I dread sitting down to write this sort of weeknote.
We didn’t meet our sprint goal. We got 90 per cent of the way there but we missed “done”. It’s profoundly frustrating for the team. 10 days’ hard work and apparently nothing to show for it.
Facing the unknown
The sprint goal felt right, the number stories felt achievable, our output was clearly defined. So, what happened?
The unknown hit us like a stonking great wind. A invisible force that you can hear and feel, but you can’t see it or catch it.
What do we know now that we didn’t know two weeks’ ago:
What we can – and can’t do – with content on the Hackney website*
New team members needing a more clarity on our user groups
The working cadence of other teams we are collaborating with
The untapped enthusiasm of our colleagues at Dalston library**
What’s yoga got to do with anything?
I’m borrowing this analogy from Matthew Cain. Agile – like yoga – a daily practice. After a while the rhythm of its ways, its principles and values starts to shape a team’s mindset. Yoga sculpts the body inside and out. In the same way agile moulds how a team works together and how it behaves.
Our habit of sprint review and retro with a #nojudgement culture turned our failure into actionable nuggets – golden pieces of learning forged in the heat of honest conversation.
I knew that I had a team that trusted each other to say hard things. I now know that we can weather storms together.
Failure feels good
I’m proud that the team took hold of the agile principle to deliver a small piece of value to our end users in two weeks. There’s nowhere to hide when you make a commitment like this. This takes courage.
We’re not going to retreat into safe incremental steps. We are going to keep working iteratively, even if it means we fail more often.
Three things you need to know about Spacebank this week:
The (sprint) end is nigh
We are at that crunchy moment in the sprint where there are lots of things in flight but our done column looks a bit sparse. This makes me nervous* as a delivery manager but I have to practice what I preach and trust the team. There’s nothing like a deadline to get the adrenaline pumping and the team are beavering away.
Recognising what we don’t yet know
Knowing enough to take the next step is an agile-ism. In practice it’s hard to hold onto this. It’s easy to slip back into patterns of thinking that hold us back from delivering value early and often. It takes courage to try something, even something small, because we are conditioned to fear failure.
We know a lot about our users in Spacebank, this is good. We know enough to re-design our library pages and test this content. We are less sure about two things:
How to effectively target untapped bookers – organisations and individuals who aren’t aware that the council has meeting space they can hire at low cost
The best place to put information about meeting rooms in the library – on Hackney’s website or on our booking software.
We are going to take a closer look at both these issues in our next sprint.
Update on people and skills
Following on from my previous weeknote, we’ve made progress on securing another role. We have a UX designer starting on the project next week. I’m excited to bring together the expertise of our content designer Eleanor and new UX designer Junior. First task: review our prototype designs based on the user research we did in the summer. It remains a challenge to find a front end developer for the team. It feels like a rock and a hard place right now, but as the saying goes, adversity breeds innovation so I’m hanging on in there!
Three things you need to know about Spacebank this week:
Starting our build
Over the summer and autumn, we paused our work with libraries. We did three things:
Completed a discovery about community halls, supporting a wider review of looking into utilisation and asset management
Secured some funding
Procured a “custom off the shelf” (COTS) scheduling tool – a white label API
We are ready to start working with the library service again to implement the API and configure a user interface based on the prototype wireframes. These will need some re-designing to reflect our new digital brand and component library.
A slice of cake
Everyone loves cake. It’s also a useful analogy for working vertically – adding a little bit of value to our users each every two weeks. This sprint, we working with the comms team to re-design the information on our website about meeting rooms available for hire in our libraries. We going to put this “in the wild” and monitor how users engage with the content. It’s a small step, achievable in two weeks.
People and skills
As always, the biggest risk in this project is the capacity of the team. We are a couple of roles down at the moment. This is weighing heavily on my mind and much of my time is focused on recruitment.
Our discovery phase is officially “done”. We did our final feedback session with the community halls team on Wednesday. We used this time to present our ideas for improving the experience of accessing and booking community halls and hear back from the team about which ideas to prioritise.
Here’s some things I am particularly proud of:
Adversity breeds innovation
We always struggle to recruit research participants. This is because we need to speak to a particular subset of people that are hard to track down. Sam and Winston have chased down every lead with patience and determination. We’ve experimented with recruitment surveys (a simple google form) on Facebook, Twitter and links in email signatures. To find “untapped bookers” we did desk based research to find groups that were meeting up in the borough and followed this up with emails inviting them to have a chat with us.
Experimenting with a kanban approach
This probably needs a separate blog to unpick why we tried this and what we’ve learnt. In brief, the team felt constrained by defined sprints, so we opted to try using a kanban style of managing our backlog and time. Working in sprints was a real sticking point and I’m pleased that we came up with a different way of approaching delivery and the openness of the team to try something different.
Working with colleagues from housing services
There is a wider review underway of community halls. Their approach and time frames are different to ours, but we’ve found ways of working effectively together. We’ve attended their fortnightly project review meetings and they have participated in our show and tells. We’ve introduced some agile techniques; for example, using a standup format to shape the agenda of the review meetings.
What happens now? We’re unsure at the moment. We’d love to move into an Alpha phase* but we need to see how this fits with wider review. We also need to make progress with work with libraries. We promised them “a thing” and we need to get cracking now we’ve finished the community halls discovery. My reflection is that Spacebank is two streams of work under one vision. Juggling our responsibilities to the services we are working with is uppermost in my mind.
It’s been all about tying up loose ends this week. Made harder by a bank holiday on Monday. I’ve grumbled about bank holidays messing up my sprints in previous posts. Perhaps the problem is with my planning… 🙂
We’ve finished the analysis of our interviews with external and internal bookers. Thanks to Sam and Winston for facilitating the affinity sort with the whole team. It’s more work, but we all have a collective understanding the user experience, which is invaluable.
We managed two interviews with untapped bookers. It’s not enough to generate insights, but we have flavour of their experience. There’s more to do here and something we will return to. The team have put in a lot of effort to tracking down this elusive potential user group. It’s been a time consuming task and taken longer than we anticipated.
We had to make a tough decision and de-scope interviews with Tenants and Residents Associations who manage community halls. We hoped to get an idea of how they organised access and bookings. They are not our primary focus at the moment, but something we still keen to learn about further down the line.
Next week, it’s our final feedback session (show and tell). The focus will be on testing out ideas for a possible Alpha phase (we call this prototype phase at Hackney). We want to get a sense of priorities from our stakeholders.
Finally, my thanks to Neil for his comment on last week’s musings. We love feedback, it helps us get better. I’ll be adding links to research summaries in future weeknotes and work on getting the broken links fixed on Pipeline.