Weeknotes s01e12

Epic

This week I have been the Head of Data and Search at the UK Parliament for a year. Thinking about how the year has gone, I looked back to this post I wrote in May about what the team were doing.

Have I done all of the things in the blog post?

Yes I have.

Is it finished?

No.

Still a long way to go.

In my last role the first year was a grind, and the second year was when the good stuff happened [1]. So I’m looking forward to a good second year.

I’m not sure what more I could have done, or done differently, in the past 12 months. Part of me thinks I need to learn (or rediscover) how to be a bit more spectacular. Still, I’m comfortable with the way things have progressed; the decisions I’ve made; the team we’re building; that we are delivering as a team; that I’m consistent in living my values for work; and that I have personally tried new things for my own development.

The week at work was epic. Really varied, very busy, and with lots of good stuff happening.

EPIC LIKE MATT PIKE WITH HIS 9-STRING GUITAR AND MARSHALL STACKS EPIC

In my year-long quest for balance I am glad not every week is like this as it wouldn’t be sustainable, but I’m comfortable with peaks and troughs as long as the trend line is horizontal.

In ‘it’s a small world’ news: This week I learned that weeknotes don Matt Jukes almost certainly saw my band play in Bristol 7 or 8 years ago [2]; AND on Wednesday I witnessed one of my oldest friends presenting to staff from my department about user research (I had nothing to do with him being there).

Week in brief

On Monday beta.parliament.uk was made available to the public. Jamie (fellow Head of X) wrote a great blog post about it that is clear and full of links. It’s a significant first public step for all of us, and under the hood [3] it’s using the API from the new data service we’re building.

My calendar was appalling with quintuple clashes all over the place, so I took a while to sort it out.

I caught up with Samu (tech lead). Samu is working a custom pattern because he is sharing parental leave. Understandably, Samu is in the office less than he had been before, and we’re still both adjusting to this. Personally, I think it’s working well and we’re striking a good balance so far. It also gives the developers in the team an opportunity to step up.

I had a one to one with my baking brother Henry in the park. Henry has been on secondment from POST into my department as a user researcher and this was his last week. I’m sad that Henry is leaving because he’s a really positive and supportive presence, but it was good to hear that he’s learned from the experience, developed his skills, and has some good ideas about what’s coming next in his career.

I did a fair bit of writing for the rest of the day.

Tuesday started with the team rally where I told everybody what was happening and that kind of thing.

I met with Steve, who is a senior member of staff in the House of Commons and is especially important to my team — we value and need his support. I haven’t seen Steve as much as I should have done in the past few months, but it was a good opportunity to go through where we have got to with the new data service and he was very positive about it all.

In the afternoon we had an event for all the staff in Emma (my Director)’s Directorate. I had been involved in planning and executing this with Jo, Julie, and Nik over the past month or so.

In February Julie had surveyed all the staff about what they would like from an event. Around 45% responded. The consensus was that people wanted to get to know each other (we have many, many new people in the team) and that it should be half a day.

We developed the idea to spend half a day doing something ‘real’. The group (maybe 80 people) were split into 10 teams carefully curated by Julie and Nik. We took 3 genuine themes from our roadmap for our new website — committees, visiting, and legislation, and wanted to work on these in the context of one of our values:

Start with user needs

With emphasis on the ‘start’.

Each team had a user researcher or somebody experienced in user research.

This is a multidisciplinary group. They will all play a part in delivering to those 3 themes over the coming months, but at best many of them would have had limited exposure to our users’ needs. With help particularly from Steve (a user research lead) we came up with something feasible. My inclination would have been to keep the themes broad, but the user researchers recommended coming up with 10 more focused questions related to the themes.

It worked well. We gathered in a big room. Emma introduced the afternoon and then I introduced the challenge. Everybody went off for a few hours and then came back to the big room for each team to report main findings in 2 minutes. I was so impressed with what the teams came up with in a short space of time, the variety of approaches, and the insight on show. I was also really impressed with how everybody (no matter what their job role) got involved, because

USER RESEARCH IS A TEAM SPORT

I even took part in a team myself. Here is the proof:

We didn’t want to turn user research into a stunt, however [4].

I hope I’m consistent in respecting other folks’ professional skills and disciplines, and I wouldn’t ever suggest that this afternoon event was the ‘right’ way to do user research.

It wasn’t about the research, it was about getting to know each other.

So at the end when I asked the room “hands up if you met somebody you didn’t know before”, and everybody did, I knew it had been a success — this is what the data said the outcome should be, and that’s what was delivered.

After the event I’ve had some interesting feedback — not everybody liked it, but the majority did.

Another feedback questionnaire will go out and we’ll establish what to do next. Hopefully the reponse rate will be higher this time.

Wednesday started with me watching Kieron and John talking about how GDS do user research.

There was an all staff event (the whole department). Main highlight for me was Tori (Director of Transformation) introducing our new values.

Louise published a blog post that Aidan and I had collaborated with her on about pair writing.

We had a (very short) data day, my team’s planning day. We still managed to get through a fair amount in just 2 hours, particularly when working with Jamie, Caroline and Ganesh [5] on data priorities for the new website.

Then I had to work through finishing end of year reports for people in the team. I spent about 3 hours and listened to ‘Dopesmoker’ by Sleep 3 times in a row to help me focus. If you can put the drugs talk to one side [6] this is one of the best records ever made in my opinion, and it helps me to concentrate.

Thursday started with a briefing for ‘Head of Profession’ (I am one of those) about scaling agile in our department. This was led by Tori and Rebecca (Director of Portfolios [7]).

I went with Dia (product manager) and Matthieu (developer) to the National Audit Office (NAO). I was presenting as part of a ‘week of learning’-type event they were running for their staff, and talking ab0ut the work of my team. 3 people from the NAO came [8] and we had a good session. I found that, since beta.parliament.uk is public now, I can use it as part of a story about linked data in Parliament. I look forward to the first implementation of our search API so that I can use that to illustrate the story too.

One of the people from the NAO had built a great and useful web application on our data on data.parliament.uk — I had to get back, but Dia and Matthieu stayed behind to talk to her about her experience, the strengths and limitations of that API, and hopefully develop a relationship where we can gather more information about user needs for our data.

Back at the office I met with Rachel (Head of Communications [7]) to talk about my perceived problem that not enough people inside my organisation know about what my team are doing. This was really constructive, Rachel was good at diagnosing the problem and we agreed what to do to try to solve it.

I had the corporate management information dashboards meeting.

DASHBOARDS

Bryan Cranston GIF aside, this was a good session and the team are making progress regardless of the fact that this work is very, very hard to manage.

I met with Jamie, Jeanette, Julie, Rebecca, and Tom to work out how to run an induction session for new staff. This was collaborative and I think we came up with something that would work well.

I did some more work on end of year staff reports.

Friday started with good news from Emma about corporate management information dashboards — it seems the team are doing the right things so our internal users have confidence and feel supported.

I spent the majority of the day on end of year staff reports, with a brief break to talk to Ed about the upcoming committees discovery phase for the new website.

I’ve been running a ‘what are the priorities for next week?’ session every Friday afternoon for a few weeks now, but decided not to this week. I think we need to revisit, reflect and iterate the idea as a team because I’m not happy with it.

#MeetingWatch

I’m still collecting data about my meetings every week to try to get better. I haven’t done the analysis, but I think my meetings burden has been fairly light these past 4 weeks.

This week I’ve been concerned that I’ve inconsistently defined ‘meeting’. For example was the event on Tuesday a ‘meeting’? Thrilling question.

THRILLER

Also I was sad not to get stuck in a revolving door or receive any emails for the ‘other’ D Barrett this week, both things I record under ‘Miscellaneous Metrics’.

[1] The third year was a rather debilitating wind-down, so I need to work out how to avoid repeating that

[2] He cannot remember anything about my band, of course. I am very glad I’ve got this whole Data and Search thing to fall back on if my music career doesn’t take off

[3] More like under the hood under the hood under the hood under the hood, actually

[4] Maybe at the next event we’ll have a data theme, and get everybody to make a spreadsheet

[5] Fresh

[6] I realise this may be difficult. The record is called ‘Dopesmoker’ and the first line is “Drop out of life with bong in hand”, but still. Say no to drugs.

[7] I think that’s right

[8] I am not sufficiently famous on the internet to be a big draw

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Head of Data Science at Citizens Advice. These are my personal thoughts on work.

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Dan Barrett

Head of Data Science at Citizens Advice. These are my personal thoughts on work.