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.

How Master Data supports better business intelligence

We are all visual beings now. Every day we absorb graphs, maps and informatics through many channels. We are comfortably stepping into them but often overwhelmed by the sheer amount on offer. So what we all need is well-designed, colourful, intuitive information, which allows users to toggle between summaries and details: Hackney dashboards.

The evolution of the Qlik BI project has been rapid, starting from “what is needed” accelerating quickly into “what is possible”, with new opportunities constantly emerging.

First, we created dashboards by engaging with colleagues who needed to replace their legacy reporting tools, in areas like Parking and Planning. We worked with the Housing Repairs team to show data they could have not easily see nor interact with using traditional reports. Our customers either knew or suspected that the answers to their challenging questions lurked in the data they collect every day but they were swamped with little time to analyse and draw meaningful conclusions.

Initial success came quick. Our customers received information which were not only facts or dry statistics but colourful, interactive and up to date information available to the most granular level. They further asked us to focus on the relationships between the figures, within which they are connected visually both in  depth and breadth.

As with all data projects we continued experimenting with exploration: both what is possible and how to make it approachable and accessible. We have style guides, we follow the local gov digital service standards, borrowed from other organisations. But in Hackney we have something unique. We have a pervading common denominator: master data indices which link disparate service data by a single reference key: unique address and customer reference numbers. We have been managing them for years –  insisting they are included in all new systems- and they allow data to flow between systems. Not only are they are very useful backgrounds link when serving our customers, they are very useful in all BI work to leverage much more meaningful insights.

So what could be gleaned from using our master data? Our data mining looked into the money element first: what is the overall debt? What properties cost us the most to serve? How can we promote people to pay by direct debit?  Which tenants could be illegally subletting their properties?

But by using these links we can do much more than just protect the ever dwindling public purse, we can improve the lives of our residents: We can get the full picture of who lives in a block of flats, rather than rely on one incomplete database;  understand which vulnerable tenants are being chased for rent debt when the long-term cost of our actions is far greater than money recouped; or understand the attributes and demographics of people affected by a new policy change such as the Council Tax Reduction Scheme. Most of all however, we aim to deliver dashboards which would inform us how to build a better relationship with our customers.

Qlik has provided us a canvas on which to illustrate these explorations with rich palette of further insights we are continuously working on.

Different lenses for understanding users

Ahead of user research week. I thought it might be useful to introduce some other service design principles, that it might be useful to think about when designing a new service, namely Life-Cycles.

Lifecycles can aid your design by giving an “outside-in” perspective of what customers experience across an entire sector.

Human Lifecycle– this describes how people behave in different key stages in their life. Thinking about this, gives you an overview of what really matters in people’s lives beyond what your organisation offers, and helps you understand how your organisation can support customers in major transitions in their lives e.g. from school attendance (Hackney Learning trust) to school leaver (ways into work), to employment, to renting home a home (choice based letting) to parenthood (children’s centres) and onto retirement (day centres for the elderly). What customers may need from your service will vary according to what phase they are in their lives and what transitions they are going through in their life.

The Consumer lifecycle – describes how people behave in a market when they make choices about their needs or wants. So if someone is going on a business trip they may use a number of services to meet their needs. How a service comes together and interacts (with those offered by your partners and competitors) affects the overall consumer experience. Understanding how people make choices enables you to design a service which supports them to make the right choices.

The Customer lifecycle – describes how customers become aware of a service, choose a service, pay for a contract, use that service, upgrade a contract, have incidents with that service and then either renew their contract or leave. Anyone whom has purchased a phone under contract knows that how you are treated during that lifecycle will reflect whether you renew your contract or go elsewhere. So thinking about that whole lifecycle and how a service deals with customers during the lifecycle can help increase customer loyalty, retain customers and optimise the contract holding experience. Commercial waste contracts is an area the council deals with where consideration of the customer lifecycle in designing a new service may help.

The user lifecycle – is a tool to help reduce costs, drive efficiencies and trigger new behaviours when people use the product or service. This tool helps you visualise the journey a user goes through maybe using multiple channels when they interact with your service. It enables you to visualise the service delivery across multiple channels to enable you to simplify and improve customer interactions.

In conclusion when designing a new service you need to do so through the lenses of the human, user,consumer and customer lifecycles.

Rent Arrears and the Sweet Science, v.01

As Digital Transformation Manager for Housing Services at Hackney Council, I get to run some really fun and interesting projects. This week saw the start of a great one however, as we kicked off a data science project which we hope will enable us to identify tenants most at risk of falling into rent arrears (it also marks the start of what will no doubt become a remarkably infrequent blog, but that’s another story).

Arrears are bad news for everybody; they cause stress for tenants who may lose their home and have to move out of the borough away from their support networks, and they reduce the amount of money we have to maintain homes and estates. When people fall into arrears we set up repayment plans, but for people on limited incomes the size of the repayment we can realistically expect them to be able to pay consistently on top of their rent is quite low, making debt stubbornly difficult to clear.

But what if there’s a better way, and we can predict those most at risk of falling into arrears so that interventions can be targeted to prevent the problem before it occurs? Within the council we have a Financial Inclusion team that helps residents with financial planning and can point them towards training to help them get better paying jobs. If we could better target that team’s resources to those most at risk then this wouldn’t just help reduce rent arrears, but give our tenants more control of their finances and help tackle unsecured debts, or payday loans.

To try and answer this question we’re working with a company called Pivigo, that run a programme to train candidates with PhD’s in quantitative disciplines to be data scientists. As part of the programme they need organisations to present them with real world problems to solve, so this week I met with our team to discuss the challenge. The team comprises:

  • Francesca Renzi, holder of a PhD in Nuclear Physics and winner of three research grants from the Umbria Region in Italy.
  • Philipp Ludersdorfer, holder of a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience who has previously developed statistical models to predict outcomes and recovery of stroke patients.
  • Tom Northey, holder of a PhD in Bioinformatics and award winner at the TfL Data Science hackathon.

    Over the next month they will be analysing our data using techniques such as clustering, decision trees, and time-series modelling and building a model to try and quantify the risk of a resident falling into arrears. This model should then enable us to play with certain parameters such as anticipated inflation or wage growth rates to see how this may impact on our residents in given scenarios. Microsoft have given us free access to their Azure Machine Learning platform for the duration of the project, but the algorithm we develop will be platform-agnostic and available on Hackney Council’s GitHub repository. We hope that other local authorities and housing associations will test their data against it also and that we can work together to build upon and refine it.

    In a project dealing with such personal data as this privacy is of course incredibly important. Personally identifiable data is not needed to develop the model and so not included in any of the data sets used for analysis or testing. Similarly, should the project be successful and we create something that can be introduced to our working environment it wouldn’t be something that staff would be able to dig around in, but a tool that selectively highlights only those that may be considered vulnerable to the teams that can help them.

    The project is scheduled to run until 7th September and I’ll post again on what we’ve learned, but the end point is really just the MVP and I’m hoping that we can work with other local authorities and housing associations to develop this further.

  • Introducing the Hackney Agile Lifecycle

    Hi my name’s Michael Stevens, I work in Hackney ICT as head of business solutions (Hackney ICT’s team of business analysts/project managers and programme managers). This week I organised a team away day, the purpose of which was to help promote and embed our new agile ways of working the Hackney Agile life-cycle. A new process based on the Local Government Digital Service Standard and the design council’s double diamond process model which I have developed with the head of digital Matthew Cain

    • How was the away day designed ? as a series of role plays, with scripts for each part of the agile lifecycle. We asked attendees to work as part of a team, through a scenario using our agile lifecycle and produce the actual outputs they would in the real world. With one agile team per away day table. At the end of each stage a stage-gate presentation was given to the sponsoring group (sponsor) and permission sought to progress to the next stage.
    • What has the away day achieved? the away day is not the end of the journey in terms of agile, but an enabler for the start of a new chapter for the ICT dept. We will be doing follow up seminars to explore agile techniques in more depth such as Sprint planning , retrospectives and proto-typing, to help everyone in the unit build their knowledge and skills in agile techniques. Working in a more agile way is about us changing our emphasis, from being a support service that fixes things, to focus on being a strategic partner for our colleagues in other services in the council. Having an agile process in place will enable us to work more collaboratively as partners with our colleagues to deliver the excellent digital services of the future that our residents and partners need and deserve.

    To access the away day scenario & scripts check out our drop box.

    Developing digital services for all

    We’ve been working hard over the last few months to understand how to accelerate our delivery of digital services that are so good, people prefer to use them. It’s not a controversial idea, but we’ve got a lot of hard work to achieve it.

    The starting point is our HackIT manifesto which explains how we want to work and what’s important to us. We’ve produced this because we wanted to set out a clear and easily understood set of principles that we can use to make sure we’re all taking a consistent approach to delivering digital change at Hackney. The manifesto gives us a lens through which to examine everything we do.

    We are committing to the Local Government Digital Service Standard (the manifesto reminds us we’re part of a wider community working to deliver excellent digital local services). Everything we buy, commission or build will be assessed according to whether it meets the Standard. Important services will be assessed by external reviewers with expertise in digital services. This will help us make sure that our digital services put people first. If you are able to help as a reviewer, please get in touch.

    Next, we’re going to deliver our work using the Hackney Agile Lifecycle. This owes a huge debt to the UK Government Service Design Manual and similar approaches in the US and Australia. However, it’s rooted in the Design Council’s double diamond model of delivery. Anyone who’s working with us (Council officers, partners, other agencies) can understand our process. The job of creating digital services isn’t just an ICT thing- it’s a globally-recognised design challenge and we need to stand on the shoulders of giants.

    We’re opening up. We’re starting to publish our code on GitHub. We’re blogging about our work and what we learn and we’re spending time with residents to learn what they really need – and then making sure our services meet those needs. This will help us make decisions together. Our Tactics Manual brings together techniques from Google Ventures, 18F as well as our own experiences to help any team work collaboratively to tackle a problem at pace. Everything we’re producing is shared openly on GitHub and we’re really keen to hear from. others who want to copy, edit or propose improvements.

    Designing a new digital service is just the first step and the work mustn’t stop there. Typically it’s much easier to do a project well than it is to continuously improve a service. The fourth stage of our design lifecycle is: improve. It sets an expectation that once it’s fully operational a service will need continued leadership, review and focus to meet people’s changing expectations.

    Finally, we’re trying to move from mandating a way of doing something, towards finding many routes to high quality outcomes. We trust the team to find their preferred way of doing something – provided it meets users needs.

    This is the start of our journey. We’re fortunate that we can learn from the hard work of so many colleagues and share ideas for ways we can make public services better. We can play our part in designing digital services for everyone.