Things I started

A good thing about the public sector is that many people do 4-day weeks. There’s two approaches to this: either you work 7.5 hours for 4 days and take a pay cut, or you fit 37.5 hours inside of 4 days. I’ve chosen to trial the latter, which is called either compressed hours or condensed hours. Can’t remember which. (It’s a terrible name anyway.) It’s too early to tell whether it’s a pattern I’ll stick with, but a big benefit is having more thinking time. Everyone disappears after 5 p.m., leaving me with 2 hours in which I can actually respond to emails or get my head down.

So that I could properly think through the community aspect to our support & community hub, I re-read the Better, Broader, Safer report, highlighting the paragraphs referring to community, open-working, and re-use of code. Unsurprisingly the report takes cues from the open source software movement, plus open-working and community management at GDS. So this felt like very familiar territory to me. I chatted to the RAP community of practice lead about how we might collaborate, and created a repo for our prototype.

On Wednesday I was asked to fill in a RACI matrix. A what?, I hear you say. Yeah, I was stumped too, mate. After a quick search, it appears it’s a way to track who’s doing what on tasks across a project. But more importantly than that, it says who’s accountable for the work, who reviews it, signs it off and is ultimately culpable. This was an alien concept to me because I work on an agile multidisciplinary team, where we work together on things and all share the responsibility.

Not wanting to fill in a template incorrectly, or translate our current sprint into a list of activities, I pushed back on filling in the table and offered to get them the information they needed in a different way. So I wrote a slide detailing our team and its objectives on a page: the objectives we’re working towards, the scope of those objectives, our stakeholders and dependencies, plus who’s on the team.

I’m curious to see how they respond, as I haven’t provided a list of activities we’re doing but instead the strategic objectives we’re working towards and how we’ll get there. My hope is that it’ll be satisfactory, or maybe we’ll talk about the objectives in more detail. But personally I can’t see the value, as a service owner or programme manager, in reading a list of tasks devoid of team context and strategic purpose. Surely managing outcomes is better than managing outputs? Parents do this with their kids: after a certain age, they don’t care to see you doing a shit, only know that you have done one before embarking on a long car journey.

Things I shuffled along

We’ve had the opportunity to reassess and plan more work since the assessment has been postponed, so we’re going deeper on some of our prototypes. We spent Monday going over what we’d learned about user support, and considered what our next steps might be.

We decided to look at the onboarding and learning journey: how our users move from not knowing how to use the platform and its tools, through to feeling competent and confident enough to start their projects. The journey is underpinned by the four stages of competence, and we thought about interventions that would solve users’ pain points and progress them to the next stage.

For example, using the platform requires a change in behaviour and expectations from performing analysis on your own machine. There are limits to what you can do, and you may need to adapt your usual process. Users aren’t told this in the current onboarding journey, so we’ve put that at the very start, as we expect it’ll move them from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence.

After thinking about some interventions at a high level, we talked about how we’d prototype these and what kinds of tests would validate our hypotheses. There’s a bit of information gathering to do first, and we need to do some co-design with another team too, but it’s good to be digging into our ideas more deeply. A proper alpha. (We really were rushed too quickly towards a deadline.)

On Thursday I facilitated a cross-programme workshop to help us understand the minimum viable service and figure out a roadmap for the next few months. It required input from all the teams, and it was great to see everyone’s contributions. On reflection, I think the workshop went well, but we’ll need more discussions and time together to bottom it all out.

One takeaway was that teams realised they needed to collaborate, and indeed want to, but the structure isn’t there to encourage or incentivise this. My gut says that people don’t know what to prioritise, given there are many things to work on, and they don’t know who to bring in, as they don’t want to step on others’ toes. Therefore teams stay siloed on work on whatever they think is most important. It creates an environment of tactical fixes and reactive firefighting. The programme needs to shift to proactivity, balancing enough strategic work with the tactical and operational demands.

Next steps from the workshop will be to size the impact of everything that was brought forward. People identified gaps in the current service, which was good, but only one person was able to quantify the impact of those gaps. We need to understand the impact so that we can objectively compare things and make prioritisation decisions. Otherwise it’s just comparing apples to apples, not apples to oranges.

Some puzzles

A few more senior people announced they were leaving NHS Digital. Which was a shame because they’re good people.

Other things

Went to the Winslow Homer exhibition last weekend, which was bloody great. The perspective in each painting caught me, but I can only describe it in photography terms: like everything was seen through a 40mm lens. That’s my favourite because it’s closest to the human eye, which I guess is what caught me. Also, the colours. Great palettes.

Then I stumbled across the British Rail Corporate Identity Manual from 1965. It’s fucking gorgeous. It’s utilitarian, functional. And nostalgic, in a way; so much of that national identity has been stripped from the railways over the years of privatisation. A design standard, replaced with brand identities. Strange to think that the railways, which greatly improved safety through standardisation, should now be a mess of typefaces, colours and spacing. But interoperable? Not sure. Like the web, in some ways.

Signed up to the private beta for Readwise’s Reader, so that I can do all my reading, highlighting and note-taking in one place. Loving it so far.

With reduced time in the evenings, I’ve done very little outside of work this week (so far). Going to make the most of this 3-day weekend: see an old boat, go for a long run, watch the rugby, meet up with friends.

And on that note, I’m off.