Scoping – Manage Arrears Weeknotes – W/C 10.08.2020

Purpose of these weeknotes

The purpose of these weeknotes is to provide an account of the scoping exercise that we did in the week commencing 10th August in order to get feedback. These weeknotes will also provide a general overview of the work that week so that people are aware of what is going on with the project. 

How did we scope?

This is the first time on Manage Arrears that I have been the delivery manager while we have scoped out a new phase so I approached this in my own way. There had been a number of matters as part of Phase 4 where there had been a misalignment of expectations from scoping, especially around ‘Other tenure types’. I was keen that we set up scoping for the next phase 5 to avoid these issues happening again.

To start with we split the scoping sessions between Leasehold and Income Collection team. They have separate priorities for the next phase as they are at different levels of development on the product.

We ran two scoping sessions for each part of the service. In the first session we spoke for an hour entirely about the vision for the next phase. We tried to find a common thread, a desired end state, to link together the functionality clusters that the services were asking for. 

The second session we broke into two halves. The first half we went through the themes and the vision and broke them down to the level of epics. While doing this we recorded our assumptions, our research questions, and a rough outline of what the epic was. 

In the second session we were focusing on estimating how much time we thought that the epics might take, given our assumptions. This was very much a ballpark exercise so that we could work out roughly how long the phase might need to be in order to complete the work and therefore the rough budget ask.

How did it go?

We achieved some of the key things that we set out to in advance. We have two visions that would be useful to guide work during subsequent phases. These are: 

  • Leasehold officers can see information about Major Works and see and update information about Service Charge all in one place
  • Manage Arrears has enough functionality that income collection officers no longer need to use Universal Housing at all in their day to day work

We have a list of themes for both services that we could pursue as part of a next phase and we have started to break these down into epics. We have a list of assumptions and questions that need further research and exploration. We were able to put a rough time (and therefore budget) estimate against these. This is all enough to start writing a business case for Phase 5, which was one of our objectives from the sessions. 

The leasehold session also made us realise that there was a lot of further research that we needed to do before we would be able to undertake some of the work to bring more leasehold functionality into the system. There are still big unknowns about data and Major Works and our next steps will have to involve researching some of these to understand them better.

We got what we needed out of the sessions, so in that sense they were successful. Despite this, I was a bit conscious that there is a danger when you plan things in this way that you slip into a more restrictive project management mindset.

I think that this process is necessary to put together business cases and have a rough sense of what we’re going to do next. There is a risk that it comes at the cost of presenting a whole load of work as ‘things we are going to do in the next phase’. Without those things being open to research or prioritisation this can be very restrictive to a future team. 

This whole process raised questions about what it meant to be agile in the context of (legally) restricted internal processes, making proposals for project funding, and the replacement of a legacy system that has a definite end of shelf life.  

David Durant introduced me to this excellent blog post this week, which I think maps out well the journey that we are probably on. 

I am interested in feedback as to this process – do other people have these same tensions when scoping? How do you approach it to maximise the agility and flexibility?

General overview

This week we continued with the following work: 

  • finalising the first iteration of the service charge worktray
  • building out the court case functionality
  • building out the court agreement functionality
  • finished testing our new classification engine

Previous Show and Tells and weeknotes:

Show and tell 39 video / slides 05.08.2020

Weeknotes 4 W/C 27.07.2020

Show and tell 38 video / slides 22.07.2020

No weeknotes (DM on Annual Leave)

Show and tell 37 video / slides 08.07.2020

Weeknotes 3 W/C 29.06.2020

Show and tell 36 video / slides 24.06.2020

Weeknotes 2 W/C 15.06.2020

Show and tell 35 video / slides 10.05.2020

Weeknotes 1 W/C 01.06.2020

Show and tell 34 video / slides 27.05.2020

Manage Arrears Weeknotes – W/C 27.07.2020

An update on Phase 4 of Manage Arrears.

Purpose of these weeknotes

These weeknotes should bring people up to date on the developments on Manage Arrears. As we are entering the final few weeks of Phase 4 of Manage Arrears these weeknotes will also set out what we are aiming to complete by the end of the phase. There is also a complete set of links to our weeknotes and show and tells so far at the bottom so that it is easy to review what has happened so far. 

What are we working on now?

This week we have been working to get into the weeds of formal agreements. This has meant getting a better understanding of how court cases and formal agreements interact, building new API endpoints and creating new designs so that formal agreement data can be properly inputted. 

We are also close to completing work on the first iteration of the Service Charge Worktray. We are finishing off work on the API and have tested the designs with the Leasehold team. This brought up some questions around displaying information on disputes and service charge agreements, which we are looking at, although they might not be included in the first iteration.  

In this phase we have re-written the engine that calculates the next recommended action for a case. By doing this we will make it much easier in the future to bug fix and add new rules for different tenure types. This week we have been comparing the results from the original rules engine to our refactored one and working out why there are discrepancies. 

By doing this we are not only making it more maintainable and easier to build on but also fixing a number of bugs where the old rules engine was getting the next recommended action wrong. We are looking to complete this work by the end of the sprint and it will be a key enabler of development of the product in the future. 

We have also been doing some business analysis, which will be really important for the work we need to do in the future. Part of this is mapping out the rules for the tenure types that we currently do not support on the system. Part of this has been mapping out what processes that the Rents team need are currently in our legacy system Universal Housing. This is really important for planning out how we will move the Rents team off Universal Housing as we look to decommission it. 

Sorting out our Google Drive

One of the other things that we’ve been doing is the type of thing that rarely gets a shoutout but is nonetheless an important task: managing our Shared Drive. The first phase of Manage Arrears kicked off two years ago. Since then we have been accumulating documents, designs, research and other useful pieces of information. 

Last week myself and Elaine our Business Analyst sat down to try and make sure that this was fit for purpose for the team. As a number of different teams, delivery managers and product owners have passed through there were different approaches but we have made a start on the unglamorous job of restructuring our shared drive to be more structured around the functionality that we’ve delivered and less structured around phases. 

Our aim is to get it into such a state that any new team can quickly get up to speed on what has happened so far on the project and know where to store and find important, relevant documents.  

What next?

Prior to completing this phase of the project we are looking to do the following:

  • Turn on agreements functionality
  • Get the Service Charge Worktray live 
  • Add new letter templates for court breach and warning

We are also scoping what a potential extension of Phase 4 and a potential Phase 5 of Manage Arrears might look like.

We are approaching this in a slightly different way this time. We are splitting the meeting in two and deciding on priorities and scoping and breaking them down separately. 

I will provide an update on how this goes and the situation regarding the extension in my next weeknotes.

Previous Show and Tells and weeknotes:

Show and tell 38 video / slides 22.07.2020

No weeknotes (DM on Annual Leave)

Show and tell 37 video / slides 08.07.2020

Weeknotes 3 W/C 29.06.2020

Show and tell 36 video / slides 24.06.2020

Weeknotes 2 W/C 15.06.2020

Show and tell 35 video / slides 10.05.2020

Weeknotes 1 W/C 01.06.2020

Show and tell 34 video / slides 27.05.2020

Back to the drawing (on)board(ing) – Manage Arrears Weeknotes – W/C 29.06.2020

Weeknotes for the Manage Arrears project – this week’s focus is onboarding.

Purpose of these weeknotes

The purpose of these weeknotes is to provide an account and a reflection on one of our more pressing issues, getting more Rent Arrears officers onboarded. This is partly for the team to have a common narrative and also to explore the issues around onboarding in the context of working fully remotely. 

Onboarding background

One of the key things that we are looking to do in this phase of Manage Arrears is to get more users using the system. Currently out of the 14 patches in the Rents Arrears team only two are formally using Manage Arrears.

We had initial discussions about this and sketched out an approach, which would have seen us onboard users in groups of two patches at a time. Patches in Arrears are made up of a Credit Controller and a Legal Case Worker but Legal Case Workers are often shared across two patches. This would have meant onboarding 3 people at a time for several weeks. Until all the patches were onboard.

Onboarding remotely

We were also trying out a new approach to onboarding. The previous two patches had both been onboarded prior to the coronavirus pandemic where much more of the support could take place in person. 

As a result we tried out an approach where we put aside a chunk of time for a video call, where we kept the lines open but with most of the participants on mute. This meant that people could get on with their work but also ask questions if they needed it. 

This had its advantages: people were able to ask and answer questions and we were able to share screens to work through issues. It also had some disadvantages: as there was a lot of conversation, which meant that officers needed to leave to make calls and deal with other issues.

This session highlighted a number of things. The first was that it didn’t make sense to try and get people to start using the new system before automation had been turned on. There were a number of recommended actions that appeared to be mistakes. On investigation the recommendations were accurate but confusing as a result of the different processes and terminology between the two systems. 

Reaching a common picture of onboarding

Another thing that emerged from this was a lack of a common picture within the delivery team about the nature of the onboarding itself. We realised that we needed to be more aligned as to what exactly onboarding people on to the new system entailed and when we should be doing it. 

This has resulted in three concrete actions, the first is to narrow our immediate scope in terms of onboarding. Instead of looking at all 12 patches and rattling through them immediately, we are instead focusing on bringing 2 more on next week. The second is to make sure that we have turned off Universal Housing automation and turned on Manage Arrears automation prior to any further onboarding. 

The third, and probably most important, action is for us to come together as a team and ask the question: exactly what conditions need to be met, regarding the product and the team, for us to be confident to rollout to the remaining 10 patches?

There are a number of considerations, including around features and processes, which are pretty standard for this kind of discussion. In addition there ones that are unique to this remote working period. It is vital that we work through these together prior to planning further onboarding. 

Other highlights

We have really started to get our head around how we will get Service Charge data out of Universal Housing.

We have started to get a better understanding of the processes involved in court agreements.

We have started to refine our first iteration of the design for the Service Charge worktray, when this is completed we will be in a position to refine it further with stakeholders and then to start testing. 

We have continued to implement our first iteration of the informal (or non-court) agreements user interface.

Personally, I’ve been having one to one catch ups with every member of the team. This isn’t something I would normally do as part of my regular schedule whilst working on developing a product. I normally try and have these conversations more informally but this has proven difficult during remote working. I have been having these conversations throughout the week and have found them a really enjoyable way of connecting with the team despite being fully remote. I would definitely recommend them. 

Previous Show and Tells and weeknotes:

Show and tell 36 video / slides 24.05.2020

Weeknotes 2 W/C 15.06.2020

Show and tell 35 video / slides 10.05.2020

Weeknotes 1 W/C 01.06.2020

Show and tell 34 video / slides 27.05.2020

Manage Arrears Weeknotes – W/C 15.06.2020

Purpose of these weeknotes

The purpose of these weeknotes is to provide an update on the work that we have done since our last show and tell on 10th June. It is also to flag one key area of concern for us in this project, moving away from Universal Housing. 

What have we done in the last week?

We have finalised our design for informal agreements, which are those  we are testing this next week with users in the rents team. We have also started work to implement some elements of these designs.

We have continued work on the Income API endpoints for informal agreements. This is really important work and will allow the improvements that the system will create on the quality of agreements data to be felt by wider teams in the council. 

We have finished work on refactoring our rules engine. This should make it quicker to add new functionality, including service charge and agreements functionality in the future. 

We have started to get a much better picture of the information needed by the Leasehold team for processing Service Charges. We will now be looking at how we can put these into designs for us to get feedback on and iterate.   

We are also looking at how we can better quantify the impact of our system. We have identified a number of key metrics and we are going to have a discussion with the Housing Transformation team next week to so that they can better understand our system and we can better understand what data they are already displaying. 

Rolling out the system to new users

This week we have begun our rollout of the Manage Arrears tool to the people in the Rents team who are not currently using it. At the moment only 2 patches in rents are fully using Manage Arrears. We have ambitiously set ourselves the target of getting all 12 other patches on by the end of July.

This week we ran three familiarisation sessions for those 12 remaining patches. These were very well attended and there was a fair amount of positive feedback on the new system as well as some challenging questions.

A big shout out to Elaine Geeves who led these sessions excellently, all the while trying to ride a fairly sketchy internet connection.

Moving away from Universal Housing

One of the things that the training sessions highlighted for me was how many of the current processes for people that are using Manage Arrears still rely on officers also using Universal Housing. This is concerning for a number of reasons not least because many of the benefits of the system do not get fully realised until people are using it end to end. 

Many areas that we are looking at building on in this phase will help us to move away from UH but we need to make sure that this is something that we are being mindful of as we rollout new functionality.

Previous Show and Tells and weeknotes:

Show and tell 35 video / slides 10.05.2020

Weeknotes 1 W/C 01.06.2020

Show and tell 34 video / slides 27.05.2020

Manage Arrears Weeknotes – w/c 1.6.2020

Purpose of these weeknotes

The purpose of these weeknotes are to provide an introduction to phase 4 of the Manage Arrears project and give you some high level information on the value we have delivered since phase 4 kicked off on 11th May. They will also flag some of the challenges that we are facing. 

Introduction to Phase 4

These are the first weeknotes for Manage Arrears Phase 4. Welcome. We are picking up on the work that has been done in the previous 3 phases. A write up of Phase 3 can be found here.

There is a new team this time that includes some people who have worked on it before: Ben, El (both from Made Tech), Elaine, Femi, Judith, and Miles (all from Hackney), and some people who are brand new to it: Antony, Csaba, Ninamma, Ludivine (all from MadeTech), Jenny (from FutureGov), Liam and myself (both from Hackney). We are also being supported by people in both the Leasehold and Rents team, especially Ian, Chorwar, Dermot, and Easton. 

The main immediate priorities of this phase is to look at the following areas: 

  • Agreements
  • Service Charge Work Tray
  • Rolling out Manage Arrears to more patches
  • Further layout improvements

What value have we delivered so far?

The main value that we have delivered since kicking off Phase 4 has been addressing bugs and technical debt in the Manage Arrears system. So far we have fixed a number of bugs, including allowing letters to be sent on the correct day when scheduling them on a Friday, improving the UX so users could return to their worktray after sending a letter, and allowing for large user names to write to the Action Diary. 

A lot of what we have done will also facilitate the delivery of value more quickly in the future. We have worked to refactor the system to increase the speed of deployments as well as making our dev, test and live environments more consistent.

This has not just allowed us to deliver value quickly but also provided a great opportunity to introduce new members of the team to the tech stack as well as delivering value quickly while we have researched new features that we are looking to deliver next. 

Challenges

  • Covid-19: this is not just that the team is having to work fully remotely often with less than ideal work spaces or internet connection but Covid-19 is also impacting our ability to rollout the product. As many of the processes around arrears collection are not currently taking place it is challenging to onboard people to a tool where most of its functionality is not currently needed. 
  • Connecting with users: while reviewing our previous phase several stakeholders mentioned that one of the most important features of that phase was the development team colocating with our users in the Rents and Leasehold teams. This is something that we are obviously now unable to do and so we are having to think about alternative methods.
  • Building momentum on the Leasehold side: last phase we managed to work with Rents to get Manage Arrears into a position where their team could use it. We are looking to do something similar with the Leasehold team this phase. This is challenging as Leasehold is a very complex area with different workflows, business rules and data to Rents. Understanding enough to start but not waiting too long, and delivering value early is our main challenge on this.

Previous Show and Tells and weeknotes in Phase 4:

Show and tell 34 video / slides 27.05.2020.