Housing Data in the Cloud: weeknotes, w/c 20.01.2020

The Starship Enterprise – going to places no human has been before.

Sync – the final frontier

This sprint is all about moving data. We are testing our preferred migration tool and running some manual tests to see how our existing system* reacts when we try and introduce new data. 

We played with LEGO on Monday. Part team building, part therapy, part creativity. We split the team into two. Both groups built a bridge without seeing what the other group was building. Then they had to work out how to attach the bridges together. 

Mind the gap: getting our bridges to connect

Our LEGO bridge has become an analogy for our sync deliberations. We realised that we have to come at it from two directions: understanding what’s possible in our current reality (hence our manual tests) and articulating set a of high level principles for a future state. The latter we were able to break down further into “must haves” and “nice to haves”. 

This sets us up nicely for our collaboration with AWS starting next month. We will be working together on building setting up the migration, cleansing and transforming our sample data and syncing this back our existing database. 

In people news, Omar from infrastructure is joining our core team. This is great as he has expertise we’ve been missing. A crucial element of this project is about shared learning and making things repeatable. The knowledge we are rapidly accumulating about creating and maintaining cloud environments needs to sit across multiple teams. 

On that point, I’m thinking about how to visualise the learning curve of the team. I’m looking for ideas, feel free to point me towards resources or blogs in the comments section. 

*The system being the old house from my previous weeknote: “an old house which has had many occupants. Each occupant has added data, moved that data around, put it in different rooms, called it different things and used it to prop up the fabric of the building. The old house is weighed down with data, nobody can find what they are looking for and removing data risks a structural collapse.”

Housing data in the cloud: weeknote, w/c 13.01.2020

A starry tunnel.
“Love tunnels, hate walls”

What happened last sprint

“Love tunnels, hate walls.” Profound words from Steve our data engineer, which neatly summarise our last sprint. Getting the VPN tunnel working was our biggest challenge and the majority of our work in the sprint depended on an operational VPN. 

On the positive side, our developers and infrastructure engineers did some excellent problem solving and we did get it working. We learnt a lot, shared knowledge between two teams and we are able to document what we’ve done to make it repeatable. We’re chipping away at professional silos and demonstrating that collaboration really does make the world a better place (cue some suitably cheesy ear worm). 

On the flipside, three quarters of our stories were blocked at the end of the sprint because of our prickly VPN problem. We understood that the VPN was a dependency when we planned our work, but we didn’t anticipate the degree to which it would hinder us. 

Our star of the sprint is Isaiah who worked long and late last Thursday to get the VPN tunnel working. 

What we’ve changed as a result

Omar, our colleague from the infrastructure team will be coming along to daily standups and sprint planning. We would love to steal him and bring him onto the project team, but that’s not possible at the moment.  

What’s happening this sprint

We are facing our biggest unknown – how to sync data back to our on prem database. We’ll be doing some in depth work on this with AWS in February. Ahead of time, we need to do our homework and make a decent stab of understanding the art of the possible. 

Even Doctor Who doesn’t have all the answers all the time.

This really plays to the strengths of the team. Collectively, we are comfortable with a high level of detail and enjoy tackling complexity. There’s a sense of anticipation about the sync bit of the puzzle. It’s the make or break of the hypothesis we’re testing. There’s a flurry of activity going on as I write. The team is preparing for a workshop on Monday afternoon. I’ll share the outcomes in my next weeknote.

Hackney Spacebank: weeknote, w/c 06/01/2020

Batman and Superman working together.
Now that’s what I call teamwork

This sprint is potentially game changing. Here’s three reasons why:

Interim online payment solutions for libraries

Currently it’s only possible to pay for rooms by cash, cheque or BACS transfer. This is a significant pain point for bookers and library staff. We are providing an interim online payment system this sprint using e-store – an application from Civica. We are really excited about this. We don’t need to wait until we’ve implemented the online booking system to address this issue. We can deliver value early. We’ll need to change the payment system down the line, this adds a small amount of technical debt which we’re happy to accept.

A team fit and raring to go!

We welcomed Jasyon to our team this week. He will be building an accessible front end for room bookers. He joins Junior, our UX designer and Eleanor our content designer. Together, they make a dynamic trio! Sam and Winston continue to lead our user research – keeping users front and centre in our designs. Andrew and Liam – our design apprentices – will be supporting Jayson bringing wireframes to life. Emma – delivery apprentice – will be managing the day to day delivery of each sprint. The golden thread throughout this project has been to develop the skills and knowledge of our apprentices. We’re as passionate about this as the product we’re building. 

Next steps with community halls

We want to revamp the community halls pages on the website and create a google form online enquiries. This sprint, we’ll be working up some designs and sharing them with colleagues from housing. It’s an additional strand of work, but we want to test some ideas in the wild based on what we’ve learnt from libraries.

Housing data in the cloud: Weeknote, w/c 06.01.2020

Image from the film "Up" of a house floating across the sky held up by hundreds of balloons.

Happy New Year!

We kicked off 2020 with sprint refinement on Monday and sprint planning on Tuesday. Here’s what you need to know about our progress this week:

Before Christmas, we built our cloud environment in AWS. We’ve asked Hackney’s infrastructure team to review and validate this. This is still fairly new for us and we’re starting to develop a common standard for setting up cloud platforms. 

We are taking a closer look at our source data – this is supporting our work on migration and importantly sync. It will also help us assess the degree of cleansing and transformation we need to do. 

Our aim is to migrate our chosen data (accounts and arrears) to the cloud by the end of the month. This sprint we are making an assessment of which migration tools might be suitable for the task. 

Our gremlin continues to be getting the VPN working. Our devs Matt and Selwyn have been working with Isaish from our infrastructure team to work out what’s going wrong and how to fix it. We had a break through yesterday, so all things crossed we can get it working today.

It’s a timely reminder that we can’t do this work on our own. Collaboration and teamwork is what we will hang our success on.  

I’m still getting to know the team and learning how we tick along together. I am really valuing their openness in dealing with blockers, creativity in problem solving, their persistence in getting things done with calmness and a sense of humour. Their collective expertise is significant, and it comes with a genuine desire to learn and keep on improving.

Hackney Spacebank: Weeknotes, w/c 16.12.2019

A row of five cats in Christmas hats
Merry Christmas from the Spacebank team: Richard, Sam, Winston, Liam, Andrew, Eleanor, Junior, Emma and Philippa

This is our last weeknote of 2019. Here’s what you need to know about Spacebank:

We met our sprint goal! We have new mobile and desktop designs to test with users. 

Never a team to sit back on our laurels, we’ll be doing some remote testing of the desktop version over the Christmas period and you can help us. 

Can you spare us five minutes?

Check out our newly iterated designs by completing our simple click test. It takes five minutes and will help us understand how potential bookers find and engage with information about library meeting rooms. 

Community halls – quick wins

We attended the Council’s housing scrutiny committee this week to present our community halls discovery work. We are keen to start piloting a couple of small changes that we think will improve the booking experience for users and our colleagues who manage the booking process. We want to stay engaged with the wider community halls review but have to juggle this commitment with our libraries work. Doing a couple of discrete, measurable things (content changes on the website and a new booking form) feels do-able over the next few weeks. 

Cue some Christmassy warm and fuzzy feelings

My thanks to the team for their hard work over the last four weeks. Eleanor and Junior have joined us; their fresh eyes on our work have sharpened our focus and bought fast improvements. The user research from Discovery and Prototype is the gift that keeps on giving. Sam and Winston continue with their diligent and thoughtful testing, bringing insights back to the team. Richard holds us to account, crafting the vision and strategy. Emma, Liam and Andrew – our apprentices – provide accountability in a different way. Showing them the “right way” to do a thing, rather than the short cut is the best quality assurance check we could have. 

See you in 2020 – the year our online meeting room booking system goes live!