And still left the meeting straight into another one and got to the end of the day without completing those actions. At the very least, I need to give myself a time to note down things to do. 

Next week

I’d love to achieve three things next week: to develop a clear set of goals for February which we can commit to as a team, having met the 10 goals we set for January; to move things from “basically done” to “actually done” and still find time for actually acting on one of my ideas for customer services.