Housing data in the cloud: Weeknote, w/c 09.21.2019

Cartoon character Scooby-Doo wrapped in a blanket and sneezing
We’ve got germs, they are multiplying

Three things you need to know this week:

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” and full of cold and flu germs. We’re falling by the wayside, brought low by various seasonal ills. I’m pleased with what we’ve managed to get done but I’m concerned for the health and well-being of the team. Some enforced relaxation over Christmas can’t come soon enough. 

A change is as good as a rest. We spent the day with AWS on Friday testing our thinking around database choice and migration options. It feels like we are on the right track with our initial decision to go with a PostgreSQL database for the prototype. We identified that we need to do a bit more exploration on how we might migrate data in New Year. It  was great to have colleagues from the infrastructure team with us, but I’m also aware that our data and insight team need eyes on this too. 

What’s next? We parked the idea of doing a sprint next week. Instead, we are using the time to refine our backlog (long “to-do” list) and prioritise that into manageable chunks. There’s a lot of moving parts to manage and we need to get more of a handle on what these are and what’s in our gift to control or influence. To this end, I’ve asked Father Christmas for a crystal ball this year.

Housing data in the cloud: Weeknote, w/c 02.12.2019

Housing data in the cloud. It does what it says on the tin. 

We’ve got data, lots of data. 

This data lives in 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. 

We are changing this. 

That’s a bold statement, let me put some context around it. We are taking our first experimental steps to see if we can move a tiny piece of housing data into a cloud platform. 

Back in October we did a week long discovery to identify a data candidate for prototype and to think about what success might look like. Thankfully, we’re not starting from scratch. Other fine minds have looked at our old, overstuffed house – we’ve valiantly attempted renovation and even extension. Colleagues from MadeTech have pulled all this learning together and made a set of recommendations, which we are testing in the prototype we are building over the next few weeks.  

Introducing the dream team

The avengers getting ready for battle.
This is what we look like in my imagination. I’m Natasha Romanoff obviously 🙂

We are working with support from AWS and MadeTech along with our award winning team of Hackney developers. With got expertise from our data and insight team and three technical architects (at my last count). I’m terrified, the team is absolutely buzzing. We’re finally staring into the eyes of our nemesis – let the battle commence. 

We are working in 5 day sprints. I love the drive of the team. They want to work hard and fast. We’ve covering new ground everyday. The team are absorbing new ideas, skills and ways of working like a sponge. We don’t all see things in the same way, but the team are embracing this too. 

This week, we’ve identified our use case. Right from the outset we want to demonstrate how our work can bring tangible value to the Council services that rely on this data. We’ve got to keep this grounded in business need and ultimately the needs of Hackney residents. We’ve also set up our cloud platform in AWS this week. Next up: is deciding what database we need for this prototype. There is A LOT of debate about this in the team. I’m expecting a few fireworks. We’ve got a spike early next week to try and crack this.

Hackney Spacebank: Weeknote, w/c 02.12.19

Trees being blown in a storm.
It’s been one of those sprints

The weeknote of doom.

I dread sitting down to write this sort of weeknote.

We didn’t meet our sprint goal. We got 90 per cent of the way there but we missed “done”. It’s profoundly frustrating for the team. 10 days’ hard work and apparently nothing to show for it. 

Facing the unknown

The sprint goal felt right, the number stories felt achievable, our output was clearly defined. So, what happened?

The unknown hit us like a stonking great wind. A invisible force that you can hear and feel, but you can’t see it or catch it.  

What do we know now that we didn’t know two weeks’ ago:

  • What we can – and can’t do – with content on the Hackney website*
  • New team members needing a more clarity on our user groups 
  • The working cadence of other teams we are collaborating with 
  • The untapped enthusiasm of our colleagues at Dalston library**

What’s yoga got to do with anything?

Pokemon character Stitch trying to do a  yoga headstand.
Stitch grappling with a headstand

I’m borrowing this analogy from Matthew Cain. Agile – like yoga – a daily practice. After a while the rhythm of its ways, its principles and values starts to shape a team’s mindset. Yoga sculpts the body inside and out. In the same way agile moulds how a team works together and how it behaves. 

Our habit of sprint review and retro with a #nojudgement culture turned our failure into actionable nuggets – golden pieces of learning forged in the heat of honest conversation. 

I knew that I had a team that trusted each other to say hard things. I now know that we can weather storms together. 

Failure feels good

I’m proud that the team took hold of the agile principle to deliver a small piece of value to our end users in two weeks. There’s nowhere to hide when you make a commitment like this. This takes courage. 

We’re not going to retreat into safe incremental steps. We are going to keep working iteratively, even if it means we fail more often. 

*Our website is an MVP.

**This is great! 

Hackney Spacebank: Weeknote, w/c 25th November 2019

Kitten hanging off a blanket.
Hanging in there, sprint 1 is coming to an end

Three things you need to know about Spacebank this week:

The (sprint) end is nigh

We are at that crunchy moment in the sprint where there are lots of things in flight but our done column looks a bit sparse. This makes me nervous* as a delivery manager but I have to practice what I preach and trust the team. There’s nothing like a deadline to get the adrenaline pumping and the team are beavering away. 

Recognising what we don’t yet know

Knowing enough to take the next step is an agile-ism. In practice it’s hard to hold onto this. It’s easy to slip back into patterns of thinking that hold us back from delivering value early and often. It takes courage to try something, even something small, because we are conditioned to fear failure. 

We know a lot about our users in Spacebank, this is good. We know enough to re-design our library pages and test this content. We are less sure about two things:

  • How to effectively target untapped bookers – organisations and individuals who aren’t aware that the council has meeting space they can hire at low cost 
  • The best place to put information about meeting rooms in the library – on Hackney’s website or on our booking software.

We are going to take a closer look at both these issues in our next sprint. 

Update on people and skills

Following on from my previous weeknote, we’ve made progress on securing another role. We have a UX designer starting on the project next week. I’m excited to bring together the expertise of our content designer Eleanor and new UX designer Junior. First task: review our prototype designs based on the user research we did in the summer. It remains a challenge to find a front end developer for the team. It feels like a rock and a hard place right now, but as the saying goes, adversity breeds innovation so I’m hanging on in there!

*Healthy nerves

Hackney Spacebank: weeknote, w/c 22.11.2019

Cartoon of Mickey Mouse slicing a cake into equal size pieces and putting the slices onto plates

Three things you need to know about Spacebank this week:

Starting our build

Over the summer and autumn, we paused our work with libraries. We did three things:

  • Completed a discovery about community halls, supporting a wider review of looking into utilisation and asset management
  • Secured some funding
  • Procured a “custom off the shelf” (COTS) scheduling tool – a white label API

We are ready to start working with the library service again to implement the API and configure a user interface based on the prototype wireframes. These will need some re-designing to reflect our new digital brand and component library. 

A slice of cake

Everyone loves cake. It’s also a useful analogy for working vertically – adding a little bit of value to our users each every two weeks. This sprint, we working with the comms team to re-design the information on our website about meeting rooms available for hire in our libraries. We going to put this “in the wild” and monitor how users engage with the content. It’s a small step, achievable in two weeks. 

People and skills

As always, the biggest risk in this project is the capacity of the team. We are a couple of roles down at the moment. This is weighing heavily on my mind and much of my time is focused on recruitment.