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Weeknote 27 - 31 July 2020

4 min read

On more tweaks to our agile ways of working, getting comfortable with a 20% success rate and shared learning.

More agile iterations

The team working on our new website completed another sprint[1]. I was able to join in their show and tell, sprint retrospective and planning for the next sprint. The team are having to blend their own work with the outputs from other teams so they are adapting agile techniques to work for their circumstances.

For example, the team are working through a list of website features which need to be upgraded but, in parallel, they are working with an outside agency to refresh our user research and the overall design. They will also be working with our infrastructure teams on a new technology platform for the site. It will be several sprints before they can finally publish any of the features so the team are working with an unusual definition of “done”[2]. Initially, they are demonstrating basic functions in a raw form, without the branding and styling you would normally see on a website. The demonstrations are in a development environment, without the performance and resilience features of our real website. In later sprints the new design and technology platform will be available and the definition of “done” will evolve to include these.

In an ideal world we would have a single team[3] and publish every sprint, but demonstrating something every sprint - even with some caveats - is a good compromise.

Getting comfortable with a 20% success rate

Last week I mentioned the re-launch of team Bumblebee[4] and this week we closed the first few cards on our board - which is in Microsoft Planner now that we can’t routinely meet in front of our physical board in the office. We’ve added another new idea to explore: a way to fund new shared IT services inspired by businesses like Groupon and Kickstarter. It helps that someone in the team has already used Kickstarter to turn a hobby into a small business and now advises others on how to do it.

Perhaps this new funding idea will work but we know a lot of innovation ideas are going to get stuck along the way. Some will turn out to be too difficult or expensive and some will struggle because we can’t find the passion or courage to push on. That sounds like a lot of failures but we only need 1 in 5 to take off. We are going to have to learn a load of new things along the way, even things as basic as how to talk to our teams and customers about such a chaotic and uncertain process.

A word about a good cause

I’ve started working with a team from across the public sector to develop digital service training. We are starting with a self-managed learning programme developed at the Home Office and are going to adapt it so other organisations can use it. Eventually, this might be taken up by a public sector professional community[5] or be offered through the Government Digital Service Academy.

I got involved after attending an online presentation by the lead of the Home Office programme. I was really impressed with the innovative way the course was put together including:

  • getting attendees into small teams to work through the course together at a pace they decide
  • guiding people through the huge body of knowledge that has already been published rather than re-inventing the wheel
  • practically applying digital and agile techniques to how the course is run - for example, using a prioritised backlog[6] of learning and working through it in regular, short cycles over a period of weeks.

Digital and agile skills are not the only ones we need to develop. Many of these need reflection and practice, which will never fit into the usual professional training format - one or two days of lectures with a few narrow exercises. If we can make the Home Office approach work elsewhere it might become a template for other topics too.

Once we have edited the Home Office specific parts I am hoping to pilot the course with a small group at Cornwall Council. I will share more in tweets, posts and week notes as we go along.


  1. More on how we think about sprints. ↩︎

  2. A quick internet search will turn up lots of articles about definitions of done. Here is an example. ↩︎

  3. Many agile approaches, including Scrum encourage self sufficient teams but, like many organisations, we have to make some trade-offs. ↩︎

  4. Team Bumblebee was mentioned last week. ↩︎

  5. Many of the people involved will be members of the Digital, Data and Technology Profession or have roles closely aligned with the profession. ↩︎

  6. More on how we think about backlogs ↩︎

Originally published on by Richard Barton