Improving Our e-Forms: Week Note w/c 28/10/19 & 6/11/19 – Discovery.

Better late than never Mk II

I found it difficult to write this week note, hence it being late (for different reasons than those of my other project week note).

For this weeks note (which is now technically last weeks week note), the difficulty was articulating something difficult in a week note for the first time since joining HackIT. It was about knowing the boundary of what gets shared openly, whilst being sensitive to everyone involved.

I have to confess that I copped out a bit and I’m now writing this week note as more of a reflection of how ultimately the difficulty was handled (and now moved beyond) rather than tackling the difficulty at the time.

In some respects, not tackling it at the time was the root cause of the problem.

As alluded to in my last week note, a pivot was on the horizon. The question we were trying to answer in the discovery was more slippery and unruly than a cauldron of spaghetti and olive oil.

As a team, within the two weeks we had sought to test the hypothesis that there might be some sort of tool that might help us to re-build our e-forms.

But then, when we looked at our forms, a lot of them weren’t just forms – they were actually quite complex workflows.

Not only this, a lot of them didn’t really meet user need properly either.

No matter how well we explored the aspects of how we might want our tool to look and what we might want it to do, we couldn’t get past the fact that we were trying to put a square peg in to a round hole… in that there was a serious danger of proving a hypothesis that wasn’t actually solving a whole problem for a user. We were flirting with replacing something that didn’t meet user need with a shinier version of something that didn’t meet user need.

So our product owner proposed the pivot.

If we really wanted to solve a problem, we already had the capacity to do this. We have a piece of work around forms (Change of Reporting Line) that has already completed discovery and the value piece achieved in this discovery (around criteria for a good form going forward) dovetails in very well with the work already undertaken.

Easy right?

Almost.

The only ‘hitch’ about all of this was when, at the end of the workshop in which we had reached a joint understanding, we started working on next steps and came to realisation that this needed to be articulated to the stakeholder.

Ordinarily, such a pivot wouldn’t be a real cause for worry. I mean, it’s agile right? Pivoting’s part of the deal…

We were confident in our decision and that we had achieved a lot in two weeks. We had a bold proposal to step out of the circular conversation, we were proposing to solve a whole problem for users and to finally step in to doing something.

But whilst we had ‘failed in a fortnight’, we also had to accept that it would likely be challenging for our key stakeholder to easily compartmentalise this pivot.

Despite the pivot being action orientated, we were painfully aware that previous incarnations of the project had pivoted more than the 2012 Team GB Olympic netball team, resulting in what must have felt like a discovery black hole to date.

This is where it all unravelled a bit.

It would be a pretty poor show for our stakeholder to learn about a complete switch for the first time via a week note, or even worse… a show and tell!

We knew that we wanted to articulate the pivot in a private setting via a 1:1, face to face conversation.

In hindsight (always 20/20), as a team, we’d have just communicated this with the main stakeholder at the first opportunity. It might not have been the worlds rosiest exchange, but it would have delivered the basics, allowed some space for expression and an opportunity for questions, space and mental digestion.

However, we tried to engineer it all a bit.

We crafted an ‘ideal’ way to communicate the message via the ‘right’ person on the ‘right’ day etc etc…

In the end, it didn’t go anything like that.

I ended up putting out the worlds most ambiguous week note, which first alerted the stakeholder to something being amiss. Then the ‘right’ persons diary filled up without anyone even noticing and the ‘right’ moment passed quietly by, until we were in a stand up trying to skirt around the subject suggesting that said right person would be delivering the message shortly.

Unsurprisingly, by this point it was a farce and the stakeholder called me out on it and I ended up delivering the pivot unprepared, at the wrong time and in the wrong forum. As one might expect, it wasn’t received especially well… but then why would it be when it’s delivered like that!?

To be honest, I’m mildly ashamed to write the above. Reading it back now it was nothing short of a nonsense and the stakeholder deserved better.

We did pull it together at the stand up and our stakeholder acknowledged that we had delivered a way forward in a short period of time (once this approach was separated from those that had preceded it).

I’m also really respectful of our stakeholder and we both value open, honest and direct conversation. We both apologised to each other for not delivering and reacting in the best way that might have been.

The learning in all of this is mostly about being ok with having not ok conversations. The choice to not communicate, communicated loudly of itself and allowed ambiguity and uncertainty to infect thinking.

Ultimately, we temporarily forgot the golden rule of working in the open and was reminded of why it is just so important.

To be fair, I’m glad that I was served this reminder following a few days of bring ambiguous over a project to look at improving our e-forms… I can’t imagine what it must have been like to have finally told the truth about Cross Rail!

That’s it for this week and signing off on e-forms until we have delivered our Show and Tell on how we reached our pivot and perhaps again if I am Delivery Manager for taking forward the recommendation to design and build the form/service for change a reporting line.

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