Friday 1st December episode 7: We’re on the sprint home straight!

Team Catch Ups: Any thoughts of demoralisation are gone, the prototypes are in fact really good and innovative. The prototypes are very important and fully underpin the event but not the main outcome. Everyone is now considering the prototypes in the context of the project brief which is to provide the following outcomes:

Three service design patterns (apply, view, comment) showing the preferred customer journey and user experiences for a digital planning service
Evidence and validation that the service design patterns meet user needs
Commitment from suppliers to build these into their roadmaps over the next 6-12 months

All back on track. Some quite major changes now required for the viewing and commenting prototype. These are mainly structural to ensure everyone understands it’s the same web module we’re demonstrating irrespective of the was it’s initiated i.e. it the same if you launch it in a library, supermarket, at home, or just passing a Planning Notification and using a smartphone. The original demo made it look like there was only a phone app and nothing else had been considered.
The submission prototype now named PAM had more than just validated the Southwark work, the extra effort the team put in on Thursday really paid off. There was still a lot to do this morning, they were busy and timings looked tight. The timetable changed slightly to accommodate their extra design time in the morning with some early afternoon interview testing lined up.

Beavering away. Both teams were off finalising their designs. So I took the opportunity to discuss the View &~ Comment prototype with Dennis from Southwark. We are on the right path with this as Community Engagement is still very low for the younger demographic i.e. people aged less than 35. It turns out a lot of comments actually come from a people representing a group of people basically several people will discuss an application with a group of friends down the pub, or at community event or in a Facebook group set up to discuss all concerns on their street! The main thing we agreed on was to take this forward was to get a critical mass of like minded Local Authorities (Planners and Digital reps) with enough impetus and resource to club together and take this forward. Pretty much what the Evening show & tell is on Monday 11th

More Interview Testing. The PAM team held their interview testing sessions and had really good feedback. The feedback at this late stage gave the team more food for thought and the extra work needed to consider and update the prototype with time already short. Watching them you physically see the pressure they were under, but there was no procrastinating, decision, decison, decision then deigning again. A slightly shorter lunch to give us all time to prepare for more the prototypes and presentations. The seaweed looking pickled kale was okay, but I’m going to miss that quiche!

Although the submissions team were slightly behind schedule and the view \ comment , you could see both designers working full on. Presentations were now taking shape. Except hands up for volunteers a deftly silence!

Presentations: The presentations looked like starting later and later. The pressure on everyone to be ready on time was intense. I’m really glad the show & tell event was moved to the 11th, Imagine having to now present straight to the large crowd of important people this early! At the final moment we were all ready for aout short presentations and prototype demonstrations – it all came together. The prototypes looked good, the presentations got their points across and they finished spot on 5pm. There were hardly any questions at the end, I’m unsure if it’s because we’ve had so many reviews, improvement iterations and basically most have already seen them to some extend. Or could it be the next point on the agenda was the pub!

Finding the Pub. After saying some thank-yous and goodbyes, we took a scenic route to the pub, we were slightly lost and started asking for directions – we may have come across a little desperate for a drink! We all sat down with a happy sigh of relief All knowing we can have a rest for now….

Next week, presentations to finalise for the big event!

Friday 1st December
Goal for the day: Expert review and preparation of final presentation

9:00 Before final day starts proper:
Amends to prototypes as needed
FCC people only
Recap and plan for the day
Start for external members of core team
10:30 Finalising prototypes together
FCC people to present their amends made earlier
Collaboratively do finishing touches
Discuss work and process
11-11:45 Testing 1 – Dennis / Southwark
12:00 Lunch
13:00-13:45 Testing 2 – FCC person
14:00-14:45 Testing 3 – Matt / Hackney
14:30 Coffee break
14:45 Create presentation for Monday 11th
Create presentation outlining process and final concept
Finalise wireframes
Decide who is presenting
1 hour presentation
Divide and conquer…!
16.30 Final retrospective
Ask for group feedback on week process and outcome
16.45 Pub?

Thursday 30th episode 6: We have a prototype to present

Sticky Tabs Consolidation – Another lovely start to the day many many more sticky tabs to review in yet another iteration for improvements. As well as many of the functional and cosmetic changes, the biggest area of feedback could all be resolved by showing the prototype in context. The prototype starts at the point the user has identified a building with Planning permissions. Therefore any time it’s shown we need to be emphasising the input points to this process i.e. walking past a site and pointing a smartphone, a link from the Local Authority website, a link from council correspondence, possibly a scanned QR code (don’t shoot me for this) or even a display in a high footfall area such as a library, school, hospitals supermarkets etc.

Changing my Focus to Project X (temporarily). The design team were on a roll with the changes so I had a chance to catch up with the Planning Policy Manager at Southwark as they’re really trying to progress the digital programme for Planning with their Project X. They’ve done an awful lot of document digitalisation and have all the buildings in the borough 3d imaged. Any larger developments submitted to Southwark must now comply with their new digital 3d standard and the 3d components need to be available as part of the Planning process. In fact the developments are reviewed in Augmented reality in the Southwark Planning Committee meetings, heads sets and all, so it’s essential!

Are the prototypes coming up to scratch? As we know coming into this sprint process there’s a huge amount of work already done in this area. However, it’s been completely at different levels across the board and quite different depending on which back end Planning supplier has been involved. Also as we know the pace has been very slow and the Planning Portal doesn’t appear to have taken these popular requirements into consideration or at least delivered them yet. The sprint teams have now been questioning their work and comparing against the work previously done separately in Camden and Southwark. The conclusion is there’s a major overlap on the submission prototype. The plan is for them to now take the next step forward based on their current work.

Back to the testing. The technology was a little rough and ready but enabled us to watch and listen to the tester giving the prototype a runthrough from a different room and take even more notes! Fortunately the second tester had a major overlap with the first but still raising a significant amount questions and good suggestions. The third and finals tester found several more items to which we could note, by this time it was quite noticeable the amount of repeated comments. Surprisingly some comments from testers were quite contradictory surprising, but at the end of each testing session we had the opportunity to ask the tester some questions so we could clarify any misunderstandings. The 101 sticky tabs way of working is good but some times the context of the comment was lost hence extra questions.

Trivial naming of each prototype actually caused quite a bit of confusion, we had chosen PAM (Planning Application Mentor), this was a mistake as we originally intended the ‘M’ to be Monitor but in the hustle and bustle of the day we forgot.

PAM unsurprisingly led them to believe the Community Engagement module would guide them through the process, which wasn’t good for the viewing and commenting prototype but excellent for the submission prototype. The other team then liberated the name from us! PAM was supposed to be the avatar for any bots we wanted to use or voice control equivalent of Siri and Alexa but for Planning Applications. If we make it to market with the prototype we’d no doubt only want a single Avatar for the whole system rather than a name for each of the prototypes \ modules. In fact we could have a family of avatars for each council service!

We finished the day a little later than expected but broke the back of the notes consolidation to give us a good start on the prototype in the morning.

Nobody likes to rock the boat. With the focus solely on the prototype some of the team are understandably now questioning the quality and how innovative the prototype actually is, especially when compared to the high standards set for normal work they’d intend to present for business as usual work. Somewhat losing focus of the brief has started demotivating some of the group. Nevermind that what we’ve achieved in a few days is an achievement in itself and even more so by validating the previous work carried out. Where the team have got to now, is much less significant than:
A) The value derived from the analysis of the challenge and
B) The fact that we’ve built a common understanding and impetus around what needs to change.

We’re planning to discuss this tomorrow….

Thursday 30th November – Testing with real users
Goal for the day: Reiterating and testing of the prototypes with real users
Agenda Item
09.30 Continue with wireframes
12.30 Lunch
13:30 Active testing session 1
13:30 – 14:15 Citizen planner (confirmed) – Active tester
14:15-14:30 Group discussion
Aisling to stay in room to watch live stream with core team, Anja to carry out active testing in separate room
14:30 Active testing session 2
14.30 -15:15 Planner (not part of the core team)
15:15 -15:30 Group discussion
Aisling to stay in room to watch live stream with core team, Anja to carry out active testing in separate room
15.30 Active testing session 3
15.30 -16:15 Planner (not part of the core team)
16:15 -16:30 Group discussion
Aisling to stay in room to watch live stream with core team, Anja to carry out active testing in separate room
Discussion of testing results
Working session with coffee and biscuits
17:15 Thursday session close

Day 3: Building a prototype

10am is a nice leisurely start, being an early bird it’s giving me the time to keep the business as usual activities ticking over and stop the emails from getting out of hand. It’s also good to start the day with a recap of the previous, especially the HMWs (how might we). This time we started discussing the personas most relevant to our chosen process and how they would really like to interact.

Wireframing was a good discussion and the jotting down of more even notes on the way to drawing some actual picture of what the the prototype should start to look like. This stage was really about iterating each step until we all reached a consensus. Once we had some consensus the wireframe sketches were started. After more and more discussion and re-iterations the mock up sketches were sufficiently detailed and ready for the designer and tech expert to run with.

Balsamiq was the prototyping tool of choice for our team working on our prototype. The designers went off on their way, but as a team of four, two of us started work on Friday’s presentation, the precursor to the Big Show & Tell session on Monday 11th December.

The pace of work is intense everyone is fully concentrating on each task and at intervals we re-convened to clarify any inconsistencies and unclear points. I have no idea what tool the other team chose, I think it was due to Vanessa (UI \ UX designer) using the existing Camden tools.

A quick run through and we were ready for a live prototype demonstration with FCC experts whom hadn’t been involved to date. With their fresh views there were again many more comments to take into consideration. We did find out that QR codes are like Marmite, they really divide opinion. Technically they’re great for linking information (massive in China) but on the other hand as they need an app to be used, nowadays hardly anyone uses them.This time the feedback was more than influencing the content but being specific about what worked and what didn’t and apparently a lot didn’t. Our prototype demo had to start somewhere and we chose someone using a smartphone and viewing a Planning site as they walked past. This didn’t set the context correctly and therefore raised many questions about it being on a phone and what about other options i.e the QR codes, links from correspondence and all other initiation routes which we had considered. The demonstration was also in front of the whole core team (anyone not involved in wireframing) therefore this time round there were many many more sticky tabs to review in yet another iteration for tomorrow!

Wednesday 29th November – Wireframing and prototyping

Goal for the day: Reminding ourselves who we are designing for, start of wireframing/prototyping session


Agenda Item

Additional notes


Coffees and networking


Presentation/plan for the day

•Recap, especially the HMW


Recap personas

•Teams to look again at the persona they are designing the idea for

•What experience do participants want to create for the personas – Template


Wireframing session

•Teams to start creating wireframes, starting with quick sketches but potentially moving into a prototyping tool




Prototyping – Animating the wireframes 1

•Pick the right tools

•Divide and Conquer if necessary

•Stitch together

•Trial Run




Prototyping – Animating the wireframes 2

•Pick the right tools

•Divide and Conquer if necessary

•Stitch together

•Trial Run


Sharing / feedback session

•FCC team to feedback to core sprint team

•Everyone who didn’t participate in wireframing to feedback

Maybe second developer / tech person to drop in? TBD?


Retrospective: what do we know, what more do we need to know, what do we prioritise tomorrow?


Wednesday session close

Day 2: Consolidating ideas – with a way to go!

A leisurely 10am start or it would have been if I didn’t have to have two long calls explaining to interested parties, about how they’ve missed the boat for this week but can still be involved in taking this forward – not that we have a real plan as yet but just a very lot of interest. A couple of the team had last minute problems and sent a substitute, this may have been a problem but in fact turned out for the better giving a wider view. Some of the focus now on Policy with a little more movement towards the consultation and general user inclusivity was good to see. This balanced against the Development Management planners whom naturally tended to focus a little more on their case management and getting the application through the process.

The Four-Step Sketch. Now this was a strange one, an ideation session starting with:

Step one: Notes – a review of the yesterday’s work. We spent a good amount of time to reviewing in detail all the components and took note of the best bits we liked, those we thought we should pursue and those which could be expanded upon. Once we’d finished reviewing the the process map with all the sticky tabs and the consolidation of ‘How Might We’ ideas and the lighting demos we had a consolidated set of notes to build our sketches upon.

Step two: Ideas – was a private summarisation of the notes into coherent sentences with a few rough sketches done in silence for another twenty minutes.

Step three: Crazy 8s – The Crazy Eight process, crazy due to the time restriction. Only 8 minutes to write down eight of your best ideas with a mix of words and sketching. Then another 8 minutes to elaborate on our favourite idea.

Step four: Solution Sketch – the three stages of the favoured process were sketched out with corresponding plain english explanations.

Working in isolation is to ensure the the stronger characters and senior leaders don’t steamroller their ideas through. The whole process was like being back at school doing a test under pressure, no doubt compounded by the tight deadlines for each stage and handing in our papers at the end.

Critique time.

Returning from a quick break, our sketches were artistically lined up gallery style. At this point they were still anonymous, we then took 10 sticky spots and went round putting them against the part of the sketch we liked or against the title if it was generally good. Once all the sticker were gone we in effect had a heat map of good ideas. The Scrum Master gave a quick synopsis (speed critique) of each and gave the artist had chance to explain their view. We then put our big sticky spot against our most favourite single aspect a further emphasis on the heat map. The good ideas were consolidated into themes \ options to focus our prototype upon. The lesser ideas were sidelined and the main ideas consolidated.

Decisions Decisions. All the notes, demos, and sketches, pretty much a day and a halfs work was whittled down into a few key themed ideas to take forward to the prototype stage. Data, policy and tracking seemed to be cross cutting, so two lead ideas came to the forefront: Community Engagement and Submissions and Processing. We the split into two balanced groups to take these ideas into a form that could be presented – basically a magazine front page later to be used to ‘sell’ our Idea the the other team, some decision makers and some experts not involved in the day to day sprint.

First show & tell. After the idea was presented, each group would critique the others work also in attendance were some external experts @realnickperry our Hackney Planning Forum representative and @daviddurrant a Business Analyst from the GLA. as part of the feedback process we received a whole whiteboard of feedback which included what they liked, disliked and other considerations we might like to take on board. The prototypes decided by the iterative cycles and collaboration further matched the process we set out to improve i.e. Submission, Viewing and commenting. Finally a quick retrospective and run through the plan for Wednesday. And time to break for the day.

Coming next: Wed 28th episode 4: It’s actually happening – Wednesday


Detail schedule for day 2 (Tuesday)

Tuesday 28th November – Ideation and initial sketching

Goal for the day: Allow for individual ideation and sketching, deciding on the ideas that will be executed


Agenda Item



Coffees and networking


Presentation/plan for the day

•Recap, especially the HMW


The Four-Step Sketch.

•Explanation of the exercise


Group critique and unpicking through 4 approaches:

•Art museum

•Heat map

•Speed critique

•Straw poll

•Maybe later vs. winners




Decision time

•Discussion about how many ideas we want to elaborate on

•Formation of groups

Ideally this will not take the full time – but just in case…


Headlines and key info needed to convey ideas

•Planning Mag exercise for the selected projects (teamwork with UX/Service Designer)


Show & tell for the extended team

•Sharing / feedback session invite experts to critique

Opportunity for external people to drop in (remote not possible)


Retrospective: what do we know, what more do we need to know, what do we prioritise tomorrow?


Tuesday session close

Planning Design Sprint: Day 1

A commute gone wrong gave me more time to contemplate more than just the desired outcomes. There’s a real chance here to to leave a lasting legacy. As the days have progressed I’m finding more and more interest from the wider community. I’m particularly interested in how this sprint could be a new start to better ways of working for Local Authorities i.e. wider than just Planning. Could this be a seed to a better way for Local Authorities to collaborate in agile working partnerships or the standardisation of terminology and underlying data sets or finally as per normal just a good piece of work that provides the desired outcomes?

A seriously cold morning and we’ve all just about made it into the Innovation centre only to find the heatings out. Wow, we’re all seriously impressed by the layout of the sprint room, purposely designed and fitted out with the necessary tools. There’s a huge Planning process map on the wall ready and waiting for us focus our thoughts upon, narrow down the main areas to attack and most importantly to stick our stickies upon. Also don’t forget the refreshments, tea and coffee to warm up our hands, but with the cold and caffeine nobody’s falling asleep today! To lighten the mood a couple of the team were firmly reminded of the no tech during sessions i.e phone, tablets and laptops all put aside until the break.

Let’s get going. After the traditional round table introductions @Euanmills gave us a quick talk on the FCC wider objectives. We split up into teams and went through the process of reading the prepared personas all with a backstory to ensure they were representative. After presenting our personas (and a quick break) we had an in depth walkthrough of the Planning process on the wall to ensure it was as we all saw it. We all then had the chance to put the colour coded stickies onto the process map where we thought it was either missing steps, had mistakes or challenges. The session ended with another one of Anja’s honks on the bicycle horn leaving the process map looking like this:

After a nice healthy lunch and some time to deliberate over the morning’s progress it was straight back down to work. A general review of the of the now layered process map then onto the task of turning the negative issues into the more positive ‘How Might We’ statements. It did actually feel better trying to think of ways to make things better, rather than the negative trying to fix broken things. The many pain points highlighted in the morning were then categorised into themes such as; consultations, case management, guidance, submissions and document management. The lesser pain points and those deemed out of scope were dismissed and moved to the relegation zone.

A long afternoon of toil awaits. The morning and post lunch session were quite tiring and brain draining and so would have the afternoon if it weren’t for some excellent Lightning Demos – basically four demonstrations fitted into only three minutes each, of what can only be described and excellent practice rather than just best practice.

  • Consultations based upon theatrical forums, attendees attending a forum didn’t necessarily know they’ be playing a part in a consultation play!
  • The ESRI GIS package provides the ability to pick up an object (building) and drag it across the map or change its dimensions in situ and see the effect on the environment and associated linked data.
  • The FutureGov ‘Foster Carer Recruitment’ application form has been designed to be effective on the parts of the process that need data collected and isn’t trying to digitally trying to solve the whole problem
  • Better use of PDF’s and data stored within naturally feels like something we should be moving away from. However it was demonstrated as quick achievable step in the right direction worth considering as opposed to the option of waiting for a final product

A special treat: The finale of the day was for us to test ride the Virtual Reality and Augmented reality setups at the FCC. Selfishly I volunteered to go first, taking a deep breath I tried to totally immerse myself in the VR. At first taking steps was quite weird, but with the teleporting device moved easily around the top floor of the ArcelorMittal Orbit, moving from exhibit to exhibit. Each table gave view to a 3d map of the park with over a few seconds gradually built up several 3d layers of roads, street furniture, bus routes even the detail on the bus stop sign. Having a good view of the Olympic Stadium from 200ft up I sheepishly took a step of the edge – very very unnerving. Turning around to take a step back onto terra firma was even more difficult, I nearly fell as I ducked under a virtual barrier! Albeit in aid of improving the Planning process, the VR we saw could be used extensively across Public Realm if not the full council, however it will be another matter to develop and implement!

 The augmented Reality however looked considerably more achievable and had many practical application, selecting a building, verbally removing a component such as a roof to expose further detail. The roof object then became selectable, and you could verbally ask about all the detail was also the asset details, i.e. how old is it, how much did it cost etc. Even more likely to be with us very soon was the 3d Web VR in a browser.

Professional hosts. We’ve been fortunate to have Future Cities Catapult hosting the event especially with Anja and the sprint team putting a considerable amount of time into the preparation for the week, really setting the week onto a good path and keeping it all moving succinctly.

Monday’s Schedule :

Monday 27th November – Research and Inspiration
Goal for the day: Verify personas and planning journey, so that we are starting from the same base knowledge, inspiration for the ideation session on Tuesday
Schedule Agenda Item Notes
09.00 Coffees & Networking
9:30 General intro, what is a sprint, roles, tasks etc.

  • Introduction of participants (only those who haven’t met the group yet)
  • General introduction to the project (Euan)
  • Introduction to the sprint
Euan to introduce project

Anja to take everyone through the presentation

10.00 Presentation of personas

  • Team work in groups to explore the personas we created and verify them
  • Presentation of personas
Aisling to take participants through research

Verification through all participants

11.00 Coffee break In the same room
11:15 Presentation of planning journey – part 1

  • Presentation of the planning journey
  • Individual work: Identify missing steps, mistakes and challenges
  • Discussion
Aisling to take participants through research

Verification through all participants

13:15 Lunch
14:15 Presentation of planning journey – part 2

  • Discussion
Aisling to facilitate
14:45 Identification of pain points and creation of How Might We (HMW)

  • Identifying further pain points within the planning journey
  • Creation of HMW
  • Organise the HMWs by theme
  • Decision on which/ ones to focus on
16:15 Lightning Demos; Great solutions from a range of companies

  • Each participant to do a 3 minutes demo
  • Capture good big ideas and draw on the whiteboard
Set homework for participants from councils to come up with demos / inspirations to present
17:00 Retrospective: what do we know, what more do we need to know, what do we prioritise tomorrow? Anja
17:15 Session close

Developing a design sprint

Building the team

We ran the proposal (in G Suite) past some colleagues and put together an initial community of practice. To facilitate communication we used Slack to set up a ‘Planning Design Sprint’ channel in the existing ‘Localgovdigital’ workspace. A seriously recommended place for digital contacts, information and general good help! From the original digital contacts we expanded the community to include subject matter experts i.e. Planners. The idea was for everyone to by Google Hangouts but due to pre-booked calendar appointments and some organisations restricting Hangouts in favour of their own tools general telephony conferencing was more successful!. One thing everyone agreed was the need for team continuity throughout the sprint week; the organiser, Scrum Master and some digital and planning experts continuously throughout the whole week. We had a core group but hadn’t assigned roles and responsibilities.

Setting the date. To get things moving we sent round a Doodle Poll to gain consensus on the best dates (before all the Planners were involved) and  whittled it down to two weeks at the end of November although now October the end of November seemed quite a way off. My first mistake was to select a date that was that was good for the digital teams. We took into consideration Planning Committee dates, but by not including all the Planners we didn’t realise the GLA were launching their Plan for London! Key invites started to go out and they accepted.

To Scrum Master or not to Scrum Master

Inviting everyone to join the team was quite straight-forward and we managed to find enough members for continuity throughout the week. What we didn’t have was a some one whom had run fully run a weekly sprint before. I raised my concerns with the ‘Fail Fast’ mantra which is great for internal and general sprints, however in this case we’d be presenting to hopefully a distinguished audience within depth knowledge of the Planning environment. Failing Fast quickly became a no no in favour of ensuring we definitely would have a good workable prototype. Hence a dedicated, experienced and full time Scrum Master would now be essential and me reading the Google Design Sprint (and good general experience) just wouldn’t be enough. Our look for an Agile Scrum Master began. We discussed the situation with FutureGov and agreed they would provide some resource in a couple of weeks.

Design Sprint Changing?

In light of the distinguished audience and need to not fail fast, we decided to re-arrange the Design Sprint to ensure we had a a few prototype iterations. We also decided to move some of the Problem Definition and Process Mapping Exercises to a pre-event thus maximising the amount of productive time during the sprint week. The problem with not nailing down the sprint week is that it’s difficult for wider team to sign-up for parts of the week and help if they cannot be there for the whole week. Things were gradually moving on Future Cities Catapult (FCC) were willing to host the event and the Scrum Master joined. We reviewed the Design sprint again and decided that it would be best to re-arrange the week and move the show & tell presentation with feedback workshop to a later week. Changing the presentation date lost us Jules Pipe as the main attraction, but also meant recalling the invites and informing the attendees of the change.

Still a good idea?

I recently attended the Urban Tech Summit and watched in person the Rt Hon Sajid Javid’s 2017 Speech at Urban Tech Summit. Next on the List was a panel with Theo Blackwell (Chief Digital Officer for London) discussing the need for digital innovation. I was quite surprised to then see another panel of distinguished digital leaders discussing the detail of digital innovation. (Two DCLG Reps,  Nesta and a Local Hackney business Mastodon C). The initial speech and each panel discussed digital innovation and accessible information again using the Planning Process as a specific example. In the last couple of weeks I’ve been having general conversations with a few Planning and Digital leaders and unsurprisingly nobody has cracked this walnut, although everyone is moving in the same direction just at different paces with slightly different localised objectives.

It’s Changing again! In the following week encountered some resource issues and had to change the Scrum Master. Anja expertly took on this role, involved some digital specialists in the sprint week and changed the format some more.  With only a couple of weeks to go the outputs are looking much more achievable albeit somewhat at the expense of including a wider local authority digital team. Much of the pre-event tasks have been completed by the Future Cities Catapult specialists and there’s fewer spots for the wider team to contribute. However from a collaboration perspective there are still three London Boroughs represented in the sprint week.

Sprint Transition from Hackney to FCC (Future Cities Catapult)

At first I was a little uncomfortable with this transition from a local authority sprint becoming more of  an FCC Sprint. Now having met the FCC team it’s quite apparent they’re not only experts in running these type of activities, they’re professionals (like the rest of us) but have also worked together many times in this environment. The main thing is the outcomes are likely to be significantly better. That said, having a mix of Local Authority Planners and Digital representatives has been a great balance and end to end wide understanding. I’m also seeing more than a glimpse of what Hackney Digital will be like in the coming months after our restructure. The future’s bright the future’s Hackit!

Lessons learnt (1) We started this project as a general sprint with a presentation, when in fact running the sprint and event combination would have been best run as a project. Therefore in hindsight we should have set up the board comprising of; the organiser in effect the Sponsors (@mcaino @EuanMills), the Scrum Master (@AnjaMaerz) and the Project Manager (@andyboye – oh dear)

Planning design sprint: we need to make a change

So, we’re in the middle of of an urgent legacy system replacement project (no real business change) with the general ups and downs and complications of historic data transfers. We thought we were doing a fine job. We absolutely knew we were doing the right thing, we were meeting the business case objectives (albeit just replace the failing system), we were resolving the reported issues and moving from a high risk to low risk position asap. Maybe a little delay but within budget.

Business as usual doesn’t stop. There were issues being reported on the legacy system which continued to justify our approach. We received some negative customer feedback from a resident whom had been impacted more than most. With the technical problem being quite complex itself, we decided we needed to really understand why the impact was so severe for the individual. Therefore we decide to go for the face to face meeting, it turned out the resident was also representing a much wider group of somewhat unhappy businesses in fact a key member of the Planning Forum.

The low point. The system we were moving to was far from perfect,  in fact had a myriad of issues, nothing show stopping just a generally poor usability. Meeting the representative in person and really understanding their needs was the moment we realised that no matter how well we completed this current project (that had hung around for years and nobody wanted to do), the outcome would not be a very happy customer. It would deliver a mediocre experience that just about did enough to be useful. The main problem wasn’t necessarily the incumbent back office system being any better or worse than the alternative market solutions. None of the alternatives stand out to provide a journey our residents or business would prefer to use.

The problem and what to do about it. We have suppliers slowly developing their back office  solutions for our Planning teams and now slowly focusing upon our customers. We have a somewhat frustrated Planning department wishing things could be better with only a flickering light at the end of the tunnel. To add to the mix, having different solutions has brought an inconsistent customer journey across boroughs. After asking ourselves what we needed to do we came up with:

  • Better understand our user needs to pressurise our suppliers and influence their roadmap
  • Stimulate the market and look towards the adoption of rapidly changing technology
  • Provide our Planning department with a vision of what ‘really good’ could actually look like

Some bright spark said let’s do it. The ‘bright spark’ wasn’t me and the ‘it’ would become a five day Google Design Sprint – Basically a group of Planning experts and digital experts taking their knowledge and experience to develop a prototype of what ‘Good’ could actually look like or at least in a demo! (see full proposal) We couldn’t do it ourselves and the synergy of collaboration would be a huge benefit. A lot of good work has been done in this area so we chose some other local authorities on a similar journey to run with. Looking at the wider arena we found Future Cities Catapult are looking at the end to end Planning environment and after meeting with them it turned out to be a great match.

Scary or Exciting? We now have an ensemble of planning and digital experts all in agreement that something needs to be done. We have a framework for the week and held a Doodle poll to survey the best dates. The sprint schedule for the week is under construction and things are developing fast with the new Scrum Master. We’ve decided to invite the Deputy mayor of London as well as some further distinguished digital guru’s. So a little added pressure to deliver.

To be continued…..Friday

‘Report a Repair’ Digital Service Standard Assessment

Hackney Council has 25,000 tenants and leaseholders who logged over 170,000 repairs last year. Currently the vast majority of these repairs are raised by phone but only 20% of the contacts are classed as an emergency.

As part of the work to improve the digital experience for users, Hackney Council has developed a new online service for users to log repairs through the Council’s website.

A discovery phase ran in January to March 2017 across the whole of the Council’s housing service with staff and users. The current digital service for tenants and residents to log a repair was found to be a significant cause of dissatisfaction and has resulted in a very low use of the service.  The discovery recommended developing a new service ‘Report a Repair’.

Hackney Council has signed up to deliver its services to the Local Government Digital Service Standard. The standard requires projects to be delivered with a user centred approach using agile methodologies and developing the new service iteratively. As the launch of the new service approaches Hackney Council invited other Local Authorities to take a look at the new service and to measure the delivery against the Local Government Digital Service Standard. A webex of the new service was arranged along with slides justifying the delivery against each of the 15 points in the Standard. At this point we need to say a big thank you to the 3 people who attended the presentation and gave fantastic feedback:

Ben Cheetham – Kingston and Sutton Councils

Martin Dainton – Devon County Council

Neil Lawrence – Oxford City Council

A copy of the presentation can be found here

A copy of the user journey through the new service can be found here

The outcome and notes from the assessment can be found here

The feedback from the session was very positive will all commenting on how useful it had been and how it will assist the other Local Authorities to shape their repairs service. Most importantly, for us, it was agreed that Hackney Council had delivered its new service to the Local Government Digital Service Standard.

For myself, who has not been involved in such a process previously, I found it incredibly useful. It gave me an insight into how the Standard works and how working openly and collaboratively with other Local Authorities will lead to better outcomes for all involved.


Developing a single view of businesses

Businesses often complain that public bodies provide a fragmented set of services that makes it harder and more expensive to comply with legislation. Depending on its trade or industry and its size a business may have very little need to transact with the council, or may do so frequently for various licences, permits as well as offering apprenticeship opportunities to local people.

Hackney has curated a ‘Citizen Index’ for over ten years which takes data from our major business applications and matches it to create a unique record of each citizen. This enables us to provide more accurate business intelligence and verify some customer requirements.

We decided to take the same approach to join up services for businesses. If we took the data about the tax businesses pay the council (non domestic rates) and the licences they’ve requested, we could match those to create a single view of transactions.

Steve Farr, who led the work, explains how we’ve done this in a series of posts:

An introduction to Business Index

Understanding user needs

Introduction to User Research

What an interesting and informative week we’ve  had in ICT!  It all started with ICT adopting the Digital Services standards in January and then developing the Hackney manifesto, one of which is….

Last week saw the launch of ‘People first’ concept starting with User research week in ICT.  The purpose of the week was to  help colleagues in ICT learn about and understand our users and how we can create services to meet their needs.  A number of activities were designed over the week to help colleagues understand what this is, how to do it and why it matters. This is important because we want everyone to spend an hour a month doing user research. This week was the first chance to gain some skills and confidence to do this.

We lined up a range of experts to share their experiences of user research (that’s another of our manifesto principles), and to set minds thinking  about how this can benefit each and everyone in their role.

We started the week off with Ben Unsworth from FutureGov explaining how user research can help us design digital services so good that people prefer to use them.

Daniel, Andrea and Elspeth from Healthwatch Hackney helped us understand the challenges that people with accessibility needs face when they use our digital services. By attempting to use speech and text to navigate we learnt the importance of making our digital services accessible for all and discussed how to design digital services for accessibility.

Beatrice Karol Burks, from leading charity the Good Things Foundation, took us through the design of services to meet the needs of people who have never been online and  helped us understand how to engage people who may be reluctant to use computers and build their digital skills.

Helen Gracie, from the Home Office, explained how we can engage with users who are harder to reach, so we’re not just talking to early adopters.

Research experts, ClearLeft, facilitated a training session for 11 staff to learn new techniques using Guerrilla Research .  Guerilla Research  is a ‘rapid, low-cost method of quickly capturing user feedback that involves asking questions about specific areas of an application’. Clearleft’s  final reminder of Guerrilla Research  sums it all up:

As part of the continuous development, staff will be expected to commit to 1 hour practical experience every month working directly with users, to help us understand how to carry out user research and build our confidence.  By working closely with users, watching them  perform tasks and finding out more  information on how they work, we will understanding their requirements and build better digital services.  Other activities planned for this period include volunteering  to visit CLR James Library in Dalston & Hackney Central Library to help people get online for the first time.

If we’re to put people first, we need to focus on  their needs.  To achieve this we are focusing on the process and not the eventual outcome. It is a long journey but we’ve made a good start.