Service assessments: treasure, dragons and a place to dry your socks

An unsuspecting vanguard 

The Hackney Spacebank team are looking at ways we can improve access to low cost or no cost meeting space in the borough for voluntary and community groups, micro businesses and residents. 

We’ve been squirrelling away for the last six months – give or take a couple of fire breaks – and we’re now ready to build our MVP. It feels like we’re at the bottom of a mountain, blinking into the sun, trying to get a glimpse of a hazy summit. We’ve got some navigation, our wits and a great team ethos. Like the best kind of adventures, there will be mysteries to unravel, treasure to be found and dragons to be tackled along the way. 

We’ve completed two service assessments on our journey thus far. These are like a bit Scottish Bothies – stone dwellings for individuals or small groups hiking in the mountains. A place of shelter to pause, unpack our bags, refuel and regroup. At Hackney, service assessments are an assurance, not a gateway. They are an opportunity to ask: are we doing the right thing, in the right way, at the right time? 

Our Spacebank team have been accidental pioneers of Hackney service assessments. We volunteered to do the first ever discovery phase service assessment back in March where we experimented with a self assessment approach and a couple of weeks ago we completed the first prototype (Alpha) assessment. 

A reluctant start

I didn’t feel popular when I broached the subject of prepping for a service assessment mid way through a series of five sprints. I understand why. The team were knee deep in the detail of prototyping a new service. I was asking them to step back and reflect. All the information we needed was in their heads and I had to find a way to extract it with minimal disruption. 

Over the next couple of sprints, I ran two 1-hour workshops. We took three or four service assessment standards and answered two questions: what’s the story we want to tell and how can we evidence this?* We looked at the good stuff and the not so good stuff, treating everything as valuable learning and identifying areas where the assessors could help us improve. 

For some of the team, completing a service assessment was new territory. I kicked the first workshop off with a short slide deck so that everyone knew enough** to join in. After we had bottomed out each service standard and assigned them to a team member, we agreed how to structure the assessment itself. We wanted the prototype to do the heavy lifting. We used a demo to walk through our proposed minimal viable product (MVP) and highlight some of our key messages. For example: our growing understanding of users’ needs, iterations as a result of testing, and tech choices.

On the day we were ready. There was a healthy dose of nerves, supplemented by caffeine and chocolate. After the demo, we broke into small groups each led by an assessor. This was the opportunity for an in-depth conversation on a smaller number of service standards. To wrap up we came back together and assessors fed back their thoughts and recommendations to the whole group. 

And at the end of it all, what did the team say: 

“The assessors were excellent and gave really useful, actionable feedback.” Emma, Developer

“I liked how we prepared by giving the assessors the information they needed for each service standard on Trello before the assessment. This allowed us to use the time with the assessors to get their feedback on things we could consider during the next phase of the project.” Sam, User Researcher

“I think the format in which we did an intro, a demo and breaking up into groups and playing back the highlights was a really good way of making the most of our time in our service assessment.” Joy, Service Designer

And our assessors said:

“Super interesting alpha assessment today at #HackIT. It’s always a privilege to meet talented committed teams doing the hard work to make things better for users.” Kate McCaul, Head of Digital at Acas

What are we learning?

Here’s what we are learning about participating in service assessments:

  • Preparation in bite sized chunks – little and often but involve the whole team
  • Take the lead (delivery managers/product owners) but share the responsibility
  • Give ownership of each standard to the relevant team member
  • Show “the thing” and practise showing “the thing”
  • Give assessors early sight of preparations
  • Structure the assessment to support conversations rather than questions and answers
  • Talk about the not so good – your best learning comes from this

Feel free to explore our Trello board and read our service assessment report. A big thank you to our assessors: Cate MacLaurin, Head of Delivery at Hackney, Kate McCaul, Head of Digital at Acas and Giulia Merlo, Service Design Lead at Cancer Research UK. Any tips on dragon handling are welcome. 

*The second question became redundant quite quickly as describing the story surfaced the evidence simultaneously

**What’s enough? A judgement call based on the personalities in the team and confidence levels. 

The hiking analogy of this blog post has been inspired by my long-time friend Shona MacPherson who lives in the Scottish Highlands. Today, she starts a solo hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, an epic 2650 mile walk from the U.S. border with Canada to the U.S. border with Mexico. She’s raising money for Mikeysline – a suicide prevention charity. 

Creating a Job Description Register weeknotes – Week commencing 27th May

From the User Needs we came up with User Stories, capturing likely journeys that Users may take when interacting with the HR process. We came up with User stories for HR Business Partners.

We then had a workshop with HR Business Partners to prioritise the User Stories, using MoSCow. The prioritised User stories are highlighted in Yellow, see below:

Must have Should Have Could HaveWon’t Have
As a business partner
I want to make sure the scoring is accurate  
So that the grading of the role is correct  
As a Business Partner I want to make sure I understand the actual changes being proposed So that I can decide if the Job Evaluation is neededAs a Business Partner
I want easy access to the most recent JDs during the disciplinary procedures
So I’m confident we’re making decisions based on accurate information
As a Business Partner I want to have enough information contained in a new JD So that I can carry out a Job Evaluation
As a Business Partner
I want to have the most up to date JD So that I can conduct a JD evaluation if requested by an employee
As a Business Partner I want to easily have access to the current JD So I can compare it with previous versionsAs a Business Partner
I want to automate the scoring method’s process
So that I can reduce human error

As a Business Partner
I want to make sure the decision letter and the Job Evaluation is stored in the agreed place after the evaluation So that everyone knows where to access it

As a Business Partner
I want to publicise the organisation structure
So that anyone can access it





As a Business Partner
I want to make sure I can find the correct versions of JDs
So that I can give them when they are requested by staff


As a Business Partner
I needed a completed questionnaire with the JD
So that I can make a decision quickly whether the JD need evaluating

As a Business Partner
I want to easily access the current JD
So that I can refer to it at employment tribunals and other purposes



As a Business Partner
I want the finalized JD to be saved in an agreed place
So that new recruits and their line managers don’t have to ask me for the JD











As a Business Partner
I want easy access to the most up to date JD when supporting service area managers on HR issues
So that I can perform this administrative task quickly



As a Business Partner
I want to have easy access to the most recent job descriptions when I am participating in service reviews
So that I am making decisions based on accurate information



As a Business Partner
I want to save JDs quickly during Service Review process
So that I can complete this admin task quicker



Next week we will be emailing other councils to understand their process and extract and analyse eDOCS data related to Job Descriptions. Thank you for reading.

Hackney Spacebank: Weeknotes w/c 28 May 2019

Five things to know about Spacebank this week:

Working collaboratively with libraries

We considerably closer to pulling off a co-design workshop with library colleagues. A huge thank you to Sue and her team for juggling rotas to help us get this over the line.

Our MVP is emerging

My favourite moments this week have been the conversations about our MVP. Some great debate about what’s minimal vs what’s viable, and what’s achievable in a time-boxed build phase. It’s exciting to watch our list of user stories mature and grow as a result of all the hard work over the last 10 weeks.

Working out where our service starts and finishes

Sebastian has been looking into where our service starts and finishes. Yet again, GDS as come up trumps with some really solid guidance on the use of subdomains and URL naming conventions.

We are mystery shopping

Liam has been looking again at our “competitors” – aka other Councils and their booking processes for libraries and community halls. Our MVP will be based on our user needs and tested workflows, and early signs are we can add value to other councils by sharing what we are developing and making our code available.

We are (almost) ready for our service assessment

Our service assessment is in a couple of weeks. We’ve been building in preparation to our sprints, which is paying off. It’s a great opportunity to look back over the last couple of months and reflect on how far we’ve come and what we’ve learnt.

Hackney Spacebank: Weeknotes w/c 20th May 2019

We are in the final two weeks of the prototype phase. It’s like Christmas Eve – everyone is excited, nervous and a little bit over tired!

Our sprint goal is:

“Define our MVP, co-design a workflow with library colleagues, get ready for our service assessment and tie up our loose ends.”

We welcomed Emma Lewis into the team this sprint. She is a front end developer who joined Hackney this week. We’re already benefiting from a fresh pair of eyes on our work.

Things I am excited about:

  • Emma and Sebastian are coding a calendar which will show the availability of library rooms. There’s some great open source options and also the potential to build our own.
  • A workshop with library colleagues to co-design their work flow. We’ve been itching to collaborate more closely and can’t wait to make something together! I get to join in this time and I’m looking forward to delivering this workshop with Joy and Sam.
  • The final decision on what our MVP is going to look like. We’ve come along way from our “three experiments” at the end of discovery. Richard, our Product Owner is on the case, and will be presenting his proposal to the team at the end of the sprint.

Things I am nervous about:

  • The decision to do a workshop with library colleagues is the right choice, but it’s the harder option. We could have pulled together a prototype based on evidence alone and done some testing to validate it. This didn’t feel right. To get this done, we have hefty dependency on whether duty managers can swap shifts and redraft rotas. It’s a big ask in a small amount of time.
  • We’ve only got 9 days this sprint, instead of 10. Every day matters at the moment. I love bank holidays, but it’s a delivery manager’s nightmare when there are 4 in 7 weeks. I have more grey hairs as a result.

Creating a Job Description Register – weeknotes

Good afternoon all,

We ran two User Journey mapping sessions:

HR Business Partners: We created a persona ”Gloria” who is a HR Business Partner,  wants all the documents to be available for review and fairly evaluate the Job Description to grade it.  We created a User Journey Map of the Job evaluation process. There are 4 main steps within this process: ‘Receipt of Job Description and Questionnaire’, ‘Review the documents’, ‘Evaluating the Job Description’ and ‘Implementing the decision’. We captured what each Business Partner was doing, thinking and saying/feeling.

Business Managers: We created a persona ”Mohammad Hussain” who is a Business Manager, wants to easily create a Job Description with guidance given by the HR Business Partners, so that he can get the grade for the Job Description. They want to make sure that the finalised version is stored into an agreed location. There are 5 steps within the process of creating a Job Description: ‘Identifying the need’, ‘Scoping out the role’, ‘Creating a Job Description’, ‘Job Evaluation process’ and ‘Finalising the Job Description’.

From the sessions’ outcomes, we came up with the User Needs (as below). We presented them to the Business Managers and HR Business Partners and ran User Needs Prioritisation Workshop. The prioritised User Needs are highlighted in ‘Yellow’.

Business Managers User Needs:

‘Having building support’  

‘Gathering a business case’

’Managing my time’

‘Getting Sign off’

‘Create a role that’s fit for purpose’

‘Support from others’

‘Process’

‘Consistency in JD Storage’

‘Finding out the result of Job Evaluation’

‘Job Evaluation’

‘Organisation Structure’

‘Job Families’

‘Where do I find the Job Description template’

HR Business Partners User Needs:

‘Understanding context’

‘Understanding the actual changes being proposed’

‘Process’

‘Resources’

‘Managing expectations (the outprocess)’

‘Do I have enough info/is there sufficient info to progress?’

‘Transparency in outcome’

Where is the current JD?

‘Understanding the actual changes being proposed’

‘Managing my time’

‘Ensuring fairness’

‘Have a clear Job Evaluation Process’

‘Scoring methods’

‘Organisation structure’

‘Questionnaire’

‘Storing, versioning and linking Job Description with Job Evaluation’

‘Communicating the outcome of Job Evaluation’

Next week, we will let you know about how we have created User Stories based on these prioritised User Needs. We will also discuss how we used MoSCoW to prioritise the User Stories. Thank you for reading.