At the end of every week I take a little time to do a brain dump for myself in Evernote. I believe in working in the open and try to share some/most/all of the work bit of my brain dump as blog posts. (Coincidentally “make things open” is a government design principle.) It is not always that straightforward.

Towards the end of January I moved to a new service at DWP Digital, working as a service designer. I am trying to share what I can. Some of these notes might be vague because I am being mindful of… stuff. Apologies in advance if that stands out. I’d rather share some things than no things. :-)

If you are interested in doing your own week notes there is an excellent post by Sam Villis to help you.

How did our work move forwards?

Giving room to – and sometimes doing the work to make room for – the team, as a group or individuals, to go and do their thing is becoming more habitual. I posed the question a few weeks back “Why is it we give more value to meetings other people put in our calendar than work for our sprint goals? What if we treated work for sprint goals like meetings. Get that work into calendars first, and fit the other stuff around that.” Environment is another thing: If the open office provides difficulties for you to do what’s the most important thing, go somewhere else that is more suitable. I completely trust the researchers, designers, business analysts, product owners, and delivery managers I closely work with. Some of them I work with more closely than others (I am highly reluctant to say “the UCD team”, because a team within a team is uurrrr), but making sure they have the best conditions to do what they come to work to do is one of my regular goals.

We spent some time this sprint putting down some of the structure around “designing” every sprint. There is nothing wrong with formalising your designing process (as long as it is just enough process), as it helps you knowing what you are focused on and helps everyone else know what is going on. Take prioritised problems into a sprint, hypothesise, design, get a response to that, analyse the research, how does that effect our work (move along our understanding? close issues? raise more issues?). There was also some ~sterling~ awesome work from user researcher Lisa to move the “UR plan” into being more a “plan for designing”, which a lot more of the team can own, contribute to and refer to. It should help the product owners make decisions too. Referring to the plan and updating the plan will at least be part of our sprint cycle. Also documenting design decisions doesn’t happen enough. I don’t want us to not do that as habit. This will help.

The things we take into sprint need to be tighter as well in focus and size, so we make steadier progress and the wider team can benefit by carrying forward these smaller chunks of work. To help frame this I used “If we had to stop working on the project at the end of the sprint something could still be made and people would understand where we got to: What is good and what needs more design work”. This folds back to documenting enough, but just enough.

Monday I spent time with the service team at their base. I am trying to get some solidity around the work flow – basically surfacing the touch points with DWP a claimant could make and the tools (conversations, forms, guides, digital products and so on) we use as people working for the department – against a limited number of scenarios (which aren’t “happy” paths – and I am acutely aware “happy” is rarely the right word to use when navigating people through social care). The service team are collaborating in designing the process so everything I offered up at the start has been “here’s our educated guesses, let’s use our experience and skills to make it better”. It’s rewarding to see that work progress, to see stuff scrutinised, moved about, refined. I think too much we overlook the value of having the people doing the work designing what they’ll be doing daily – it brings constructive critical thinking in sooner, prolongs that mindset as the process is being used, makes changing stuff later more considered and possible, and there’s something in there about training (which I won’t go into). Having the team’s understanding and being comfortable with what we and they are doing is a goal. We recognise things that are uncomfortable? Get those into some shape where there is a greater degree of comfort. It might be continually uncomfortable for me as a designer, but working with the work flow we are designing shouldn’t be uncomfortable for those using it.

Monday’s work set up another session with the service team on Thursday, led by Jo (one of the user researchers I work with) and Sam (our interaction designer), and with a couple of business analysts (David and Kirsty) in attendance. We wanted to think through openly “As a service team if we were ‘record things’ along the work flow what would help us and the claimant reach their goal?”

Had a few chats and thinks about a particular part of the journey where a digital tool is very useful. I am thinking of taking on some interaction design work in the coming week to help me get under the skin of that tool (and the problems around it).

Had a helpful conversation about how we “frame” our work. The word “pilot” has been used. Every “pilot” I have worked on has had some degree of difference in definition. “We are doing a pilot” never gets across the intention of the work. Some of us are finding framing the work we are doing around “alpha” and “beta” against the existing gov service manual a lot more useful: clearer and also leaning a standard that is already established. “At the moment we are doing some deeper discovering and testing some design thoughts so we are in alpha.” “By this date we intend to be doing something with a small group of users, so a beta”. Context.

I talked to a couple of bits of DWP that want to be involved, that have been kept at arms‘ length. It’s not about about saying no, it’s been about saying “we want you to be involved but can you let us get our heads straight before we get you involved”. Some of those times are now.

Friday, had a lovely chat about a ministerial task force meeting in a month or so. I came away chipper that other people are interested in accessibility as a habit of designing not as a bolt on.

Also some good reminders on Friday about what an MVP is and what our MVP needs to be. Good work from Michala.

What next?

Bank holiday Monday and then a show and tell. The team have been doing some excellent sharing, but want to make sure we are showing whatever we have done every fortnight, preferably as design work (prototypes etc) and research work (sessions and analysis). Outcomes over jazzy presentations. Framing everything with some context is something we are OK at but need to get better at, more concise and as a matter of habit.

I need to get some of the “tools” represented clearer on the service map.

I need to get onto the shared service map the later part of the journey. I’ve held off putting out to the service team, to help the service team stay focused on the part of the journey they’re heavily involved with. Chats this week showed a couple of touch points in the later part of the journey the service team want to be aware of any interactions with the claimants, so feels a natural time to move that on.

Continue bringing in some of the “wider” bits of DWP into the designing as well. Some of that happened this week, but it’s a good time to layer some complexities in.

Do some prototype work on a bit of the service, probably a calculating tool. It’ll allow Sam to focus on something else and let me understand some of the detail of a problem that sits across the service. (And also get the chance to work closely with Lisa and content designer Izzy.)

I need to have a difficult conversation about another team’s involvement. As we are starting small with our upcoming beta, I need to keep the team focused on that, not get distracted by chats about “scaling”.

Keep reminding people “just because that’s how we currently do things in DWP doesn’t mean we have to keep doing it or do it again”. Focus on outcomes. If we can lean on the existing, great though.

Going through work with our colleagues in London needs to be done (and more regularly).


The willingness of colleagues in a part of DWP called OED to be soundboards, to take stuff on, and generally be so, so helpful is so refreshing. I have had some really contrasting experiences in my time at DWP but there’s a real working as one team feel to stuff at the mo.

Chris Thompson’s portrait of me, taken from my Twitter eye roll of that Adobe What Creative Type Are You? thing. Thanks, Chris!

All the amazing events at Leeds Digital Festival that were focused for and around amazing women. More please. (And more diversity full stop.)

Exit mood

(Inspired by Joanne Rewcastle’s regular end of week tweet.)

Tough, tough week. But confident we are moving forward in the right way in the right direction.

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