Weeknotes S01E08 — it’s a wrap

Hi all, hope you are all doing great, it has been about 6 weeks since the last update. There was a lot going on. I always struggle a bit through December to stay well, and if it hadn’t been for a couple of really bad train delays I might have made it through. It was also incredibly excitingly busy at work and stressfully busy at work and there is some fairly heavy family stuff going on, now we are at the age of our parents and in laws being really quite old. So! Here we are!

A poster in classic Sex Pistols album cover style that says “Never mind the bureaucracy, here’s the Croydon Digital Service”

It is a year since I joined CDS. Jan 2nd last year Dave and I started on the same day and started to get to know each other and the rest of the team and shape the way forward. I remember Neil and Dave being quite shocked one day when I swore about 2 weeks in and realising I must still be being on best behaviour! For me the CDS shaping has been focused a lot on creating a User Centred Design team with all that involves — making job descriptions, completing job evaluation criteria, interviews and so on. I now have a team of about 20! They are really cool. All of them new specialisms in the organisation — content design (not a more generic web author) , interaction design, product management and user research — and then the brilliant addition of our business partners. Once we have a delivery and product lead the PMs will move to their team, which makes total sense and will work really well. They wont be far and I will still regularly check in with them but they are great people so it would be weird if I didn’t miss managing them and I will. But I’m really looking forward to that final piece in the management puzzle as I know Dave is — read his review and look forward here. And Neil’s and much more on the Croydon Digital blog And Victoria one of our PMs has just joined the weeknote gang!

I had assumed that there would be more GDS people who live nearer to Croydon that would be keen to follow Neil but I had underestimated how little central knows about local. Also, having visited and had our away day at GDS, it really is a very cool place to work, and central gov feels like you are working on the heart of things of course. So we have kept our mission of working in the open and demonstrating our values so that people could see that we were a safe bet — that our cultural values are the same and that there are real positives to working in local government. You are much nearer to the people whose lives you affect. I am proud of the buzz and interest we have generated in what Croydon is doing. As a result we have attracted some outstanding new people. It has been so nice to have our delivery managers and product managers join! We are still getting used to not having to organise everything and to have people who totally get what we are trying to achieve and helping us to shape it.

I am so looking forward to our two day “lock-in” next week where we are getting together to really flesh our new roles and responsibilities, governance, structure, flow etc. The delivery managers are really rocking it. We knew things would start to flow once they were here but my goodness they are just kicking ass. I think next week will be a suitable time to call time on Series 1 of weeknotes and begin series 2. Both a new year and a new phase of CDS.

Working out in the open has brought the benefits we need but has it’s challenges. We need to make sure that internal teams understand that writing on a cloud based platform is also completely aimed at them. We are just writing once for all audiences. But we also need to do more tailored internal comms and this is one of the big missions for the year. Other services want to know what is going on and specifically what is going on in their area. This is a big task and we need to find a way to make it simple enough to be sustainable. Product Managers and Business Partners barely have time for our fortnote writing , writing multiple different versions ain’t gonna work.

What I want to say to services is : Ok so imagine you have your own service goals and priorities to implement but also every other service needs you to deliver work to enable their strategy and their savings. And then each one of them wants to know exactly how and when you are going to do the bits that apply to them , and they don’t want to go and read one generic document and find their relevant bits. And they are so busy that it is hard to get any time with them to update them or get a slot in their meetings. But their expectation on you to deliver is enormous. That’s us, and it is demanding but we kind of relish it, that is why we are attracted to this area of work. So, we are gonna do our very damndest to make this comms a reality for you but you gotta pick up the phone when we call :)

Also, we really need our external support community! Thank you everyone who shares, who replies, who offers support, who comes and does service assessments, who shares our job adverts, who are also motivated to deliver for their organisation so that they can help users, who understand the pressures we all face, and who keep us going. We feel it and we hope you get it back and lets make sure we keep it going!

The year has been pretty amazing for me. Of course it has had its challenges, frustrations and difficult conversations, but within the context of a highly motivated team of people absolutely dedicated to improving things. Passionate about making it better for residents. We support each other, we let off steam, we have bad days, ranty days, snappy days, we let them go. We are all humans and we all have too much to do but the people are good and they are up for it and also a lot of them are pretty funny which really helps. I love working for CDS. I love helping shape the reasons that I love working there. I love that when a couple of spinning plates crash we help each other sweep them up and marvel at the number still spinning.

It took much longer during the Christmas break — about 3 days before going back to work — until I felt like my brain had managed some reflection. We have been madly busy this year and we have been in start up mode. The mood has been driven, fun and a touch frenetic. The work and expectation if anything will increase, but we have to somehow find a sustainable mental pace and rhythm within it so that we can last the distance. We absolutely can’t burn out, there is too much to do and it is too important. Again, hoping our 2 day lock-in together can really help shape this. I would very much like to not be half dead by December 2020. Also, CDS has been a bit all consuming — and my first commuting job in 13 years — and tell you what I’ve absolutely bloody loved it , no complaints, but this year I need to manage to see friends and family more. Which means having enough energy. Which means leaving work on time so that by the weekend I am not just sleeping and watching box sets. (Though, again, I really love doing this. Succession and Chernobyl were particularly hot CDS topics. And GoT of course and the subsequent counselling of each others dashed hopes) I think the fact that we have only a couple of jobs left to recruit will likely really help with finding that stable mental pace. Or maybe in a year I will just laugh at what I am writing now :)

I’d really love to keep up meeting the wider tribe too. Jonez and I have had some brilliant trips out to understand how we can pull policy and user centred design closer together. We dont get anywhere near to implementing the changes and inspiration as we would like to but just doing it brings so much value. It is always such a boost to lift yourself out of your daily challenges and go talk to likeminded people. It is increasingly difficult in a local government funding and freeze context but sometimes paying for the odd train ticket is definately worth it.

Wishing you all a successful, satisfying year ahead, weirdos. But if it doesn’t happen , I’ll bin you, don’t say I haven’t warned you!