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Category: Social Media

Welcome to the Dark Side.

Last week I started working for @BeDifrent, a business transformation agency working with both Public and Private sector clients to help them deliver #TechForGood.

This is a massive change for me, I spent almost 15 years in the Public Sector, I always said I was a public servant for life, and in my heart I am, when people have asked me this week what I do it’s been very odd to not reply “I work in the public sector”.

But the thing is, I still am, Difrent’s clients are predominantly public sector at the moment (at least the ones I’ve been dealing with in my first two weeks). The challenges our clients are facing are so similar to those I’m used to facing, but the opportunities are so much bigger.

At my interview I got asked why I was interested in this role, and my answer was very honest and in two parts.

One, for my career development. I’ve spent three years working at Deputy Director level as a Head of Product in the Public Sector, and I loved my role. Product and Service design are things that I am passionate about, and designing and delivering services to users that really matter, that improve things for them, is the thing that drives me.

But I’d also realised what I did was wider than the label “Head of Product” really allowed for. So much of my effort and time was on the cultural and organisational changes organisations needed to make to enable them to deliver and change into a Product and User led organisation.

Which is what led me to consider Difrent. When I saw the job advertised I did my homework on the company and the people. Who were they? What made Difrent different? Why did they care?

My mentor for years had been recommending I consider doing a stint outside of the public sector to gain experience from the other-side of the table, but the thought had always made me twitch, but what I saw from Difrent’s information, from reading up on the amazing Rachel Murphy and from talking to colleagues who had made the jump into the dark side to both Difrent and other like minded agencies recently made me feel that maybe this was the time to take that leap into the dark.

My focus will be on working with our clients to ensure we can deliver. Supporting our teams and building our capability to ensure we keep doing the right things in the right ways.

So yes, not only will this give me experience on the other side of the contracting table, and the opportunity to see how the other side live. But the public sector still need us suppliers, there will always be short term projects and pieces of work that it makes sense to use suppliers to help with rather than massively increase their headcount’s, and more importantly (for me) we have more flexibility sometimes, the chance to quickly bring in different perspectives and points of view.

Difrent describe themselves as being activists for change and doing the right thing. They are passionate about delivering things that matter, and only working with clients who meet their #TechForGood ethos.

And for me that is Difrent’s main attraction, they want to help bring about that change, to ensure we are delivering the right things in the right way for the right reasons. Advocating and agitating for that change and real transformation.

As someone who talks a lot about finding their tribe, I look around the company and see a lot of great people passionate about delivering real change. It was especially great to see and hear the diversity and inclusion stats for the company being proudly discussed at events. One of the things that attracted me to Difrent is how much they talk about their people, and how important their people are to them, it feels like a real community of people who care. As stated by Dan Leakey, what ever our makeup, Difrent are 100% awesome.

With credit to @RachelleMoose for the inforgraphic

And while it’s only midway through week two, what I’ve seen so far has already made me feel like the dark side is full of bright lights. I’ve spent time in both Newcastle and Blackpool with some of our delivery teams, getting to understand the outcomes we are trying to deliver and why, and how we can best support our clients to meet their user’s needs.

Darth Vader with wings and a halo

So while I do intend to return to the public sector in the future with lots of new great experience under my belt, for now I feel like the message is “welcome to the dark side, we’re not all bad.”

Having a vision

I regularly talk to organisations about why having vision and mission statements are important. Over the years I’ve seen many good examples and some bad ones too, both inside and outside the public sector.

They often seems to be overlooked when deciding to transform an organisation, instead companies tend to focus on their Target Operating Model or individual delivery of products. While delivery of the Products is important, because as Tom Loosemore says the ‘Strategy is delivery’ after all; and a Target Operating Model ads value; without a clear Vision and Mission statement the teams involved in delivery can find it hard to focus on what they are aiming for (the vision), and how they are aiming to achieve that goal (the mission statement).

There’s been a few good blogs written about Mission statements, these blogs by Mel Cannon, Ben Holliday and Rachel Woods highlight how a good mission statement can help a company deliver, by helping them focus on ‘how’ they will achieve their aims. But there is little value in understanding ‘how’ you will seek to deliver a goal, without understanding ‘what’ you want to deliver. As such, today I want to focus on Vision’s, what makes a good one and why they are important.

So why is having a Vision important?

As Ben Holliday said in his blog a good Vision sets out “What we want to achieve. Setting out an ideal future state eg. what will the council of the future and local services look like?” It is the future state we are striving for. It is what our staff know to aim for, the thing that gives us focus; especially in the public sector it is where we will end up if we’ve managed to deliver our strategy. The reason a Vision is important s that it helps us plan our future. It sets the agenda, the goal.

As good summary from lifehack.com states the question you should be asking when developing your vision is “If you were to take a photo of your future business now, what would it look like? What do you want your business to be recognized for one day?” This could be as simple as being the best, fastest, most well known or trusted provider of your product and service.

A view finder looking at the horizon

What makes a good Vision?

There are different theories on this, this blog from Projectmanager.com states that the best vision statements are concise, clear and future orientated (amongst other things).

Whilst changefactor.com states here that a good vision statement should be unique and evoke emotion, it should say “something about us, our organisation, our operating environment, our dream. When we read it, it should tell us where we are going. We should not be able to substitute our vision statement for other organisations inside and outside our industry.

I agree with all of that, but the thing missing for me is that they need to be based on your user’s needs, to evoke emotion, you are making assumptions about the needs of your customers and how your organisations will be meeting those needs.

If you look at some of the big name vision statement’s out there you can see how they have tried to follow the above guidelines.

Disney: “to be one of the world’s leading producers and providers of entertainment and information.”

Oxfam: “Our vision is a just world without poverty. We want a world where people are valued and treated equally, enjoy their rights as full citizens, and can influence decisions affecting their lives.”

Ikea: to create a better everyday life for the many people – for customers, but also for our co-workers and the people who work at our suppliers.

Personally, Disney’s vision seems to lack emotion to me, but it is definitely clear and concise. Both Oxfam and Ikea’s vision’s evoke more emotion, but I think it could be argued that Ikea’s vision is not unique to them. It would be easy to mistake Ikea’s vision for that of other companies. Of the three Vision’s above, I personally find Oxfam’s the best in that it is unique to them, evokes emotion and sets out their clear intent.

The thing that interests me is that for many companies, their vision is words. But I actually really like visual vision’s, I’ve always found them easier to get people to buy into, and for organisations staff to understand their place and the value they are adding.

@DWPDigital’s 2020 vision

The above vision developed by @DWPDigtial showed how the Department would be organised in the future, with their guiding principles clearly stated. It was developed back in 2017 and showed how the different elements of the organisation would work together to deliver it’s services. While the vision was definitely unique to DWP; it was not concise, or even very clear and easy to understand. You could argue that this was actually their Target Operating Model rather than a Vision, given it doesn’t meet the criteria above of being clear and concise, but it does show clearly where the Department was going.

Emilia Cedeno showing off @CCS’s vision

Another great example is this one by @CCS, which is both clear and simple in it’s statement, and in how it is visualised. 

As the Crown Commercial Service is responsible for:

  • managing the procurement of common goods and services, so public sector organisations with similar needs achieve value by buying as a single customer; 
  • increasing savings for the taxpayer by centralising buying requirements for common goods and services and bringing together smaller projects;  
  • leading on procurement policy on behalf of the UK government increasing savings for the taxpayer by centralising buying requirements for common goods and services and bringing together smaller projects;

It’s Vision to be the “Go – To provider form Common Goods and services” makes sense. It is concise and clear, and specific to their organisation.

The benefit of both of these vision’s is that they help the viewer to ‘see’ how the organisations intend to transform and develop themselves.

Knowing where you are going is important:

No matter what format you go for, when developing a Vision it’s important to remember that it should be unique to your organisation, clear, concise and easy to understand, and that it helps your users, staff and stakeholders understand what the organisations aims are, where the organisation is heading and why.

A compass

But the most important thing to remember is that your Vison is not a static thing. You should constantly be revisiting it and checking that it is still valid and innovative. That it still drives your organisation forward and represents your users needs and where you want your company to be in the future.

Thomas Cook and how not to go digital.

Sat by a pool in the sunshine waiting to hear about how I’ll get home now Thomas Cook have gone bust, I am reading the news and scrolling through Twitter hashtags thinking about how many companies have stumbled and fallen with the rise of the internet of now. 

One of the main causes being attributed to Thomas Cooks’ demise is there inability to adapt to the digital era. With more and more people choosing to book their holidays online from the comfort of their sofa, Thomas Cook kept investing in their travel agencies made of bricks and mortar. 

Thomas Cook website as of 25th September 2019

My personal experience of the app and website were clunky and unwieldy on mobiles, an instant off putter for me. We have reached a point in time where website need to be mobile and tablet focused more than they need to be working on laptops and traditional computer screens. In fact 2015 is when Thomas Cook themselves acknowledged that they had more traffic from mobile devices than traditional computers.  It only takes a quick look at the App Store ratings for the app against its competitors to see it had issues.

In my local, struggling, shopping centre, amongst the Poundland’s and charity shops, there was still a large Thomas Cook travel agency, but very rarely did you see anyone in there. The people inside were always lovely but sadly that can’t compete against people’s 21st century lives where finding time (during standard retail hours) to spend sat in a store to book their holiday was depleting. In the modern world of comparison sites, last minute deal websites and apps; Thomas Cooks high street store model just didn’t fit. 

When Thomas Cook online was launched in 2010 it was one of the first travel companies to do so. So why did it go so wrong? What did they miss?Having been involved in a lot of business and digital transformation programmes over the last decade, there are answers there if you dig.

This article  by @iankingsky, business correspondent at Sky News, describes the decisions made by one of the CEOs a few years ago to keep investing in their physical architecture over their digital one as part of the companies end. Citing particularly the take over of MyTravel (air tours) in 2007 and the Coop travel merger in 2010 which added to their physical portfolio while consumers were turning towards digital outlets.

It was only in 2015 that Thomas Cook gained a CDO, and by that point the company was already beginning to show signs of struggling. A struggle that they sadly could never overcome.

To me, and I’m sure many others, this is a clear example of a lack of vision from the top, and of a strategy and vision that has failed to iterate and been left to stagnate rather than adapt with the times. 

The sides of the roads on the way to the On demand era are littered with the remains of business who have failed to learn from the mistakes of those who have gone before. 

Blockbusters is often used as one of the first casualties of the new digital era, many people lay that blame at its CEO’s feet, but that is a very simple summation of a more complex problem. As Greg Satell in Forbes says, for Blockbusters to have survived it would have had to change it’s very business model, and that was where it struggled. It’s not that its CEO simply didn’t have a vision that included digital, it’s that the company didn’t know how to transform its very foundations. 

Blockbuster website November 29th 2010

In my experience this is where most companies struggle, they want to adapt to the digital era, and so they build a digital front end, as Thomas Cook did, but they don’t realise that digital is more than just a shiny front end. To ‘be Digital’ you have to change from the inside out, your commercials, your finances, your governance structures. Changes to the very culture of the business.

This holistic understanding is key at all levels of the organisation, from the people delivering customer services to the Chief Excs and Directors. To be digital requires breaking down organisational silos and for all the different departments in an organisation to work together to deliver a vision of what is possible. 

This is where the CEO is responsible, for ensuring that vision is agreed, and that they have the right team in place, at all levels through the organisation, to deliver it. 

A good Chief Digital Officer (or someone with similar skills and experience if not the title) is a critical appointment in this time, because they understand the art of the possible and how to deliver it. It took 5 years for Thomas Cook to appoint that person after it began Thomas Cook online. In any business that 5 years can be an eternity, especially one that relies on consumers in a competitive market. In that time their competitors has outstripped them, changed their business models, transformed their offering to meet user expectations. 

The lesson here is that digital is not something you can pay lip service to, you have to understand it and how to ‘be’ it. Without that vision and willingness to iterate and change, you will find your users will move on to somewhere else that can meet their needs better. 

The ripples of Thomas Cooks fall will be felt for a long time yet, not only in the thousands of holiday makers like myself who are inconvenienced by this, but also the staff who are now out of work and for whom this is a time of heart break and uncertainties. Many other companies around the world relied on Thomas Cook for business, and their futures too are now uncertain.

There is a lot we can learn from this, to ensure this is not a bit of history doomed to repeat itself. Again.

#GovermentIsOpen

Why we need to bring user centric design into our Communications in the public Sector.

Having been involved in the hiring of many Content and Interaction Designers in the last few years, we’ve always preferred candidates from within the Public Sector, because they tend to have the same specialisms as we in the Digital Data and Technology (DDaT) Profession have, looking down our nose a little at applicants from the private sector who seem to be a bit of a ‘jack of all trades of design’ doing some social media, some UX and some content design.

A Neon sign showing 0 likes.

We want people who understand user centric design, who design services based on user needs. We want content designers used to working in multidisciplinary teams designing and developing services. We want Content Designers who are used to designing what ‘we’ class as Content, which having spoken to people interested in applying for our roles seems to be quite often different, or at least a narrower definition, to what the wider industry classes as Content. A search for content design jobs online shows the breadth of jobs that can fall under that category.

But in the last year or so I’ve begun to look at those we have left behind with this approach, those we have excluded and where this has left us, especially in terms of both recruitement, and our engagement with our users.

The Government Design community is constantly growing and expanding. With the salaries being offered quickly outsripping the number of candidates we have available. We are all constantly stealing candidates from each other, and those departments and agencies that can’t afford to pay that much, are left relaying on contractors because we can’t hire people.

Digital is seen as a channel for contact, and within the public sector we are moving our products and services online. However, social media is generally not considered as part of that transformation. It is not a transactional service, and therefor generally not considered within the remit of the Digital design teams. The content we put out on social media is seen as the same as we put out to the press, it is a tool for giving out information, as such the people on our social media teams tend to be comms professionals, or people with a background in journalism or marketting.

People looking at their phones

Interestingly Social Media teams are not generally included within the Government design community, and until a conversation 18 months ago with Joanne Rewcastle at DWP Digital I’d never really thought about that. The DDaT roles are based around the roles first needed by Gov.uk and expanded on from there as part of the work by GDS. As such these are the roles needed to design and develop transactional services. Which makes sense.

However, it means we are not thinking about what our users need from our social media. We are not designing the content we put on social media in the same way as the content we put on our digital services, or even our websites.

Also, it means when it comes to recruitment, we are not looking preferably on those people who have a social media or wider comms background as they are not, by the DDaT definition, Content Designers, and unfortunately it is currently quite hard for people working in Social media or wider comms to move over into the Content Design space as they tend to not have the experience of working in multidisciplinary teams or on transactional user needs driven services we are looking for.

With our digital services we have to ensure they are accessible. Our content designers and interaction designers are experts in making sure our content is accessible and understandable by everyone. But in my experience we haven’t been making sure our social media teams are experts in that as well.

A keyboard with an accessibility symbol

It was from Content Design and Accessibility expert colleagues I learned the rule of #CapatalisingYourHashTags so that they can be better understood by accessibility software. The same goes for images and emojis, are we all making sure we’re using them in such a way that screen readers and accessibility software can understand them? If our users are using social media, if that is a service we offer, then do we not have the same responsibility to make sure that service is as usable and accessible as any other service we offer? Even if it isn’t ‘transactional’.

Our Social media colleagues are generally great in helping us think about how to design messages in ways to engage the audiences on different channels, they understand the demographics of the users on the different platforms and what messages work best with which users where. They often have a wealth of data and evidence regarding our users that could benefit Product Development teams. When we’re considering as Product teams how to engage our users it seems to me that is a great time to engage with our social media colleagues. Equally, Product teams, through user research sessions and user needs analysis collect a lot of evidence and data teams that could benefit our Social Media colleagues. Unfortunately I’ve seen very few places pulling those skills together well.

Full credit to DWP Digital’s social media team here, where the team reached out and joined up with the content design community even though they were not officially part of it according to the DDaT professions, to ensure they were considering user needs in how they used social media. That team worked incredibly hard to build people’s awareness of how to use social media, to ensure content was accessible and usable.

A mix of laptops and smartphones on a desk

A few other Departments have done simillar, and I think that is a good thing. But I also think we need to look again at social media across the public sector. It’s not just a marketing tool anymore, In the age of the internet a good social media presence can make or break a company. Nothing is ever really gone from the internet, and that tweet or Facebook post from 5 years ago can come back to bite you on the bum.

So why are more places not using the principles of user design in our social media, or recognising the hard work of those people who are pushing for accessibility and user design in social media as much as those who are designing good content for a website or transactional service?

We need to recognise that the people within our Social Media teams and our Content Design teams have more in common than not, and that when we are recruiting we can gain a lot from people who come form both sides of that bridge.

Being a visible leader with an invisible disability.

Hi, I’m Zoe and I’m a NeuroDiverse Senior Civil Servant.

This is me! (Photo curtesy of @RachelleMoose)

Last week I attended Civil Service Live, it was an interesting day, with sessions on everything from AI and keeping abreast of new technologies, to Transformation to resilience and personal wellbeing. The session that stood out most for me was the “Making Government an event greater place to work” which was an interesting session featuring several people talking about their own mental health, and colleagues from DWP’s Diversity and Inclusion Team talking about the work they have been doing to make invisible disabilities more visible.

The team has been working with neurodiverse colleagues to make short videos to help neurotypical colleagues understand their disabilities. This included a video on sensory processing disorder, and how many colleagues with ASD can find what some people might call normal background noise overwhelming; and another video on how some people with Dyslexia can struggle with reading, with text moving around the page.

Exmaple of how someone with Dyslexia can perceive text

I thought these were really useful tools for colleagues to help increase understanding, and to normalise invisible disabilities.

After the session I got talking to one of the speakers and a few other attendees about some of the mentoring and leadership schemes that exist for Disabled people, and that unfortunately these are not widely visible with a lot of people not knowing they exist or how to join them. We also discussed the need for more visible representation of neurodiverse people within senior leadership.

I was diagnosed with Dyspraxia when I was 14, and nowadays I’ve recognised (through parenting my child through the intricate diagnosis process for ASD and ADHD) that I probably have ADHD as well and am now in conversations with my GP to get a referral for an assessment.

Writing ADHD on a blackboard.

When I first joined the Civil Service (technically as a temp back in 2002 before I went to university) I was doing a data entry job, and when I admitted to a senior manager that I had Dypraxia he told me to keep it quiet or everyone would wonder why he’d hired me. Having a learning disability was definitely seen as a barrier to progression.

I remember when I joined the Ministry of Defence as a Fast Streamer back in 2006, I looked at the data for the Senior Civil Service at the time and realised that less than 3% of colleagues in the SCS had a disability, and of those, the number who were declaring a non-physical disability was in single figures (in the MoD at least). At that time, I made the decision that I would do everything I could to reach the SCS, so I could help change those stats.

Until a few years ago I’d never met an SCS person who I knew was neurodiverse. I was talking to a senior leader asking for advice on speaking at conferences as it was something I’ve always struggled with in terms of confidence, and he admitted that he was Dyslexic and couldn’t read of prompts, so would always have to learn his presentations by heart. This was someone I had known for over a year, and it felt like I was being told a secret that they were ashamed of, but it made me feel hope. Here was this person 2 grades above me, who also had a learning disability. It was possible.

Several years ago at a leadership development session designed to help G6 colleagues pass the SCS application tests, one of the senior colleagues stated that “anyone can just learn to do maths with a little bit practice”. I ended up speaking up and saying that “as someone with a learning disability I found that kind of sweeping statement very unhelpful”. After the session I had another colleague approach me and ask if I could provide some mentoring to one of their members of staff who had Dyslexia and wanted to progress in their career but they weren’t sure if that was possible given their disability, and my colleague believed that talking to another neurodiverse person might help their confidence.

Over the years I’ve mentored perhaps a dozen people, some through official schemes, but just as many have approached me and asked whether I would mentor them as they themselves are neurodiverse and there aren’t that many senior leaders out there who own up publicly to having a learning disability or being neurodiverse. As such people feel that there aren’t people in senior leadership positions who have learning disabilities or are not neurotypical.

Within the Civil Service and wider public sector we are doing more now to normalise Disability, there are great leadership and development schemes like the Possetive Action Pathway out there now to help build capability for Disabled colleagues or recruit more neurodiverse people. DWP and HMRC have been running Autism work placement programmes, GCHQ has it’s “Positive About Disabled People” scheme and there’s the Summer Diversity Internship programme; Diversity and Inclusion networks across the Civil Service are working to help support Disabled colleagues, and schemes like the ‘Workplace Adjustment passport’ are a great tool for disabled colleagues and their managers.

A picture of a ‘noise -o-meter sometimes used to help people with Sensory Processing Disorder indicate how they are perceiving the sound around them.

But I still believe we need more visible neurodiverse senior leaders, and leaders with both visible and invisible disabilities. Figures from 2018 show that still only 5.4% of SCS colleagues have a disability. I couldn’t find any data on the percentage of those colleagues whose disability was visible, invisible or both, but it’s safe to say we need to normalise neurodiversity at all levels.

For those of us who are neurodiverse in the Senior Civil Service, we need to speak up and say to our colleagues that we are here. It is possible. We bring something to the table, and so do you.

Delivering Digital Government 2019

This week Claire Harrison (Head of Architecture from CQC) and I had the opportunity to attend the Delivering Digital Goverment event run by Worth Systems in The Hague.

The event was focused on how digital has transformed governments across the world, sharing best practices and lessons learned. With speakers from the founding of GDS, like Lord Maude, as well as speakers from the Netherlands, and it was a great opportunity to meet others working on solving problems for users in the Government space wider than the UK.

A lot of the talks, especially by the GDS alum were things I had heard before, but I actually found that reassuring, that over 5 years later I am still doing the right things, and approaching problems in the right way.

It was especially interesting to hear from both Lord Maude, and others, about the work they have been doing with foreign governments, for example in Canada, Peru and Hawaii. The map Andrew Greenway, previous of GDS now from Public Digital, shared of the digital government movement was fantastic to see, and really made me realise how big what we are trying to achieve around the world really is.

@ad_greenway sharing a map of the Digtial Government transformations happening around the world

The talks from some of the Dutch speakers were really interesting. I loved hearing about the approach the council in The Hague are taking to digital innovations, and their soon to be published digital strategy. One of the pilots the city are running in particular intrigued me; in an effort to reduce traffic, they put sensors onto parking spaces in key shopping streets and all disabled parking bays in the city. This gave them real time information on the use of the parking spaces, and where available spaces were and successfully decreased traffic from people driving around searching for spaces. They were now looking at how to scale the pilot an manage the infrastructure and senor data for a ‘smart’ city, working with local business to enable new services to be offered.

The draft digital strategy for the city of The Hague

We also heard about the work the Netherlands has been doing to pilot other innovative digital services, like a new service that allows residents in an area to submit planning ideas to improve their neighbourhoods, with the first trial receiving over 50 suggestions, of those 4 have been chosen to take forward. We heard about the support that was given to enable everyone to take part, and it was nice to hear about the 78 year old resident who’s suggestion came 5th.

It was also great to hear from the speaker from Matthij from Novum, a digital innovation lab in the Netherlands, who talked about his own personal journey into Digital transformation, learning from failures and ensuring that you prepare for failure from the start. He also told us about some fascinating research they have been doing into the use of smart speakers, especially with the elderly, to enable better engagement and use of government services to those that need assistive technologies.

An image of an older lady talking to an AI robot, courtesy of Novum

Realising that 30% of eligible claimants for the Dutch state pension supplement were not claiming it, they believed that this was potentially down to the complexity of the form. They hypothesised that smart speakers might be one way to solve this problem. However recognising that it was no good to make assumptions and design a solution for users without ensuring they had understood the problem their users were facing properly they did a small sample test with elderly users to see whether they could use smart speakers to check the date of their next pension payment (one of the largest contributors to inbound calls to the Sociale Verzekeringsbank), they found that not only could elderly users use the smart speakers, but that the introduction of smart speakers into their homes decreased loneliness dramatically.

There were other good sessions with James Stewart from GDS & Public Digtial on technology within digital, and an interesting panel session at the end. Every session was good, and I learnt something I heard something new at each one. My only grumble from the day was the lack of diversity in the speakers. Which the organises themselves put their hands up and admitted before they were called out on it. A quick call on twitter and the ever amazing Joanne Rewcaslte from DWP shared a list of amazing female speakers, so hopefully that will help with the next event.

One key thing I took away from the day is that the challenges are the same everyone, but the message is also the same, involve users from the start. In the practical steps everyone could start tomorrow, Matthij talked about ensuring you interview 5 end users, and some steps to simple prototypes you could develop to engage your users.

This slide from Lord Maude summed up three of the main things any organisations needs to succeed in delivering Digital Transformation

Lord Maude talked about the importance of a strong mandate, Novum talked about having a good understanding of the problem you are trying to fix at the start. The digital strategy from the Hague highlights the fact they want everyone to be able to participate and deliver a personal service to their citizens. As Andrew Greenaway said, they key thing is to “start with user needs”.

The other second key message from the day was that, as Lord Maude put it… “Just Do it!” A digital strategy delivers nothing, the strategy should be delivery, instead of spending months on developing a digital strategy, “you just have to start” by doing something, this in turn will help you develop your strategy once you understand the problems you are trying to solve, the people you will need, and the set up and way of doing things that works best in your organisation. This was a message reinforced by every speaker throughout the day.

@jystewart sharing a statement from Ivana Osores from Interbank… “You have to just start”

The third key message was the importance of good leadership, good teams and good people. Talk in the open about the failures you’ve made and what you have learned. Build strong multidisciplinary and diverse teams. As Andrew Greenway said, Start with teams, not apps or documents. In the round table discussion on building capability we spent a lot of time discussing the best ways to build capability, and the fact that in order to get good people and be able to keep them, and to go on to develop good things, you need strong leadership that is bought in to the culture you need to deliver.

I left the day with a number of good contacts, had some great conversations, and felt reinvigorated and reassured. Speaking to Worth I know they are aiming to run another event next year, with both an even more diverse international cohort and an equal number of female speakers, and I for one will definitely be signing up again for the next event.

Lord Maude, myself and Claire Harrison at the social gathering after the event

Reaching out.

A blog for #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek 2019

It’s mental health awareness week, and I’ve seen lots of things about “I’m always here, reach out to me if you need help”, or “show you care, support those around you by reaching out to them and seeing how they are doing”.

And I wholeheartedly love both these sentiments. We should be talking about mental health more and more. As a society we’re having more conversation about what we can do to support each other and be kind to ourselves, and it’s great.

My problem is the thought of reaching out to anyone, to say I need help, or to offer support, fills me with dread.

I’ve talked before on social media about my Imposter Syndrome and social anxiety, and Gavin Elliot does one of the best blogs out there about what Imposter syndrome is. It makes you feel like you add no worth. So reaching out to ask for help, or offering help to others, is very very hard to do, because it is imposing on others time. Butting into their life uninvited. Interrupting them. Giving them the opportunity to see you.

I’ve been told in the past people don’t assume I ever need help because I seem confident. That I can seem imposing to approach. Yet I always try to help other when I am approached, I will share what’s going on in my life and the things that are bothering me if I am asked about them.

But the ability to reach out first? To drop someone a message out of the blue? On a bad day I can find that simple act almost impossible.

That fear is something over the years I’ve worked hard to overcome, and I will now try and force myself to reach out, both to ask for help, and to ask if I can help without waiting to be given a direct opening. But even on the best day, it still takes effort for me to do so, it is not natural for me.

It’s something I oddly find a little easier in a professional setting, as I know what my role is and my responsibilities within that, but outside of that scope then it becomes much harder for me to reach out first.

And the thing is, even when you’re doing well, and have been doing well for a while, it’s easy for your confidence to take a hit, and for you to take a backwards step. For things you thought you had overcome to rear their head. 

And that is ok.

There will be times when you’re doing well and can do the things you find hard. And times when your can’t.

However you manage your mental health, the first step is knowing yourself, knowing what you find hard and what things can set you back, owning that knowledge. But its also important to recognise the things that can help you do the things you find hard. That good days and bad days exist.

And I just want to say I hear you. I’m here should you ever want to talk. Whether you can reach or to me or not, I want you to know you are not alone.

If you’re struggling with your mental health, Mind can be a good place to start if you need some help. 

What is the value in a Head of Product?

Our numbers are growing, but what is the role, and what value does it add?

When I first took up the role of ‘Head of Product Management’ back in October 2016, I was one of the first in Government to have the title, and within a few months there was a very small band of 5 of us, who were responsible for looking after the Product Management professionals within our own Government Departments. We were professional leaders, tasked with building capability and skills, and building communities of practice. The original job description we created for a Head of Product was very different to what I do now.

In my first 12 months of the role I focused on the people, working with the others across government to develop a capability framework, training and development plan and a career pathway that Product Managers could use to develop a proper career as a Product Manager within Government.

A lot of our time was spent debating the skills Product Managers needed, and what value Product Managers brought to Projects and teams. It was, upon reflection, a very inward focused role; which given the maturity of the profession at that time made sense. But several years later user needs have changed and I think it’s a good time to reflect on the value we Heads of Product now find ourselves adding within our work, and making sure everyone understands the work some of us are now doing and why. To discuss what that difference is between what we were doing and what we are doing now, and does everyone understand and agree that difference.

This change in the dichotomy of the Head of Product role came up at our last Head of Product catch up, for those of us in role a few years ago, we have all separately found that our focus isn’t purely on developing that community and the professional skills and capabilities of Product Managers anymore.

Instead we are now focussing on Product strategies, on aiding Prioritisation of portfolios, of working with Senior leaders to break problems down, understanding the value we are trying to gain, or the outcomes we are trying to achieve through the Products and Services we are developing. We’re running roadmap workshops across directorates, debating Targeting Operating Models and strategic alignment.

Most departments are now hiring ‘Head’s of Product’ or ‘Deputy Directors of Product’ to be part of their Senior Leadership teams within Digital, and personally I think that is the right move.

As organisations mature in their agile ways of working, the role of prioritisation has become ever more important, and as Product Management professionals, the ability to weigh up data and evidence to make decisions about priorities is our bread and butter. As organisational budgets continue to be constrained we all need to get better at focusing on outputs and understanding the value we are looking to deliver through our projects and programmes, ensuring we are meeting user needs whilst spending public money wisely. Determining priorities and ensuring we are delivering value for users are the fundamental objectives of the Product Manger role, and as such it makes sense to utilise those skills at an organisational level.

We are, in fact, much closer to our counterparts in the private sector determining Returns on Investment etc. than we have ever been before. Yes, we as Head’s of Product still work with Product Managers and teams to help them ensure they are meeting the standards and delivering value, and we still look at the resource demands of teams and make calls on which person within our professional community might be best placed to work on with Product; and in some departments the community is so big that actually they still need someone to focus onleading that; but for the most part, our communities and our people have grown along with us, and most don’t need the level of support from us as community managers that they did before.

#ProductPeople

Most of the communities now across government are self-sustaining, events like #ProductPeople are being set up and run by members of the community; and while we as Heads of Product are still here to help champion Product Management, and to support the people in our communities, the role of the Head of Product Management as a community lead, has adapted and gown into what our organisations need now, someone who can use those Product Management skills at an organisational level.

As such, I think it’s time we look at the Digital Data and Technology capability framework again for Product Management, talk to community, and review the job description for the Head of Product role we initially developed and iterate that. We need to understand the role of the community lead and the need for that, whilst also recognising the value of Product Management and the skills Head’s of Product can bring to our senior leadership and our organisations.

The Day Data went Viral

This week the UK Government and Parliament petitions website has been getting a lot of attention, both good and not so good. This site has been a great example of how the Digital Service Standards work to ensure what we deliver in the public sector meets user needs.

On the 20th of February a petition was created on the petitions website to Revoke Article 50 and remain within the EU, on the 21st of March the petition went viral, and as of writing this blog has currently got 5,536,580 5,608,428 5,714,965 signatures. This is the biggest petition to have ever been started since the sites launch. Not only that, it is now the most supported petition in the world, ever.

Screenshot of the petitions website

The first version of the site was developed in 2010 after the election. Originally intended to replace the Number 10 petition site, which had a subtly different purpose. The new version of the Parliamentary petitions site was then launched in 2015, as an easy way for users to make sure their concerns were heard by the government and parliament. The original version of the service was developed by Pete Herlihy and Mark O’Neill back in the very early days of Digital Government, before the Digital Service Standard was born.

The site was built using open source code, meaning anyone can access the source code used to build the site, making it is easy to interrogate the data. With a number of sites, like unboxed, developing tools to help map signatories of petitions etc based off the data available.

Screenshot of the unboxed website

Within the Governments Digital Design standards using open source code has always been one of the standards some departments have really struggled with, it’s digital standard number 8, and is often a bit contentious. But looking at the accusations being lobbied at the Revoke Article 50 petition, that people outside of the UK are unfairly signing the petition, that people are creating fake emails to sign the petition etc, it shows why open source data is so important. While the petitions committee won’t comment in detail about the security measures they use; examining the code you can see the validation the designers built into the site to try and ensure it was being used seurely and fairly.

britorbot data analysis

Speaking of security measures, that’s digital service standard number 7, making sure the service has the right security levels, the petitions site apparently uses both automated and manual techniques to spot bots; disposable email addresses and other fraudulent activities. This works with digital standard number 15, using tools for analysis that collect performance data; to monitor signing patterns etc. Analysing the data, 96% of signatories have been within the UK (what the committee would expect from a petition like this).

tweet from the Petitions Committee from 22nd March

Another key service standard is building a service that can be iterated and improved on a frequent basis (digital standard number 5), which mean that when the petition went viral, the team were able to spot that the site wasn’t coping with the frankly huge amount of traffic headed it’s way and quickly doubled the capacity of the service within a handful of hours.

tweet from Pete Herlihy (product manager – petitions website)

This also calls out the importance of testing your service end to end (standard number 10) and ensuring its scalable; and if and when it goes down (as the petitions website did a number of times given the large amount of traffic that hit it, you need to have a plan for what to do when it goes down (standard number 11), which for the poor Petitions team meant some very polite apologetic messages being shared over social media while the team worked hard and fast to get the service back online.

tweet from the Petitions Committee from 21st March

The staggering volume of traffic to the site, and the meteoric speed in which the petition went vial, shows that at its heart, the team who developed the service had followed Digital Service Standard number 1. Understand your user’s needs.

In today’s culture of social media, people have high expectations of services and departments with there interactions online, we live in a time of near instant news, entertainment and information- and an expectation of having the world available at our fingertips with a click of a button. People want and need to feel that their voice is being heard, and the petitions website tapped into that need, delivering it effectively under conditions that are unprecedented.

Interestingly when the site was first developed, Mark himself admitted they didn’t know if anyone would use it. There was a lot of concern from people that 100,000 signatures was too high a figure to trigger a debate; but within the first 100 days six petitions had already reached the threshold and become eligible for a debate in the Commons. Pete wrote a great blog back in 2011 summing up what those first 100 days looked like.

It’s an example of great form design, and following digital service standard number 12, it is simple and intuitive to use. This has not been recognised or celebrated enough over the last few days, both the hard work of the team who developed the service and those maintaining and iterating it today. In my opinion this service has proven over the last few days that it is a success, and that the principles behind the Digital Service Standards that provided the design foundations for the site are still relevant and adding value today.

tweet from Mark O’Neill (part of the original team)

My user manual:

A user manual is a document that tells users how to use a particular system. More recently personal user manuals that help others work with you better have begun to spring up.

I’ve seen a few great examples of personal user manuals recently, most recently from Dan Barrett, and I really like the idea; Unfortunately I’ve never had the time to sit down and draft one.

As I approach the end of my current role and prepare to start at somewhere completely new, I thought it was a good time to reflect on myself, and what it might help others around me to know.

Conditions I like to work in:

  • I like open plan offices, but every now and then I will need a day working from home or a quieter office where I can focus and recharge.
  • I have a high tolerance for background noise, but I don’t like harsh or unexpected noise; similarly with lighting, harsh lighting can give me migraines. •I’m not a fan of hot desking, I prefer having a desk I know is mine. Even when visiting other offices I will always default back to the desk/s I normally sit in. In my office you can always spot my desk as it will have my lego name plate and some bobble heads on it. This may seem odd, but it helps me feel ‘in control’ even when evening else keeps changing.
  • I do enjoy a good workshop, especially if it has post it notes and sharpies, but I’m less of a fan of traditional meetings.
  • My favourite environment is sat with my team, where we can discuss and share what we’re doing, solving problems and achieving things together.
  • I enjoy working in fast paced environments, I’m best when I’m busy and getting things done.

The times/ hours I like to work:

  • I don’t work Fridays, there will generally be an hour or two where I catch up and respond to emails, but Friday is my day for sorting out all the things I need to at home so that at the weekend I can give my son my full attention.
  • I’m usually in the office by 9:30, but I’ll log on at 8 am and start responding to emails and calls on my commute in. I generally leave the office by 4:30, but will answer emails up till 5pm, and then usually log back in for an hour or so once my son goes to bed.
  • For childcare reasons I have one day a week I can’t travel far and tend to work from home or finish a bit earlier, but I balance that by having one day a week I can stay over night or work late.
  • I have the most energy late morning or early afternoon.

The best way to communicate with me:

  • I generally respond quickly to text messages or WhatsApp. •Twitter DM’s are ok, but if I don’t follow you I probably won’t spot DM requests.
  • I don’t like ringing people, and prefer to only answer calls from people I know.
  • I’m not a big fan of emails, especially not long formal email chains. I respond best to quick and easy requests that I can deal with on the move. If it needs proper consideration it will probably have to wait until I have time set aside to be at my desk.
  • I much prefer informal conversations, and respond best to people coming and talking to me. If I’m in an open plan office I’m always interruptible unless I have my headphones in, at which point leave me a note and I’ll come find you when I’m ready.

The ways I like to receive feedback:

  • I prefer feedback one to one in person, rather than in a group.
  • I’m trying to be better at receiving positive feedback and not being embarrassed/self-deprecating,
  • I do like written feedback especially if it’s constructive or critical feedback so that I can properly reflect on it and refer to it, but positive feedback is good in writing too so I can save it and share it with my manager, or with myself when I need a boost.

Things I need:

  • I need to know I am empowered, I need to feel trusted and given autonomy.
  • But I also need to feel supported, I need to know where to go when I need help or just to talk something through.
  • I need to have open conversations, both in a group and one to one.
  • I need big messy problems to solve.
  • I need to be doing things that matter, that are helping people.
  • I need the opportunity to coach and support others, especially when I’m not hands on with a project as it helps me feel like I’m still helping others.
  • I need to have the time to go to events and network, these help me recharge.

Things I struggle with:

  • Putting my thoughts down coherently or capturing action points etc. I’ve worked hard to improve my written and organisational skills, but I know they are not my greatest strengths. When asked for written briefs etc I do better when I’ve got the chance to run it past someone else before submitting. When it comes to organising things, I tend to surround myself with those who are better at it than me.
  • I can find conflict draining, especially if it carries on for a long period. When dealing with conflict I need to be doing something else at the same time where I’m working with ‘my tribe’ and achieving results positively.
  • My memory isn’t great, and I’m usually balancing a lot of things, so if I forget something, do remind me.
  • Delegation, I’m trying to get much better at delegating, but my tendency will always be to protect those working for me, so I need to be reminded that people want me to delegate so that I don’t feel like I’m putting burdens on others.
  • I struggle with unnecessary hierarchy or process. I find it frustrating to explain the same thing over and over again.
  • I struggle to initiate conversations, and I’m not great at small talk with people I don’t know, but I do love talking to and getting to know people.
  • I’m not always great with connecting names to faces, even of people I know, so please don’t be offended if I need a reminder.
  • Talking at people, conferences/ events/ even large meetings are hard for me, but having one or two friendly faces makes all the difference.
  • Eye contact, it’s not you, it’s me. I am listening and I do care. The same with fiddling or doodling. It’s how my brain works, please don’t take it as a sign I’m not paying attention because I am.

Things I love:

  • I love coming up with ideas and solving problems •I love working with a team or one or two others.
  • I like making people laugh
  • I like feeling needed
  • I love building teams
  • I love making a difference, and improving things for people.
  • I love getting to know people, what their interests are, what makes them tick.
  • I love to smile.

Other things to know about me:

  • I am neurodiverse, Dyspraxic with ADHD and Dyslexic tendencies; things like eye contact, doodling, memory etc are all part of this. But I’m good at thinking outside of the box and approaching things from a fresh angle.
  • I am incredibly loyal, if we are friends/colleagues I will always have your back, if you need help I will always do my best for you.
  • I am adaptable and resilient, I will always try to keep going and be flexible in my approach in order to deliver the right thing. I’m good in challenging situations. I get things done.
  • People don’t always think I’m taking things seriously, but I’m very committed and passionate about what I do, I will take on the toughest situations, but I’ll do it with a smile.
  • I’m a people person.
  • I’m a ridiculous extravert and a massive geek, I recharge by spending time with my tribe.
  • I’m a single mum to a neurodiverse child, I work hard to balance my work and home life, and talk openly about the challenges of that in order to support and encourage others to do the same.

Me in a nutshell:

I like to think I fight for what is right, helping others and using my networks and skills to solve problems, just like a certain lady detective. But obviously with less murders and less fantastic outfits.

The Honourable Phryne Fisher