Weeknote: 20 to 24 January 2020

A4 paper on wall, written in black market pen: "Matt last observed primary usder research on:" with sticky notes showing the date 15-01-2020, and hashtag #2HoursEvery6Weeks

What inspired me this week?

  • The discovery team on Book, Refer & Manage Appointments is making progress on user research and mapping at an impressive rate, picking up new team members as it goes. Ideally, teams like this should start together. Having new people join 2 or 3 weeks in can be disruptive, so it’s a credit to the ones who have been working on this the longest that they’re welcoming in the newcomers and taking the time to bring them up to speed. The trick for the newcomers is to be fearless in asking the obvious questions, and humble in listening for nuance in the answers.
  • A few weeks ago, I proposed that 3 of our teams – NHS App, Screening, and Book, Refer & Manage Appointments – should do regular show and tells to each other, as a way to create shared awareness of who’s doing what, and promote cross-fertilisation of ways of working. The first one was on Wednesday and it was everything I hoped it would be. Kudos to all the presenters, and to Charlotte, our user-centred design team admin, for setting it up, dealing with the deluge of people asking for a calendar invite, and then making sure that the tech worked on the day. I can’t wait for the next one.
  • Along with 20 or so other managers, I took part in a half-day “Management Matters” training session on empowerment, delivered by Mindgym. I always enjoy the clippy pace and clipart-free production values of these sessions. It immediately gave me things to think about in the way I work with my teams.

How did I uphold the NHS Constitution?

  • I met with Sonia, who leads on HR strategy and equalities. We talked about the Public Sector Equality Duty and how to meet it in ways that make our products and services better for everyone, not a tick-box exercise. We also talked about multidisciplinary team empowerment, and how we might make team achievements more central to conversations about performance.
  • As a user-centred design team, one of our key results is “% of product development staff exposed to 2 hours of primary user research inside a 6 week period”. (Based on a staff survey, we started in September at around 20%). A couple of weeks ago, we agreed that we also needed to hold ourselves to account on this one, so my last date of user research observation is now on our team wall (and at the top of this post) for all to see.

What connections did I make?

  • My new boss! Ben started this week as interim executive director of product development. We worked together briefly before when Ben was working with our Citizen Health Tech teams, but it was great to catch up with him in his new role and talk about the things we need to do together.
  • I met Ev, who has joined NHS Digital from Public Health England to work in our Data Services Directorate. We talked about some exciting opportunities to bring a user-centred service design approach to the work that Ev leads.
  • I had a call and a short in person catch-up with Gavin, who has joined us as product lead on Book, Refer & Manage Appointments. He has also been making connections rapidly, and discovering the firehose that is health Twitter!

What leadership teamwork did I see?

  • I spent Monday afternoon at Skipton House, the London office where both NHS Digital and NHS X teams are based, working with Iain, Ian and Simon on models of product management and service ownership. This is an important thing to get right in any digital service delivery domain, even more so when accountability for different layers of the service stack rests with different organisations. The only thing for it is to collaborate openly across boundaries, to grow a shared understanding of the problem, and make shared product artefacts to inform decision-making. On the train home I turned our whiteboard scribble into a picture which we have since shared with senior people in both our organisations.
  • I brought a proposal about our own product management capability to colleagues on the Product Development directorate senior leadership team. I feel like we’re making progress on this, and am grateful to all my SLT colleagues for their input on it.
  • There was an NHS Digital “All Hands” event at Leeds Town Hall. Members of the Executive Management Team fielded questions from staff, and Ben, our organisation’s sustainability manager got a well-deserved round of applause for a thought-provoking talk.
  • We met as a user-centred design team to work on business planning for the next financial year, and discuss how the shape of the team might change. Our three brilliant graduate trainees, Harry, Emily and Matt, will be moving onto their next 6-month-long assignments elsewhere in NHS Digital. Their input in this meeting helped us think about what has worked and what could have been better, and what trainee assignments we should offer for the next rotation.

How did I make expectations clear?

  • In the business planning conversation, I talked about how our work was going as a new team, and shared some things that concern me at the moment. As a small central team not assigned to any particular product or service, we need to be sure that we’re delivering value for money to the rest of the organisation, and that the artefacts we’ve committed to creating are widely shared and adopted.

What do I need to take care of?

  • Since the Management Matters  workshop, I have been thinking about trust and feedback, making sure I keep up my commitment from the NHS Leadership Academy Bevan Programme to make my expectations clearer, so that others can contribute to team goals without having to stop and ask permission.
  • One of my profession team challenged me on how we coordinate as a group and use our scarce time together. I know they’re right, and need to explore that more with them.
  • With Ben arriving as exec director, and some other changes in the directorate leadership team, I have an opportunity to think about where I should direct my own time and attention. For the last few months, I’ve felt myself playing “out of position” – focused on things that aren’t user-centred design as such, but need to be put in place before our directorate can be truly design and user-led. That was the right thing to do, because a narrow window of opportunity opened up just when there were fewer people around to press the case for transformation. Now I can see through the window and out to the other side, with those changes set in motion, a multidisciplinary leadership team in place, and me able to focus more on design and user research leadership again.

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