Weeknotes: 17 to 28 August 2020

Saturday morning bike ride round Bardsey

A double edition covering the 2 weeks since I got back from holiday…

What inspired me this fortnight?

  • Getting back from 2 weeks’ holiday and seeing how the team had moved things on while I was away.
  • The Product Development show and tell, in which two of our user-centred design graduates showed their team’s work on admin interfaces for cancer screening. I was impressed by the way they had tested both with experienced administrators and with trainees, to come up with something that’s easy to learn, and to use over and over again.
  • Our Digital Services Delivery practice leads meeting. The practice lead role is an extra assignment that people take on alongside their work in delivery teams, so it was impressive to see how they’ve kept the communities of practice moving over the past few months, despite the demands of  the coronavirus response and other pressing priorities.

What connections did I make?

  • Introductory chats with our directorate’s head of engineering, as well as new colleagues in NHSX and NHS Test and Trace.

How did I uphold the NHS Constitution?

“We earn the trust placed in us by insisting on quality and striving to get the basics of quality of care – safety, effectiveness and patient experience – right every time. We encourage and welcome feedback from patients, families, carers, staff and the public. We use this to improve the care we provide and build on our successes.” – NHS Constitution for England

  • I kept up my commitment to getting at least 2 hours of user research observation every 6 weeks, sitting in on a remote interview with someone who has low trust in government and the NHS.
  • I listened in on a usability research playback, which highlighted how users face a double burden of emotional stress and cognitive load in completing one of our services.

How am I developing leaders and leadership?

  • User-centred design leads and I had a conversaion about what learning and development we need to do as individuals and collectively. As well as seeking out coaching and mentoring, and learning on product management and agile topics, we decided to set up guest speaker slots at future UCD leads’ meetings. We want to hear from people who have tackled complex design challenges, changed culture, and grown a capability as we have to at NHS Digital.
  • I also had a couple of one-to-ones with newly-appointed leads. User-centred design leadership is a tough job to take on, especially in the current circumstances, and we need to set them up for success.

What do I need to take care of?

  • Ambiguity! Normally design is among the professions most comfortable working in conditions of uncertainty, but even designers have their limits, and I fear we may be reaching them in several pieces of work at the moment. Sometimes this demands a concerted push for clarity, sometimes a tactical retreat to return when higher-level questions have been settled by others.
  • Processes! I reviewed some work another part of our organisation had done to interpret the government agile process in their own context. My main piece of feedback: don’t try to re-write the Government Service Manual, just link to it. If parts of the manual are not clear to some teams, that might indicate a need for training, rather than writing more words on a web page.
  • Scope creep: this related to a piece of work I was aware of, but not deeply engaged with. When the report came back it was clear that big conclusions had been drawn from a very limited dataset, and weren’t really valid. I was cross with myself for not having anticipated this might happen when it was first raised several months ago.
  • Starting with why: I’m frustrated that an important piece of work I highlighted 3 months ago (which feels like an age in Covid years) has still not been clearly prioritised. I realised this might be because I wasn’t clear enough on why the failure to address it is slowing down our teams and impacting the user experience.

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