This is my fifth annual report on working as a service design and innovation consultant. For the story so far, see posts from 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016.
Saying yes to more things, more often
Early in the New Year, a Stick People client got in touch to ask about a big piece of work with a very short deadline. I knew it would be a great fit for us, that we could really help the client – but also that we’d need some help. And for this job I knew where to turn.
This client is based in Birmingham, so it seemed natural to call Daniel Blyden from Spaghetti. We had never worked together formally before, but I knew that as a fellow global service jam host, he would have a shared language and way of working in a team with Stick Person Kathryn Grace.
So it turned out. Dan and Kathryn did a great job between them organising and running 6 co-creation workshops in 2 weeks, capturing loads of useful insights to help move our client’s thinking forward.
Being able to say yes to more things, more of the time, was a big part of the vision for Stick People – to quickly assemble dream teams of specialists wrapped around each client’s needs. Having a diverse network makes it possible to do this while keeping Stick People as small and lightweight as possible.
For the Digital Practitioner Programme, we were fortunate to partner with Vanessa Garrity, of Sociable Angels. Having a mental health nurse on the team gave us confidence to engage with both citizens and practitioners to understand what needs to happen for them to get the most out of digital in health and care. Our report has now been published by Leeds City Council, and mHabitat are developing the programme in an exciting direction.
Meanwhile, Sharon Dale had been facilitating the Government Digital Service’s Service Manager Programme pretty much single-handed for more than a year. Now user researcher and People Before Pixels organiser Rose Rees Jones is running cohorts too. It’s great to have her enthusiasm and perspective on the course.
Did I mention, we also ran a Global GovJam?
Helping people learn
My own main coaching commitment continues to be with the Digital Academy, mainly in Leeds, occasionally London. I’ve delivered working level learning for business analysts and product owners, many of whom I first met a couple of years earlier on the original academy foundation courses.
As the transformation agenda ripples out across the government, there’s growing demand from people who aren’t digital specialists but have important roles to play in making digital service a success. My academy colleagues and I have run closed courses with teams that make policy and run frontline operations.
In particular, it has been my privilege to work with senior civil servants responsible for some of the biggest services in government. We don’t just explain design concepts, we get leaders to experience them with activities covering concepts such as rapid concept generation, synthesis, prototyping and iteration.
As I work with others learning, I’m also learning loads myself, from every group of participants, the academy team and other coaches.
The academy is now moving from DWP to GDS, giving us the chance to offer agile, iterative and user-centred learning right across government. As this snippet from the Government Transformation Strategy suggests, the ambition is huge:
We need to be user-centered, multidisciplinary, open with our thinking and working, data-driven and led by service design. We will create an environment and culture that supports making policy based on cycles of user research and rapid iteration. We will invest in service design leadership and capability. We will ensure that the policy profession is fully equipped to work with agile design and delivery teams.
Putting it into practice
This time last year I was just starting out on an engagement with the amazing CoopDigital team on Funeralcare. I did some research, made some prototypes, and learned loads about the complex, unexpected and important business of caring for the bereaved and the deceased. I also got to see one of the world’s sharpest, most dedicated product managers in action. I’m now looking on enviously as Kathryn gets stuck into a proper contract with a different team at the Coop.
One of my interests in the past year has been how teams make the leap from just having a service in development to owning a proper live one. I did some service blueprinting work with a team in this position on Coop Membership, and a day a week working with the Skills Funding Agency in Coventry as they approached going live with a major new policy initiative and matching digital service.
My one regret from the past year’s consulting is not being able to spend enough time with these awesome teams. If you have experience of working successfully on a “day or two a week” basis with an agile team, I’d love to know how you made it work.
The money bit
In last year’s report, I shared some numbers from the management accounts for my consulting practice, Changeful Ltd. This year, as Stick People HQ Ltd has ramped up but some contracts continue to go through Changeful, it seems reasonable to show a combined picture consolidating both of them. Unaudited accounts, rounded to nearest £1000, usual cautions apply…
Sales are up, but much of that increase went, as it should do, to the people who did the work. I feel very fortunate to have the chance to work with them all.
The black line on the chart is what enables my independent consulting adventure to keep going. It covers my own salary, pension contributions, national insurance, personal tax and corporation tax. What’s left after that can be dividends or reserves to reinvest in the business. As I’ve noted before, my total reward package in full time employment at Orange was higher than this, but as a family we continue to live about as comfortably as we did then.
What should these numbers look like in a year’s time? There’s no iron law that they have to keep growing. Then again, I see lots of opportunities to work with great people, on work that matters, and to keep discovering and improving practice as we go. Maybe this is less an agency, more an action learning set with a P&L.
Thanks, as ever to all the family, friends and collaborators who make this possible. Want to be part of Year 6? I’m at mattedgar.com and stickpeoplehq.co.uk.