Reading back over all this, I did a lot this week. No wonder I feel tired. Glad I’ve got a 3-day week next week.

Things I started

On Monday we took a look at how long we had left in the alpha. The original deadline was the end of October, and we plotted out everything we needed to do to reach that date. Playing back our findings; doing ideation; co-designing solutions with stakeholders; prototyping these; organising usability testing; running testing sessions; collating findings; iterating prototypes; starting and finishing an assessment slide deck; and going through the assessment itself. It’s a lot. We were told that we couldn’t do any external or internal engagement too, that user research was off the cards until the Queen’s funeral had passed, that we couldn’t even recruit participants for a later study. As you might expect, we took the decision to extend our alpha (by 4 weeks) to give ourselves a better chance of passing it and to garner higher quality results from our testing.

It sounds like an easy decision to make, but in reality it means going around to various people and senior managers to effectively say ‘We’re going to be later delivering this than you’d hoped.’ Which is stressful, and not always the news people want to hear. I’m grateful that our programme delivery manager was able to see the benefit in a short extension and was comfortable it wouldn’t be a problem for our launch plans, but there was always the possibility they wouldn’t see it that way. I helpfully stumbled across a series of posts by Neil Vass on how to disappoint people (see the bookmarks below), which gave me good perspective on how to talk about it all.

Had a couple of meetings with the Platform team on how we can align with each other and to look over the projects coming up next quarter. They’ve been building for the last 2 years without much input from user-centred design – one of those projects kicked off during the pandemic to meet an urgent, emerging need1 – and that’s what my team, the Service team, is here to help with. It’s a good relationship because they’ve been able to bottom out the technical unknowns, which means it’s a case of looking at value, viability and usability for implementing these features. I expect we might need to revisit the technical solutions they’ve drafted up, as those solutions might not suit each stage of the service journey, but that’s OK.

Since there aren’t yet any performance metrics for our service, I threw together a starter-for-ten so that we can measure success. We’re not obliged to publish the 4 main KPIs but I did use those for inspiration. The policy that influences our work was a great input, which uniquely has its aims written as user stories. It makes the job of translating those intended benefits into performance objectives a doddle!

Without covering our specific metrics, the draft performance objectives are

  • speedy onboarding (which has a risk-averse governance process to unravel)
  • more monthly active users, and
  • high user satisfaction.

Things I shuffled along

The diagram I created last week, based on Tero’s article about products and services, got good feedback. I shopped it around in emails, calls and our show & tell, to which people said it gave good clarity. Props to Tero for making it, there is value in showing what a service does and how it helps users reach an outcome. I’m thinking of creating other diagrams to show how users get added to accounts, how users can get support, and other journeys that span the boundaries of siloed teams.

Had a great time with one of our UCD pairs in the office on Wednesday. They played back their findings on Tuesday and it’s juicy, lots of goodness for us to work with. On Wednesday afternoon we spent a couple of hours pulling out clear pain points, themes and behaviours. Those had been slightly jumbled up in the playback – which happens when you get your head into an area for several weeks – but talking through the work helped us establish clarity together. They’ve written up How Might We statements for us to workshop with stakeholders. Can’t wait to get in to workshopping now!

Spent time with our outgoing legal person, who gave us a plan for adapting the legal and commercial agreements needed for MVP launch. Not sure why this falls on me, given that other people have been working on this thing for months, but hey-ho.

Caught up with Trilly and other product managers at NHS Digital to start planning a community event. I’m going to update my talk on blogging and working in the open, which James is helping with. Watch this space.

Weird moment on Friday getting one of the assurance processes started. They didn’t know why we needed to go through it and I couldn’t tell them. Oh well. It does feel like spend controls and a service assessment would do all the assurance we need, but there you go. Try again next week?

Some puzzles

Our other UCD pair could do with moving more quickly, but to be fair to them they’re new to the organisation (like me) and it’s hard getting insights out of the teams around us. Having said that, they took a cool approach by using prototypes to provoke responses from those other teams, rather than continue to ask research questions. Alpha is discovery.

Other things

Had a moment of joy earlier in the week as I stumbled upon the repo and docs for GOV.UK Pay’s recurring payments product. It looks like it’s in private beta, following on from the discovery and alpha I did at Pay in 2021. (See S11E01 through to S12E02.) Made me really happy to see it as a lot of work went into the discovery and alpha. So yeah, if you need to take regular payments for something – like renewing fishing licences or garden waste subscriptions – the Pay team can help you out.

Yeah, despite what I said last week, I don’t have much interest in attending the lying-in-state. It’s not worth queuing 22 hours just to kneel in front of a coffin briefly. I’m grateful to the BBC and social media for documenting it all, I got my fill of pomp and ceremony.

Why is the queue stopping at Southwark Park too? In the days of flash mobs, that thing would stretch far out towards Kent. It would be funny if it stopped at Gravesend.

Had a cracking time at work drinks on Thursday. Spent a long time chatting to our lead PM about music. Lots of fun. More of that please.

Missed one of my workouts training for this half-marathon though. Feel bad. Going to do today’s progression run up hills to compensate.


  1. I haven’t mentioned what I’m working on yet, it’s best said after we’ve had our alpha assessment report published. But know that it helped out with cool, life-saving things during the pandemic.