Weeknote 21, for 28 March — 1 April 2022

Discomfort zones + knotty problems = neurons firing

Jen Staves
4 min readApr 1, 2022

This week has been tricky — a lot of time-consuming commitments came together all at once, without much room for manoeuvre. But what I love about that is the things that you thought previously you could never not do, you all of the sudden just can’t do, and that’s ok — you delegate, you postpone, you stop doing.

Things I’ve learned / am learning

There’s a completely different way to talk about what you’re trying to achieve and it’s called Benefits Management

What the hell is benefits management, you might ask? Here’s one answer. But essentially, it’s a very project way to think about what you’re trying to achieve with something, and how you’ll know if you did. Sounds normal, quite Agile, right? But this is within the Civil Service way of thinking. And I’m increasingly aware that to make change in a large, sprawling organisation, that I need to meet people where they are. The cool thing is — this is something I’ve always been trying to get people to do — and knowing that other areas are trying to do the same thing (albeit in a completely different way) means I have another lever I can use to influence.

Estonia is really great at digital transformation

I’ve gone heavy on development this week, and took part in a kick-off for a training programme about leading transformation in the public sector. This is a global course, and involves different perspectives from lots of different countries. I was particularly interested in how Estonia is great at basic digital skills and how they’ve really nailed the whole ‘rethinking how things are done’ as part of digital transformation. There is so much to learn from them.

Things I’m happy about

Problem statement teamwork and some super strong female leaders

I’ve taken on a lead product role for clear evolving standards, and have been leading two teams. I gave them a brief, and a few problem statements that I wanted them to tackle, but asked them to interrogate them and tell me if those were in fact the right problem statements. Here’s the ‘how might we’ part of those statements:

  • How might we focus on improving the clarity of the standards/their application in the places individuals / specialists feel most comfortable finding them?
  • How might we build the knowledge and insight from assurance back into the standards themselves?
  • How might we help delivery teams to understand which standards / applications of standards are most relevant to them depending on what they’re doing? how might we test whether that adds value to delivery teams who often say they don’t know where to start?

What these two teams did was astounding — initiated by our Senior Content Designer Kerry Lyons, they ran a problem statement workshop and showed me how interlinked my problem statements were by the outcomes they initiated and how they were essentially one huge problem space. The analysis — done by our brilliant Senior Business Analyst Suzy Robinson — taught me so much.

A blurred image of the affinity sort of the problem spaces I gave the team around clear, evolving standards. There are over 100 outcomes, organised into concentric circles — 10 different ‘types’ of categories, groups into three main areas around culture, process and product.
A blurred image of the affinity sort of the problem spaces I gave the team around clear, evolving standards. There are over 100 outcomes, organised into concentric circles — 10 different ‘types’ of categories, groups into three main areas around culture, process and product. Credit: the Clear Evolving Standards team, and especially Suzy

We then had a follow-up workshop on Monday to tease out where we could have the most impact. Next week, we’ll move into action, with our Senior Delivery Manager Erica Connell!

Sending content designers off to great new challenges

Ok I’m not exactly happy about this — it’s more bittersweet, but yesterday we sent the epic Patrick Taylor off to GDS. Pat is the heart and soul of our content design community — he’s written great things here, and when I came in as Head of Content Design he’d built a community from the ground up. He’ll be so missed, but is going to do great things at GDS.

Knotty problems

This week I’ve been stepping into provide digital leadership consultancy for Multiply, which is a programme with a brilliant policy intent — to increase adult numeracy, which leads to better paying jobs and better outcomes for people and their children. But stepping into a new, prestigious programme isn’t easy — I’m keen to work fast but also take people with me. Luckily, I’m surrounded by some brilliant people in this space — across Commercial, Business Partering, and Customer Experience — who are going to help me have an impact on the space pretty quickly.

Things I’ve read that I’ve liked

Things I’m doing next week

  • Shared visualisation of the Multiply user journey
  • Moving to delivery on clear evolving standards
  • Taking a bit of break in Dorset

Holding myself to account

User research sessions observed: 0

New people met: 3

Retaining autonomy: Yes! It’s been great. Can’t tell you how I did it though — is everyone else just really busy?

Being asked to solve BIG problems: Multiply!

Expanding to a wider remit: ‘service owner’ of clear evolving standards

Moving out of my comfort zone: Benefits Management?

Staying in touch with people: 2



Jen Staves

User-centred design and service delivery leadership.Head of UCD. @hmctsgovuk, formerly @dfe_digitaltech @explorewellcome @explorify @tradegovuk.