Hackney Digital Support Services: Weeknote, W/C 07.09.2019

Hello and welcome to the Digital Support Services weeknote.

This week I am going in to full divergence. The overarching Digital Support Services suite of works has cascaded down in to distinct arms of works, which in turn have trickled down in to bitesized projects, which in turn will feed up and cascade in domino like fashion to deliver a transformation to our digital support services.

We have two project nuggets that we have been preparing to undertake, one of which is rather excitingly a HackIT experiment where we have asked a number of ‘what if’ questions about the way that we work.

The two projects are “Joining up people data” and “Improving our forms”.

Joining up people data is going in to alpha and it’s the experiment. It’s exciting for me as the Delivery Manager, as it’s both my first Alpha that I am delivering for HackIT and it’s also a first agile project for the product owner.

This week on joining people data, we have been “pulling back the bow”. Both the product owner and I have been learing and understanding how the project has reached its current position and we’ve been planning how we’ll take it forwards. We’re keen to keep hold of the vision and intention of the discovery and stakeholders and at the same time, taking from that discovery and applying it to alpha.

We’ve done this by combing through all of the documentation that has been captured, looking really carefully at the minimum viable products that presented themselves after the discovery and talking about these with the people that envisaged them. We’ve also been reaching out to those who were involved in earlier parts of the project to make sure we’re properly understanding what was found.

In terms of the alpha itself, it’s a little unusual, as we are trialling and testing an assumption presented in the form of a minimum viable product that emerged from the post discovery workshops and discussions. So in some ways, it’s a mini project within a project, within a project (crickey, this is starting to sound like the movie “Inception”).

However, being part of the experiment, we have a strong opportunity to really make good use of the resourcing levels proposed and also to maximise our concept of ‘sprint zero’, which is the concept of a structured lead in to enhance the velocity of the project overall.

To achieve this, Lisa (the Product Owner) and I have been refining the kick off for next Tuesday and thinking really carefully of what we are going to try to achieve in each sprint of the project. Whilst agile by nature is flexible and adaptable, we’re thinking along the lines of a week long sprint zero lead in and then three fortnightly sprints with a specific goal for each.

At the same time, Lisa has been working super hard to understand the nuances of agile and get a solid feel for her role as Product Owner. Agile can be a peculiar animal to understand at first, because by it’s very nature it’s malleable and adaptable and it can be tricky to understand when some rules apply and when others don’t and why. As Jeff Sutherland (inventor of Scrum) described , Scrum is easy to grasp, but difficult to master!

But… with all that in mind – we kick off on Tuesday. We’re up for it, we have a healthy sense of nervousness out of respect for the project and we’re excited to do this thing!!

The other project that that’s kicking off next week is “Improving Our Forms”.

Here also, we have been doing lots of prep for this in understanding all of the work that has happened before us. In fact, I traced conversations dating back to June 2017 on this one, so to say that this has been explored for a while is an understatement.

For Improving Our Forms, we are stepping in to a rapid discovery phase to properly test a hypothesis that has been bubbling under the surface of this conversation.

The hypothesis is that: There is a tool available that can help us to improve 70% – 80% of our current forms.

Our goal is to get to a place where we have an adequate understanding of the digital services that we need to build, so we can then make a decision on what we will use to build them.

There’s a lot of appetite for shifting this forwards and to determine a number of debated points, so going in hyperdrive, we are condensing this down in to a two week discovery. A discovery of two parts… sprint one (1 week), insight and discovery, sprint 2 (1 week), investigation and recommendation.

Paul, the product owner is super clear about the vision and outcomes and so I’m really excited about working with him to really drive this forward rapidly. That said, we’re both keen to get the right outcome and to derive real value for the business, so we are thinking about great ways to maintain high levels of guidance and governance as we shift forward with pace.

So there we have it… one week… two kickoff’s.

It’s going to be fast (although hopefully more humorous than furious!), it’s going to be intense, but hey, it’s agile – I’d expect nothing less.

Hackney Digital Support Services: Weeknote, W/C 30.09.2019

Crickey, where did September go…

Getting everything lined up and ready, that’s where.

Over the past four weeks, we’ve been assembling the component parts for some action. It somewhat reminds me of an archery tournament, where there is some time to set out all of the various tools and pieces in preparation for the event.

The arrows need to be lined up. The target and trajectory need to be considered. The bow needs to be strung.

It’s not possible to shoot or stand a chance of getting close to the target without the relevant prep work first.

Over the past four weeks, the stakeholders have been assessing what the previous discovery phases brought to our awareness and considering how we translate those findings in to something more tangible and of value.

This week, we began to ‘pull back the bow’.

We have two kick off’s in the diary now…

  • Managing People Data (Alpha)
  • Tools & Forms (Discovery)

Two teams, working on two arms of this suite of works.

Both teams have two new Product Owners and so it’s an adventurous and an ambitious prospect, but there’s a lot of competence in the space and we’re all eager to start delivering value.

We have two current working definitions of done:

“We have identified and created a process to join people data together across systems and we have used this to deliver key insights about the business.”


“We have an adequate understanding of the digital services that we need to build so that we can make a decision on what we will use to build them.”

What’s really exciting about having these definitions in place, is that these are both areas that we have explored in depth for a long time and we are now starting to get some traction and movement in to creating tangible value, in fact both Product Owners (Paul and Lisa) have been quite insistent that there are real outcomes and there is real value that is derived from these projects (I’m only too happy to oblige and facilitate).

We’ve held a number of chats, discussions and mini workshops to tease out clarity, shape the team members and decide on the structures of how the projects will flow.

Managing people data is particularly interesting, because it forms one of the HackIT experiments, so I’ll be chatting with Lisa some more to consider how we’ll measure this project output in comparison to projects that are not part of the experiments.

That’s it for this week – the coming week, we continue to pull back the bow, ready for sprint zero (on managing people data) and sprint one (on tools and forms).

Over and Out!


Hackney Digital Support Services: Weeknote, W/C 23.09.2019


The Digital Support Services project is a big suite of work.

Not only that, despite the scale and breadth of what it sets out to achieve it is almost like an epic epic… It actually reminds me somewhat of the cruise ship called the “Norwegian Epic”. It’s a cruise ship, that delivers an incredible experience and gets huge customer satisfaction ratings, despite having an external appearance that is less glamorous than its prettier siblings.

Looking from in from the outside, Digital Support Services and the projects within it are less likely to create the external excitement than perhaps some of the more outward facing projects do, but on the inside, lots of activity is afoot to create a great user experience.

So this week was mostly about ‘unlocking’ the next steps in Digital Support Services – particularly managing people data.

Having adopted the suite of works (rather like a new crew coming on board a ship halfway through a cruise), it was time to get the two main streams of work back in to motion and in to a distinct phase – something that Henry, the project sponsor was very keen on.

The main challenge of this for me, was that having stepped in to and adopted this project from a predecessor with various areas of work at different stages, there was some work to be done to ‘de-spaghettify’ what had already happened.

Having discussed this in previous weeknotes, I’ll spare the detail, but we had now reached a stage of teasing out everything that either:

  • Wasn’t supposed to be there
  • Was in the wrong place
  • Was needed to get things moving in to output phases

What remained to be done was determine:

  • What needed to be done to get things moving
  • Who needed to do these things
  • When they would get done

Referring back to my cruise ship metaphor – there are a LOT of moving parts in large scale operations. There are departments within departments within departments that need to talk to each other. On a cruise ship, you can’t bring on an entertainment team before you’ve spoken to the hotel team to see if there are any spare cabins… but they can’t tell you if there are any spare cabins until they’ve established how many passengers are on the ship… who in turn can only give so much information before the cruise sets sail because people book right up until the last minute… and the booking agents need to know about the entertainment so that they can sell those last minute packages more effect… It’s a seemingly impossible loop, but you have to find a way to break in to the Matrix.

As humans, we mostly prefer things to be linear, but they rarely are – however, if we accept a non-linear world, we have to start somewhere and we have to take the best position we can and then move forward from that place and allow it to inform us!

So where do we start?

Well, I’m a big advocate of quietly merging the worlds of work and play.

Firstly, because I really like to play.

Secondly (and probably more usefully), because to introduce play to a serious subject, with a level of consequence does a lot of good work to de-charge and disarm the subject matter, so that people begin to think more objectively.

In turn, this creates a bolder, more experimental space and the emotion of fear is politely asked to leave the room. Counter-intuitive as it might seem, better decisions get made here. Even in games people want to put their best thinking forward.

So we had a game of ‘Play Your Cards Right’ (some people might know it better as the ‘higher or lower’ game.

In this game – our first job was to create order of the rounds.

We did this by collecting all of questions and discussion points that had been raised or explored over the previous couple week and grouping them in to common topics (whilst resisting the delicious temptation to talk about them there and then). We were left with four rounds and we then played the game…

THE PEOPLE ON THE TEAM was the first round/topic that was randomly picked from the pile.

Next to come out was WHICH PROTOTYPE to choose. The workshop attendees (contestants), then had to declare whether they thought that this new card was ‘higher’ (as in that it needed to be discussed sooner) or lower (discussed later) than the subject of people on the team.

We completed this for all of the ’round’ cards (aka subjects to talk about), and then proceeded to play each round – which was a more detailed version of the rounds game. Here we had individual questions and statements that needed to be explored, so again we would decide whether the likes of VALUE & SCALEABILITY was ‘higher or lower’ than MEASURING OUTCOMES within the round of which prototype.

As an exercise, it enabled us to collectively and quickly de-spaghettify the plethora of questions, nooks, crannies and nuances that we needed to explore. Whilst un-conference was a possible way to do it, because of the volume of topics, there was a danger of getting caught up in discussing what we needed to discuss – so introducing play and structure enabled us to get to having the real discussion much sooner.

I’ll spare you the results of every round, but there were Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference White Chocolate Cookies on offer as a reward to focus minds!

The outcome of all of this was that we got through a significant amount of topics, questions and brought together wider conversations in to one space, that allowed us to:

  • Identify our first Minimum Viable Product to Prototype in Alpha stage.
  • Identify who would be on the team to do that.
  • Understand which MVP’s would follow number 1 and why.
  • Gain clarity on when that would be and how that could happen.
  • See the potential gaps in expertise and decide how we would approach those.
  • Bracket what was part of our ICT experiment and what wasn’t.
  • Get a wider set of stakeholders on to the same page at the same time.

All of the above are now moving parts and my next steps are to work with the Product Owner to create the Kick-Off meeting so that we can start delivering value within the first sprint.

Talking of iterative value, it’s important to keep that at the forefront of our minds… As Matt Cain said to me after a show and tell last week, we’ve got to make sure that we are not just doing “Agile Theatre”. An important reminder, that we can dress up and make it look like agile with standups, sprints and show and tells, but if there isn’t value being delivered and there isn’t a feedback loop in operation, then we can be found lacking.

So what actual value was delivered through this?

  • We learned how to untangle multiple questions via a process that is repeatable.
  • We have a new Product Owner who hasn’t been a Product Owner before.

I could rattle on about how this has moved forward and that has progressed, but in truth, that’s all a bit more like reporting through waterfall, and as a champion for Agile, it’s all about the delivery (I’m a Delivery Manager afteral right?!)

So I’m proud of these two outputs and look forward to sharing more!

Over & Out…


P.S. I still haven’t cracked the wordpress picture conundrum yet, but I have progressed to an all new and exciting error message… this work continues.

Hackney Digital Support Services: Weeknote, W/C 16.09.2019

It’s been a week of moving, shaking and settling in Hackney Digital Support Services…

Moving Trello cards, shaking diary commitments and setting up epic gladiator-like arena discussions in the break out area to settle on the terminology we are using in some of our workstreams.

I want to open up on the “Settling Terms” thing here…

Being new…ish… (I suspect the newbie card can only be played for a couple more hands) and non-tech has its advantages. I find that it’s really rather useful for being able to take things on face value. To be a little less ambiguous, I mean that I find it easier to observe when the team are in circular conversations or straying out of their lanes.

This is because not knowing ‘who is who’ or ‘what they know’, I can observe the conversations and activities with a certain level of innocence.

I can spot when a Subject Matter Expert has moved beyond sharing their expertise and is encroaching on the role of the Product Owner and/or when the Product Owner or Stakeholders in their enthusiasm are pushing to skip important stages of the process. These things are all normal, human and the intentionally sound, but they can nibble away at the super lean brilliance of Agile. Having no emotional investment from past involvement, I can offer a slightly more detached perspective.

What I spotted in this particular programme of works, was that in several of our meetings, we were spending a couple of minutes here and there correcting each other on what things meant. Stuff like what a ‘form’ was, as opposed to a ‘service’ or the difference between a ‘tool’ and a solution.

Nothing big you might say and most of the time, when we dug in to it, people were talking about the same thing, but just using different words.

But those minutes begin to add up.

A couple of minutes here, a slight overrun on a meeting there and all of a sudden, two minutes becomes four… then four becomes eight, and well, it just expands and before you know it, velocity is plummeting.

We were having circular conversations thinking through lots of possible scenarios and how they might play out.

This is where our “HackIT Manifesto” helped me enormously and we were able to lean on two of the core principles… “Less Planning, More Doing” and “Fail In A Fortnight”.

It helped us to release ourselves from the conversations that we were having and allow ourselves to just get doing stuff. It emboldened us to accept that there was some extra discovery work to be done and for us to create an ‘elastic’ discovery phase.

What this means in practice, is that from the discovery work, discussions and workshops done so far, we have some hypotheses. But, for whatever reason, there are some wider questions around those hypotheses – so we have undertaken to stop talking about them and enter in to a Phase that has two possible definitions of done!

One is that the hypothesis that appeared from the earlier work turned out to be about right… and if that’s the case, the definition of done becomes to create one or some MVP’s to take in to Prototype or Alpha.

The other, is that if that hypothesis turns out to be a bit wide of the mark, then we need to create a new understanding around the user need and re-visit the scope of the project and failing in a fortnight gives us a framework with which to test these assumptions.

Either way – more doing less planning will give us a much greater level of clarity and confidence across the entire team.

So, in essence, what we have done this week:

  • Separated out the programme of works from the sub-projects within it.
  • Sorted all of the Trello Boards so they represent where we are right now.
  • Answered circular questions with action.
  • Set up a workshop to review our Managing People Data MVP’s.
  • Agreed on the terms in our Form Iteration Project.
  • Set up a pre-kickoff workshop to prepare for our ‘elastic’ discovery.
  • Transferred Product Ownership in our Form Iteration Project.
  • Switched to weeknotes for the sharing of the Digital Support Services programme of works (rather than show and tell).

Next week I expect there’ll be more ‘action’ so to speak in outcomes from workshops and we’ll start to get some real clarity and we’ll begin to powerfully gear up to the ‘doing’ stage… The metaphor of ‘pulling back the bow’ pops in to my mind for the next week or perhaps two.


The gladiator forum!

I’ve been to many a meeting that has been entirely lost to trying to achieve a meeting of minds on terms – days… weeks in fact. That wasn’t a possibility that could even be entertained, so I set up a gladiator pit.

It’s rather like in the films, when there are two people left in the pit to fight. Then all of a sudden some random monster is introduced and the two fighters instead of fighting each other, find that it’s far more in their interest to set aside whatever differences they’ve got going on and defeat the greater threat.

Two minds (the fighters), several terms (the monster)… 20 minutes or the gates are locked forever!

We put a large timer counting down in the middle of the table, the terms that needed to be settled on and we agreed that we could ‘release perfection’ when coming to an agreement on the ‘MVP’ of said term. A definition we can basically agree on, that will just get us going for now/defeat the monster.

(I mean, when you’re in a gladiator pit fighting a fire breathing, three headed thingamy-bob, who care’s what style of swordsmanship you’re using).

With the countdown timer going and no option to leave or get to the end having not done it (do or die), everyone in the space was absolutely committed to powerfully reaching an agreement or at least the ‘MVP’ around the term.

We pushed through it and as we ticked off the first term, a rhythm began to form and each success accelerated the next.

We finished with:

FORMS = Simple linear form that ends with info being stored or transmitted.

SERVICE = Anything more complex than our definition of a “Form”.

TOOL = Is a possible solution for creating the next iteration for our current online forms.

DEFINITION OF DONE = To confirm or challenge the hypothesis that a simple form solution will meet 70-80% of our digital support services processes and what that solution will be if the hypothesis is correct”

These ‘definitions’ or ‘terms’ may not be ‘officially correct’, but they are correct enough, for the various brains in our team to agree on, to keep the action focused on the doing part – and we can change them at any time (provided we all continue to enjoy a shared understanding).

We finished with 01:52 left on the clock.

It’s been a great week and I’m looking forward to sharing our progress (and whether the terms ‘stick’) next week!

Over and Out…

Ian James

p.s. Sorry for the lack of pictures, the skill of getting pictures to work on WordPress seems to have eluded me to date – it’s going on my ‘must learn’ list for next week!

Hackney Digital Support Services: Weeknote, w/c 9.9.2019

Hello to the outside world for the first time… HackIT have allowed me (as one of the newbie Delivery Managers on the team), to share what I’ve been up to!

After a first week of learning all of the basics (last week), this week a good number of pieces began to fall in to place for me and allowed me to start generating some momentum for this momentous piece of work.

The project team have been brilliant in bringing me up to speed around who’s involved in what… what has got to where… and where I can find all of the key nuggets of info I need to start generating a nice rhythm in the programme of works and the projects involved inside of it.

Where we’re at…

We are at an important junction in the programme of works.

Two themes of work are almost ready to jump in to the agile cycle:

We have the Managing People Data. This has gone through the Discovery Phase and we are now gearing up to move in to prototyping. We’ve got a few questions we need to cross examine as a change in Delivery Manager and some other team changes inevitably leaves some short term knowledge gaps, no matter how well the project has been documented to date.

This week however, we made significant gains in understanding those questions, who can answer them and creating the forums for them to be answered, after which we will set up the Team for the Prototyping phase and kick off.

The other especially active piece of work we have is around Forms and Tools (We’ll think of a more exciting name at some point I’m sure).

Across the last few days, we’ve really pushed through a lot of questions and discovered lots of new ones and these questions are of the right nature that tell us that we’re ready to start the lead up to a full Discovery Stage.

This is really exciting, as we’ll be able to gain clarity we need to prototype and see how this can scale.


I really do have to give particular thanks this week to Henry and David, who have both been an absolute wealth of information and enormously supportive in helping me to pull the strands together!

I’m also really grateful to my amazing colleagues in the HackIT Delivery Team (Cate, Nic, Philippa, Emma, Susan, Jay, Felix & Soraya), who have really helped me to hit the ground running, far faster than I thought I could/would. It really is down to the team that I have been able to get started so swiftly.

Finally, I want to share my gratitude toward Paul and Kirstine, who have taken the time out of their days to help me to understand more about their roles and the Digital Support Services programme of works.

I’m very excited for the week ahead – there’s lots to do, but there’s a lot of people who are up for it!