Setting a team up to fail

No one likes to fail. Many do, but few set out to. Failure is particularly problematic in the public sector, because it can lead to fears that hardworking taxpayers’ money is being wasted.

Despite knowing all that, I set a small team up to fail this week. Their brief is to spend a month creating a prototype. The team will succeed if:

  1. The service is digital end to end and delivers a viable business process
  2. The service is so good that people prefer to use it
  3. The service supports our other projects, but is distinct from it
  4. The service, if developed further, would reduce dependence on our existing systems
  5. We learn more about what our customers need from a CRM and customer portal and the time it takes us to build a service

That’s a big ask from a small team, and with just a month to do it. That’s important. We can’t set up a whole service to fail – that would be irresponsible. But a small team working for just a month can learn, and then teach, much more than a larger team working for longer. And at lower cost and lower risk.

I told the team I expected them not to achieve all of those things. They asked if I was managing expectations. I wasn’t. In fact, it’s particularly important to me that they don’t get it all right first time. I want the team to be bold. They need to aim high and make mistakes. It’s only by learning what’s wrong, that they’ll find what’s right.

The team asked me what we’ll do with the prototype. I said we’d likely put it in the bin. Whilst my fee as a motivational speaker may have fallen significantly, it was another risk worth taking. The team has spent years working to produce ‘finished products’. We previously had a simple choice between meeting deadlines and suggesting it was good enough or missing them and waiting until the product was ‘done’. That is precisely the approach that we need to change if we are to be better able to meet the needs of our residents and the aspirations of our colleagues.

The team will be able to draw on the tactics manual that we’ve pulled together, based on the experiences of Government Digital Service, 18F and Google Ventures, amongst others. And it’s work will help us understand a user-centred, Agile methodology. So the act of doing the work will be successful, regardless of the product we create, and will teach us far more in the long run than training courses. In fact, we will win whatever the outcome.
So whilst I’ll be willing them on, mostly I’m crossing my fingers and giving them the space to try their best, be bold enough to get things wrong and brave enough to learn that, done right, an Agile approach can deliver enough failures to produce a more successful outcome.

Useful IT Tools – Trello

Hi my name’s Cem Bulgan (pronounced Gem), I am the ICT Training officer for Hackney Council and have worked here for nearly 4 years. I started as an apprentice within HR and worked on the delivery of our elearning site, the Hackney Learning Hub. I also provided Council wide familiarisation training for the myoffice switch over from the outdated Windows XP operating system.

This is hopefully my first of many posts. The aim here is to help you better understand the tools that are either currently being used or are available to staff which will help you improve your day to day productivity.

The first one I would like to share with you is an online tool called Trello. What is Trello you ask? – Well Trello is an awesome project management tool that makes collaboration easy and even fun! “Fun” I hear you say…. stay with me on that one. It’s also a newish concept to me but has already helped me manage ‘To do’ lists and projects I’m working on.

Have you found that you create a project plan that no one references? How about that moment just before a meeting when everyone tried to update the plan at the same time? Well Trello solves these problems – and more. Here’s how.

Each project you’re working on is represented by what Trello calls a ‘Board’. A Trello board is basically a web page containing lists laid out horizontally on the page so you can get a bird’s eye view of your project. Items within the lists, can be dragged and dropped onto other lists or reordered within the lists. It’s simply a collection of work activities known as ‘cards’ that are organised into a set of different stages, called ‘lists’.

Individual cards can contain checklists, images, attachments, deadline dates, coloured labels, and discussion notes from others who share the board. You can create as many boards as you want – one for “projects”, one for “team management” and individually manage who has access to them.

You can probably see how this can come in handy. Trello cards are like sticky notes you arrange on a cork board – that is, digital sticky notes that are searchable, shareable, and come with reminders. You can also create cards via email.

Check out this short video giving a quick overview of Trello:

Using Trello in combination with other tools for super productivity

Trello also allows you to integrate information on the cards with other applications, which allows teams of people to work very efficiently.  Some of these tools are Wunderlist (a task management tool) and Ganttify (a project management Gantt tool).

Good practice in this area has been achieved in social care where the original activities are prepared on Trello cards and then represented spatially as a Gantt.

Creating new Trello Cards can also automatically create new Wunderlist tasks which the team all work to and share.

Now that you have seen what Trello can do, here are a few words from Jeremy Tuck (project manager for social care) explaining how much Trello has helped him and his colleagues within Hackney.

Q1: Jeremy could you please tell me how you found out about Trello?

“The main problem I was trying to solve is trying to get the entire project team to interact with tasks in a more enjoyable, open and in a current way.  Trello and Ganttify had some of the team turn into project leads in no time and (more importantly) made everyone more aware of timelines and scheduling conflicts…. which are usually the dry domain of project managers alone.”

Q2: How long have you been using Trello for your work within Hackney Council?

“For the last year.  We decided to work with all these new tools.  I have been working with Wunderlist (beautiful) for several years now.”

Q3: How often do you use Trello on a daily basis?

“Often when when plans need to be revised.  Wunderlist is the more daily used tool.”

Q4: What single feature on Trello do you find necessary now for your day to day work?

“Dates, prioritisation and grouping of tasks – and for the entire team to see.”

Q5: What are the advantages over other project management tools?

“These tools are quick and easy. Therefore you use them for everything and don’t forget anything.”

Q6: How does it differ to more traditional project management tools?

“They are mobile, cloud-based and focused”

Q7: Did your team embrace using it? And how

“Our team meetings are run solely using Wunderlist and there’s no need for action minutes, because we update them then and there and they’re immediately updated.”

Q8: Main advantages over using something like Trello?

“Visual, especially when working with Ganttify, which means its owned more widely and not seen solely as something project managers do.”

Q9: Did you need training on it, was it intuitive?

“Very intuitive, but you need to spend time to get the best out of it, but once you do that it’s brilliant.”

Q10: Are there any other apps that link into it?

“The marriage of Trello, Wunderlist and Ganttify is a beautiful thing.”

Q11: How intuitive have you found using Trello on your mobile device?

“Super easy!”

Now you have heard the benefits of using Trello and how it can assist in your work within Hackney council, I invite you to sign up and begin to use this tool. Follow these simple steps below on how to do this.

  1. Go to
  2. Enter your name, email and password
  3. Click on Create New Account

Once you start creating boards you can add members via their emails, whether the board is private, public or for just your team. You can also invite people using a special link for each individual board.

As you heard from Jeremy Trello is also mobile compatible and can be downloaded on iOS and android devices, allowing you to update your boards on the fly.

Jeremy also mentioned some other tools called Ganttify and Wunderlist, these are also free productivity tools that work great in conjunction with Trello. I will dive into these in more detail in my next blog just to not overwhelm you all. But feel free to check them out if you like, they’re great.

Please feel free to comment below if you are already using Trello, would like to share your experience with this great free tool, or if you would like more blogs like this.

I hope you found this blog useful and informative.

Cem Bulgan

Involving our residents in the design of digital services

Hi. I’m Seranna Ramlochan and I wanted to share with you some activity we have been undertaking this week to involve residents in the design of a new digital service that will enable our tenants and leaseholders to view their rent and service charge account details online.

Brief background: what we have done so far

We had already engaged with the relevant service areas (in this case, Leasehold Services and Rent Income & Accounting Services) to draw up a list of features that the new service will bring to residents.

We had identified the following features of the online service to be important to our tenant and leasehold residents:

• View rent/service charge account balance
• View rent/service account transactions
• Receive important account notifications
• Download account transactions statements, invoices and breakdowns
• Make a payment

We had also created some prototypes so that we could visualise the online service and its features initially to the service areas involved.

The resident workshops

What we then wanted to do was get our residents involved to have a look at the prototypes and the features of the online service. So this week we invited a number of tenants and leaseholders to resident workshops with the aim of getting an insight into whether the service and its features actually meets their needs, and discover any alternative/additional design and functional aspects of the service that could help further meet those needs based on the feedback received.

We did this by first showcasing the prototypes. Residents were guided through these by being shown the various elements of the interface’s layout; its menu’s, button placement, expansion of information boxes along with scrolling through and switching between different screens within the service. We also explained the accompanying features provided; the ability to view their current balance, recent transactions, make a payment along with downloading statements and receiving account notifications.

We then interviewed the residents to gain some background on how they typically use Council services, what are the particular barriers to using certain services and getting an understanding of their awareness and perception of the Council’s One Account. The exercise not only provided a way of validating what we had done so far, but also provided some good insight into how the service could be designed more around user-centred needs. We also got some useful suggestions on how we can support residents in using digital services going forward.

What have the resident workshops told us?

Overall feedback was positive. We learned that the service would be very useful for residents who do not wish to contact the Council for something as simple as checking their balance or most recent transactions. Leaseholders also fed back that it would provide convenience in being able to download a breakdown of works carried out to their block and estate, rather than having to contact the council to request these to be sent to them. Account notifications were also positively received, as this was thought to be useful in helping residents manage their accounts more effectively.

Other aspects of feedback included:

Keep it plain and simple – avoid using themed backgrounds and distracting images, with a plain user interface being preferred
Accessibility features where important – develop an interface that included resizing or zoom in/out options to help people with partial sight
Ensure that it is secure – the One Account provides two level authentication

Residents were also keen to stress that there needs to be a commitment from the council to help residents use digital services. Suggestions included drop-in events where residents could bring their personal devices and be shown how to use the service on a 1-2-1 basis.

Residents also wanted assurance that digital channels would not be outright replacing existing customer service channels, citing restricted access to the internet for certain resident groups. So this is something we need to think about in terms of how we manage the channel shift of residents and how digital inclusion initiatives can help with this.

We will use the feedback to enhance the proposed service to meet resident needs – changes around accessibility and a plain, simple and intuitive interface will be a design principle that will be applied to the service based on the useful feedback we’ve gained from involving residents.

More broadly though, we want to build on the above activity to involve residents more closely to help shape the design of digital services going forward. This will include working with residents at earlier stages to discover the types of services they need, and involve them at a more granular level to help test prototype designs and generate ideas of how these can be designed to be accessible, simple and intuitive to use.

Why we’re thinking about design principles

One of the most exciting things about joining the team in Hackney has been hearing colleagues express their interest and enthusiasm for working in new ways. We’ve got lots of ideas of what can change and how we can improve things. But as we embark on this journey, it’s important to understand why we’re doing things.

Russell Davies, the former strategy director of the Government Digital Service came to Hackney this week to talk to us about the GDS design principles. These emerged as the team started to develop its ways of working. He described them as a formulation of a culture and attitude that was already emerging, but also how they served as ‘super rules’ which weren’t “owned” by any particular department but which still required compliance (the service standard and control of the domain were other key parts of the jigsaw).

Intriguingly, Russell also urged us to not necessarily adopt design principles, but to consider our manifesto, playbook, or new form of statement. He also regretted that they hadn’t iterated the principles after adoption.

We had a brief set of discussions at tables during the event. Whilst it would have been great to talk for longer, the time-limit perhaps created the sense that we were starting a conversation. As we are on multiple sites, we’re doing that virtually, in the first instance – for all I’d prefer to be able to visualise it in a common space, it does at least mean that you can follow our thinking.

The work will need to grow organically – but as Russell said, we also need to make sure the end product is high quality. ‘Use a designer and a copy editor’, he urged. Watch this space!


Becoming HackIT

I was super-excited when I arrived in Hackney. But I was also conscious that I knew relatively little about the ICT service. In the first few weeks I met lots of colleagues who were also excited to work in ICT for the council – but few people outside who knew much about what we were doing.

In my last job, in Buckinghamshire, I blogged about our work, and ran a weekly email newsletter to talk about what we did that week and what we would do the following week. But in a bigger service, and with high profile leaders like Rob Miller, I wanted to be part of a wider conversation. If we all talked about our work, we’d capture that excitement and potentially showcase the service better as a place to work.

If we called the blog ‘digital’, it may have seemed like it was just for some parts of the team. That would’ve been a mistake: the work of the infrastructure team, for example, is critical to changing our service – making it more flexible and responsive.

We canvassed ideas for a name from the team, and then put a shortlist to our Cabinet portfolio holder: Mayor Glanville. He chose HackIT – Digital change for everyone. It was great to choose a name that captured the mentality that we’re developing (Hacktivism as a force for good) but also made a clear commitment that this isn’t technological change for the sake of it, or the responsibility of a single team, but a collective effort to deliver change for everyone.

Here we are!