The dev team – Manage Arrears Weeknotes – W/C 07.09.2020

Purpose of these weeknotes

To give a little attention to the Manage Arrears dev team who have been smashing it since May, often in tricky circumstances and a complex subject area. 

Looking back on previous weeknotes I haven’t really spoken that much about the team themselves. I have spoken a lot about what they’ve done and challenges and how they’ve overcome them but not really about them as a team, who they are and what they’ve been like to work with.

I think this is partly a result of working fully remotely. Not having those normal face to face interactions, which provide a bit of texture to the memories that we have over the course of a week. So in these weeknotes I’m gonna set out who is in the team and set out who is in the team and what they’ve done this week with a little more reference to the actual people involved than normal. 

The dev team 

A picture of interlinked paperclips. The middle one is red, which is not important for the purpose of this analogy.

So, our team is made up of some contractors from Made Tech, complemented by some people from Hackney. On the MadeTech side we have El, who has worked on two previous phases of Manage Arrears. She’s an old cynic when it comes to Manage Arrears, but knows where all the technical bodies are buried (and more importantly why we buried them there in the first place). 

We have Csaba, Ninamma and Antony who are new to this phase. Antony is the senior developer, who is always very calm and considered when taking us through his ideas. Csaba has been the star of many a live demo so far this phase. Although, he wouldn’t appreciate me pointing this out, as he normally thinks they’ve gone disastrously wrong. Ninamma has come on in leaps and bounds, has an A class gif game and has introduced me to the world of floating point number errors.

I’ve been really impressed by how focused the team is on self-improvement. They have been consistent in asking me for feedback with a persistence and enthusiasm I’ve not often experienced . Sometimes I’ve felt bad that I haven’t given as constructive feedback as I could’ve but that partly because I’ve been saying you should continue in the same vein, which no one wants to hear. 

They have been complimented on the Hackney side of things by Miles and Elaine. Miles is a Hackney apprentice developer, who was on the project last phase as well. Miles, despite his best efforts, is our resident letter template guru. He is an excellent addition to this team.  I hope he will be able to stay on this project in future phases to continue his learning, which everyone has been seriously impressed by.

Elaine has been on this project since day dot. I think she is the last person standing from phase 1, which is no mean feat. She is the font of all knowledge and wisdom when it comes to Universal Housing. On several occasions I’ve had to tell her to stop being so helpful to the rest of the service because she is the go-to person to ask UHW questions, such is her in-depth knowledge of workflows. 

Jenny and Liam, from FutureGov and Hackney respectively, have been involved in the design and research side of things. Jenny’s research and design of agreements was crucial in building momentum for it at the early stages. It would have been excellent to have had more of her time, but we were limited by budgets and logistics. 

We’ve worked with a number of different MadeTech delivery managers in this phase: Becks, Lu and Paul. Who’ve been incredibly supportive for me during this phase. We’ve also been supported by Ben Pirt, a technical architect, who has done a lot of work to make sure that our architecture is robust. 

This week

This week one of the key outputs was variable payments.

One of the key parts of this extension was allowing for Variable payments. This allows an officer to set an agreement with an initial lump sum followed by regular payment. Csaba as part of his ongoing crusade to deliver things more quickly confidently declared that a feature flag was completely unnecessary. This week he has been proven right and they have gone live! 🎉

We had a review of this functionality with a product owner and received feedback that our Agreements system is “easy-peasy” 🍋. I think we can all agree that is the highest compliment a system can receive.

Miles has continued to add court letters to the system. These additional letters were a key thing that we were looking to deliver during the extension. They are much more dynamic than the letters previously were, removing the need for officers to edit them themselves, speeding up the process and reducing the risk of errors. 

El also insisted that we improve the user journey by making court agreements and informal agreements more distinguishable. She has carried out minor changes to the UI to make this clearer. Addressing a regular user feedback for the service being slow, she implemented infinite scrolling so a case profile loads faster.

If I haven’t mentioned anyone it’s probably because they were quietly behind the scenes knocking out some fixes or improvement, that are important but unglamorous. 

Previous Show and Tells and weeknotes:

Show and tell 41 video / slides 02.09.2020

No weeknotes (DM on Annual Leave)

Show and tell 40 video / slides 19.08.2020

Weeknotes 5 W/C 10.08.2020

Show and tell 39 video / slides 05.08.2020

Weeknotes 4 W/C 27.07.2020

Show and tell 38 video / slides 22.07.2020

No weeknotes (DM on Annual Leave)

Show and tell 37 video / slides 08.07.2020

Weeknotes 3 W/C 29.06.2020

Show and tell 36 video / slides 24.06.2020

Weeknotes 2 W/C 15.06.2020

Show and tell 35 video / slides 10.05.2020

Weeknotes 1 W/C 01.06.2020

Show and tell 34 video / slides 27.05.2020

DevOps Practices – where have we come from and where next?

Where have we come from?

Our DevOps practices programme has been running for over a year now. During this time we have supported delivering value to users in many areas. In each case sought to guide the team towards making the product automated, reusable and maintainable. As a result of our work users are seeing new products delivered faster, the website is quicker and more sustainable, and teams across HackIT have been exposed to new digital tools for hosting, deployment and testing.

We have demonstrated the financial benefits of a primary cloud supplier, created standards and consistent approaches to development, deployment and automated testing which means we deliver value more quickly to users. We’ve worked across boundaries to do this between infrastructure, apps management, support and development.

We did this deliberately through the medium of specific projects but now we want to take what we’ve done and make it core to everything we do. So far we have been testing and learning and delivering value along the way. We have introduced people to new skills around automation, monitoring, and cloud architecture. We now want to focus on increasing the amount of value we’re delivering to our users and to ourselves. 

Where should we go next?

We held a retrospective with people who have been involved in the projects in the last few years to inform our next steps. There were a number of key themes that came out of it. 

We had worked well in collaboration across teams, we had helped people to learn new skills and try them out. However we needed to provide more structure, a narrower focus and dedicated time for people to really give people the opportunity to embed these new practices as part of their day to day work.

As a result of this we identified some key principles that would help us to find an area where we could narrow, focus and structure our future DevOps work. 

The principles agreed were that future work would: 

  • solve a whole problem
  • intentionally involve people from across teams
  • contribute to work we would need to do anyway
  • be an exemplar of what we mean by DevOps, 
  • incorporate key DevOps functions / principles / ways of working
  • help us to signpost or decide what happens next

What will we do?

We will use these principles to work on an area of technology that a project team of around 10 people could take ownership of. This team will be made up of people from across HackIT. It will be supported by Digi2al and will provide the expertise and structure people need to develop. 

We will be spending the next couple of weeks working out the details of how this will work with the existing HackIT teams. We will write something shortly about the types of people that will be involved in this project. If you have any questions please get in touch.

Scoping – Manage Arrears Weeknotes – W/C 10.08.2020

Purpose of these weeknotes

The purpose of these weeknotes is to provide an account of the scoping exercise that we did in the week commencing 10th August in order to get feedback. These weeknotes will also provide a general overview of the work that week so that people are aware of what is going on with the project. 

How did we scope?

This is the first time on Manage Arrears that I have been the delivery manager while we have scoped out a new phase so I approached this in my own way. There had been a number of matters as part of Phase 4 where there had been a misalignment of expectations from scoping, especially around ‘Other tenure types’. I was keen that we set up scoping for the next phase 5 to avoid these issues happening again.

To start with we split the scoping sessions between Leasehold and Income Collection team. They have separate priorities for the next phase as they are at different levels of development on the product.

We ran two scoping sessions for each part of the service. In the first session we spoke for an hour entirely about the vision for the next phase. We tried to find a common thread, a desired end state, to link together the functionality clusters that the services were asking for. 

The second session we broke into two halves. The first half we went through the themes and the vision and broke them down to the level of epics. While doing this we recorded our assumptions, our research questions, and a rough outline of what the epic was. 

In the second session we were focusing on estimating how much time we thought that the epics might take, given our assumptions. This was very much a ballpark exercise so that we could work out roughly how long the phase might need to be in order to complete the work and therefore the rough budget ask.

How did it go?

We achieved some of the key things that we set out to in advance. We have two visions that would be useful to guide work during subsequent phases. These are: 

  • Leasehold officers can see information about Major Works and see and update information about Service Charge all in one place
  • Manage Arrears has enough functionality that income collection officers no longer need to use Universal Housing at all in their day to day work

We have a list of themes for both services that we could pursue as part of a next phase and we have started to break these down into epics. We have a list of assumptions and questions that need further research and exploration. We were able to put a rough time (and therefore budget) estimate against these. This is all enough to start writing a business case for Phase 5, which was one of our objectives from the sessions. 

The leasehold session also made us realise that there was a lot of further research that we needed to do before we would be able to undertake some of the work to bring more leasehold functionality into the system. There are still big unknowns about data and Major Works and our next steps will have to involve researching some of these to understand them better.

We got what we needed out of the sessions, so in that sense they were successful. Despite this, I was a bit conscious that there is a danger when you plan things in this way that you slip into a more restrictive project management mindset.

I think that this process is necessary to put together business cases and have a rough sense of what we’re going to do next. There is a risk that it comes at the cost of presenting a whole load of work as ‘things we are going to do in the next phase’. Without those things being open to research or prioritisation this can be very restrictive to a future team. 

This whole process raised questions about what it meant to be agile in the context of (legally) restricted internal processes, making proposals for project funding, and the replacement of a legacy system that has a definite end of shelf life.  

David Durant introduced me to this excellent blog post this week, which I think maps out well the journey that we are probably on. 

I am interested in feedback as to this process – do other people have these same tensions when scoping? How do you approach it to maximise the agility and flexibility?

General overview

This week we continued with the following work: 

  • finalising the first iteration of the service charge worktray
  • building out the court case functionality
  • building out the court agreement functionality
  • finished testing our new classification engine

Previous Show and Tells and weeknotes:

Show and tell 39 video / slides 05.08.2020

Weeknotes 4 W/C 27.07.2020

Show and tell 38 video / slides 22.07.2020

No weeknotes (DM on Annual Leave)

Show and tell 37 video / slides 08.07.2020

Weeknotes 3 W/C 29.06.2020

Show and tell 36 video / slides 24.06.2020

Weeknotes 2 W/C 15.06.2020

Show and tell 35 video / slides 10.05.2020

Weeknotes 1 W/C 01.06.2020

Show and tell 34 video / slides 27.05.2020

Manage Arrears Weeknotes – W/C 27.07.2020

An update on Phase 4 of Manage Arrears.

Purpose of these weeknotes

These weeknotes should bring people up to date on the developments on Manage Arrears. As we are entering the final few weeks of Phase 4 of Manage Arrears these weeknotes will also set out what we are aiming to complete by the end of the phase. There is also a complete set of links to our weeknotes and show and tells so far at the bottom so that it is easy to review what has happened so far. 

What are we working on now?

This week we have been working to get into the weeds of formal agreements. This has meant getting a better understanding of how court cases and formal agreements interact, building new API endpoints and creating new designs so that formal agreement data can be properly inputted. 

We are also close to completing work on the first iteration of the Service Charge Worktray. We are finishing off work on the API and have tested the designs with the Leasehold team. This brought up some questions around displaying information on disputes and service charge agreements, which we are looking at, although they might not be included in the first iteration.  

In this phase we have re-written the engine that calculates the next recommended action for a case. By doing this we will make it much easier in the future to bug fix and add new rules for different tenure types. This week we have been comparing the results from the original rules engine to our refactored one and working out why there are discrepancies. 

By doing this we are not only making it more maintainable and easier to build on but also fixing a number of bugs where the old rules engine was getting the next recommended action wrong. We are looking to complete this work by the end of the sprint and it will be a key enabler of development of the product in the future. 

We have also been doing some business analysis, which will be really important for the work we need to do in the future. Part of this is mapping out the rules for the tenure types that we currently do not support on the system. Part of this has been mapping out what processes that the Rents team need are currently in our legacy system Universal Housing. This is really important for planning out how we will move the Rents team off Universal Housing as we look to decommission it. 

Sorting out our Google Drive

One of the other things that we’ve been doing is the type of thing that rarely gets a shoutout but is nonetheless an important task: managing our Shared Drive. The first phase of Manage Arrears kicked off two years ago. Since then we have been accumulating documents, designs, research and other useful pieces of information. 

Last week myself and Elaine our Business Analyst sat down to try and make sure that this was fit for purpose for the team. As a number of different teams, delivery managers and product owners have passed through there were different approaches but we have made a start on the unglamorous job of restructuring our shared drive to be more structured around the functionality that we’ve delivered and less structured around phases. 

Our aim is to get it into such a state that any new team can quickly get up to speed on what has happened so far on the project and know where to store and find important, relevant documents.  

What next?

Prior to completing this phase of the project we are looking to do the following:

  • Turn on agreements functionality
  • Get the Service Charge Worktray live 
  • Add new letter templates for court breach and warning

We are also scoping what a potential extension of Phase 4 and a potential Phase 5 of Manage Arrears might look like.

We are approaching this in a slightly different way this time. We are splitting the meeting in two and deciding on priorities and scoping and breaking them down separately. 

I will provide an update on how this goes and the situation regarding the extension in my next weeknotes.

Previous Show and Tells and weeknotes:

Show and tell 38 video / slides 22.07.2020

No weeknotes (DM on Annual Leave)

Show and tell 37 video / slides 08.07.2020

Weeknotes 3 W/C 29.06.2020

Show and tell 36 video / slides 24.06.2020

Weeknotes 2 W/C 15.06.2020

Show and tell 35 video / slides 10.05.2020

Weeknotes 1 W/C 01.06.2020

Show and tell 34 video / slides 27.05.2020

Back to the drawing (on)board(ing) – Manage Arrears Weeknotes – W/C 29.06.2020

Weeknotes for the Manage Arrears project – this week’s focus is onboarding.

Purpose of these weeknotes

The purpose of these weeknotes is to provide an account and a reflection on one of our more pressing issues, getting more Rent Arrears officers onboarded. This is partly for the team to have a common narrative and also to explore the issues around onboarding in the context of working fully remotely. 

Onboarding background

One of the key things that we are looking to do in this phase of Manage Arrears is to get more users using the system. Currently out of the 14 patches in the Rents Arrears team only two are formally using Manage Arrears.

We had initial discussions about this and sketched out an approach, which would have seen us onboard users in groups of two patches at a time. Patches in Arrears are made up of a Credit Controller and a Legal Case Worker but Legal Case Workers are often shared across two patches. This would have meant onboarding 3 people at a time for several weeks. Until all the patches were onboard.

Onboarding remotely

We were also trying out a new approach to onboarding. The previous two patches had both been onboarded prior to the coronavirus pandemic where much more of the support could take place in person. 

As a result we tried out an approach where we put aside a chunk of time for a video call, where we kept the lines open but with most of the participants on mute. This meant that people could get on with their work but also ask questions if they needed it. 

This had its advantages: people were able to ask and answer questions and we were able to share screens to work through issues. It also had some disadvantages: as there was a lot of conversation, which meant that officers needed to leave to make calls and deal with other issues.

This session highlighted a number of things. The first was that it didn’t make sense to try and get people to start using the new system before automation had been turned on. There were a number of recommended actions that appeared to be mistakes. On investigation the recommendations were accurate but confusing as a result of the different processes and terminology between the two systems. 

Reaching a common picture of onboarding

Another thing that emerged from this was a lack of a common picture within the delivery team about the nature of the onboarding itself. We realised that we needed to be more aligned as to what exactly onboarding people on to the new system entailed and when we should be doing it. 

This has resulted in three concrete actions, the first is to narrow our immediate scope in terms of onboarding. Instead of looking at all 12 patches and rattling through them immediately, we are instead focusing on bringing 2 more on next week. The second is to make sure that we have turned off Universal Housing automation and turned on Manage Arrears automation prior to any further onboarding. 

The third, and probably most important, action is for us to come together as a team and ask the question: exactly what conditions need to be met, regarding the product and the team, for us to be confident to rollout to the remaining 10 patches?

There are a number of considerations, including around features and processes, which are pretty standard for this kind of discussion. In addition there ones that are unique to this remote working period. It is vital that we work through these together prior to planning further onboarding. 

Other highlights

We have really started to get our head around how we will get Service Charge data out of Universal Housing.

We have started to get a better understanding of the processes involved in court agreements.

We have started to refine our first iteration of the design for the Service Charge worktray, when this is completed we will be in a position to refine it further with stakeholders and then to start testing. 

We have continued to implement our first iteration of the informal (or non-court) agreements user interface.

Personally, I’ve been having one to one catch ups with every member of the team. This isn’t something I would normally do as part of my regular schedule whilst working on developing a product. I normally try and have these conversations more informally but this has proven difficult during remote working. I have been having these conversations throughout the week and have found them a really enjoyable way of connecting with the team despite being fully remote. I would definitely recommend them. 

Previous Show and Tells and weeknotes:

Show and tell 36 video / slides 24.05.2020

Weeknotes 2 W/C 15.06.2020

Show and tell 35 video / slides 10.05.2020

Weeknotes 1 W/C 01.06.2020

Show and tell 34 video / slides 27.05.2020