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Weeknote 03-09 February 2020

8 min read

On resident experience, collaboration and trade-offs, privilege and diversity.

About agile in Cornwall Council

We are starting to adopt more agile and open ways of working. We have been experimenting internally with weeknotes[1] and, with a little time lag, we would like to see what publishing these might achieve.

This week note is going to jump around alot but that just reflects what kind of a week it has been.

Team Falcon, our fast change team, started Sprint 7. We are continuing with two deliveries and got going on a third - replacing call recording for our call centres. The technology we expect to use is quite common so I reached out to the Local Government Digital Community and found three other Councils doing similar things and willing to swap notes. The first call with Stevenage on Friday was useful and we’ve got some more to fit in over the next few weeks. I’m keen to keep trying this sort of thing and see how well sharing with peers compares to using industry analysts.

Our procurement team are also helping us work through what we need to do to make sure that we use Council money wisely. For example, is call recording absolutely necessary and, if so, how do we get the best value? Some of these conversations can feel a bit uncomfortable because new spending gets a lot of scrutiny and the discussions involve powerful stakeholders with differing views. We need to work through this as “delivering” well-informed decisions and an audit trail is just as much a part of good IT as engineering and customer service.

I also did some work with our HR team this week. They need to update the resourcing pages on our intranet ready for the changes coming with Oracle Cloud. They have been impressed with how effective the CXP[2] team’s agile approach has been and so wanted to see if they could use some of this on the intranet update. I helped run the kick-off session to quickly build a picture of where they wanted to go, pick out what was essential for the Oracle Cloud go-live and find some practical actions to get it done. We aren’t going to try everything in Scrum right now but it is a start. I’ve also found another Council doing something similar so will try to get the teams together to share.

Also related to CXP, we took another step towards creating a multidisciplinary team focused on resident satisfaction. Confusingly, we have started calling this the “CX” team but it should probably be called “RX” or “Resident Experience”. This is an experiment to see if we can find a more effective way to unravel a knot of overlapping demands and establish a sensible backlog of initiatives to improve resident satisfaction. We have been reviewing initiatives from Digital Cornwall[3] and elsewhere to find the things that give us the biggest uplift in satisfaction for the least effort and cost. Early steps feel good so far but we will have to watch out that we don’t just move the bottleneck somewhere else. I stole some ideas from our BRM[4] team to create a CX pipeline in Microsoft Teams and we have now added an action tracker too - IT delivery in a matter of minutes! I am going to see if I can get some coaching from our BI team and put a dashboard on top of this to use in the weekly CX catch ups.

One of the “Resident Experience” ideas is to refresh our external website. There are hundreds of Council websites across the country and most are trying to do the same things. A group of councils is researching how we can share and re-use more of this and we had an initial call with this team to find out what they had learnt so far and how we might be able to collaborate. They have immediately shared some of their early work and are happy to discuss further as we develop the plans for our own website. Councils are also collaborating on new ideas for Revs and Bens, Planning Applications and Income Management so it would be good to see where these are on our product roadmaps.

Nearly 40 of us joined a demonstration of AzureDevOps. I thought it was a good demonstration and there were loads of questions. Some teams are already driving their work from DevOps, some, like team Falcon, are learning how to get the best out of it and others haven’t touched it at all. The Product Management Community are going to look at where these sorts of tools should fit into our roadmaps, how to choose between the various overlapping tools we already have, such as LeanKit and ProdPad, and make sure we get good value from the money the Council puts into these.

As well as AzureDevOps the Product Management Community talked about our Enterprise Architecture, the challenges of the Windows 10 roll-out and the impact this was having on the new Resolution Centre. There was a strong feeling of being in this together and a willingness to help those who are struggling, even if it impacts other work we want to do.

The week isn’t over yet but I’ll have to write about agile for infrastructure and signing on with a Cornish dentist next week!

Common themes

Although the work this week has been wide ranging there are some common threads.

Focus on users

We can sometimes get tied up in the demands of our own teams and processes but it is nice to see the needs of end-users (either of our systems or of Council services) having a high profile in all of this. HR want to make the new intranet content work for people and it will also save them time as they won’t be writing a load of pages that no-one ever reads. This thinking is also going to be at the heart of the external website refresh. We can also benefit by thinking this way as we develop new systems and IS services. User research is a big discipline in its own right and a few Councils have started to build up these skills. We will have to think about how we are going to handle user research and where to focus these specialist skills. User research might be re-usable between Councils[5] but this hasn’t been proven in practice yet.

Operations vs Architecture

Balancing operations and architecture is hard. Operational pressures naturally lead us towards fragmented, point solutions to small problems which don’t scale and are hard to re-use. Architecture pressures naturally lead toward complex, multi-purpose solutions which are hard to design and have long payback times. It is not just us. Central Government, Charities and Businesses are all struggling with this. We need to find a way to build the architecture we need by growing the small operational deliveries. Our product and platform focused approach looks like good start but we need to keep in touch with what other organisations are trying and share what we learn.

A word about a good cause

As a middle-class, middle-aged, white, heterosexual male I probably couldn’t be more privileged[6]. I am trying to learn and adjust my behaviour but I still have a long way to go. Here are some recent slip ups but there are bound to be more I didn’t even notice:

  • I keep referring to groups as “guys”[7] without thinking
  • I started “mansplaining”[8] during a team standup
  • I was insensitive when talking about white privilege to someone who turned out to be mixed race.

I use Twitter quite a lot and I have found the regular nudges from following @betterallies[9] a helpful source on all of this.


  1. This is a good introduction to the idea of weeknotes. Some Government Departments and Council’s make their weeknotes public. Hackney and Essex are good examples. ↩︎

  2. Customer Experience Platform ↩︎

  3. Digital Cornwall Programme ↩︎

  4. Business Relationship Management. This team is part of the IS organisation but is focused on joining up our work with the rest of the Council. ↩︎

  5. The user research library ↩︎

  6. If you are new to this topic you are probably in for some unpleasant surprises. This post has some good examples of privilege in practice but a quick search will turn up lots more. ↩︎

  7. Here is more on gender-neutral language but the topic goes beyond individual words. My last employer got much more diverse applications by changing how job adverts were written. ↩︎

  8. “Mansplaining”? Well let me explain… ↩︎

  9. Better Allies twitter account ↩︎

Originally published on by Richard Barton