Weeknotes: 14 to 25 October 2019

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A 2-week batch of weeknotes, having taken time last week to finish my NHS Leadership Academy Nye Bevan Programme element 2 submission. Things at work have been changing fast during the weeks that I’ve been writing this critically reflective essay, but the whole process has helped me to clarify what I need to focus on, both in the short term, and looking ahead at my career in the NHS. Also, the past couple of weeks have been less intense (for me at least) in terms of the NHS Digital reorganisation. For the first time in ages, I had more of my working week back to spend on design, user research, and developing my profession – which feels great.

1. What inspired me this week?

  • From afar, the tweets from GovJam. It was lovely to see several UK jams led by people I know, and Kathryn Grace connecting jammers all over the world as part of the HQ team.
  • I had half a day of training with Mindgym, who are running a series of sessions for all our NHS Digital line managers. Based on my own experience of the session, I think they could make a real difference to the way we lead across the organisation.
  • The response to Dean’s blog post ‘Building a diverse design team in challenging circumstances‘. This is important. You should read it, if you haven’t already.

2. How did I uphold the NHS Constitution?

  • Dean’s post was well-timed to inform a couple of meetings between our Digital Services Delivery profession leads and HR colleagues working on diversity, equality and inclusion. Wendy, our exec director, has challenged us to make our profession an exemplar of the organisation’s new approach.

3. What connections did I make?

  • A chat with Daniel from Birmingham-based Spaghetti Labs about a health-related project he’s starting out on. I’m delighted that there’s a space for this kind of thoughtful design exploration in the NHS.
  • A Hangout with Rohan and Ute from NES, one of the bodies working to make digital services better across health and care in Scotland, and a few days later a visit by Carol and a team from NHS24, who run the country’s public-facing health website. There’s scope for some great cross-border collaboration with both organisations.

4. What leadership teamwork did I see?

  • The heads of and lead designers and user researchers working together to share our new operating model with colleagues. The reorganisation has been a stressful time for many, and is still going on for some. Amid all this, it’s important to look at the future for user-centred design in the NHS, and the leading role that NHS Digital people have to play in it.
  • I was impressed to see a demo of an integration prototype across three of our main public-facing services – e-Referrals, NHS login and the NHS App. Points 2 and 3 of the Government Service Standard dictate that our services should “solve a whole problem for users” and “provide a joined up experience across all channels”. To achieve those points, our teams have to work together, including collaboration between different suppliers. This prototype showed me that they can.

5. How did I make expectations clear?

  • I set out an expectation that as we link our services together more, we do cross-cutting user journey research to ensure that whole journeys are simple to use (that’s point 4 in the standard!). What we find in that research could have implications for all or any of its component services.
  • In a design working group call, expertly facilitated by Mohammed, I drew attention to the balance between control and trust – controlling how different teams use components and patterns so that the user experience is consistent, versus trusting good content people, designers, and user researchers to do their best work. I hope the team will talk more about that balance.
  • I reminded some colleagues of our strategic objective for delivery to be led by product managers. We have more work to do together to articulate what this means in practice.

6. What do I need to take care of?

  • The balance between user-centred design roles that I’m responsible for, and user experience as everyone’s job. Sometimes I’m working specifically with designers and user researchers, but other roles, such as content and front-end development are just as important and need just as much support to be user-centred.
  • More change is coming, so now is a good time to confirm what we’ve agreed, and have clear objectives in place for everyone. In writing my own objectives, I need to strike the right balance between my direct contribution to our product development priorities, and the enablers, such as design system and user research tools, which will help the whole organisation to become more user-centred over the long term.

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