Adventures Of A Delivery Manager – Week Ending 29.11.19

I really should decide whether I write these week commencing or week ending… that said, given that is the critical thing running through my mind at this point on a Friday evening, it suggests I am feeling fairly relaxed and calm this week.

TIDYING UP THE PROJECT

This week, I’ve made good use of some space to tidy up “Adventures Of A Delivery Manager” following my last week note and I feel a lot more settled about it. I have a nice four weekly rhythm in the diary with all of the relevant events now lined up for the coming few months – I guess I’ve properly committed to this for the long term!

I’m also really pleased to have the support of David Durant who is taking up the mantle of being my go-to in place of Nic with regard to this project. We’ve got a session in next Friday to talk about the Sprint Goals for sprint 3. In all honesty, it’ll be more of a review and discussion about what could have been – but regardless, it serves to just get in to that mindset about it.

NETWORKING

This week has been really cool for some organic networking.

Following delivering “Adventures” as a talk at the CrossGov meetup on Monday, I was contacted for a shadowing opportunity from .Gov, so we’re going to put that together shortly.

Then on Thursday we delivered our “Delivering An Excellent Delivery Team” show and tell, where we offered the opportunity for shadowing. I’m delighted that someone reached out there too.

Beyond shadowing, I also met our Hackney 100 student who I am going to work with over the coming months.

All of this really helps me to expand. I really subscribe to the concept of “see one, do one, teach one”, so the opportunity to teach and tell is really beneficial – shadowing is SUCH a win/win activity.

TECH & CHALLENGE

David is teaching me some tech (coding).

I find this REALLY hard.

I’ve always found languages hard, but code is especially hard, because they are words and abbreviations that I understand in a different way, so they feel really hard to convert in to a new way to do new things.

One of the reasons it’s really frustrating for me is that I place a really high value on the art of communication… a single word can make all the difference. Often I wish I could learn multiple languages, but for whatever reason, mastering other languages just doesn’t come naturally to me. Coding is no different… one space or letter in the wrong place can have quite the unintended effect!

That said, there are other skills I have learned in my life that were hard, but worthwhile and so I will pursue this, especially if it helps me to do a better job and serve my colleagues and team mates more effectively.

I do have to do a couple of things however to stay healthy in this space however.

Firstly, I have to always give my teacher and fellow learners warning – that when learning something really hard, I get unintentionally grumpy. No matter how hard I try to hide it or suppress it, it happens anyway – so best to acknowledge it and manage it. Secondly, I have to choose very carefully when I do this kind of training, because it really challenges me and takes me a while to recover from it. This means I need to be sure that I’m not going to come out of the training and in to a critical workshop or detail/concentration based task… I need to decompress first.

TO DO

Next week I need to promote the Barter Wall… it’s not gaining traction and in danger of becoming wallpaper, which would be a shame.

That’s it from me this week!

Joining Up Staff Data: Week Note w/c 18/11/19 – Alpha (Experiment).

This week we started the work to “piggy back” on the work already undertaken by Daro in the Data and Insight Team with regard to joining up staff data. In theory it was going to be quite straight forward. In practice (as is often the case), it was a little less so – but not insurmountable.

We started the week with what we called our “quick & dirty” data analysis. As we got in to the exercise, we discovered that it was going to be somewhat less quick, but a whole load more dirty!

In everyday language, what I mean by this was that the data was more inconsistent and unreliable than we had first anticipated. The goal of the exercise was to think about what new insights we might want to try and glean using Qlick, the existing tool for analysis previously configured by Daro. (Both the insights we could get now and the insights we might be able to get by building on the work already done).

The new challenges and questions that started to pose themselves however, were along the lines of how useful these new insights might be and what we might actually need to do to create something meaningful.

It started to create a bit of a chicken and egg question for us… What comes first… cleaning up the data or creating a mechanism to join data up.

There are pro’s and con’s to each position… joining up data gives a more overall coherent picture of what’s there. But equally, if joining up one poor data source to another poor data source, we are left with a set of doubly poor data that is potentially produces an insight that is twice as unreliable as the first.

Ultimately, we took this as far as we could on our own and decided to pose some questions to our wider audience of stakeholders at our show and tell. We specifically asked what insights might be most useful.

This information is most useful to us, because by understanding this, we can get an idea of the level of accuracy that we might be able to achieve based on the correctness of the data sets that such insights belong to and then make a call on whether we think that by joining them up we might get be able to get data that would answer such questions to a level of reliability that will actually help anyone.

If we can’t do that, then the question is answered for us by default.

Talking of the show and tell, we felt much better about this one.

We worked harder at preparing it, assigning responsibility for articulating a ‘section’ rather than a slide and rehearsing a couple of times to make sure that we were all settled and ready for the review.

Collectively we all felt that it went better than the first and we treated ourselves to a box of Quality Street to celebrate!

In terms of how we are working, I’m pleased that at our retro (where above mentioned Quality Street were devoured), the issues that we collectively discussed were all different to those that we had worked on at our previous retro, which suggests that the iterations that we made around trying to balance work had been a success.

In terms of going forward, we are going to try making ourselves more visible to our regular teams of practice and also we are going to have a look at further flattening the team structure by finding ways to more evenly distribute work between us. This means that some of us may try taking on the generic admin tasks of team members who are peaking on technical aspects of the projects.

We’ve also decided to take a weeks hiatus this coming week, as Lisa headed off to another continent to celebrate Thanksgiving and Ian took out some training time to get Scrum Master Certified and Tim is carrying out a swift piece of discovery on another arm of the Managing People Data suite of works. (Tom I am sure is being kept very busy on the Data and Insight Team in Lisa’s absence!)

We’ll be back next week to explore how we might build on the work undertaken by Qlik so far and to think about how we might make Qlik more widely accessible. We’ll also be thinking about what recommendations we’ll be making at the end of the alpha phase on this project.

As always, thanks for taking an interest in this project and if anyone has questions – feel free to reach out and ask any of the team!

Joining Up Staff Data: Week Note w/c 11/11/19 – Alpha (Experiment).

The job interview and the idea of doing nothing…

The first part of spring two was mostly about narrowing the field to a more workable set of variables that we could really dig in and focus on. This made sense so that we could ask better and more specific questions to those around us who were helping us to consider the options.

We had lots of fields which was possibly a bit unruly to make the first steps to joining up staff data… so we decided to give our ‘candidates’ a grilling…

And what better way to do that by interviewing them!

We gave each of the possible candidates a persona and interviewed them as if they were applying for the job…

– Why do you think you would be good at this job?
– What are your perceived weaknesses?
– How well do you interact with others?

Were a few of the questions we asked the applicants.

We also cross examined them against what they were suggesting as we got really in to the process… “you ‘say’ you’re unique Ms Staff-EmailAddress, but actually, looking a bit more deeply, we’ve found that you’re not as unique as you think you are – can you explain a bit more about this?”

It was a fun exercise and it really allowed us to explore the possibilities in some depth. Ultimately, the process allowed us to narrow down our working variables to three chief fields:

Staff Email
First Name (job share/work experience)
Surname (job share/work experience)

Having done this, we started to expand our thoughts and direction.

In a workshop including Daro from the Data and Insight Team, it was brought to our attention that a similar conclusion had been reached in an independent piece of work and we were really pleased about this validation. To our surprise and delight, we also learned that a tool had been created to create some data insights that wasn’t a million miles away from where we were headed too.

It was an interesting moment and posed a new set of questions and options that we hadn’t considered before.

One such option was the idea of doing nothing.

Odd one might think, but we wanted to make sure that we explored the pros and cons of every choice.

Could we do nothing? Decide that the many of the success criteria for our project had already been fulfilled?

We weighed it up…

– It would save time
– We could start work on other things
– There were some insights we could derive from what’s been done already

We also explored the other options around continuing:

– What if we sought to take the analysis of this data to the next level?
– Could we ‘piggy back’ on to what had been done and build something else in to in to it?
– Maybe we could re-build something ourselves and see how the two tools compared?
– Perhaps we could test the existing tool rigorously and see if we could spot any flaws?

We had a rock solid discussion where we weighed up the pros. cons, risks, what’s involved, how long it might take amongst our thinking processes.

We also worked through a number of musical genres in our thinking time (with an alarming number of the group knowing ALL the lyrics to Sinitta).

Ultimately we concluded that doing nothing wasn’t an option – the discussion around joining up staff data isn’t going away and so whilst there are questions still being posed, there are still answers to find.

We decided that at this point we would “Piggy Back” on what has already been done to date.

This would include rigorously testing that tool and also looking for further insights that the business is already asking for.

It leaves us in a potentially fortunate position, because if the existing tool proves to be robust, it means that a good chunk of the ‘MVP’ work has already been done and our focus can switch to the second set of questions that we’re interested in looking at.

What insights can we get?
How can this be expanded upon and scaled?
How might we build on what’s been done?
What needs to happen in the business for that to happen?

We look forward to testing and sharing!!

Improving Our e-Forms: Week Note w/c 28/10/19 & 6/11/19 – Discovery.

Better late than never Mk II

I found it difficult to write this week note, hence it being late (for different reasons than those of my other project week note).

For this weeks note (which is now technically last weeks week note), the difficulty was articulating something difficult in a week note for the first time since joining HackIT. It was about knowing the boundary of what gets shared openly, whilst being sensitive to everyone involved.

I have to confess that I copped out a bit and I’m now writing this week note as more of a reflection of how ultimately the difficulty was handled (and now moved beyond) rather than tackling the difficulty at the time.

In some respects, not tackling it at the time was the root cause of the problem.

As alluded to in my last week note, a pivot was on the horizon. The question we were trying to answer in the discovery was more slippery and unruly than a cauldron of spaghetti and olive oil.

As a team, within the two weeks we had sought to test the hypothesis that there might be some sort of tool that might help us to re-build our e-forms.

But then, when we looked at our forms, a lot of them weren’t just forms – they were actually quite complex workflows.

Not only this, a lot of them didn’t really meet user need properly either.

No matter how well we explored the aspects of how we might want our tool to look and what we might want it to do, we couldn’t get past the fact that we were trying to put a square peg in to a round hole… in that there was a serious danger of proving a hypothesis that wasn’t actually solving a whole problem for a user. We were flirting with replacing something that didn’t meet user need with a shinier version of something that didn’t meet user need.

So our product owner proposed the pivot.

If we really wanted to solve a problem, we already had the capacity to do this. We have a piece of work around forms (Change of Reporting Line) that has already completed discovery and the value piece achieved in this discovery (around criteria for a good form going forward) dovetails in very well with the work already undertaken.

Easy right?

Almost.

The only ‘hitch’ about all of this was when, at the end of the workshop in which we had reached a joint understanding, we started working on next steps and came to realisation that this needed to be articulated to the stakeholder.

Ordinarily, such a pivot wouldn’t be a real cause for worry. I mean, it’s agile right? Pivoting’s part of the deal…

We were confident in our decision and that we had achieved a lot in two weeks. We had a bold proposal to step out of the circular conversation, we were proposing to solve a whole problem for users and to finally step in to doing something.

But whilst we had ‘failed in a fortnight’, we also had to accept that it would likely be challenging for our key stakeholder to easily compartmentalise this pivot.

Despite the pivot being action orientated, we were painfully aware that previous incarnations of the project had pivoted more than the 2012 Team GB Olympic netball team, resulting in what must have felt like a discovery black hole to date.

This is where it all unravelled a bit.

It would be a pretty poor show for our stakeholder to learn about a complete switch for the first time via a week note, or even worse… a show and tell!

We knew that we wanted to articulate the pivot in a private setting via a 1:1, face to face conversation.

In hindsight (always 20/20), as a team, we’d have just communicated this with the main stakeholder at the first opportunity. It might not have been the worlds rosiest exchange, but it would have delivered the basics, allowed some space for expression and an opportunity for questions, space and mental digestion.

However, we tried to engineer it all a bit.

We crafted an ‘ideal’ way to communicate the message via the ‘right’ person on the ‘right’ day etc etc…

In the end, it didn’t go anything like that.

I ended up putting out the worlds most ambiguous week note, which first alerted the stakeholder to something being amiss. Then the ‘right’ persons diary filled up without anyone even noticing and the ‘right’ moment passed quietly by, until we were in a stand up trying to skirt around the subject suggesting that said right person would be delivering the message shortly.

Unsurprisingly, by this point it was a farce and the stakeholder called me out on it and I ended up delivering the pivot unprepared, at the wrong time and in the wrong forum. As one might expect, it wasn’t received especially well… but then why would it be when it’s delivered like that!?

To be honest, I’m mildly ashamed to write the above. Reading it back now it was nothing short of a nonsense and the stakeholder deserved better.

We did pull it together at the stand up and our stakeholder acknowledged that we had delivered a way forward in a short period of time (once this approach was separated from those that had preceded it).

I’m also really respectful of our stakeholder and we both value open, honest and direct conversation. We both apologised to each other for not delivering and reacting in the best way that might have been.

The learning in all of this is mostly about being ok with having not ok conversations. The choice to not communicate, communicated loudly of itself and allowed ambiguity and uncertainty to infect thinking.

Ultimately, we temporarily forgot the golden rule of working in the open and was reminded of why it is just so important.

To be fair, I’m glad that I was served this reminder following a few days of bring ambiguous over a project to look at improving our e-forms… I can’t imagine what it must have been like to have finally told the truth about Cross Rail!

That’s it for this week and signing off on e-forms until we have delivered our Show and Tell on how we reached our pivot and perhaps again if I am Delivery Manager for taking forward the recommendation to design and build the form/service for change a reporting line.

Joining Up Staff Data: Week Note w/c 28/10/19 – Alpha (Experiment).

Better late than never (mk1)…

I have to confess, I wasn’t on prime form on Friday after Nic’s leaving do last week and wanted to write a weeknote that contained more than one syllable words and actually meant something to those who read it… so thank you for your patience!

This week, we closed the first sprint of this experimental Alpha.

This was the ‘what’ sprint of the project. As previously mentioned, we tackled the necessary ‘what?’ questions, such as;

  • ‘What’ systems will we choose?
  • ‘What’ data sets might we try to join together?
  • ‘What’ is the quality and quantity of that data?

I’m really pleased that after research, discussion and cross-examination the team reached decisions on both areas of consideration (the systems and the data sets).

The team chose for the systems:

  • iTrent
  • Active Directory
  • G-Suite

For the Data Sets, the team chose:

  • National Insurance Number
  • Staff Email Address
  • First Name
  • Surname
  • Employee Number

I was really proud of the team for making these decisions for two main reasons.

The first is that we had some predicted and un-predicted obstacles that made it difficult to really get inside the systems and fully understand the data at a level that we would have really liked.

Getting access to the data and getting under the bonnet of the systems was not the easiest and in some cases we got further than others. But we also had to recognise that in order to open this up, we may encounter some sensitive and personal data and this (rightly), has a significant level of governance around it.

We also had to accept that whilst we are working in an agile fashion and are also working at high intensity and velocity as part of the HackIT experiments, those of whom we are asking for data and access aren’t necessarily working in the same manner.

However, whilst accepting of the presence of these obstacles, the team persisted and really worked hard to work around the challenges and to find solutions that enabled us to reach a point of understanding ‘enough’ to be able to make an informed choice and decide on a way forward.

A choice that ultimately will either show us we made the right choice or the wrong one – so we can go ahead and make the right one. (I know that’s a rubbish sentence, but I’ve tried to re-write it three times now).

The team deserve recognition for their persistence and enthusiasm to get to that place.

The second thing I felt really proud of, was running with the concept of knowing that they had ‘enough’ data to make a reasonable decision.

The reason this was so cool, was that (in what seems like an age ago) at the beginning of the project, we did a ‘manual of me’ exercise to learn a bit about each other. During that exercise, lots of team members had the courage to share that they had a tendency to ‘always want more data’ before making a decision.

This openness and sharing enabled us to have a conversation about risk and to explore some of the HackIT manifesto principles around “More Doing, Less Planning”. It also allowed us to have an exploratory conversation about how agile generally favours action and testing rather than endlessly talking about possibilities.

In turn we developed a question that we would continuously ask ourselves frequently and at key junctures being: “Is this ENOUGH?”. What is really admirable, is just how willing the team are to acknowledge that although they would like to know more, they don’t always need to know more to move forwards.

I’m not saying we’ve definitely got it right here, but I definitely acknowledge the team for stepping out of their comfort zones around this (some very much so) and for being open to testing what ‘enough’ is. Furthermore, being open to letting it fail or succeed to establish the balance point of ‘enough’ as we iterate.

Talking of iteration, it would be remiss of me to skip over the team health with this being one of the HackIT experiments of different ways of working.

At the end of the week I’m writing about here, I am better able to share how we are doing as a team in terms of both how we’re working and feeling.

Having been lucky enough to have been part of the previous experiment, there are some similar themes that are emerging…

What’s working:

  • Velocity is high
  • We are getting a lot done in a short space of time
  • We can typically get more done than we think we can
  • We really enjoy working together and there is a real sense of team bond
  • The team rallies around an issue and problems get solved quickly

What’s hard:

  • Sometimes we struggle to attend to their responsibilities outside of the project
  • The concept of ‘brain fry’ makes it hard us to context switch after an extended session on the project
  • Sometimes we need more time for ideas to ‘settle’
  • We sometimes feel our loyalty is torn between our ‘project’ team and our ‘organisation’ team / ‘department’

One of the benefits we have in this particular experiment over the Housing Data In The Cloud project is that we are spread over a longer period of time.

If you followed Housing Data In The Cloud, you’ll be aware that the first part of that project was a super-condensed one week project-a-thon and there was only so much change and manoeuvring that could be achieved in a 5 day straight run.

In this experiment, we are running across six weeks with the opportunity for multiple retro’s and safe space conversations. Within our Friday safe space chat, we explored brain-fry and split responsibility and so we responded by iterating the way in which we worked in to ‘days on and days off’ of the project. This means that there will be a better demarcation between when we are ‘on project’ and ‘off project’ with enough breathing space in-between to enable people to bring their best selves to the space they are working in at the time.

I’m really hoping this works well for us and I’m really looking forward to us moving in to the ‘how’ stage of this project.

On a lighter note… we also had a week of team home baking.

My M&M cookies were a disaster and the only thing I have ever seen make it to the end of the day on the stand-up tables on the 4th floor. Tim exchanged baking skills for procurement skills and brought us some very high quality cookies and Lisa totally put us to shame by bringing in delectable Halloween themed “mummy” cup cakes which were scoffed before we’d even looked at the agenda.

Next week we’re going to take a break from baking and think of a new team competition.

Talking of next week… Next note I’ll report on how our show and tell and Retro for sprint one went!

Oh… and our G+ Community for this project is now live!!! Please feel free to join us on there for more frequent updates! For whatever reason, WordPress won’t let me embed that here and everyone who might know how to do it has gone home as I type – but you can just search “Joining Up Staff Data” in G+ and join our community!

That’s it for this week… Looking forward to a more timely note next time!

Ian