HackIT: from Start-up to Scale-up

On Thursday we took an important next step in our journey as a team, starting a new iteration in the way we plan and deliver our work.

When I joined the Council in the middle of 2016 I was pleased to discover how much progress the ICT team had made in meeting the challenges that faced most business IT functions. Key systems had been brought up to date, steps were in place to provide much needed resilience, understanding of the value of data was well embedded and I was impressed by how few outages we experienced. There’s always more work to do, but coming in as the new person it was almost disconcerting to find that I had the time to think about where we should go next, rather than spend much of each day fighting fires.

After taking time to listen to our users and discuss ideas across the team, we set out a set of six organising principles (or ‘buckets’ as they’ve snappily become referred to) which helped us to explain how the work we were doing across the team contributed to the Council’s services and helped to deliver for Hackney’s residents and businesses.

How we defined our focus in 2016

These slides summarise the feedback that our users gave about their experience of our service and the focus that we set in response: 201610 Hackney IT | survey and service plan.

Looking back at those slides, I’m struck by how far we’ve progressed towards the goals that we set way back in 2016. This paragraph sums up the direction we wanted to take:

ICT is a frontline service: almost every service that Hackney provides to the borough’s residents and businesses depends on effective information and communication technology. It is essential that the Council’s ICT service works as a strategic business partner not simply a ‘supplier’. This will require us to listen hard to our partners in other services and also be confident in advising them on how we can help them to get the most benefit from what technology can offer.”

We’ve made great steps forward, building on the work that was done before. We’ve had a big increase in user satisfaction (from 28% in 2016 to 62% in our user survey last month), our investment in the systems our users rely on is increasing speed and reliability, we are able to use data in ever more valuable ways and we’re rapidly accelerating the delivery of new digital services. Not everything has worked out how we hoped, but the progress across the board makes me enormously proud to be part of the HackIT team. It’s the best job I’ve ever had.

Now as we approach the end of 2019 it’s important for us to take stock of our ways of working and make sure that we are adapting them to make the most of the opportunities ahead of us. The challenge was summed up really well by one of the expert digital agencies who are working with us to help us establish our ‘devops’ practices at the end of their discovery phase:

Hackney is an exciting place to be

It feels like a startup in lots of ways

You favour conversation over process

You are an agile workplace


Your users have high expectations

People often struggle to know what’s expected

Lots of MVPs in progress

Lots of spinning plates..

“Because there aren’t many processes in place, trying to get anything done always feels like asking for a favour” 

We need to answer an important question: how will we move from ‘Start-up’ to ‘Scale-up’?

Helping us develop our response to this is a team sport. Cate has been leading her team to help us develop a clear portfolio of work (which we make sure we publish on the local government Pipeline collaboration platform), Henry is leading a refresh of our HackIT Manifesto (which sets out the way that we work together as a team), and Matthew has been working with the Digital & Data teams to try out new ways to focus our work and make sure we are doing the right things. And alongside that the whole HackIT team has been doing amazing work delivering a wide range of benefits for Hackney’s staff, residents and businesses (checking in on our weeknotes is a weekly highlight for me – I love catching up with the work that people are doing and seeing how our teams are working together to solve problems and deliver).

In 2016 we consciously went ‘process light’, favouring pace and innovation over structures. In 2019 it’s now time for us to refresh the way we work so that we do ‘just enough’ planning and introduce the right amount of structure to help us deliver an increasingly complex portfolio of work.

On Thursday we got together for our weekly strategy show & tell to share how this thinking has developed and talk about how we will work together as a team to develop these ideas into our next way of working.

Cate and Matthew introduce the new missions

The slides here tell the story of our journey since 2016, illustrate some of the highlights from our achievements over that time and set out the next steps we propose to take: From start-up to scale-up – show & tell (see, we’ve even progressed to widescreen slides now!)

We’re going to explore using an ‘OKR’ (objectives and key results) model to guide our work towards five missions:

Our HackIT missions

Supporting these missions, we will set clear objectives every 6-12 months, which our multi-disciplinary teams will then turn into specific key results for each quarter. The intention is to keep us clearly focused on the long term outcomes that we deliver for our users and to give teams sufficient flexibility to adapt to a rapidly changing technology and service environment. 

The missions, objectives and key results need to be tied into the priorities of the services we work with and mustn’t become an excuse to say no to emerging priorities or new opportunities. But by being clear about what our teams are focused on it will be easier for us to coordinate people’s time and to understand the implications if we need to switch priorities to respond to our users’ needs. The work we’ve done to test and iterate the approach gives us confidence that this won’t be overly time consuming and if we get the balance right the effort it takes will more than pay back in terms of delivery pace.

We’re holding firm to our principle of not having a digital strategy. ‘Digital’ is part of everything we do across the Council, and our success will be measured by the impact we have in the work we do together with colleagues and partners. I’m hopeful that the next steps that we’ve set out this week will help us progress even further and faster, helping to deliver excellent services for Hackney and make a lasting contribution.

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