Governance so good, people prefer to use it

Governance as a service

At HackIT we’ve been thinking about how we run ourselves, and our work. I’ve been looking at what we need to do next to iterate our approach to governance. Our HackIT manifesto already sets out our key principles — and there’s been lots of work done to remove some tortuous processes that weren’t working for us.

We’ve already opened up our work, use the local gov digital standards as a benchmark, have adopted the GDS tech code of practice to guide us, introduced pair programming and test driven development, and we’re using agile principles and rhythms to deliver value early, and increase pace of delivery.

But the team is changing and developing — new people are joining us from all sorts of different organisations (and we have 21 new apprentices starting). We need to be able to scale, develop and embed our approach effectively — recognising that we’ll learn along the way and we’ll want to adapt it as we go.

Why is governance important to us?

Governance helps us maximise the flow of valuable work. That’s basically its purpose — with three main functions:

  • Coordinate what we’re doing and stop doing stuff, so we can go faster
  • Focus our people and money, so we can deliver what matters
  • Answer the question “How’s it going?”

My hypothesis is that we don’t need more governance. But because we are scaling a new approach to working using agile we do need to be really clear about what we’re doing and why, communicate it well, and keep checking in with ourselves to make sure it’s effective.

Principles

We’ve got some governance principles to help us get this right:

  • Work in the open by default — because that enables us to reduce formal governance
  • Most decisions should be made at team level — that’s where the best information is
  • When a decision impacts more than one team — teams are responsible for discussing and agreeing what to do between them
  • Where a decision impacts us all — we need to discuss that more formally at a senior level
  • Clear protocols and guidance help us so we avoid overwriting each other’s decisions.

We’re still working on some of our protocols and guidance — for instance around our data strategy and our API strategy — and some, such as the GDS tech code of practice, and the local government service standard we’ve already adopted because we know they work.

What are we doing next?

We’re going to clearly delegate responsibility and decision making to team level wherever possible. To support our teams we’ll focus on growing key skills and behaviours around leadership, decision making, working in the open and use of evidence. As a senior team we’re committing to regularly and clearly communicating our approach including how we feel about risk.

These are big commitments and we know we can’t do everything at once. So over the next three months we’ve decided the focus will be on:

  • Using the updated Pipeline tool that went live this week to openly show the flow of our work
  • Running 5 service assessments, learning from doing these so that we know what our change process (production into live support) might look like in the future
  • Carrying out a discovery phase on a next iteration of our Hackney Agile Lifecycle to support our understanding of and narrative about our governance approach
  • Building a strategic procurement plan using data and insight from our contracts register

Standing on the shoulders of giants

Some really clever and thoughtful people have done great work on agile, governance and working at pace. Here’s my curation of some of the best blog posts/articles I’ve read, along with my thanks to all of them for sharing their work so openly:

HackIT digital apprentices programme – delivering long term change

Our programme is taking shape

Since Rob Miller last blogged about our apprenticeship programme we’ve been working hard to get it off the ground. It’s a key part of our workforce strategy – we know that in a market where digital skills are at a premium we will need to work hard to attract the right candidates, and that growing our own talent is vital.

A successful recruitment campaign over the summer means that we have 21 new people joining us in September on a variety of level 3 and 4 apprenticeships. They come from a diverse range of backgrounds but they are all either Hackney residents or attended a Hackney school – part of the borough’s commitment to providing opportunities to residents.

In fact the standard of applicants we got was so good, and our managers are so engaged in wanting to develop the opportunity, that we’re hiring 3 more than we originally planned to. We’re confident we can support them all to develop over the next 2 years, in partnership with our 3 learning providers Ada, Arch and WKCIC.

Building a pipeline of talent is a team sport

We couldn’t have done this without the Hackney Works team who have given us fantastic support throughout. Their skills and experience have been invaluable in helping us through the process.

We’re also working with the wider digital community in Hackney to help us grow digital skills in the borough. Hackney has a thriving tech sector with world leading business (large and small) based here. In June we hosted an event for local employers and asked them for ideas.

They said:

  • Make sure apprentices are given specific projects to deliver so that they can build their own personal portfolios of experience
  • Support your managers with the skills they need to manage people who are at an early stage of their careers and have limited experience of the workplace
  • Work with us to share ideas and create opportunities to work together

And that’s what we’re doing.

We’re working with local employers to help the new recruits build their professional networks.  This includes working with MadeTech organising meetups with their trainee developers and our apprentices, Diva Apprentices to connect our apprentices to others in Hackney media companies and Amazon Web Services, developing mentoring relationships between Amazon’s graduate trainees and our apprentices.

We’d love to work with other local employers as well – if you’re interested please get in touch with us.

Looking ahead – women in tech

We’re also thinking now about the next time we recruit to our programme – in 2020. We will be working with people from different backgrounds, life experiences and heritages – an important enabler of building empathic digital services people prefer to use. We have 5 women and 16 men joining us in this first cohort. As a reflection of the IT industry as a whole this isn’t bad, but we are ambitious about improving it in the future and we think there is a lot we can do over the next two years to make that happen.