Weeknote 15, for 1–5 November
Community maturity, content strategy, collaborative working, profession management and notes on patience.
Let’s acknowledge first that sadly I didn’t post a weeknote for all of October. I had the best of intentions, but it was all just too busy! So this update sneaks in a few things that I’m happy about / learned before this week…
Things I’m happy about
Community maturity assessments
One of the wonderful services our Digital Communities of Practice Manager Alex Rippon provides is a community maturity assessment, based on the excellent work by Emily Webber. We ran it first in January 2021 and were at the ‘start up’ stage of maturity.
Yesterday in community time we ran it again, with a couple of changes. There are 55 statements to consider as true/false/in progress, and last time I found trying to talk about all the statements and decide was too much for one session. I was also concerned that possibly people didn’t feel comfortable speaking up, and wanted to make sure we gave everyone a chance to contribute their thoughts in multiple ways.
This time we tried a Google Form approach, where we asked the questions in advance. Before we met, we could see the areas where the group was in agreement (over 2/3) and could move those to the correct spot. But for questions where there wasn’t agreement — or where there was even a 3-way tie — we prioritised for discussion.
It was so interesting to see the progress we made on certain areas — and we had some really good, in-depth discussions about those areas. There’s still more to do (there’s always more to do), but this process injects real energy into our community working groups and reminds us what we’re all here to do. Will report back next time on what our placement is!
Collaborative working outcomes
Sometimes it’s the unsexy things that you can be really proud of. And one of those things came about two weeks ago, when we formalised a way of working between Digital &Technology and Digital Communications that we piloted a few months ago.
Long story short: Digi Comms looks after GOV.UK, D&T looks after services. User journeys cross those platforms and often become disjointed. We trialled buddying our content designers together to smooth that process and allowed D&T content designers to work on Whitehall (the CMS for departmental GOV.UK content).
This collaborative way of working hadn’t been possible before, but thanks to some brilliant work in both directorates, we made it formal — and D&T content designers can now work to a Digi Comms process. So many thanks go to my brilliant colleague in Digi Comms, Clare, for being so open to working in this way.
I sang from the rooftops about this Word document that outlines the way of working, and was so happy to get feedback from our Director Emma Stace that this was ‘patient, focused, collaborative work’. This is what I aspire to do all the time (but don’t always find easy).
Content strategy cohort 2
Our first round of content strategy workshops with content designers last quarter went really well. We joined up all our senior content designers and worked on our strategies in a similar context, and shared them. This was new work for most everyone — but critical work.
Seniors have strategy in their job description, but what about content designers that might be on their own in a service that needs a strategy? That’s what cohort 2 is for. We’ve brought together 7 content designers from different services — data science, learning records, academy transfers, the service manual, and more — and will work collaboratively to get them all to a first draft.
And as our Lead Content Designer Rose Catt explained to the group at the kick-off — if you are able to put together the content strategy by yourself, you’ve done it wrong. This MUST be done as a team, because it must become an essential part of the team’s work.
Rose and I are available for ‘surgeries’ throughout November, and in December we’ll be sharing as a group. And our ambition is to get all our strategies up on wall (including cohort 1) to see how they all stitch together. Unreasonably excited about this!
The Heads of Profession often from their communities that they feel particularly empowered when they are line managed by someone of their same profession — they feel that person understands them and their work. We are really keen for all specialists to be line managed within profession, but that’s not always possible given our organisational design.
We gained buy-in that this is a valued way of working and is the ideal. But we were keen to ensure parity of experience — what happens, for example, if you aren’t able to have a line manager in your portfolio of the same profession?
Cue: profession management.
This approach emphasises the ‘trio’ of support that a specialist needs: line, task and profession management. This trio of support could actually be done by 1, 2 or 3 people. So if your line manager isn’t of your specialism, that’s ok. The next best approach is to have a line manager of your same job family (for content design, that might mean either interaction design, service design or user research) and if that’s not possible, the most appropriate person in that portfolio. But in either of those latter two scenarios, the Head of Profession will also provide a ‘profession manager’, someone who joins some of those key objective-setting sessions and forms a partnership with the line manager and specialist to assess capability.
We’re rolling this out this quarter with a plan to properly start next quarter. I’m excited to see the outcomes.
Things I learned
Patience is my ongoing challenge
Though I may have received some lovely feedback about my ‘patient and collaborative’ work, I threw that all out of the window on another piece of work where I rushed things and didn’t take that approach. I made a mistake. Strangely, it happened only days after I’d done the good thing, so I’m not sure why I didn’t catch myself. I think I’ve sorted it, but it’s a reminder that ingrained character traits like impatience need to be continually worked on.
I joined a workshop this week on improving team performance, and learned this phrase. Essentially it can be one of the reasons for performance issues, beyond things like motivation, wellbeing, and so on. I wondered to myself — do I have overplayed strengths? What are they? And although my performance isn’t a problem (that I am aware of!), could this be holdign me back from achieving more? Something to ponder.
Things I read that I liked
Not a week goes by that I don’t use the DDaT Profession Capability Framework or share it with someone. It really is such a helpful resource.
Things I’m doing next week
Tuesday 9 November is my one-year anniversary at DfE! Will celebrate in some small way I’m sure.
Joining a workshop with CDDO colleagues to co-create guidance on meeting policy intent. This will meet a definite need in the Service Manual.