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Weeknote 20 - 24 July 2020

5 min read

On unlocking great ideas, project epilogues, fragmenting systems and wheelchairs by the sea.

Unlocking great ideas

During the COVID-19 crisis we officially paused our agile transformation and the group which coordinated our efforts, called Team Bumblebee. We’ve relaunched Team Bumblebee recently but it didn’t seem right to just continue where we left off as so much has changed. The crisis forced us to make fast changes and in many ways we are now months ahead of what we had planned last year. Team Bumblebee version 2.0 will continue to push our agile transformation but we are also inviting the whole department to implement their own improvement ideas. If teams need support, Team Bumblebee will help with everything from encouragement and coaching to funding and specialist skills.

I am getting involved in one of the first ideas that needs some support. One of the teams has noticed we have a lot of individual IS projects concerning Adult Social Care and are expecting more over the next 12 - 18 months. We are going to see if we can get more done by building up a shared roadmap with the Adults Services teams and getting a head start on any dependencies and potential blockers early.

We are also supporting an initiative that one of our IS architects proposed. This involves experimenting with some new public cloud services so we can build up our knowledge and ways of working. In the past we might have done this as part of a project for a customer but that can often end up in a deadlock - customers won’t want to commit until we have confidence about timescales and costs and we don’t want to commit until we have spent time working with the new technology.

Both these examples are about taking calculated risks. Our current processes do allow working this way but it is not the norm and it is easy to hit obstacles. Team Bumblebee can help our teams push past the obstacles and once a few teams have implemented their ideas we can learn how to make things easier in future.

Project epilogues

In previous week notes[1] I’ve mentioned our experiments with light weight project closures. This week four projects were presented for closure through the new process. One was obviously ready to close, one obviously needed to continue for a while but the other two were more complicated. After a little discussion one was closed with some caveats and the other was left open to complete some minor outstanding tasks. You could argue that we are being inconsistent, but while we are still experimenting this is probably ok. Whatever clever processes or rules are defined we are bound to find a project which won’t fit. Perhaps it is better to keep things simple and empower the people reviewing the project to decide how best to handle any complications. Taken together the new process is still more efficient and effective than what went before and it is easy to update our guidance if we learn that we need to put in more control.

Fragmenting systems

I’ve been thinking about how one of my projects is challenging a number of conventions. One convention is IT consolidation[2]. Most IT professionals will tell you that you should consolidate your IT systems. This means looking at the IT your organisation uses and if two systems do a similar job then you should make plans to have only one. I understand why this has become established good practice in IT but the rationale behind it is weak and there are plenty of examples where it is the wrong step to take. Our overall plan is to consolidate systems but one of my projects is doing the exact opposite - taking a single, shared system and splitting it into two. Initially the copies will be almost identical but in the future they will probably diverge as the needs of the services they support evolve. In this case the costs and effort in running the system - soon two systems - is a small portion of the overall cost of the services which use it. The benefits of IT consolidation are outweighed by the cost, effort and compromises needed to force two sets of user needs into one.

A word about a good cause

Over the last few weekends I’ve visited a few local beaches with a frail relative and we’ve needed to use a wheelchair. Like a lot of people, I take my mobility for granted and I haven’t really considered what impact a few steps or a poorly maintained path can have. Cornwall will always have natural and rugged places that won’t be very accessible but there are lots of small touches which can make a big difference. I’ll be on the lookout for a few more wheelchair accessible beauty spots during the summer.


  1. Previous week note which introduced what we are doing on project closure. ↩︎

  2. A previous blog post with more about IT consolidation and its limits ↩︎

Originally published on by Richard Barton