Hackney Digital Support Services: Weeknote, W/C 23.09.2019


The Digital Support Services project is a big suite of work.

Not only that, despite the scale and breadth of what it sets out to achieve it is almost like an epic epic… It actually reminds me somewhat of the cruise ship called the “Norwegian Epic”. It’s a cruise ship, that delivers an incredible experience and gets huge customer satisfaction ratings, despite having an external appearance that is less glamorous than its prettier siblings.

Looking from in from the outside, Digital Support Services and the projects within it are less likely to create the external excitement than perhaps some of the more outward facing projects do, but on the inside, lots of activity is afoot to create a great user experience.

So this week was mostly about ‘unlocking’ the next steps in Digital Support Services – particularly managing people data.

Having adopted the suite of works (rather like a new crew coming on board a ship halfway through a cruise), it was time to get the two main streams of work back in to motion and in to a distinct phase – something that Henry, the project sponsor was very keen on.

The main challenge of this for me, was that having stepped in to and adopted this project from a predecessor with various areas of work at different stages, there was some work to be done to ‘de-spaghettify’ what had already happened.

Having discussed this in previous weeknotes, I’ll spare the detail, but we had now reached a stage of teasing out everything that either:

  • Wasn’t supposed to be there
  • Was in the wrong place
  • Was needed to get things moving in to output phases

What remained to be done was determine:

  • What needed to be done to get things moving
  • Who needed to do these things
  • When they would get done

Referring back to my cruise ship metaphor – there are a LOT of moving parts in large scale operations. There are departments within departments within departments that need to talk to each other. On a cruise ship, you can’t bring on an entertainment team before you’ve spoken to the hotel team to see if there are any spare cabins… but they can’t tell you if there are any spare cabins until they’ve established how many passengers are on the ship… who in turn can only give so much information before the cruise sets sail because people book right up until the last minute… and the booking agents need to know about the entertainment so that they can sell those last minute packages more effect… It’s a seemingly impossible loop, but you have to find a way to break in to the Matrix.

As humans, we mostly prefer things to be linear, but they rarely are – however, if we accept a non-linear world, we have to start somewhere and we have to take the best position we can and then move forward from that place and allow it to inform us!

So where do we start?

Well, I’m a big advocate of quietly merging the worlds of work and play.

Firstly, because I really like to play.

Secondly (and probably more usefully), because to introduce play to a serious subject, with a level of consequence does a lot of good work to de-charge and disarm the subject matter, so that people begin to think more objectively.

In turn, this creates a bolder, more experimental space and the emotion of fear is politely asked to leave the room. Counter-intuitive as it might seem, better decisions get made here. Even in games people want to put their best thinking forward.

So we had a game of ‘Play Your Cards Right’ (some people might know it better as the ‘higher or lower’ game.

In this game – our first job was to create order of the rounds.

We did this by collecting all of questions and discussion points that had been raised or explored over the previous couple week and grouping them in to common topics (whilst resisting the delicious temptation to talk about them there and then). We were left with four rounds and we then played the game…

THE PEOPLE ON THE TEAM was the first round/topic that was randomly picked from the pile.

Next to come out was WHICH PROTOTYPE to choose. The workshop attendees (contestants), then had to declare whether they thought that this new card was ‘higher’ (as in that it needed to be discussed sooner) or lower (discussed later) than the subject of people on the team.

We completed this for all of the ’round’ cards (aka subjects to talk about), and then proceeded to play each round – which was a more detailed version of the rounds game. Here we had individual questions and statements that needed to be explored, so again we would decide whether the likes of VALUE & SCALEABILITY was ‘higher or lower’ than MEASURING OUTCOMES within the round of which prototype.

As an exercise, it enabled us to collectively and quickly de-spaghettify the plethora of questions, nooks, crannies and nuances that we needed to explore. Whilst un-conference was a possible way to do it, because of the volume of topics, there was a danger of getting caught up in discussing what we needed to discuss – so introducing play and structure enabled us to get to having the real discussion much sooner.

I’ll spare you the results of every round, but there were Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference White Chocolate Cookies on offer as a reward to focus minds!

The outcome of all of this was that we got through a significant amount of topics, questions and brought together wider conversations in to one space, that allowed us to:

  • Identify our first Minimum Viable Product to Prototype in Alpha stage.
  • Identify who would be on the team to do that.
  • Understand which MVP’s would follow number 1 and why.
  • Gain clarity on when that would be and how that could happen.
  • See the potential gaps in expertise and decide how we would approach those.
  • Bracket what was part of our ICT experiment and what wasn’t.
  • Get a wider set of stakeholders on to the same page at the same time.

All of the above are now moving parts and my next steps are to work with the Product Owner to create the Kick-Off meeting so that we can start delivering value within the first sprint.

Talking of iterative value, it’s important to keep that at the forefront of our minds… As Matt Cain said to me after a show and tell last week, we’ve got to make sure that we are not just doing “Agile Theatre”. An important reminder, that we can dress up and make it look like agile with standups, sprints and show and tells, but if there isn’t value being delivered and there isn’t a feedback loop in operation, then we can be found lacking.

So what actual value was delivered through this?

  • We learned how to untangle multiple questions via a process that is repeatable.
  • We have a new Product Owner who hasn’t been a Product Owner before.

I could rattle on about how this has moved forward and that has progressed, but in truth, that’s all a bit more like reporting through waterfall, and as a champion for Agile, it’s all about the delivery (I’m a Delivery Manager afteral right?!)

So I’m proud of these two outputs and look forward to sharing more!

Over & Out…


P.S. I still haven’t cracked the wordpress picture conundrum yet, but I have progressed to an all new and exciting error message… this work continues.

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