Steve Messer

The Farewell

Weeknotes S01E04

This week I was all over the shop mentally. On Friday I had to just bed down in work with headphones on, but all-in-all it’s been another good week. We lost a good member of the team, but the weeknotes community has proven itself incredible yet again. Happy to say that we even managed to attract someone new to the crew!

Four Things That Happened

More than four things happened

One

Monday and Tuesday were filled with the introduction and basic training days for user research for government services. Though I’m no stranger to the practice (and have written about what happens when you don’t do user research), I wanted to see if the context of working in government changed anything.

It turns out it doesn’t, not by much. User research is such a robust, worthy field of work that you will reap the rewards by taking time to listen to what people need. The core concept is to reduce wasted effort and time by building the right thing, what people need not what they want. The only difference with user research in government is that you can’t be selective with your user personas: this is for everyone. In the private sector your personas focus around people who’ll drive your revenue, but not so in government.

My only criticism of the course is that I don’t feel enough time was spent on eliminating bias. During the activities and practice sessions, the research questions were tainted by bias – designed to validate assumptions rather than invalidate, leading one to an expected answer – and user stories ended up being solutionistic. It’s no fault of the course leaders, they had lots to cover for an audience relatively new to a complex field, but I’ll pass on the feedback. Bias is one of the more difficult topics, but this article on cognitive biases that affect decisions is gold-dust.

Someone also told the story of how they’d seen several teams conduct research after delivering a project, as a checkbox exercise to get past the Service Standard. It’s appalling behaviour and will come back to bite them, as it did me.

Two

Having read how I’d been wrangling with someone unfamiliar to how we do things at GDS, Ellie offered some advice over lunch. It was really on-the-money and will help me adapt to this person’s way of thinking. What I really need to do is sell the benefits of our approach to working, but it’s unfair to do that without hearing theirs and their motivations for joining GDS.

We also spoke about how the organisation is changing, what that means for product management, and the importance of communicating to stakeholders that some times they don’t know best. Ellie’s really talented and I’m glad she was able to spend some time helping me, so I must offer to give some back. And it just went to prove how supportive the weeknotes community can be – she even gave me a weeknotes sticker! Thanks, Ellie 😊

Three

We said goodbye to Paul B. His knowledge of our stack is inimitable, but he did an incredible job of passing that on – and rewriting heaps of the dev docs. We’re going to really miss him, he was a stalwart of the tech community.

Four

We had an excellent check-in with the programme team. They’re pleased with the team’s work, but most amazingly they’re open to us descoping some of our objectives. That’s thanks to my colleague, Martin, who’s taken the time to see what’s achievable, what’s needed, and broken it down into a good strategy. There’s a lot going on there, so I hope he won’t mind passing the reins over to me, I’m happy to pick up more work. (He did it for during GDPR, which was well needed.)

And despite a few worries about team health previously, right now it’s really good. The team are engaged with their work, they really care about it, and they’re asking all the right questions during planning. This is no doubt due to our fabulous delivery manager (whom I won’t name as they’re not on social media) who has made it their mission to create space us to think, ensure everyone’s priorities are accounted for, and injects vivacity and enthusiasm into our daily lives (to boot!).

Working with them both these past few months has been a treat and the sort of training you don’t get most places. I’m intrigued to know which principles drive their work, the maxims they call on to move through the day. They could help me as I progress, I’m sure.

Reflections

  • Government transformation is a massive undertaking with many minds to help adapt to new ways of working
  • We’re really privileged in GOV.UK to have been on the frontline of transformation
  • The weeknotes crewdem is 👌
  • Multidisciplinary working is a treat when it works well
  • Be careful of hubris: communicating your pride to others is an exercise in humility

What I’m Cooking

  • Kedgeree with smoked haddock and watercress
  • Asparagus, sweet pea and burrata frittata (should have added basil oil to the pea shoot salad)
  • Globe courgette stuffed with spicy rice

What I’m Reading