Reflecting on my experience of LOTI x Upfront

About LOTI x Upfront

Upfront Bond is a six-week online confidence course designed for and by women. Participants of the course join a ‘bond’ (a collective noun for a group of women) to take this journey with, and learn from Upfront founder Lauren Currie’s practical tools and insights to help women:

  • Feel more confident and assertive at work
  • Become more professionally visible
  • Combat and overcome nerves
  • Strengthen their own voice

Recently the London Office for Technology & Innovation (LOTI) invested in over 80 places on this course for women across London local authorities to take part. I was one of those women and wanted to share my experience of the course and my own relationship with confidence.

Why did you sign up for Upfront?

I signed up for a number of reasons. Firstly, I wanted to overcome imposter syndrome and this was really good timing for me having just been promoted to a more senior role. I can usually project confidence externally (e.g. I can speak up in meetings and give presentations) but I often feel inner self-doubt that can make this a pretty uncomfortable experience.

Having moved up into the role of Data & Insight Manager, I also wanted to take this opportunity to develop skills that would help me support my team better. I wanted to be more confident in setting boundaries and saying no so that I could protect the team’s capacity and well-being. I also wanted to be a better coach and cheerleader so that members of the team feel safe and confident themselves.

What were your doubts going in?

I had been to an information session about Upfront last summer and after this had thought that it wasn’t for me. It’s hard to describe, but it felt a bit…much. It felt very extroverted and I wasn’t sure there was room for different presentations of confidence. However, I had the opportunity to discuss these doubts with a colleague who had just completed the course. I’m happy to say that the discussions and content were a lot more nuanced and thoughtful than I expected.

I was also a little wary of the idea that women had to ‘fix’ themselves and act more like men in order to be (or be seen as) confident. I’ve felt conflicted about advice I’d heard in the past about women changing the way that they speak or write – I quite like using exclamation points in my emails, thank you! However, I was pleasantly surprised that in the first ‘Live’ session Lauren addressed this point head on and said that the problem is not the women aren’t confident, it’s that society generally doesn’t reward confidence in women.

How did you make the time?

I needed to dedicate 2-3 hours each week to Upfront. It wasn’t easy, but at the start of the course I blocked out 2 hours of focus time each week and rearranged regular meetings which clashed with the ‘Live’ sessions. I also had to miss stand ups, delegate things more, and be Upfront in saying ‘no’ to other meetings in order to stick to my plan.

What did you learn? What were your top 3 takeaways?

I think I knew most things that we learned on the course already intellectually. However, I didn’t really believe them to be true. This course was an opportunity for me to focus on my own confidence and really reflect on how it plays out in the workplace with the support of other women. My top 3 takeaways from the course were:

  • I don’t need a good reason to say ‘no’ to something. I need a good reason to say ‘yes’.
  • I don’t need to apologise for things that aren’t my fault.
  • Work doesn’t always speak for itself. I need to take credit for my achievements.

What have you done differently?

The Upfront course has caused me to reflect a lot more about how I think about work and act in certain situations. Here are a few of things that happened during my 6 weeks:

  • I copied someone into an email chain and got a somewhat angry response from the original sender saying they didn’t want that person to be included. I very nearly apologised but after I typed the words I stopped to think ‘what am I actually apologising for?’ I hadn’t done anything wrong in this situation. I deleted it and instead enquired about why this was a problem. Before Upfront, I probably would have apologised because I wanted the other person to like me, and then thought about it all evening.
  • I was in a meeting where a colleague was given credit for some of my work. I didn’t speak up because at the time it didn’t feel important and I wanted to focus on the content rather than who did what. However, I thought a lot more about this after the fact and wished I had corrected this at the time. Hopefully I’ll act differently next time.
  • I introduced ‘weekly wins’ in team stand-ups to start sharing some of our learning with the wider team. This is an Upfront practice where you reflect and share something that you’re proud of, with the idea that this aims to increase your motivation, sense of accomplishment, and feeling of happiness.
  • I encouraged a colleague to be Upfront herself when faced with a difficult work situation which led to a positive outcome for her, her team, and Hackney.

Overall, I think I’ve felt a bit less anxious about work (even my husband has commented that I seem less stressed recently). I am also reflecting a lot more about the unique value that I bring to the council and my team.

What’s next?

It’s unrealistic to expect a six week course to change a lifetime of social messaging and learned behaviours. There is also a wealth of resources in the course that I’ve only scratched the surface of. This is the beginning of a journey, and I’ve identified a few areas that I want to work on in greater depth now:

  • Taking credit for my work: I am already fairly visible at work but I’m often shining a light on the work of the team (and rightly so, they’re brilliant) rather than my own. I think this is tricky for managers, as we often don’t have tangible outputs we can point to and we don’t want to take credit for the outcomes when it was a team effort. I want to find better ways of identifying the unique value I’m adding to Hackney and shining a light on this too.
  • Being thoughtful with the language I use: I’ve already made progress by stopping myself from mindlessly saying ‘sorry’ and using filler words/phrases like ‘I think’, ‘just’ etc. but I don’t necessarily want to eliminate these words from my vocabulary. I want to be more mindful about my language and use them in appropriate contexts.
  • Building ladders behind me: how do I best role model these behaviours and encourage other women to embark on their own confidence journey? (hopefully this blog is a start).

I hope that with the grounding the Upfront course has given me, along with the support of other women (via our emerging LOTI Women’s Network and the Upfront Global Bond) I’ll be able to make some real progress in these areas this year.

Modern Tools for Housing – Programme week notes 11/2/22

The Modern Tools for Housing programme is the development of a suite of software products developed in collaboration between HackIT and Hackney Council’s Housing Department to support our staff and our tenant and leasehold residents. It currently covers housing repairs, home management, housing finance and support for our arrears collection team.

Big news this week as with the exception of two small teams we move to 100% digital working in the DLO – no more printing out work orders! On to highlights from our workstreams.

Managed Arrears – Silvia – workstream DM

  • Celebrations:
    • Large parts of the NoSP work already completed
    • Work on Rules Engine and Components Library started
  • Challenges:
    • The team had a few challenging moments with the Ruby on Rails framework, which have now been resolved

Finance – Kate – workstream DM

  • Celebrations:
    • The Council Finance team is undertaking user acceptance testing
    • Two week sprint cycles commenced on 7th February 2022
    • New member to the team; welcome Duncan
    • Direct Debit functionality ready for final testing
  • Challenges:
    • The data migration! It’s been one of those challenging processes where just as one problem is resolved, another emerges.

Manage My Home – Yvonne – workstream DM

  • Celebrations:
    • Got a full team again
    • Started our first full sprint
  • Challenges:
    • Learning and doing means pace is slower, but this is to be expected. 
    • Ensuring we’re capturing and understanding the user needs while we transition between new team members. 

Repairs – Sarah – HackIT workstream DM

  • Celebrations:
    • Work orders will no longer be printed (unless by exception) from Monday 14th February. This means the following for our DLO staff.
      • Planners will no longer need to produce daily pdf run sheets
      • DLO admin no longer need to print & distribute run sheets each day
      • Reactive operatives receiving their work 100% digitally
    • Operatives can now click a tenants number from a work order and call them directly from a withheld number
    • Linking a support site within mobile working so that operatives have more information available
    • Search by address or work order in the bonus app. This is especially important for supervisors and managers when investigating queries with operatives for missing jobs that they’re expecting to be paid for.
  • Challenges
    • Issues with AWS (our cloud hosting provider) has made it tricky for us to deploy everything

Everything continues to gather pace across the Modern Tools for Housing programme as we can see from the big list of celebrations above. In addition to all of that we’ve also moved forward on a number of additional things.

Great work continues to line up our major repairs partner Purdy to be able to start using Repairs Hub and our Mobile Repairs solution. Purdy supplies a significant number of multi-trade operatives. Once they are onboarded Housing will be better able to direct people who can fix a number of issues in a tenant’s property with just one trip.

We’re going to be significantly improving our ability to oversee planned maintenance online. This means a better service for residents for things like common area painting and lift upkeep.

We have received approval for our planned staffing-up of the new ongoing product team to replace the current project team. We’re currently discussing the finalised HackIT 3.0 job descriptions and expect to be able to start recruiting in the next 1-2 weeks. The product team will enable everyone to have confidence that the Council will support our repairs products and continue to invest in their iterative improvement over the long term.

We’re also moving forward with standing up a short project to introduce the open source Repairs Online product (originally funded by LOTI) which will integrate with our existing systems. We eventually expect a high number of our residents to raise repairs online and receive update notifications providing a better service and reducing the number of people who need to call our Repairs Contact Centre.

Over in Manage My Home we’ve agreed a date for the upcoming Government Service Standard review. We’re very pleased that the panel for this will be almost entirely made up of people from outside of HackIT including members from NHSX and the DWP. This review will enable the team to discuss the work they’ve done to date and their plans for the future against the 14 points in the Standard and get guidance from very experienced people on how to proceed.

Finally for today a quick recap on the “ways of working” workshops that we’re undertaking as part of the “soft reboot” of the programme to ensure that everyone across the whole programme has an opportunity to collaborate on defining how we work together. The first of those took place on the 7th of February facilitated by my Delivery Manager colleague Darren Aitcheson (thanks!) and produced an agreed set of Programme Values that we can use to guide us from now on.

We’re firming up future ways of working workshops but at the moment we’re thinking about sessions on Agile delivery, technical and quality standards, meetings and documents and programme metrics, product deployment and support. Each of those will help all of our teams build agreed ways to work together that will slimline and accelerate our delivery to our users.

Modern Tools for Housing – Programme Week Notes 17/12/21

Last programme week note for 2021. It’s been a heck of a year – final updates for now from our workstreams.

Finance – Silvia – HackIT workstream DM

  • Celebrations:
    • Data Migration Plan – A draft of the migration plan has been submitted to stakeholders for review.  This is to ensure that everyone is aware of the plan and has an opportunity to see if it impacts their service in any way.
    • Delay to PEN Testing start due to Google Auth implementation.
  • Challenges:
    • Pen testing will now take place from Monday 20th December 2021
    • Data Migration will take place when we return from the Christmas break.
    • Now the MVP work is complete and in the Staging environment, the team will focus on the Leaseholder Calculation development work next week.
    • Support tasks/data cleanup will continue with Interim Finance.

Manage My Home – Yvonne – HackIT workstream DM

  • Celebrations:
    • We’ve had good conversations with the DES team and got a solution to test
    • Started to integrate with the Data Platform
  • Challenges:
    • Very small team
    • Trying to keep all the plates spinning on my own

Repairs – Sarah – HackIT workstream DM

  • Celebrations:
    • Automated overtime jobs.  Operatives via mobile and managers via Repairs Hub can now select a monetary value instead of SMV’s towards their bonus, removing the need for paperwork being submitted for manager approval.
    • Closing the first 5 weeks in the bonus app, emailing reports to operatives and managers
    • The changes implemented to the sync with DRS seem to have worked extremely well. The few jobs missing this week upon first check were related to how the planners had booked them in through DRS and were quickly resolved 
  • Challenges:
    • The managers in the DLO are under alot of pressure to ensure data is correct in the bonus app, and it’s not going to be 100% for various reasons (paper jobs still sitting on desks, time to manually enter jobs not raised on RH, SMV issues, operative split bug still pending).  

It’s the end of 2021 and, while our teams have delivered fantastic work over the last year, it’s fair to say that, for all the obvious reasons, we’re all exhausted. HackIT has very sensibly decided to have a firebreak from the end of this week until the end of the first week of Jan. This means that folks who won’t be away on very well deserved breaks can spend some time getting to all of the things that they’ve had to put off for some time due to there always being something of higher priority happening.

2021 has, in large part, been a very reactive year. We’ve all been dealing with the issues raised by covid but, in this programme, the major drivers have been related to the October 2020 cyber attack. Replacing Universal Housing and the interim systems and myriad google sheets created to support our staff following the attack has been our major priority. In 2022 it’s my hope that the strong foundations that we’re continuing to put in place will mean that we will be able to move our focus on from that to a new “north star” of what we want our new combined set of services to provide – well beyond what used to be possible with our previous systems.

A major part of how we will achieve that is the move to product teams as part of HackIT 3.0. We’re all very much looking forward to continuing that discussion in the new year.

Another huge part will be the move to our newly selected partner vendor for our work going forward. We’re sad to be losing Amido who have rolled off the programme but are pleased to welcome TPXImpact / Nudge to be taking over Manage My Home in January. We’ll be having lots of discussions about potential new programme level roles and how we move from where we are now to  self-sustaining, fully funded product teams.

For me the firebreak is an opportunity to write a “State of the MTFH nation” document which will, hopefully briefly, give a clear picture of where we are as a programme and the many things we need to work out how to prioritise in 2022.

I wish everyone an excellent festive season. Take the opportunity to relax and recharge – we all need it – and let’s come back refreshed and renewed in 2022.

Update About Find Support Services

Having worked at a lightening speed to build the directory at the beginning of the first lockdown in March 2020 (*shudder*), Find Support Services is now a living, breathing, functioning tool that provides residents a simple way to find local support in and around Hackney and City of London. After just over 18 months since its conception, the Find Support Services map is in full swing! Between October and September, we’ve seen a 28% increase in unique page views, and a 30% increase in users. Although we’re pleased to see such positive statistics, our focus will be on improving bounce rate and average session duration over the coming months, indicating that users are engaging with the site and finding the support they need. 

What is Find Support Services? 

FSS is a digital directory, housing all of the local support available to residents in Hackney and City of London. These services are displayed on a handy dandy map, to show users how far away they are from each service. Each listing is maintained by the individual service provider, which contributes to confidence in the reliability of the listings, whilst allowing an element of self-maintenance. Available services span lots of different things, from food banks and deliveries, to loneliness and isolation, and mental health support. 

Updates from the last 6 months:

  • We have just passed 200 organisations signing up to appear on the map across the two boroughs (hooray!)
  • New functionality has been added, including a ‘remote’ option for organisations to select and users to filter by 
  • Actively encouraging residents to use the tool, and engaging internal usage across social prescribers and frontline workers, so that FSS can act as the ultimate digital  crib sheet
  • Undertaking user research to ensure that we’re optimising the site – answering two main questions: 1) can we make FSS easier to use for residents and participating organisations? 2) Are we engaging users as effectively as possible?

What’s on the agenda for the next 6 months:

  • We’re working on an automatic reminder process for organisations to be notified when listing information should be checked and/or updated. This will ensure that the directory stays up to date, and therefore useful to residents looking for support
  • Re-evaluating  criteria for organisations to list their services – this includes expanding out to statutory services like housing and social care, as well as broadening the catchment area for local organisations, expanding into boroughs like Tower Hamlets and Islington 
  • Following this, we will also be working with our North East London council neighbours to see what we can do to learn from each other, focussing on data quality and supporting residents who live closer to boundary lines
  • Ramping up our social media presence to combat lack of awareness of FSS. Research shows that Instagram and Facebook are among the most used platforms in Hackney, so it’s time to put our ‘influencer’ hats on!
  • Finalising a more robust analytics process to understand the behaviours and journeys of our users around the site and beyond

Fancy getting involved and helping us improve the tool? We’re always looking for new voluntary and statutory services to join the FSS network, and for as much feedback as we can get! If you have any recommendations, feedback, or want to get involved in some user research, get in touch with us via fss@hackney.gov.uk.