Weeknote: 13 to 17 July 2020

Three people walking down a steep path to a beach

A four-day working week after a long weekend on the lovely Northumbrian coast.

What inspired me this week?

  • Happiness is watching a flock of user-centred design professionals from multiple delivery teams swarming over a Miro board in a community workshop. I concluded early in my time at NHS Digital that having teams talk to each other was the foundation of everything. That’s proving to be even more the case in the current crisis.
  • I joined a couple of Zoom presentations for the opening of the RCA design graduate show. I was really impressed by how all the students had kept on going and delivered great work under difficult circumstances.
  • Sad to see the brilliant Chris Fleming leaving NHS Digital, but I’m sure he’ll do more great things in his new role with Public Digital. Chris was on the panel that interviewed me for my job as head of design, and has been a force for user-centred, agile transformation on some of the NHS’s biggest public-facing services.

How am I developing leaders and leadership?

  • A fortnightly call with user-centred design leads and heads across NHS Digital. This group has grown with a few new joiners while we’ve all been working from home, so it seems important to keep meeting regularly and focusing on how we develop our own capabilities, as well as those of the teams we look after.
  • I also had the first meeting of a small “accountability group” that I’ve set up to help me track progress and steer work on my team’s leadership development objective. From this very productive first call, I identified 4 initiatives to help deliver our key results. We’ll get together again in a month’s time to review progress on these.

What did I do to understand the barriers to accessing our services?

  • The second of the accountability groups is focused on access and equality. The objective for this one is that all our colleagues should understand barriers to access to our products and services, and always consider the equalities implications of their work. HR colleague Alison brought a useful perspective to the conversation, along with Dean, Nancy, Misaki and Leigh. There’s no single tactic for this; it will involve work on our products and services, on the make-up of our teams, and through our recruitment processes.

How can I demonstrate that user-centred design is making a difference?

  • One sign of success right now is a seemingly insatiable demand for members of my profession group to get involved in new work. It’s a good problem to have, but also a risk. If we spread ourselves too thinly, both the people and the quality of work will suffer. I had a couple of calls with delivery and commercial colleagues to work out how to fill some critical gaps.

What do I need to take care of?

  • I mentioned the pressure on some of our people in last week’s note. They still need support, sometimes protection, and occasionally cutting a little extra slack.
  • This week we felt the pain of design debt when the lack of a decision that has been deferred for several weeks came home to roost. I have to be constructive and temper my frustration about this one. It’s partially my fault for not being forceful enough with senior decision-makers when delivery teams first raised it and were told they’d have to wait.
  • As the work on the coronavirus response evolves again, there’s another change of people and another change of gear. Some ways of working which were essential a couple of months ago might not be right for what we need to achieve now. I need to carve out the time to articulate this properly. That’s complicated because I’m working across two separate senior leadership teams whose members have differing levels of digital delivery experience, separate sets of stakeholders, and divergent mental models of how work gets done.

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