And what do you do?
Overarching feeling of the week
Never trust someone who tells you they’re too busy and makes a big fuss about it. But, god. I am busy.
On top of doing my day job, I’ve been:
- on-boarding our graduate trainer, Nim,
- bringing my replacement, Chris, into the fray,
- my fellow BPs (and all round awesome people) Joe and Wendell are hellishly busy (did I mention that last week?) Joe especially is working his arse off on a big project with a very hard deadline; I’ve barely seen him, and when I have he has been deep in thought (with little to no capacity to deal with me being annoying). More than just missing the company, it means I am also picking up work which he doesn’t have capacity for (even though I don’t either, really). All round, it’s not a great state of affairs.
- It’s January. New things keep popping up. Old things are being reopened. People want to get stuff done, as soon as possible, please.
I hoped I would be winding down and handing over. I don’t think that’s going to happen.
Despite the above there have been a few points this week where I’ve been able to take a step outside of my own mind and actually hear the things I’m saying and how I’m saying them.
I’ve been proud about the work I’ve done in bringing Nim on board, and I hope I’m doing a good job of showing him the opportunities of working in the Civil Service.
Having Chris shadow me has meant I’m also thinking a lot more about what I’m actually doing and why. It’s helping me articulate what I’m asking stakeholders, think about my own thought processes, motivations, and think more about how I do what I do.
What’s struck me, is the amount of facets there are to these types of conversations. The themes I have to think about, the thoughts I work through when I’m speaking to stakeholders. This is especially true if we are discussing a new opportunity.
The below is a good indication of the type of thoughts I’ll have in my head while I’m scoping (not-exhaustive).
- Is it a good idea? How does this sit with government policy or wider strategy?
- Where is this stakeholder in their own journey? Do they think they’ve got the answer already? Are they willing? Do they need persuading? How to persuade them?
- Whats the user need? How can I make this person think more about user need? Can I give them advice on how to do it? Do they have the skills or inclination to do what I suggest? What support do they need?
- How would a change affect the user, are we asking them to do more? Could this actually be detrimental, would it disproportionally affect users with particular needs or accessibility needs?
- What’s the business need? Is the impact great enough to warrant the work and cost? How many people will it affect? Is this person name-dropping?
- Is the stakeholder solutionising? Why are they doing that? What is motivating them? Have they been “sold” something already? What are the commercial implications?
- What skills do they need to get to the bottom of this? What would a discovery look like? What do they need to do?
- Are they talking about technology? What are the constraints? How is it currently done? Does anything about the proposed approach seem dodgy? Am I worried about security?
- What is the reputational risk if this goes wrong? Not just the “Daily Mail test” but also from a technology perspective, WWGDSS*?
- Are there any time constraints? Are they “real” time constraints? Can it actually be done in time? What might block the work? Do they have the money?
- Is this already being done? Do I know anyone with a similar interest? How can I bring those people together to work?
There is more. So much more.
On Thursday I had a day of meetings. Five, back to back, over the course of the day. Four of these were for completely new opportunities.
Imagine holding all of these thoughts in your head and going over it four times in a day. Context switching. Noting actions. Following up and providing more information.
I know Martin. It is difficult work and I’m honestly not sure how I manage it.
On top of all this, it is tough to win people over, you have to build trust, listen, prompt and push people back on track. It is tiring, and I have had a week of it. The fact that I have survived is in itself an achievement.
Highlights of the week included running a session on writing test scripts and conducting interviews with super duper user researcher, Atique.
I also had coffee with the brilliant and lovely Jessica from ACAS on Wednesday. It was good to chat about what they are doing there (I really love their approach to, and enthusiasm for, all things transformation at over there).
I really enjoy speaking to Jess because she has a similar mindset to me (a product manager mindset?) It was also fun to talk about some of the great stats she’s found about their existing website, “75% of content is read by 1% of visitors” is a great demonstration of the importance of content strategy based on user need, thankfully that’s what she is currently managing.
On Tuesday it was our business area’s away day. My team sits under the Chief Operating Office, so there were lots of other teams there. It was busy.
Unfortunately I really really struggle with away days. They bring out my ugly cynical side. I’m not proud of it. But it’s difficult to hear senior leaders speak on certain subjects when you see something very different from the ground.
Either way, I need to get better at applying some pragmatism to these situations and try not to let my negativity get the better of me.
One good session I attended at the away day was run by Ben Daniels of the Introvert network at GDS . It was a good discussion, though I did find the definition of introverts and extroverts a little reductive.
Random Ideas (and what I plan to do about them)
I’ve been thinking a lot about AI after a new opportunity came in this week.
I have read a number of articles about AI  but had always assumed that it would be something more likely to come into use in larger departments like DWP or HMRC. But now it appears to be at my door.
I hadn’t expected it, and I personally don’t feel like our team are well prepared for dealing with conversations about it. Also, it involves ethics, and people’s lives, and black boxes, and commercial decisions and accountability.
I’m thinking about writing down some of my thoughts about it with a hope that someone with more experience than me might want to talk it through.
There definitely needs to be some government policy about this kind of thing, because the future is here.
Firstly if you’ve read this far, thanks! You’re a trooper. This is a long one this week.
I’m looking for people to help me with a project I’m currently working on as part of my corporate contribution this year:
Not sure but some people might find this useful:
And that’s that. Have a great time at UK Gov Camp everyone. I will be avoiding twitter all day tomorrow…
 WWGDSS — What would GDS say? (I like to imagine the vitriol of ex-GDS employees on Twitter and Slack)
 Yes this is a thing. Yes, this is a hilarious joke for a lot of people. No, I don’t want to your thoughts on it, thanks.
 I’m calling it AI (though I think it is really machine learning) because that’s what the stakeholder called it. Though actually, I probably need to learn how to be clear in my definitions.