Weeknotes S9 Ep5

This week has been mostly brought to you by looking under rocks and discovering all sorts of things hidden underneath them.

A meme of a bearded man amongst some rocks with the caption “For a few weeks I’ve been living under a rock” to which I say, “Great, can you please return to your place under the rock and leave me alone?”

But before I start here’s my reading for this week: https://trello.com/b/BBJ726mr/progress-bookmarks

A screenshot of my public trello board of reading.

The problem with “digital” and Service Design…

…is that it’s not nice and tidy, once you discover something you always discover something else and then something else that needs to be rolled in and fixed. When you see things as systems, you end up finding things that encroach on other people’s areas or require organisational change or support to manage.

I’ve had a week like that where I’ve picked up an [aforementioned] rock, looked underneath, and discovered a new piece of work that needs to be done. Whether or not it’s my sole responsibility to fix (I don’t think it is) is beside the point, I can’t hide it back under the rock and plead ignorance now, something must be done!

Gif: A cartoon character picks up a piece of stone and places it back in a cracked wall, it pops out and hits them in the face.

I wrote last week about some firefighting I was doing the day before the National Leadership Forum but I didn’t go into detail about the specifics of it because it didn’t seem a worthwhile at the time. There was a bug, it got fixed, it was a little stressful but nobody died.

Essentially there was an issue accessing our Connect service as we allowed access to our whole network of senior leaders. We have around 950 people in the network at the moment and a lot of them had incorrect access details sent. That’s not ideal but at the worst it caused a little confusion for our users. It was rectified quickly, so like I said, inconvenient, but nobody died.

The thing I noticed was that we received an awful lot of bounce backs off the back of that email. People in our network have moved on to new jobs, had changes in role or title, and I also had several emails saying that information wasn’t quite right. Which got me thinking about the underlying processes for collating and cleaning the data held in the system, the regularity, and responsibility for those things.

So the bug meant that we learned something else that was really important about the current quality of the data in our system, and it would not have been anywhere near so obvious had we not made a mistake in the first place. So, silver linings.

A gif that says “Every cloud has a silver lining. Meaning: Problems can sometimes help us learn new things”

Currently, it would be generous to say that the process for refreshing our data is informal. That’s not anyone’s fault, and I don’t say it to show up the team or make us look bad at all, only to describe my current situation and to talk through what I’m doing about it.

I find it’s a typical trait in start-up style business units like ours within government. From experience these tend to be staffed with loads of super clever, highly motivated people who buy into the mission and are more than willing to roll their sleeves up and get stuff done (even if it’s slightly outside of their remit) because they are clever enough to learn the processes and push things through.

It’s so cool that those people buy into the vision in that way and want to prove effectiveness and to make the case. But when you’re working like that it can sometimes be hard to step back, make sure everything is documented and that the right processes are in place.

I spent a lot of my previous role as a business partner in the Cabinet Office working with this same situation from the other side, acting as an outsider, asking questions and unpicking what had been done and what might be done to move things on, so I’m lucky that this feels familiar and something I know how to deal with.

Gif: A blue cartoon character says “Oooh yeah! Can do!”

Aside from all that, I strongly believe that the product I look after will only ever be as good as the data held within it, so even if this isn’t 100% my issue to solve, I have an interest in making sure it gets fixed because I don’t want users to think there is something wrong with my product (which is happily working precisely as expected).

Thankfully, knowing and having good relationships built on lots of mutual trust within the team already means I can have productive conversations about how to rectify this and I’m already close to getting to at least a short term solution, with a vision for a longer term one. Having worked with Prateek, Jenny and others previously has been really useful in getting this to a constructive place really quickly, and I’m so grateful for that.

Better meetings

Next week I’ll be taking part in a conversation with Apolitical.co about how to have better meetings in Government. You can find out more and sign up below:


I’m doing this with some colleagues from Canada and with Vasant from the Cabinet Office Policy Lab. We’ve known each other for a little while, he even interviewed me for a role in the team a way back, but we’ve never really sat down and spoken in person before.

It was 45 minutes of thoughtful, interesting, honest and open conversation and I’m so looking forward to doing this talk with him. Plus, he (unintentionally) made me feel so much better about being in the kind of start up environment that I’ve described above. (Which I’ve come to realise is my favourite kind of place to be, even if it is a bit scrappy and tough at times.)

We spoke about Policy Lab having a “Librarian” — a person responsible for curatorship of all of the information the team have been gathering (I cannot get over myself in thinking this is about the coolest thing I’ve ever heard, I think Home Office user research have a similar role and honestly, that just pleases me so much).

A gif from the TV show Black Books. Manny stands holding a jacket open, it is full of books and he says to a customer “Browse me!”

Anyway, this is something I’ve been really wanting to do for the Local Digital Collaboration Unit (I have been banging on about Research Ops as a Service for yonks now) because I feel like it would be really beneficial for local government.

Vasant pointed out that this role is a relatively recent addition to the Policy Lab team, who are 6 years old. It put into perspective that my last couple of roles have been in teams that are less than 2 years old. So I’ve been reflecting a little bit about what it’s like to be a person who spends a lot of time living in their version of an ideal future, how frustrating I can sometimes find it, and how eager I am to get there.

Gef: A wild cat runs out of a pile of rocks and looks really closely into the camera.

But also thinking about how putting one foot in front of the other in a slow and steady pace, is what really matters to get there.

Reflecting on yourself helps you to help others, I hope.

I met an old colleague for lunch for a kind of informal mentoring meeting. We covered a lot of similar themes to those above about wanting to get to the vision more quickly, to see progress, to make sure you’re working on the right thing at the right time.

The person met is great, really good at what they do, but also looking more at a future that the rest of the team haven’t quite arrived at yet. There’s a frustration that comes with that sometimes and I’ve seen people feel trapped or disappointed when they deliver things that others aren’t ready for yet, so they don’t land, and how waiting for people to catch up with you can be hard.

We talked about tenaciousness, about plugging away, and waiting for things to land — and also about how tiring that can be — but how important.

Gif: A clip from Parks and Recreation, Joe Biden tells Leslie Knope “Did anyone ever tell you that your tenacity can be intimidating?”

I’m glad that these thoughts all sort of formulated at the same time so that I could support and provide some timely reflection for this person, and I hope it’s helpful. It’s been a while since I’ve done any mentoring and it’s something I really miss.

Converse / Confidence

On Tuesday I wore my converse to the office. That’s the first time I’ve worn them into work in ages. It definitely shifted something in my head. I felt more like myself, weirdly more in control, and much more on top of things than I think I have since I started this role. I’m not sure if the two things are related, but I can’t rule it out either.

Digital Strategy

I’ve been writing a digital strategy paper. That’s a new one on me, but it’s been weirdly enjoyable.

I haven’t had by any means enough time to write it, I was asked to deliver it in 10 days, which for me means 8 because I’m part time, and a further 2 of those days were taken up with the National Leadership Forum. I’ve been given an extension of 3 days, which for me is only 2 days… but anyway, it’s about 85% done.

Gif, a man says “Strategery” (instead of strategy)

I have to acknowledge how scary the word strategy is. It was a word that I realised I had imbued with meaning that isn’t necessarily right. I’ve always thought of it as important and grand, as being very clever and difficult. Maybe that’s a social mobility thing too, strategy is something that seemed steeped in rules that I didn’t understand.

Nobody seems to tell you what a strategy actually is or how to write one, which is maybe why it feels like something special.

Either way I know I was scared to write something. Last week I said something about being worried about delivering a strategy that ultimately will belong to Billy, but in reality it was more just a general fear of producing the right thing. So I managed to work from home one day last week and dump a lot of thoughts into a doc — sharing it early to get feedback — which was invaluable.

I also did some reading around it, and found Sophie’s workshop slides this week which have helped me to work out what a strategy really is (its not scary lads, its just some options, a plan and some recommendations).

I spent another day at home this week tidying it up and getting it into the right place with structure that can step people through it. With huge thanks to Morgan and Jenny who have really helped me to think about how to make this as accessible as possible.

It’s also helped me to get a lot more clarity of the core areas to address, and how to take those steady steps towards getting there. I’m hoping it lands well and that I can move it forward over the next few months.

Ok, that’s probably all for now. Byeeeee!

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