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Category: Reflection

Partnership

The good and the bad.

At Difrent we always talk about our desire to deliver in partnership with out clients. To move beyond the pure supplier and client relationship to enable proper collaboration.

One of my main frustrations when I was ‘client side’ was the amount of suppliers we’d work with who said they would partner with us, but then when the contract started, after the first few weeks had passed and the new relationship glow had faded; the teams and the account managers reverted to type. I can’t recall how many times I had to have conversations at the supplier governance meetings where I was practically begging them to challenge us; to be a critical friend and push for the right thing; to feedback to us about any issues and suggest improvements. It always felt like we were reaching across a gap and never quite making full contact.

As such, that’s one of the areas in Difrent I (and others) are very keen to embody. We try to be true partners; feeding back proactively where there are issues or concerns or where we have suggestions. Trying to foster collaborative ‘one team’ working.

We’ve obviously had more success with this on some contracts vs others. There’s always more we can learn about how to better partner with our clients; however; given we see a lot of complaining about strained partnerships between clients and suppliers; I thought I’d do a bit of a case study/ reflection and praise of one partnership we’ve been working on recently.

Difrent won a contract with the Planning Inspectorate last year, and it was the first completely remote pitch and award we’d been involved with on a multi million pound contract.

From the start of the procurement it became really clear that the Planning Inspectorate wanted a partner; that this wasn’t just lip service, but something they truly believed it. As part of the procurement process they opened up their github so we could see their code; they opened up their Miro so we could see their service roadmap, they proactively shared their assessment reports with suppliers etc.

For us this made not only a good impression, but enabled us to develop a more informed and valuable pitch.

Since we put virtual feet in the virtual door that dedication to partnership has remained as true 6 months later as it was then. Outside of our weekly governance calls we’ve had multiple workshops to discuss collaboration and ways of working. We’ve had multiple discussions on knowledge transfer and reflecting on progress and ways to iterate and improve.

Where there have been challenges we’ve all worked hard to be proactive and open and honest in talking things through. They’ve welcome our suggestions and feedback (and proactively encouraged them) and been equally proactive on giving us feedback and suggestions.

This has helped us adapt and really think about how we do things like knowledge transfer, always challenging (especially remotely), but something we’re passionate about getting right. We’ve all worked so hard on this, so much so that it’s become on of the core bits of our balanced scorecard; ensuring they as a client can measure the value they’re getting from our partnership not just through our outputs on the projects we’re working on, but our contributions to the organisation as a whole; which is also really helpful for us to be able to help us analyse and iterate our ‘value add’ to our partners; and ensure we’re delivering on our promises.

I think there is a lot of learning for other Departments/ ALB’s out there looking to procure digital services or capability on how a good partnership with a supplier needs to start before the contract is signed.

Thanks to Paul Moffat and Stephen Read at the Planning Inspectorate for helping with this blog – demonstrating that partnership in action!

Digital Transformation is still new

We’re punishing those who are less experienced, and we need to stop.

The timeline of Digital Transformation. Courtesy of Rachelle @ https://www.strangedigital.org/

In the last few weeks I’ve had multiple conversations with clients (both existing and new) who are preparing for or have recently not passed their Digital Service standard assessments who are really struggling to understand what is needed from them in order to pass their assessment.

These teams have tried to engage with the service standards teams, but given those teams are extremely busy; most teams cant get any time with their ‘link’ person until 6 weeks before their assessment; by which time most teams are quite far down their track and potentially leaves them a lot of (re)work to try and do before their assessment.

Having sat in on a few of those calls recently I’ve been surprised how little time is set aside to help the teams prep; and to give them advice on guidance on what to expect at an assessment if they haven’t been through one before. Thos no time or support for mock assessments for new teams. There may be the offer of one or two of the team getting to observe someone else’s assessment if the stars align to allow this; but it’s not proactively planned in; and instead viewed as a nice to have. There seems to be an assumption the project teams should know all of this already; and no recognition that a large number of teams don’t; this is still all new to them.

“In the old days” we as assessors and transformation leads used to set aside time regularly to meet with teams; talk through the problems they were trying to fix, understand any issues they may be facing, provide clarity and guidance before the assessment; so that teams could be confident they were ready to move onto the next phase before their assessment. But when I talk to teams now, so few of them are getting this support. Many teams reach out because the rare bits of guidance they have received hasn’t been clear, and in some cases it’s been contradictory and they don’t know who to talk too to get that clarity.

Instead, more and more of my time at the moment, as a supplier, is being set aside to support teams through their assessment. To provide advice and guidance on what to expect, how to prepare and what approach the team needs to take. Actually what an MVP is; how to decide when you need an assessment, and what elements of the service do you need to have ready to ‘show’ at each stage. What the difference is between Alpha/ Beta and Live assessments and why it matters. For so many teams this is still almost like a foreign language and new.

So, how can we better support teams through this journey?

Stop treating it like this is all old hat and that everyone should know everything about it already.

Digital Transformation has been ‘a thing’ for one generation (if you count from the invention of the internet as a tool for the masses in 1995); Within the public sector, GDS, the Digital Service Standards and the Digital Academy have existed for less than one generation; less than 10 years in-fact.

By treating it as a thing everyone should know, we make it exclusionary. We make people feel less than us for the simple act of not having the same experience we do.

We talk about working in the open, and many team do still strive to do that; but digital transformation is still almost seen as a magical art by many; and how to pass what should be a simple thing like a service standard assessment is still almost viewed as Arcane knowledge held by the few. As a community we need to get better at supporting each other, and especially those new to this experience, along this path.

This isn’t just a nice thing to do, its the fiscally responsible thing to do; by assuming teams already have all this knowledge we’re just increasing the likelihood they will fail, and that comes with a cost.

We need to set aside more time to help and guide each other on this journey; so that we can all succeed; that is how we truly add value, and ensure that Digital Transformation delivers and is around to stay for generations to come.

Speaking confidently

Last month I got asked to speak to some University of Salford’s Business students about how to present well. Every year the University apparently holds a conference for their Business students to attend and hear form industry experts on a range of topics, all with the aim of building the students understanding of how to speak confidently to an audience.

Because of COVID-19 they couldn’t hold the conference as they normally did, nor could they have external speakers come in to talk to the students, as such they were really struggling to help the students build their own confidence in presenting; and I got asked whether I could run a session for them via Teams.

I speak a fair bit nowadays, generally on Product Management, Diversity and Inclusion, Career development, Agile Delivery or User centric design, so doing a talk on talking was a new one for me, and something I wasn’t quite sure how to approach, especially virtually; as such I reached out on Twitter to gather some thoughts on who people thought ‘presented well’ and why.

Interestingly, when gathering my thoughts for the talk, I had a number of people I know reach out and ask whether the session would be available to a wider audience; it turns out lots of people really struggle with their confidence when it comes to speaking publicly; and while I got share the video of the session, I can share my notes, so I thought it was worth turning into a blog for people to read!

But I think the fundamental points are:

  1. Know what your brand is. What are you good at? What do people know you for?
  2. Know who your audience is. What are you wanting them to take away from your talk? How can you best engage them?
  3. Find your own style. Some people need to do several run throughs before they do a presentation, some people need detailed notes, some people talk better to stats or words, some to images.
  4. Keep it simple.
  5. Be yourself.

Presenting or talking in public is one of the most common things that causes people imposter syndrome or anxiety. Most people assume that others are just ‘better at it’ than they are, but the truth is most people find this hard.

I spent years avoiding speaking in public myself as I thought everyone had better things to say than me, and that there was no way I could present without messing up; but I realised the issue was that I was trying to make myself look and talk like everyone else, and because it didn’t feel authentically me, I had no confidence in myself, and my audience struggled to connect with me.

Yes, snazzy images and stats will help a presentation go well; but if you can believe in yourself, even a little, others will find it easier to believe in you.

Taking time to breathe

While I’m not one to complain about being busy; and given the effect the current pandemic has had on the economy I’m absolutely not going to complain about being busy and having a job.

However, after 6 months of working from home full time, it was pointed out to me politely last week by my other half; how much more work I have been doing recently (I haven’t had time to blog recently!) and that perhaps I needed to take a break.

Doing late nights and the occasional weekend of work is not new for me, that very much goes with the job once you reach senior leadership levels. But over the last few months I’ve been doing that far more often.

My normal way to relax and switch off, LARPing (google it) hasn’t existed this year because of COVID, my family holiday in May was cancelled, and with my partner getting made unexpectedly redundant in June because of the Pandemic, taking time off I didn’t need felt frivolous. So I haven’t taken any time off from work for months.

I haven’t minded, because work takes my mind off the current world events somewhat, and it’s been good to have something to focus on. But with it now being the summer holidays; the fact I’ve not been able to take even a few hours off to go to the beach or a museum (which are still closed because of local lockdowns!) with my family has really hit me; and made me feel somewhat of a failure on the parenting front, and personally just very stressed and like I was trying to do everything.

So, this weekend my partner dragged me out camping, just to get me out of the house and away from my laptop for a few hours; and I honestly hadn’t realised how much I needed to not be looking at a screen for a few hours.

The spot we went to had barely any signal; we deliberately had no way to charge our various devices; and there was nothing around us but the views.

A tent overlooking the skyline.

It was bliss.

So, while I normally blog about work; I thought I might not be the only one who could do with a reminder right now that it’s important to take a breath sometimes.

It’s ok to need a break. Yes your work is important, but it doesn’t all sit solely with you; and you need to be able to share that burden and look after yourself too.

So please, even for a few minutes, move away from the computer, and take a deep breath. There is a world out there away from your screen. Make time to go find it.

Sunset over the hills