In digitally mature organisations we are used to seeing strong communities of engaged, self-selecting members gathered around a shared purpose beyond that of their day to day jobs. Organisational communities thrive because they add an extra dimension to the organisational structure, and can increase the number of connections each individual has across the organisation’s network.
More than ever, we are aware of the need for better practices to address key challenges and tensions between technology and society. Doteveryone has been working on making the consumer tech industry more responsible and accountable to society for over a year. It’s been a fascinating process of research, prototyping and learning. Our ideas have evolved as we’ve worked with others to figure out what might be both practical for real businesses, and effective in making tech better for people and society.
I was asked this morning for the two main blockers to progress in the various attempts at technology enabled change over the years, whether titled e-government or digital transformation.
Here’s what I came up with – it would be interesting to get your thoughts:
Two main challenges for me would be two elements of core capability. The first would be technology, and specifically software. The main line of business systems in use in most local councils is simply not fit for purpose for the digital age. They are horrible to use, don’t interoperate, work poorly on mobile, don’t offer great customer experience for self service and are dogs for the IT team to maintain. Time and time again, otherwise excellent initiatives at e-government or digital transformation are scuppered because of issues relating to core back office systems. What’s more, the market seems to find it impossible to have an impact on the situation, and so driving the incumbents out is very hard to do.
Second, and possibly more important, are the people issues. First is culture, which is risk and change averse, often because of the role of middle managers, many of whom are ‘experts’ in their service area and extremely dedicated to preserving the current way of doing things. Folk on the front line can often easily diagnose problems and suggest solutions, and senior executives are usually well up for a bit of disruptive change. However those in the middle can slow things down and block progress. The other bit of the people problem is capability, in that there aren’t enough really good people around in organisations to drive the change needed forward, which takes guts and stamina as well as intelligence. Without a reasonably sized army of these people in place, initiatives can get run into the ground very quickly.
Another Friday, another fistful of linkitude.
- Digital Workplace Leader – a fun looking job going at Thanet District Council. “The digital workplace leader will be an experienced professional who leads the effort to create a work environment that exploits digital trends and encourages digital dexterity through the adroit use of technology. The goal is to improve employee agility and engagement so that Thanet District Council can profit from changing business models and improved workforce effectiveness in order to achieve its organisational goals.” If you get it, good luck in getting all that done in the year the job lasts for (!).
- ‘I don’t know how to use a computer!’: the stories of our most dangerous public servants – this story from Leah Lockhart got a lot of Twitter attention and rightly so. Hard not to laugh at this stuff at times, but of course it is in fact a complete disgrace. Wearing your ignorance as a badge of honour is never cool.
- Publishers and the pursuit of the past – there’s nowt so tedious than the future of journalism discussion, but Ben Thompson at least brings in some strategic thinking about business models and incentives that’s worth digging into.
- A networked organisation – Cassie Robinson is on fire at the moment – I feel like she should be given her own slot here every week. Here she articulates what it means to be a networked organisation – and how that differs from the activity ‘networking’.
- Building a digital culture in DWP – another nice list of things that digital cultures look and feel like, this time by Jon Osborn. I do like “less process, more progress” and might start saying it on regular occasions, irregardless of context.
Not sure anything in tech world can match politics right now for interestingness, but here goes…
- Tandridge Council are recruiting a Technology Implementation Manager. Details here.
- What a digital organisation looks like – smart stuff from Janet Hughes. Answer = responsive, open and efficient.
- We need a Minister for Digital Government – according to Dan Thornton at the Institute for Government. Quite a bit of commentary has been around the limitation of the word ‘digital’ – though that’s largely semantics – and I would argue that even if you (wrongly) take digital to mean just tech, there’s still enough that needs fixing to make it worthwhile.
- “Which third are you?” – asks James Governor from Redmonk. The thirds being change agents, persuadables or heel diggers. All about your attitude to change. Every organisation has every type, and you need them all onside – or at least enough of them – to make stuff happen.
- Coté shares some slides from a workshop he ran in the States on how Government can go cloud native. Also see this post for further ruminations.
Here’s five dollops of interestingness I’ve spotted this week:
- There’s a few interesting digital (and non-digital, for that matter) jobs going at London City Hall.
- Digital Transformation: Why Tech Alone Won’t Cut It – a useful reminder that digital and transformation are not necessarily technical terms. Human behaviour and culture are key.
- Where terrorists go to chat – thoughtful stuff from Hadley Beeman on security, encryption and the role of government
- Not even wrong – ways to dismiss technology – nice long read on technology adoption and why predictions around what will be the next big thing are often (not even) wrong
- Lessons from piloting the London Office of Data Analytics – Eddie Copeland talks about data issues at scale:
Michael Coté has written an excellent post describing seven anti-patterns of behaviour in big organisations.
Number six is a particularly egregious crime, in my view:
Pay people to ignore them — BigCo’s love hiring new employees, paying them well, and then rarely listening to them. Instead, you hire outsiders and consultants who say similar things, but are listened to. In fact, the first task of any good management consultant team is to go interview all those bright, but ignored, employees you have and ask them what they’d do. The lesson is to track how many ideas come internally vs. externally and, rather than just blame your people for low internal idea generation, ask yourself if you’re just not listening.
Go read the whole lot – it’s good stuff.
There’s so much I want to blog about at the moment, but pretty much no time to do it. However, here’s a nice little thing we’re working on that might be of interest.
Performance management is one of those things that strikes fear into the heart of any public sector worker. Somehow, we’ve ended up building up processes, generating reports, all without much actual impact and little effect on the outcomes we want to be delivering.
Performance management is a part of the service I deliver, and Mark on my team who delivers this has been spending a ridiculous amount of time chasing colleagues across the organisation to get updates that he can copy and paste into reports, that then get printed for the senior leadership to not read, because they don’t have time.
There must be a better way!
One of the things that I love about the digital agenda is its realism. We deal with the reality of things, not what they would be like in an ideal world. In reality, nobody has time to read long performance reports, and nor do they have time to keep them updated. But it’s still really important to keep an eye on how various things are progressing.
So, what are we doing?
We started by shifting away from a document-centric approach. This is a recurring theme of a lot of my conversations at the moment and probably needs a post of its own to go into. It sounds obvious, but it’s the content of the documents that matter, not the documents themselves, and separating the two can have really transformative impact.
So, instead of a big document, we now have a Trello board. We have four main areas of performance measures to track, so each has a list on the board. Each commitment is a card on the board, and they are colour coded for easy identification: a simple traffic light style rating in terms of how they are progressing, plus a coloured label to identify which bits of the Councils they relate to.
Clicking on a card brings up a bit more detail – a list of the actions outstanding for that commitment, plus, if necessary, a little commentary on the latest that has been happening.
The purpose of this dashboard is to provide senior people (well, anyone really, but you know what I mean) with a quick overview of what is going on. Rather than dumping the detail on people by default, we give a high level perspective, which can then be dug down into greater detail if needed.
That detail is stored in Google Docs. Each commitment has its own Google Doc, with much more detailed implementation plans in them. They are linked to from inside the relevant Trello cards, allowing people to quickly access them.
Using Google Docs also means there is only one copy of these documents, and they don’t need to have someone copying and pasting information into them.
So, to summarise the benefits of this approach:
- No more big paper documents
- No more chasing of actions to be pasted into documents – it’s now up to individuals to update their Google Docs and Trello boards themselves
- More real time updates – no longer tied to a reporting cycle – if people have something to say, they add it when they have it, otherwise they don’t
- Much more manageable, in that we don’t have everything in a single document which is a pain to scroll through and find stuff
- Cross cutting issues which involve people in different directorates are now managed in a single place with no duplication
It’s also worth saying that this hasn’t cost us any money to do, and will help us to decommission a bit of software previously used for the purpose, which will save a few quid while providing a more useful service.
Importantly for me, it frees Mark up from a load of boring admin and means he can spend more time doing proper in-depth analysis of issues.
When we showed this to the folks at CLT (Council Leadership Team – the chief and four directors) they were delighted to move away from big document, paper based reporting and into something more real time. They now have the Trello board up on a big screen during a meeting, rather than looking down at bits of paper.
What’s also really pleasing is that this is a nice way of showing how simple, cheap digital technology can have quite a significant cultural impact within the organisation. Already many teams are using Trello to manage their work in a more visible, collaborative way.
Importantly though, when I was asked whether Trello was now the official way for people to manage work in the Councils, I answered no. It’s a way of doing it, but there are others out there that might be more appropriate depending on the work to be done. There isn’t a single solution.
We’re now working on the next stage of performance management and business intelligence in the Councils. It’s very early days, but we’re going to be trialling Tableau, which looks really cool. More on that soon.
I rather like this diagram that appeared in a post talking about Microsoft (which is well worth reading in and of itself).
It describes all the elements that make up what an organisation is and does. At the top, there are fewer words and they don’t change very often. At the moment, there are a lot more words and they are subject to regular change.
Strikes me as being a useful model to use to think about this stuff.
I found LocalGovCamp a really refreshing and cheering event this year. I’m going to spend a few quick posts writing up my thoughts.
Lot and lots of discussion about culture and culture change. This discussion has been going on since forever, and if we are being frank with ourselves, it isn’t going to change dramatically soon.
So what to do? Don’t lets make the culture change discussion stop us from doing things. Have a go, fix what you can right now.
It could be that by having enough people doing this at the same time the culture will look after itself.