Weeknote: 9 to 13 March 2020 – “We have the best team” edition

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For a couple of Christmases I was part of the NHS.UK senior leadership team. When they were making the holiday cover rota, I used to joke, “you know where I am if there’s a service design emergency”. Well I won’t be making that joke again.

We have a Slack channel where designers share weekly updates with their colleagues. Scrolling through those, I can see the scale and pace at which teams have had to replan, reprioritise, reconfigure, and regroup. It makes me so proud of the many teams at NHS Digital, and of course the wider health and care system.

The past few weeks have felt like a sprint for some of them, but we’re under no illusions that there’s also a marathon ahead. My role right now is a supporting one, and that’s as it should be. The teams have got this. I’m here to advise, remove blockers, and keep moving on business as usual so that colleagues can do their best work to help the NHS at this horrendously difficult time.

What made me proud of my colleagues this week?

  • NHS.UK colleagues continuing to respond rapidly to the changing situation. With the NHS content they create now powering Google’s knowledge panels, and the website address displayed on the podium at a Prime Ministerial press conference, they are the frontline of a massive public information effort.
  • The 111 Online team who have continued to iterate their coronavirus service, again in response to medical advice that changes day by day.
  • All the teams and staff who have put their other work on hold to pick up urgent new commissions for brand new services that the nation is likely to need in the coming weeks.
  • All the teams that are quietly getting on with their work, and planning how they will keep on collaborating in the event of further more widespread disruption.
  • Our continued ability to be user-centred and open about our work. Misaki wrote about her reflections on 6 months learning to be a user researcher, David pushed an important update to make our services a little more accessible, and Tero shared some work he has been doing to untangle the terminology around services, products and platforms.
  • The calmness with which senior leaders in our organisation are balancing the need to support the health and care system with new information and services, while continuing with business as usual and other important non-Covid-19 work where possible.

I do not believe this organisation could have mounted a response like this two years ago. That’s the true measure of our digital transformation: we have mature, multidisciplinary teams who can be pointed at a new problem and just run with it. Central co-ordination is key of course, but we can only move at the pace that’s now demanded of us because everyone instinctively understands the role they have to play, and knows how to operate with a high degree of aligned autonomy.

Our product development strategy had three objectives:

  • to be design and user led
  • to be open and agile, and
  • to have the best team

Under pressure, people have proved they can be all of those things. Did I mention I am immensely proud of them all?

What do I need to take care of?

  • It’s important that everyone on the team looks after their own wellbeing, and that of their families and colleagues. No one knows how long this may last, or what may be asked of us. We need to guard against signs of fatigue and burn-out, both as individuals and in those around us.
  • I was furious when I heard that a colleague had been subject to coronavirus-related racism, and proud of her for confronting her abusers. There is no place for that, especially when the abuse is directed at NHS staff.
  • I’m helping with recruitment to some key roles at the moment. We need to make sure we get the right candidates for each role, and bring them on board to the organisation with the best experience possible, even if there’s a lot else going on when they arrive.
  • It’s coming up to the end of the financial year, which also marks a milestone for a piece of work that’s transferring to another health and care national organisation. I need to make sure we still deal with that efficiently, and have solid plans for my user-centred design team in the next financial year.

A couple of milestones

  • It’s exactly a year since I started writing weeknotes in this format. The impetus for me was that I’d just started on the NHS Leadership Academy Nye Bevan Programme. Writing weeknotes helped me to keep track of my learning, and gather evidence that I could include in my written work for the programme. I’ve finished the programme now, but the weeknoting habit seems to have stuck!
  • This week, my Bevan Programme peers and I got the brilliant news that we have all officially passed the programme. After the most challenging and stretching leadership development I’ve ever done, I now get to say I have an Award in Executive Healthcare Leadership. If you’re reading this and wondering whether the programme might be right for you, I’d be very happy to chat about my experience.

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