Weeknote: 23 to 29 March 2020

Desk with laptop, phone and notebook in front of window and surrounded by houseplants

What inspired me this week?

  • New co-workers – my wife and our sons aged 13, 17, and 20 – getting on with their work while I do mine. Halfway through the week, I moved my improvised office from the dining table, which was rather too much in the middle of everything, to a sunny window with houseplants for company.
  • On Friday, the boys chopped wood and fired up the pizza oven for the first time this season. I got to take out the week’s frustrations kneading the dough, and we all ended the evening well-fed and stinking of wood smoke.
  • Remotely peeking into my colleagues’ homes, with fleeting glimpses of young family members, put me in mind of a classic line from the Cluetrain Manifesto: “Somewhere along the line, we confused going to work with building a fort.” Let’s never go back to Fort Business.
  • The end of discovery show and tell for the Book, Refer and Manage Appointments team. They presented a solid set of user needs, problem definitions and service patterns. When the current crisis is over, I hope we will channel our care and creativity into doing this stuff much, much better across the NHS.
  • There was also some good work from the team working to untangle the information architecture of the NHS website.
  • And then I got more deeply involved than I have for quite some time in delivering a brand new public-facing service. Working with the service manual team, over four full-on days including Saturday and Sunday, they built, tested, and went live with something that we hope will help the NHS prepare and respond to coronavirus. More news of that coming soon.

How did I uphold the NHS Constitution?

  • I made a public plea for people not to cut corners on digital accessibility. I’d been seeing some brilliant, rapidly spun up services to help people through this difficult time. I’ve also seen some new products that are badly let down by a lack of thought for inclusion. Obviously trade-offs have to be made, but we simply don’t have the time to re-work things that have been built without considering users with access needs. The NHS is for everyone, now more than ever.

What connections did I make?

  • Alongside the work with the service manual team, I spent some time linking across several teams working on services for people with covid-19 symptoms. While moving at pace, it’s really important to make sure these services make sense in their own terms, and link together as a coherent whole.
  • On Sunday, I took an hour out for a Zoom call with my inspiring Bevan Programme learning set. Although the leadership programme has finished now, we’re keeping in touch and supporting each other. It was humbling to hear from this group, especially those working to prepare local services to deliver direct care in what could be the very challenging circumstances.

What leadership teamwork did I see?

  • NHS Digital’s senior leaders have worked exceptionally hard to enable the organisation to flip in the space of a few days to almost 100% remote working, while continuing to provide a set of vital live services to the health and care system.
  • We can only get through when leaders support each other. I’ve noticed how people instinctively know when to support their colleagues. They notice when someone, who may be more senior than them, is struggling and needs time out, or when a team that has kept up a blistering pace needs permission to slow down for a bit.

What do I need to take care of?

  • A crisis brings out the best and the worst behaviours, in others and in me.
  • As I got caught up in the rush to deliver, I noticed myself being distracted on a call with one of my team, who was not involved in that piece of work but had equally important things to say. I regretted not giving that person my undivided attention.
  • I twice put off a scheduled catch-up with someone to make way for urgent meetings. This situation could last for some time. Meanwhile the ordinary work of coaching and mentoring needs to continue, so that people don’t feel ignored or isolated during this time of “social distancing”.
  • Unlike some who thrive in these situations, I know that I don’t enjoy emergencies. My favourite kind of change is steady, sustainable capacity building. I’m proud of the teams we’ve built at NHS Digital, and their ability to rise to this occasion, but I’m also impatient for all this to be over so we can get back into a more thoughtful mode of digital transformation.

How many times did I cycle to work?

  • 0 out of a possible 0. I did get out for a couple of walks round the neighbourhood.

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