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Why it’s ok to recognise that not everyone is the same.

At our LGBT* AGM a few weeks ago there were some really good conversations about what we could do to keep growing our network and supporting both the LGBT* members of our organisation, and ensuring as an organisation we are recognising what good looks like in terms of care for LGBT* people, and how we can best collaborate with other networks to support each other.

One thing that came up, that I’ve heard a few times before, is that, when talking to people outside of the network, the answer “I treat everyone the same” is thought to be a good answer when we ask care providers about the services they offer people.

Is that good enough? Are everyone’s needs the same? How do we work with service providers to explain why treating everyone as if they are the same isn’t necessarily the right thing to do. Do we understand why it isn’t?

Kylie Havelock does a great session on Equality vs. Equity that really helped me understand the issues we face when we strive to ‘treat everyone the same’.

The fundamental issue is that when we talk about treating everyone the same, we are often taking about treating everyone like what looks good to us. So, by deciding what good looks like for everyone else, we’re often approaching the problem from the point of view of our own privilege and what we think everyone needs based on our own assumptions and life experiences.

The intent is good, but the delivery is flawed. If we don’t take the effort to understand where someone else is starting from, and what they need, then we can never ensure we are treating them in the way that will most benefit them.

If you search online there’s a few pictures out there that help sum up the difference between Equality and Equity. To put it simply, Equality is where we treat everyone the same. Which assumes the same thing will benefit everyone in the same way. Equity is treating people fairly, looking at what they need to ensure they have access the same opportunities.

The photo below is fairly famous now, or at least the one you have probably seen the most if you’ve been following the conversation about Equality and Equity.

By treating everyone the same we ignore that the individuals in the picture are all different heights, so giving each a box to look over the fence isn’t actually very useful. The tallest person can already see fine and doesn’t need help. The middle person can now see with the aid of the box, but the smallest person still can’t see.

By treating them fairly we give each the help they need. So, we don’t give a box to the tallest individual, as they don’t need it. We give the middle individual one box, so they can see, but we then give the smallest individual two boxes, as they had the most height to make up, and they can also now see over the fence. Which is great.

Interestingly the above picture has its own issues, simply because it suggests that some people just need more of the same help than others, rather than the fact that for some people you need to think of a different approach to your solution.

To put it simply, not everyone can stand on a box, and ignoring that fact means we can spend a fortune investing in boxes to ensure everyone can see over that fence, but in reality we are still not recognising what people might need to ensure equal access. So yes, some people might not need a box at all; some might need one box; some might need two, but others might need a ramp, or if they are visually impaired they might need someone to describe what’s happening on the other side of the fence.

(Credit to: http://muslimgirl.com/46703/heres-care-equity-equality/ )

In a business setting, talking about fairness vs. sameness can be beneficial, especially where people have recognised there is a problem. But sometimes you need to go a step further and help people understand why what works for them isn’t what works for everyone, and that can be a little bit tougher, as that can take a conversation about understanding their own privilege.

In my experience, privilege seems to have become a dirty work, as soon as you try to talk to some people about it, they immediately become defensive, because they assumption is made that you are accusing them of intolerance of some kind.

But the truth is we all have some level of bias based on our own upbringing and experiences. Within the civil service and the public sector we have training to help us deal with unconscious bias, but I think we could go one step further with that training and get everyone to understand their own privilege, and where they are starting from in communications or day to day life in comparison to others.

In some areas we will have more privilege, in others we may have less. Understanding that helps us to understand where others are coming from and can then help us to treat people more fairly, rather than simply treating everyone the same.

If you’ve never examined your privilege there are some interesting tests out there, whatever score you get, the questions alone might help you consider things you’ve never considered as privilege before (be that your race, your ability to afford prescriptions or whether you’ve ever had to hide any elements of your identity.) While there are probably better ones out there, this one on buzzfeed is quite simple and easy to understand for a start.

I got 53%, which if I’m honest surprised me a little, I’d assumed I would get a slightly higher score. But the important thing for me is recognised those areas where I did score a point, and reflecting on those when I’m dealing with others to ensure I am being fair to them and not just treating them how I would expect to be treated because of my own privileges.

For those of us in diversity equality groups, when talking to others we need to check our own privilege, find common ground to start a conversation from, and recognise that as children we’re are often told to “be fair and treat everyone equally” now we just have to be able to help people recognise that Fairness and Equality are not the same thing, and it is important that we can all recognise that.

And when designing or delivering public services, it’s always worth us understanding our privilege, and why we need to ensure the services we delivery are fair and give equal opportunities to all those that may need them.

Originally posted on Medium

Making a change or making progress.

At a leadership conference recently there was an interesting debate about whether people perceived making a change or making progress to be more important.

Everyone on my table voted for making a change, my vote initially was for making progress, and so we debated what the difference was.

For me, change can be positive or negative. A negative change isn’t necessarily bad, you can learn from it, but it won’t necessarily move you in the right direction. If you don’t know what outcome you’re looking to acheive or how you will measure whether the change has had the effect you want, how do you know if the you have delivered value or not. There is little value in making changes just for the sake of it.

Progress to me means you are moving in the right direction, towards the outcomes you are looking to acheive. It can be slow, or achieved in small increments, but it is always valuable.

But both good changes and delivering progress both depend on you knowing the outcomes you are looking to achieve, and in my experience that is where organisations tend to struggle most.

They can say what they think the problems are, recognise that things are right, and be willing to make changes to help themselves make progress, but a lot of the time the changes are superficial, offering what are thought to be quick solutions to what are actually much deeper problems, and so the progress is slow and painful.

To transform an organisation and the services it delivers requires a massive change in how the organisation is structured, and more importantly how it thinks.

In my experience this change often starts within Digital, because the organisation views its technology or digital teams as not delivering. And yet the teams can not deliver because the organisation can not express the outcomes it is seeking to achieve or understand the wider problems it is seeking to fix.

This is why user research and business analysis are so important. Why we run Discoveries and encourage service design approaches that span the organisation as a whole, rather than remain within the silos the organisation has structured itself into.

These conversations can be uncomfortable, they challenge hierarchies, organisational structures and traditional assumptions, but they are there to help. Service Design and Product Management is about fostering and supporting those people able to lead those critical conversations, creating the environment we need to deliver outcomes for users and value for organisations.

Being transparent about what the real problems are, and open to new ideas and approaches at an organisational level is key if we want to change and adapt in order to make progress.

When looking to make changes its important to consider the environment we are working within. No conversation is best done via board papers or email, it is best done in the room face to face.

If we can’t move to a culture that values the time and commitment it takes to have those conversations then we must acknowledge that any progress we make will be slow and painful and not deliver any real value or acheive the outcomes we were looking for.

But for all that, recognising that change is needed is the best first step. Stepping up and admitting there is a problem that needs fixing in order to allow you to make any progress against the outcomes you want to acheive is not always easy, but it is important and something we should talk about more.

Needing to change doesn’t mean you have failed or not made progress or delivered no value. It just means you have learnt from what you have done, and recognise there is still more to do and we should celebrate that and talk about it more positively.

Originally posted on Medium

Theme vs. Epic vs. Feature vs. Component vs. Story

Probably the question I get most (after what is Product Management, and what is the difference between a Product Manager/ Product Owner/ Delivery Manger)… ok so the third most common question I get asked is “what I mean by Epic/ Theme/ Feature, Componant or Story, what is the difference?”

And given I get asked it so regularly I thought it was worth sticking my thoughts down in a blog, so that I can call upon it in the future for reference, but also so I can understand whether I’m using them differently to others.

Theme:

When I tall about a theme, I mean something like Accessibility. It weaves through pretty much all stories as a thing we need to consider, will be key in multiple epics, but is not a deliverable ‘chunk’ of stuff on its own.

Epic:

When I’m talking about Epics I’m talking about things like Payments. These are tied generally to a specific outcome or high level user need or part of the journey or process someone takes in using the service. “As a business I want to be able to pay my staff so that they are remunerated for their work” for example. All the stories within an epic are related to delivering that outcome, the stories collected in an epic deliver value together, but the Epic is too big to do in one sprint. An Epic may be made up of several Features, or it may not. If it contains several Features you may prioritise all the “must have” stories from the epic to deliver together, and come back to the “should’s and could’s” later. Or you may save up the stories to deliver all the stories together in one larger release.

Features and Components:

Sticking with the Payments analogy, given the scope of that Epic is large, it would probably contain several features and componants. a Feature would be something like your payments engine, a collection of stories you have to develop and deliver together to release value, whereas a Componant is generally something you can plug in like Bank Wizard. Neither of these things deliver the full outcome required, which is why they are not an Epic.

Just because you can physically pay someone doesn’t mean you can calculate the right payment for example, there will be other stories to allow you do that, all of those stories would sit within the Payments epic as you need them to meet the outcome you’re looking for, but would be developed separately to your payments engine or allowing you to plug in bank wizard.

Finally there are the stories and tasks that are fundamental to delivering everything:

Stories are the individual bits of ‘stuff’ you are trying to deliver. And the tasks are the actions you will undertake to deliver the story. So “as a manager I want to stop payments to members of staff who have left the business so that I’m not paying the wrong people” is a (terrible, sorry) story. It would still sit within the Payments epic, could possibly be part of a feature, but it meets an individual user need. The story would need to meet accessibility criteria, and there are several tasks you’d have to do to deliver it, develop a prototype or speak to stakeholders etc.

Originally posted on Medium

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

DWP videos

To celebrate Ada Lovelace Day our colleagues share how they’ve been inspired by Ada and other influential women in tech & digital.
In this video Zoe Gould and Arunan Thaya-Paran from DWP and other colleagues from across government give their reflections on the day and the wider theme of why collaboration is so important.
Building the Product Manager Community across Government

Finding your tribe. My path to the Civil Service:

That’s been some great stories shared on twitter today, and it really got me thinking about why I joined the Civil Service, and why I’ve stayed in the public sector.

Homeless till I was almost 4, I grew up on a council estate, daughter of a single mum, and like many others seemed to do, I joined as a temp.

A friend of my Mums worked at the Defense Vetting Agency (part of the MoD) and suggested I take a summer job there between college and university.

Seemed simple enough, but I failed the test the temp agency set. I have Dyspraxia, and my typing accuracy wasn’t high enough. But the MoD (or more accurately my family friend) agreed to give me a trial anyway (as long as I didn’t tell anyone else about my Dyspraxia in case they thought I couldn’t do the job). I worked there as an AO for three months and then headed off to university thankful for the extra cash in my pocket.

I was asked if I wanted to stay on at the MoD and build a career in the Civil Service, but I was the first in my family to get into university and I was determined to make the most of it; with dreams of becoming an anthropologist in my mind. So, I worked there as an AO for three months and then headed off to university thankful for the extra cash in my pocket.

3 years, a 2:1 degree and a load of student debt later I returned to the DVA. I’d decided anthropology wasn’t for me, ended up with a degree in politics I didn’t know what to do with, and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life now, so the DVA seemed a good place to work while I came up with a plan.

I was welcomed back with open arms and asked if I was aware of the Fast Stream graduate scheme. I wasn’t, but figured why not give it a shot. I spent three years on the Fast Stream with the MoD in London, working on various policy areas (if we’re ever in the pub together ask me about the most common FoI requests the MoD gets) and doing a stint in project management, before a relationship breakdown forced a move back home to the North.

I spent a year on loan to the Department of Health working on policy consultations and legislation changes before I was offered a role in the Department for Works and Pensions.

The DWP quickly became home, and I had the chance to work in the commercial strategy team and within benefit centre operations before being asked to join the newly forming digital team as a Product Owner.

If DWP was my home, the Product Owners were my tribe, and it was this role that really sparked my career and made me feel like I finally belonged. I spent over a year working in that team before I got a promotion to G7 within the relatively newly formed Government Digital Service where I spent 18 months learning that I had a lot to learn when it came to agile development!

I returned to DWP again as a Product Owner with a spring in my step and new tools in my digital arsenal, a year later I got my G6 as a Digital Service Manager, and 18 months later I was asked to take the Head of Product role on TDA to SCS, and here I am.

So 12 years, 4 Departments and 5 grades later what have I learned?

1. Not to be ashamed of my disability. Its part of who I am. The same as my gender. My sexuality. My religion. My love of Harry Potter. They are the things that make me ‘Me’.

2. That I couldn’t have got where I am without help and support to grow and develop. That my job is to help and support others to grow and develop themselves.

3. That nobody is perfect. Imposter Syndrome is a thing, but even those people you think have it all together, don’t. We all need to be more honest in owning our strengths and weaknesses.

And why have I stayed?

Because this is where I belong. I passionately believe in what we as Civil Servants do. We want to make things better. We want to solve problems for people. We’re not here for the money but for the purpose. And I’m so proud of all I’ve achieved, of the people’s lives I’ve positively affected.

I believe you have to enjoy what you do, you have to be passionate about it if you want to do more than simply work to live, and for me the Civil Service gives me that sense of purpose. The people are the things that make any job bearable, and the people here are the very best.

They are my tribe.

Changing perceptions of Women in Leadership

Originally published at digileaders.com on November 3, 2017.

Zoë Gould, Head of Product and Sue Griffin, Head of User Support Services; DWP Digital

Last month we delivered a breakout session at the Women into Leadership conference in Leeds.

The conference is about managing the challenges of modern leadership, recognising and rewarding female leaders, and enhancing leadership opportunities for women so they can build skills to become the leader they aspire to be.

Redressing the gender balance

In DWP Digital we’re changing lives by transforming the services we deliver, using new technologies and modern approaches to improve things for our users. DWP is huge — we’re the biggest government department — we support 22 million customers and release over £168 billion in payments each year. We’re working to solve important issues, supporting people when they are at their most vulnerable; in order to transform our services we currently work on 50 million lines of code and have around ten thousand IT system changes per year.

However, there is gender imbalance in DWP Digital as we have a shortage of female specialists and leaders — a challenge we share with many large digital organisations where less than 25% of digital roles are filled by women.

We want to change this and improve the gender balance.

The size and scale of our work offers up a lot of scope for a career in digital technology — so how can we change perceptions to help women develop in a digital career?

Well, in DWP Digital, we’re making progress.

We have our Women in Technology group, with a pretty active core membership of people who are keen to maximise the value of being part of this community. People who want to improve gender equality and help members reach their full potential by encouraging personal and professional development. We’re working hard to avoid having all male panels at events, and we’ve developed a list of more than 350 women who work within digital and are able to speak at events.

We’re also developing a ‘Digital Voices’ programme initiative to build confidence and engagement skills in women in DWP Digital.

And in June we ran a Women in Digital event, which was open to delegates from across the sector, including cross-government and external private sector representatives.

Normalising, not diversifying

In DWP Digital we’re driving an ethos where a diverse organisation is seen as the norm; where it’s possible for women to be leaders and have our skills valued. One of the biggest hurdles isn’t the technology — its culture.

We’re aspiring to be an inclusive organisation where the outcome is the focus, and to get there we collaborate and develop together regardless of gender, race, sexuality or disability.

Being open and talking about the changes we need to make and why, is the first step, so we’re vocal on social media and through our blogposts. Taking action is the next step, so we’ve set up diversity groups and we have a diversity charter. We’re making sure our recruitment process is fair and that we have mixed panels at interview. We’re engaging our communities by telling our story.

But we know there is still work to do on breaking down the perceptions of digital and technology. We know the words themselves sometimes put women off from considering careers or roles within this area, and now we need to consider what we can do and how we help break down those perceptions. We need to talk more about the non-technology specialist roles, about the skills and characteristics we need within digital. We need to look hard at the language we use and consider how we be more inclusive with the words we use.

Why not check out Digital Leaders’ 2017 Attitudes Survey Results to see the key takeaways about view on Women in Tech.

What does a Product Owner own anyway?

Recently Ross Ferguson wrote a great blog about why GDS chose Product Manager rather than Product Owner as the role title of its Product people.

Ross is right when he says that Product Management is the profession, and more widely understood by the wider industry, so why do we in DWP not use that term for our people?

I could be, and often am, glib about why DWP chose to stick with Product Owner, even after we stopped purely using SCRUM methodology, but a good conversation on twitter got me thinking about the debate again.

So what is a Product Owner?

The question on Twitter was ‘does Business Analyst + Project Manager = Product Owner?’ And while a good PO needs some of the skills from both of those professions, that’s not all they are.

For me, a good Product Owner is part Business Analyst, part project manager, part researcher and part service designer.

They have to analyse and understand the problems and options whilst also researching and understanding the needs of their users. They have to understand and manage the details whilst also being able to dream big and understanding the opportunities.

But they don’t own the analysis, or the research, or the plans or the design, they don’t own the code or the solution. Agile is a team sport, and as @Scott offer says a good Product Owner is the generalist in a roomful of specialists. They manage the backlog and make sure all the things happen, but they don’t own those tasks.

Product Owners are accountable for making sure we develop the right thing. That we solve the right problem. That we meet the needs of our users in the right way. But accountability and ownership are different.

So, if they don’t own the tasks, is it actually the Product they own? In smaller organisations, absolutely. But in an organisation as big as DWP do our Product Owners really own the full end to end service?

Honestly? 8 times out of 10 probably not. Most of our Products and Services are so big they can only be owned by the Senior Responsible Officer.

So what do they own?

The vision.

The vision is what makes or breaks a Product or Service. A good vision solves a bigger problem. A good vision is the difference between transforming something or redesigning it. A good vision challenges and moves us all on.

And that is what a Product Owner owns.

I don’t think Product Manager is wrong, and in the future the community in DWP may choose to being Product Managers, they are all empowered to choose the term that they feel fits best, but it’s not the term that resonates with me.

I own the Vision, it does not own me.

Sorry, for the geeks amongst you, this is Vision…. I’ll get my coat.

Originally posted on Medium