People first: managers are users too!

I thought I would share some learning from the Income Collection Service transformation project which seeks to build a new service to improve how Hackney collects arrears owed.

What did we learn this week?
In our most recent project review (retrospective), the project team took a moment to ask how we were doing against the HACKIT Manifesto . We decided we weren’t doing enough to engage the ‘wider team’ (i.e. including our stakeholders). As it turned out, the Income Collection Team Managers agreed.

[Warning: jargon] Experienced lean UX-ers and agil-ers only
When we are experienced at working in modern agile teams, its easy to brush over how quickly our colleagues can learn our process. Despite how many times we may explain it, it only becomes alive when someone participates and feels the benefit. It’s easy to forget to bring people along with your work when you are under a lot of time pressure to get things done. As it turned out, despite being through a 4-week DISCOVERY that was faithful to our process, the feedback was that we had not done enough to engage the Income Collection Team Managers. They didn’t yet trust us or our approach! {Shock}.

Single-minded focus on users
During DISCOVERY there is a lot we need to learn and do in a short period of time. As with most user-centred design approaches, the team was focused on understanding our users as quickly as possible. However, this meant we prioritised talking to income collection caseworkers and residents over team managers in the first 4 weeks of our project. While user-centred service design is crucial to our success, we had mistakenly de-prioritised our engagement with the managers of case workers who we realised later were a group of users in their own right.

Smell of success
The hallmark of success (and central to our manifesto) is recognising our failure quickly and doing something to correct our course. What we were most glad about was that our stakeholders were sufficiently enough engaged to actually tell us they were not happy.

A little less talk, a little more action…satisfaction guaranteed…
As though perfectly on cue, the same week we recognised the oversight, we started to work on paper design prototypes of the new service screens. Whereas we may have previously focused on workshopping those prototypes directly with caseworkers, the team agreed we should immediately validate the prototypes with Income Collection Managers, as well. As soon as they saw what we were planning (what was in our collective heads), our relationship completely changed. Within a day and with a small pivot, we had changed the culture of the project.

Show-and-tells are not enough
We have now agreed with Income Collection Managers to reserve an open weekly ‘working session’ for an hour around the HSC 4th floor ICT standing tables. This helps us optimise our time together and we can use the session for anything from user testing to workshopping the arrears prediction algorithm to demonstrating what we are currently building for immediate feedback. The Income Collection Team Managers are also happy they have a weekly touch point with us outside the show-and-tell.

We have also agreed with the Income Collection Managers on a nominated group of case-workers who they can keep in touch with and who we can engage in the regular weekly session. This was so crucial to us because we know user testing is vital to ensure we are building the ‘right thing’.

The manifesto is alive!
We have immediately felt the benefit of holding ourselves accountable to the HACKIT Manifesto with a practical check-in during our retrospective. Maybe it was a little hard to admit we weren’t putting a key group of stakeholders the centre of our process (people first!), but we have definitely felt the benefit of making changes so we do.