Planning Design Sprint: Day 1

A commute gone wrong gave me more time to contemplate more than just the desired outcomes. There’s a real chance here to to leave a lasting legacy. As the days have progressed I’m finding more and more interest from the wider community. I’m particularly interested in how this sprint could be a new start to better ways of working for Local Authorities i.e. wider than just Planning. Could this be a seed to a better way for Local Authorities to collaborate in agile working partnerships or the standardisation of terminology and underlying data sets or finally as per normal just a good piece of work that provides the desired outcomes?

A seriously cold morning and we’ve all just about made it into the Innovation centre only to find the heatings out. Wow, we’re all seriously impressed by the layout of the sprint room, purposely designed and fitted out with the necessary tools. There’s a huge Planning process map on the wall ready and waiting for us focus our thoughts upon, narrow down the main areas to attack and most importantly to stick our stickies upon. Also don’t forget the refreshments, tea and coffee to warm up our hands, but with the cold and caffeine nobody’s falling asleep today! To lighten the mood a couple of the team were firmly reminded of the no tech during sessions i.e phone, tablets and laptops all put aside until the break.

Let’s get going. After the traditional round table introductions @Euanmills gave us a quick talk on the FCC wider objectives. We split up into teams and went through the process of reading the prepared personas all with a backstory to ensure they were representative. After presenting our personas (and a quick break) we had an in depth walkthrough of the Planning process on the wall to ensure it was as we all saw it. We all then had the chance to put the colour coded stickies onto the process map where we thought it was either missing steps, had mistakes or challenges. The session ended with another one of Anja’s honks on the bicycle horn leaving the process map looking like this:

After a nice healthy lunch and some time to deliberate over the morning’s progress it was straight back down to work. A general review of the of the now layered process map then onto the task of turning the negative issues into the more positive ‘How Might We’ statements. It did actually feel better trying to think of ways to make things better, rather than the negative trying to fix broken things. The many pain points highlighted in the morning were then categorised into themes such as; consultations, case management, guidance, submissions and document management. The lesser pain points and those deemed out of scope were dismissed and moved to the relegation zone.

A long afternoon of toil awaits. The morning and post lunch session were quite tiring and brain draining and so would have the afternoon if it weren’t for some excellent Lightning Demos – basically four demonstrations fitted into only three minutes each, of what can only be described and excellent practice rather than just best practice.

  • Consultations based upon theatrical forums, attendees attending a forum didn’t necessarily know they’ be playing a part in a consultation play!
  • The ESRI GIS package provides the ability to pick up an object (building) and drag it across the map or change its dimensions in situ and see the effect on the environment and associated linked data.
  • The FutureGov ‘Foster Carer Recruitment’ application form has been designed to be effective on the parts of the process that need data collected and isn’t trying to digitally trying to solve the whole problem
  • Better use of PDF’s and data stored within naturally feels like something we should be moving away from. However it was demonstrated as quick achievable step in the right direction worth considering as opposed to the option of waiting for a final product

A special treat: The finale of the day was for us to test ride the Virtual Reality and Augmented reality setups at the FCC. Selfishly I volunteered to go first, taking a deep breath I tried to totally immerse myself in the VR. At first taking steps was quite weird, but with the teleporting device moved easily around the top floor of the ArcelorMittal Orbit, moving from exhibit to exhibit. Each table gave view to a 3d map of the park with over a few seconds gradually built up several 3d layers of roads, street furniture, bus routes even the detail on the bus stop sign. Having a good view of the Olympic Stadium from 200ft up I sheepishly took a step of the edge – very very unnerving. Turning around to take a step back onto terra firma was even more difficult, I nearly fell as I ducked under a virtual barrier! Albeit in aid of improving the Planning process, the VR we saw could be used extensively across Public Realm if not the full council, however it will be another matter to develop and implement!

 The augmented Reality however looked considerably more achievable and had many practical application, selecting a building, verbally removing a component such as a roof to expose further detail. The roof object then became selectable, and you could verbally ask about all the detail was also the asset details, i.e. how old is it, how much did it cost etc. Even more likely to be with us very soon was the 3d Web VR in a browser.

Professional hosts. We’ve been fortunate to have Future Cities Catapult hosting the event especially with Anja and the sprint team putting a considerable amount of time into the preparation for the week, really setting the week onto a good path and keeping it all moving succinctly.

Monday’s Schedule :

Monday 27th November – Research and Inspiration
Goal for the day: Verify personas and planning journey, so that we are starting from the same base knowledge, inspiration for the ideation session on Tuesday
Schedule Agenda Item Notes
09.00 Coffees & Networking
9:30 General intro, what is a sprint, roles, tasks etc.

  • Introduction of participants (only those who haven’t met the group yet)
  • General introduction to the project (Euan)
  • Introduction to the sprint
Euan to introduce project

Anja to take everyone through the presentation

10.00 Presentation of personas

  • Team work in groups to explore the personas we created and verify them
  • Presentation of personas
Aisling to take participants through research

Verification through all participants

11.00 Coffee break In the same room
11:15 Presentation of planning journey – part 1

  • Presentation of the planning journey
  • Individual work: Identify missing steps, mistakes and challenges
  • Discussion
Aisling to take participants through research

Verification through all participants

13:15 Lunch
14:15 Presentation of planning journey – part 2

  • Discussion
Aisling to facilitate
14:45 Identification of pain points and creation of How Might We (HMW)

  • Identifying further pain points within the planning journey
  • Creation of HMW
  • Organise the HMWs by theme
  • Decision on which/ ones to focus on
16:15 Lightning Demos; Great solutions from a range of companies

  • Each participant to do a 3 minutes demo
  • Capture good big ideas and draw on the whiteboard
Set homework for participants from councils to come up with demos / inspirations to present
17:00 Retrospective: what do we know, what more do we need to know, what do we prioritise tomorrow? Anja
17:15 Session close

Developing a design sprint

Building the team

We ran the proposal (in G Suite) past some colleagues and put together an initial community of practice. To facilitate communication we used Slack to set up a ‘Planning Design Sprint’ channel in the existing ‘Localgovdigital’ workspace. A seriously recommended place for digital contacts, information and general good help! From the original digital contacts we expanded the community to include subject matter experts i.e. Planners. The idea was for everyone to by Google Hangouts but due to pre-booked calendar appointments and some organisations restricting Hangouts in favour of their own tools general telephony conferencing was more successful!. One thing everyone agreed was the need for team continuity throughout the sprint week; the organiser, Scrum Master and some digital and planning experts continuously throughout the whole week. We had a core group but hadn’t assigned roles and responsibilities.

Setting the date. To get things moving we sent round a Doodle Poll to gain consensus on the best dates (before all the Planners were involved) and  whittled it down to two weeks at the end of November although now October the end of November seemed quite a way off. My first mistake was to select a date that was that was good for the digital teams. We took into consideration Planning Committee dates, but by not including all the Planners we didn’t realise the GLA were launching their Plan for London! Key invites started to go out and they accepted.

To Scrum Master or not to Scrum Master

Inviting everyone to join the team was quite straight-forward and we managed to find enough members for continuity throughout the week. What we didn’t have was a some one whom had run fully run a weekly sprint before. I raised my concerns with the ‘Fail Fast’ mantra which is great for internal and general sprints, however in this case we’d be presenting to hopefully a distinguished audience within depth knowledge of the Planning environment. Failing Fast quickly became a no no in favour of ensuring we definitely would have a good workable prototype. Hence a dedicated, experienced and full time Scrum Master would now be essential and me reading the Google Design Sprint (and good general experience) just wouldn’t be enough. Our look for an Agile Scrum Master began. We discussed the situation with FutureGov and agreed they would provide some resource in a couple of weeks.

Design Sprint Changing?

In light of the distinguished audience and need to not fail fast, we decided to re-arrange the Design Sprint to ensure we had a a few prototype iterations. We also decided to move some of the Problem Definition and Process Mapping Exercises to a pre-event thus maximising the amount of productive time during the sprint week. The problem with not nailing down the sprint week is that it’s difficult for wider team to sign-up for parts of the week and help if they cannot be there for the whole week. Things were gradually moving on Future Cities Catapult (FCC) were willing to host the event and the Scrum Master joined. We reviewed the Design sprint again and decided that it would be best to re-arrange the week and move the show & tell presentation with feedback workshop to a later week. Changing the presentation date lost us Jules Pipe as the main attraction, but also meant recalling the invites and informing the attendees of the change.

Still a good idea?

I recently attended the Urban Tech Summit and watched in person the Rt Hon Sajid Javid’s 2017 Speech at Urban Tech Summit. Next on the List was a panel with Theo Blackwell (Chief Digital Officer for London) discussing the need for digital innovation. I was quite surprised to then see another panel of distinguished digital leaders discussing the detail of digital innovation. (Two DCLG Reps,  Nesta and a Local Hackney business Mastodon C). The initial speech and each panel discussed digital innovation and accessible information again using the Planning Process as a specific example. In the last couple of weeks I’ve been having general conversations with a few Planning and Digital leaders and unsurprisingly nobody has cracked this walnut, although everyone is moving in the same direction just at different paces with slightly different localised objectives.

It’s Changing again! In the following week encountered some resource issues and had to change the Scrum Master. Anja expertly took on this role, involved some digital specialists in the sprint week and changed the format some more.  With only a couple of weeks to go the outputs are looking much more achievable albeit somewhat at the expense of including a wider local authority digital team. Much of the pre-event tasks have been completed by the Future Cities Catapult specialists and there’s fewer spots for the wider team to contribute. However from a collaboration perspective there are still three London Boroughs represented in the sprint week.

Sprint Transition from Hackney to FCC (Future Cities Catapult)

At first I was a little uncomfortable with this transition from a local authority sprint becoming more of  an FCC Sprint. Now having met the FCC team it’s quite apparent they’re not only experts in running these type of activities, they’re professionals (like the rest of us) but have also worked together many times in this environment. The main thing is the outcomes are likely to be significantly better. That said, having a mix of Local Authority Planners and Digital representatives has been a great balance and end to end wide understanding. I’m also seeing more than a glimpse of what Hackney Digital will be like in the coming months after our restructure. The future’s bright the future’s Hackit!

Lessons learnt (1) We started this project as a general sprint with a presentation, when in fact running the sprint and event combination would have been best run as a project. Therefore in hindsight we should have set up the board comprising of; the organiser in effect the Sponsors (@mcaino @EuanMills), the Scrum Master (@AnjaMaerz) and the Project Manager (@andyboye – oh dear)

Planning design sprint: we need to make a change

So, we’re in the middle of of an urgent legacy system replacement project (no real business change) with the general ups and downs and complications of historic data transfers. We thought we were doing a fine job. We absolutely knew we were doing the right thing, we were meeting the business case objectives (albeit just replace the failing system), we were resolving the reported issues and moving from a high risk to low risk position asap. Maybe a little delay but within budget.

Business as usual doesn’t stop. There were issues being reported on the legacy system which continued to justify our approach. We received some negative customer feedback from a resident whom had been impacted more than most. With the technical problem being quite complex itself, we decided we needed to really understand why the impact was so severe for the individual. Therefore we decide to go for the face to face meeting, it turned out the resident was also representing a much wider group of somewhat unhappy businesses in fact a key member of the Planning Forum.

The low point. The system we were moving to was far from perfect,  in fact had a myriad of issues, nothing show stopping just a generally poor usability. Meeting the representative in person and really understanding their needs was the moment we realised that no matter how well we completed this current project (that had hung around for years and nobody wanted to do), the outcome would not be a very happy customer. It would deliver a mediocre experience that just about did enough to be useful. The main problem wasn’t necessarily the incumbent back office system being any better or worse than the alternative market solutions. None of the alternatives stand out to provide a journey our residents or business would prefer to use.

The problem and what to do about it. We have suppliers slowly developing their back office  solutions for our Planning teams and now slowly focusing upon our customers. We have a somewhat frustrated Planning department wishing things could be better with only a flickering light at the end of the tunnel. To add to the mix, having different solutions has brought an inconsistent customer journey across boroughs. After asking ourselves what we needed to do we came up with:

  • Better understand our user needs to pressurise our suppliers and influence their roadmap
  • Stimulate the market and look towards the adoption of rapidly changing technology
  • Provide our Planning department with a vision of what ‘really good’ could actually look like

Some bright spark said let’s do it. The ‘bright spark’ wasn’t me and the ‘it’ would become a five day Google Design Sprint – Basically a group of Planning experts and digital experts taking their knowledge and experience to develop a prototype of what ‘Good’ could actually look like or at least in a demo! (see full proposal) We couldn’t do it ourselves and the synergy of collaboration would be a huge benefit. A lot of good work has been done in this area so we chose some other local authorities on a similar journey to run with. Looking at the wider arena we found Future Cities Catapult are looking at the end to end Planning environment and after meeting with them it turned out to be a great match.

Scary or Exciting? We now have an ensemble of planning and digital experts all in agreement that something needs to be done. We have a framework for the week and held a Doodle poll to survey the best dates. The sprint schedule for the week is under construction and things are developing fast with the new Scrum Master. We’ve decided to invite the Deputy mayor of London as well as some further distinguished digital guru’s. So a little added pressure to deliver.

To be continued…..Friday