Benefits & Housing Needs Service Redesign Project – Sprint Notes 10: A Real Corker!

Zing, zing, zing! Once again, more and more ideas are being created and tested by the team. We also want to take this opportunity to say thank you to all the service staff who are doing great work; constantly delivering amazing outcomes for residents especially with demand increasing. 

We have now been working ‘remotely’ for 4 months. A long time, it all seems normal now, but so weird not to see any of the teams faces. Our team has definitely felt pressures and a variety of emotions over the last few weeks. It is great to be surrounded by such a supportive team on this project, and even find time to have some fun! A bit of a different sprint note this week. (Don’t worry updates are still here!)

What have we learnt from working remotely?

Building, and sustaining, a team can be difficult when things go belly up. Most of the team were extremely used to working in offices; with people. Testing new things, workshopping ideas and collaborating on code and design. It has taken some adjusting too! 

We have learnt a few things ….:

  • Make sure you have easy communication channels to ask any questions or share progress
  • User Research is a whole new beast, especially when a service faces increased demand during a pandemic 
  • Ways of working it’s easy to change if you are open to it
  • ‘Fun’ can bring the team closer together

We are sure there are so many more we can list – and perhaps we will start going through them in our Sprint Notes moving forward; but first, fun!

What kind of fun are we having?

Not engaging in social interactions or activities can really take its toll. This applies in delivery teams as well. How can you work with someone you never really talk to? How do you get to know people over just meetings?

Forced fun, obviously. 

A few weeks ago we forced the team to have some fun through a ‘Team Challenge’, bringing the competition back into the mix. Involving a drawing competition, a completely ridiculous scavenger hunt, an excel masterpiece and a tie-breaker maze. As you can from the pictures, the team got pretty competitive. It was great to get to know people at a more social level, and continue to build those connections needed to deliver amazing work.

Of course, working remotely also means you can just wander over to someone and ask them random questions or spark off general thoughts. Interestingly… Developers and Designers don’t really get each other sometimes. Who knew?! A lot of questions and, maybe, misunderstanding occurred when we all jumped to working remotely. 

Running a ‘Lean Coffee’ can really help here. Why not just bring everyone together, get them to post their questions and then take turns as a group to discuss them for 3 – 5 minutes. Allowing everyone to learn at the same time from each other. These quick 30 minute sessions has allowed the team to understand what everyone does, and how they are currently doing it. Easy!

Now… onto the main event!

Understanding Vulnerability:

As you know we are working on building a bigger picture of the resident’s situation when they contact any part of the service. 

Last time we showed you some prototypes we are testing with the service. We learnt a lot about the best way to visualise the information, and we are now feeding this into a platform that the service uses every day. Bringing together our knowledge bank of resources and next steps to deliver the best outcomes for residents.

Although we have it ‘designed’ we now have to go build it and make sure it all works. So, what’s next?

  • Test the tool with staff: Does surfacing vulnerability and assets in Single View add value for staff and residents?
  • Build ‘suggested next steps’ based on vulnerabilities / assets
  • …and link the tool to the guidance for having quality conversations, and knowledge bank

Going to be a very exciting two weeks! 

Evidence Store:

What is an Evidence Store? If you are a follower of the Sprint Notes… you may remember something called the ‘Doc Upload’ Tool. That’s right, we have renamed it and are starting to build a much larger and more stable platform for residents and staff to use.

Introducing the Evidence Store… 

  • A simple, fast way for staff and customers to upload and manage evidence documents, improving efficiency and user experience.
  • Once uploaded, staff will have the ability to easily manage the documents and attach to a resident’s case.

So, why are we now creating the evidence store?

  • Currently evidence documents are stored in a number of different systems (UHW, Comino, Jigsaw) which leads to confusion about which documents are held for a customer.
  • Documents are often duplicated across multiple systems to try and solve the discoverability issue but this leads to more work for officers.
  • We believe that being able to store the documents in one place and to add and view them via Single View will mean that there is less duplication and that documents are easier to find.
  • We believe we will be able to prevent officers asking customers for documents we already have.

Naturally, we needed to start the work off with a discovery into the technology – making sure it is feasible that we can even do it! 

What is the plan then? Well… 

  • Go and build the reusable evidence store API!
  • Integrate it with the existing “customer document uploads” project
  • Add integration to Single View to improve the document upload experience for officers
  • Test and see if it adds value, then explore other places where it makes sense to integrate

Keep your eyes on this one – it is going to be spicy.

Self-service Tools

In case you have forgotten: How might we design interactive web-based tools for residents to help themselves, to reduce demand and save staff time?

Well, over the last month we have run a number of workshops with staff (yes, all remote!).  Working out where the gaps are in the self-service process and starting to imagine what tools may fill these. At the last Show & Share we got the service to vote on a number of ideas to help us prioritise what we should look at first.

The top 3 ideas:

  • Self-service Plan: with steps, links and resources for finding a private rental property
  • Automated SMS Reminders: to nudge residents along their self service journey
  • One bank of resources: for all the useful tools, links and services to share

All these ideas though, have many parts to them. So we want to try out some prototypes that could form parts of them. Like calculating what you can afford and finding a private rented property. 

Over the next sprint we will be testing these tools with staff. As well as testing designs with residents; working out what works for them. Looking forward to sharing back what we learn!

That’s all folks! Want to know more?

Here is the link to our most recent Show & Share Session 24/06/20.

Keep following our notes and posts, and feel free to get in touch with Claire or Scott if you’d like to chat through any of the work.

Benefits & Housing Needs Service Redesign Project – Sprint Notes 9: The sun has got it’s hat on!

Another lightning, sunny two weeks have passed with the team. A sprint focussing on building and testing – like always we suppose! We won’t lie, it is very hard to stay inside and do work whilst the sun is shining. But we managed to do quite a bit from testing two prototypes around Understanding Vulnerability and finished our MVP for a Shared Plan. This is of course just some of the work and thinking that has gone on. Keep reading to find out more 👀.

Understanding Vulnerability

Understanding Vulnerability is a pivotal step in our future process. Enabling us to create a bigger picture of a resident; bringing together their vulnerabilities and their strengths. Taking our learning from our crowd-sourced knowledge bank we made two prototypes in the hopes to learn;

  • What’s your experience asking wider Qs to build a picture of the resident’s situation?
  • How do you feel about capturing vulnerabilities and assets?
  • How do you feel about taking an additional step if you identify someone is vulnerable?
  • What support can we give you to work in this way?

A number of staff from the Benefits and Housing Needs service and Customer Services have been testing this for just a week and already we have learnt a lot. Thank you to all those involved! Through using the tool and open questions; the officers testing were able to get an understanding of the customers’ vulnerabilities and strengths. Helping to provide a better support solution and how to best link up with other services.

We are taking this learning and starting to develop ideas for the future:

  • The prompts for actions are a good start
  • Moving towards asking good, open questions… people often want to share but don’t know they can with you
  • Could we have different officers we can refer to who know what services are available in the community?
  • Expand the COVID multidisciplinary team set up to work for this – could flag when someone has multiple vulnerabilities

We are very excited about continuing this work, to create a product that fits into existing processes and is shown in Single View. Stayed tuned to see what that will look like.

Shared Plan

Sometimes the sun does get in the way; especially when partnered with a few bank holidays! The team had a great shorter sprint to build and make sure we had the best product to start testing. Of course, there are many parts to the shared plan – all in which are quite technical! 

Everytime we build something, we are constantly amazed about the passion and speed of our development and design team. Some of the most talented people, who are doing amazing work behind the scenes to have real impact. 👏 Watch out for an interview with them in the next Sprint Notes!

Over these last two weeks they managed to take the product from almost nothing into something incredible. See below what it looks like for the service officer and for the resident. 

The service officer view of the Shared Plan
The Resident view of their collaborated shared plan

We are super super excited to start testing this, and getting it into the hands of both residents and officers this sprint. Come back next time to find how it went and what is next. 

SMS Tool & Document Upload

The SMS tool continues to be on absolute fire. Messages being sent everywhere! You may remember last time we had 180 texts per week. Now we are almost nearing 300 texts per week! It is incredible to see the tool being used so much and widely across the service. You may be asking yourselves… what is it actually being used for? Well here you go!

  • Majority of messages are confirmation of accomodation (especially hotels) / appointment bookings (to see a place / meet in the HSC)
  • Under the age of 40 are more likely to reply
  • Quick communication:
    • Get an email address
    • Get a document
    • Ask questions related to timing of appointments / actions
  • When more ‘casual’ language is used, the resident responds more!

We will be doing a bit deeper research this sprint to understand if payments are being made after being nudged, as well as if evidence is being provided when asked for. 

Which is an amazing segway into… The Doc Upload tool! We are starting to plan how we make this a central part of the service process; which means rebranding to The Evidence Store. Legit now! Next week we will have a wider update on what this means and what the future holds for the tool. See you then!

Want to know more?

Here is the link to our most recent Show & Share Session 27/05/2020.Keep following our notes and posts, and feel free to get in touch with Claire or Scott if you’d like to chat through any of the work.

Benefits & Housing Needs Service Redesign Project – Sprint Notes 8: Reflect, Sync, Go!

After an incredible Show & Share with over 100 people, and a number of stories being shared, the team were very energised to get started and plan our next phase of work. As we have moved with pace over the last few weeks, it became apparent that we needed to take a breath and ensure we are laying sustainable foundations.

What we are going to deliver over the next 2 months
SMS Tool & Document Upload

The SMS tool continues to get some great feedback from the service, and numbers are ever increasing in the amount of texts being sent to residents. At this very moment the service is sending an average of; 180 texts per week. With 30% of residents engaging and replying to a message.

“I’m using it a lot and in light of what’s going on at the moment. [It] is a superb tool in getting documents from the claimants quicker” Benefits and Housing Needs Officer

As above, the tool is proving itself effective in checking in with residents and nudging them to complete actions and provide information quicker.

We have continued to test the Doc Upload Tool! The tool allows a resident to take a picture of the required evidence and share it with the service. Information uploaded by residents in testing has included Universal Credit documents and medical information. There have been more and more documents being uploaded, and we have learnt a lot about what needs to be in the next iteration.

“The uploader is a quicker way of accessing documents from our claimants… it would be great if there was some way to differentiate between which documents are for other officers” Benefits and Housing Needs Officer

Stay tuned as we start to implement some changes over the next two weeks to provide staff with a much improved experience. 

Shared Plan

The main focus of this sprint was to make sure the Shared Plan had a stable base to build off. During the last phase we were making very light prototypes so we could test and iterate rapidly. Now we have to lay the groundwork to make sure the Shared Plan meets privacy and data requirements, as well as making sure we have a proper process to squash bugs.

Therefore there was a lot of amazing work happening behind the scenes. Re-building the technology so the experience in the front is usable and polished. The team also started to turn the vision into a minimum viable version; prioritising the features that had to be there first and we hope to start testing the new design with staff over the coming week.

Understanding Vulnerability

If you remember a few sprint notes ago, we were talking about Understanding Vulnerability! If you have been wondering where those updates have gone… the team decided to pause the work to focus on iterating and scaling the SMS Tool and designing the Doc Upload tool due to the pressures of Covid-19. But we are happy to welcome the work back!

How does everything fit together? Just like this!

As a recap, we believe understanding a resident’s level of vulnerability at any contact will:

  • Stop things escalating
  • Understand what level of intervention is suitable
  • Free up time to work with those most in need

Over this next sprint we will be starting to take what we learnt before and designing the next version of our Understanding Vulnerability tool. We are very much looking forward to continuing this work and sharing it with you all.

Information and Evidence & Single View

As mentioned last time, we have now completed the work on the Information and Evidence and Single View tools. We just wanted to mention that the Information and Evidence tool can be found here. This tool is complemented with updated waiting times for those residents who are considering joining the register.

These two things together can support the Council to deliver consistent and accurate information to residents about their chances of getting a property through the housing register. They can use this information to set residents’ expectations; encourage residents to consider other options; and to self-source their own properties.

Big congratulations to the team for making this happen!

Want to know more?

Here is the link to our most recent Show & Share Session 13/05/2020.Keep following our notes and posts, and feel free to get in touch with Claire or Scott if you’d like to chat through any of the work.

Benefits & Housing Needs Service Redesign Project – Sprint Notes 7: Truly Engaging Work

So firstly something to shout about (well, tweet about) – The attendance at the Show & Share session on 29/04/20 was over 100 people. It also included 6 Benefits & Housing Needs Officers talking about their experiences of using the new tools. This is an awesome achievement, and clearly illustrates the level of engagement from the Benefits & Housing Needs Service. 

If you missed it you can catch up here.

Over the moon to see 6 Officers update on progress to over 100 attendees

SMS Tool & Document Upload

As we highlighted in our last sprint notes, the SMS Tool has been rapidly scaled up in order to help officers communicate effectively with residents in the current environment. The headline stats are:

67 Officers have used the tool, 592 texts have been sent to 431 residents

Officer feedback has been positive, particularly highlighting the ease of using a desktop tool to send and access messages as an alternative to a phone. Also for making contact with residents who hadn’t responded to emails or telephone calls. Key areas that the tool is being used for: arranging appointments, prompting for information and providing addresses.

Testing of the new Document Upload prototype has begun! The tool allows a resident to take a picture of the required evidence and share it with the service. Information uploaded by residents in testing has included Universal Credit documents and medical information. Initial feedback has highlighted the speed of response by customers as a key advantage of the tool.

Information and Evidence & Single View

We are very happy to advise that the new website pages and waiting time tool are now live on our website. The waiting time tool (which estimates the minimum time a customer will spend waiting for social housing via the Housing Register) will be used to inform conversations with residents about their housing options. Going forward we will be monitoring feedback received through our website and adapting the pages accordingly.

“If I hadn’t seen how long the wait time was I would have continued to bid and see bidding as my only option” – Resident, after using the waiting time calculator

One small step for the Single View crew has resulted in a giant leap for the B&HN Service  this sprint, by successfully incorporating documents from Jigsaw. This now means that staff across the service can view documents and information from all five of our main systems in one place. This enables staff to quickly access key information about a resident from one place, so they can provide them with effective advice.  

Shared Plan & Understanding Vulnerability

The focus for Shared Plan in this sprint has been on testing with officers. In one example, two officers collaborated on a Shared Plan to assist someone with finding private rented sector accommodation. A Housing Advice Officer and a Housing Supply Officer both contributed to the plan along with the resident. The plan included actions for each person and took 15 to 20 minutes to build and agree steps. The plan was shared with the resident via the SMS tool. It’s exciting to see how all these component parts can start working together!

A live Shared Plan created by two officers and shared with a resident

Feedback from the officers highlighted how it was much easier to keep track of progress without emails getting lost. The focus for the Shared Plan going forward is on further testing with customers who are in emergency accommodation as part of the COVID19 response with a view to live scaling.

The work on understanding vulnerability has currently been paused to allow the team time to pivot onto upscaling the SMS tool and prototyping Document Upload. However it is set to return with a bang in phase three, so watch this space.

Want to know more?

Here is the link to our most recent Show & Share Session 29/04/20. Keep following our notes and posts, and feel free to get in touch with Claire or Scott if you’d like to chat through any of the work.

Benefits & Housing Needs Service Redesign Project – Sprint Notes 6 – It’s one of those days

How many times have you heard the phrase it’s one of those days? Unfortunately in this sprint more than once, so much so that it became known as the sprint where things didn’t quite go to plan. Fortunately the team were able to pull together, focus on the light at the end of the tunnel and still make progress.

SMS Tool & Document Upload

In our previous sprint notes we talked about how the teams work had “pivoted” to focus on these areas of work.

During the eight weeks that the SMS Tool had been available, it was used by 26 staff to contact 340 residents. It has now been scaled up so that everybody in the Benefits & Housing Needs Service has access. We look forward to seeing a marked increase in usage over the next sprint.

The document upload tool was designed to help combat the issue of customers no longer being drop off documents face-to-face. It was unveiled with a flourish of excitement… but unfortunately it didn’t work in VMware, which was inconvenient for many officers. The great news is this has now been fixed and testing with officers has begun. 

Testing of the Doc Upload tool has begun!
Information and Evidence & Single View

The plan was for our revised web pages and the waiting time tool to go live on our website this sprint. But three obstacles arose! Firstly, there was a delay in the accessibility assessment. Secondly, there was an error when connecting to one of the legacy systems. And finally, there was an inconsistency with how this tool measured the housing supply in Hackney, compared to another spreadsheet used internally. So again, things didn’t go as planned – fingers crossed for better news next time.

We did, however, have 69 members of staff complete a card sorting activity relating to the Housing Options & Advice website. This gave us a really good insight into how the pages could be organised. But also illustrated that further work is required on designing our pages around customer needs.

The card sorting activity sourced staff opinions on how web content should be organised

The Single View Crew carried out integration testing and refactoring to reduce bugs and to allow future development to take place faster. They also implemented some snazzy display changes in response to the accessibility assessment. The next steps for them are to incorporate Jigsaw documents into the Single View.

Shared Plan & Understanding Vulnerability

Sadly the design changes to the Shared Plan tool to improve officer experience couldn’t be implemented in this sprint. Our brilliant dev team was needed elsewhere, fixing the waiting time tool and document upload.

Testing however continued throwing up some interesting observations about the reluctance of officers to share the live link with residents, and also how to make a truly evolving plan, rather than just writing a list of tasks. These will be explored further in the next sprint.

The work on understanding vulnerability and assets is currently paused to allow the pivoting to SMS Tool and Doc Upload. It will, however, be back in the next phase of work (as long as things go to plan)!

Want to know more?

Here is the link to our most recent Show & Share Session 15/04/20. Keep following our notes and posts, and feel free to get in touch with Claire or Scott if you’d like to chat through any of the work.