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Weeknote 12 - 16 October 2020

6 min read

On organising for a complex product team, cyber attacks and tinkering with Xmas lights.


Back in April we moved our main finance and workforce systems onto a cloud computing service. This week I have been planning what to do with the remains of the old system. Some of it is fairly old IT equipment and software so we will get rid of that as quickly as possible. Some is business critical data which we are required to keep for 6 years or even longer. Finding a new home for that data is fairly easy, but presenting it in a way that people can use is a lot harder. Finance and workforce systems keep a lot of their information in codes and the raw data is unreadable. For comparison imagine trying to watch a DVD or streamed show without the app which converts the binary data into shapes and sounds. We can’t keep the original system so we will need to convert the data into something easier to read. The TV show equivalent would be an old fashioned reel of film which can be viewed with a simple projector.

I’ve been interviewing people for some vacant roles. The applicants were impressive so I am glad I am not the one that has to make the final decisions.


The project which launched our new finance and workforce systems will come to an end soon and we will need a different way of organising the work to keep them running. I’ve started to talk to people about product organisations but none of them look as simple as a project. Some of the on-going work is best organised around technology products as there are a set of components which are shared between all areas of the business. Other types of work involve coordinating specialist professionals, processes and the IT systems together to provide a good service to staff and managers. It is best to think of these as business products such as people management, payroll, accounts and procurement. It is not obvious how to blend these different types of product.

One option is to fall back to how things were organised previously, before we started work on the new systems. So much else has changed in that time I am not sure anyone thinks that can work. We could adopt a structure that is working for another organisation or hire someone to design something specific for us - this can work but, from my time as a management consultant, I know the success rate is quite low. If enough of the teams support the idea, I would like to experiment to find the right structure for us. We can start with a reasonable template, such as the organisation we have used for the first few months of the new systems, and then adapt from there.

As well as structure I’m thinking about how we can manage our capacity. We are going to have a fairly steady base load of work which is best handled by permanent staff. There will also be occasional short bursts of workload where we just need more pairs of hands or rare specialist skills for a short time. For most of my career I have worked for technology or management consulting firms and it was fairly easy to run flexible teams. There was not a massive difference between what we offered permanent and temporary staff (for example, total compensation and job security) or our processes (for example, approval for roles). We could react quite quickly and change direction if needed. In a rural local authority the differences can be large and much harder to manage.

The first thing I am focusing on is priorities. On a day by day basis our capacity is effectively fixed so the only thing we can do is make sure the people we have are working on the most valuable things. The next focus is gathering better information so we can make well informed decisions: moving people or work within the Council and using partners and suppliers when appropriate.

News of the problems at Hackney[1] was a sobering reminder that no organisation can consider itself immune from a cyber attack. People sometimes moan about the security controls we have at Cornwall but they are all designed to get in the way of potential attackers (none of the controls can provide complete protection[2]) and limit the harm that a successful attacker can cause. As well as wishing the Hackney team a speedy recovery we have to assume that the next news story will be about a breach at Cornwall and prepare accordingly.


My backlog of conference catch ups has grown, sadly. There is still a lot from Local Gov Camp[3] to look at and this week added Dorset’s Festival of the Future, Digital Leaders Week[4] and UCD Gathering[5]. I suspect I am not going to get to participate in many of these sorts of events for a month or two. Also coming up soon are:

  • publishing the prototype roadmap we have been building for our IS product teams;
  • swapping notes about agile councils with one of the team at MHCLG[6];
  • helping one of our delivery managers get ready for a project retrospective[7];
  • attending the next BAME forum meeting[8].


I’ve worked with software for years but, until I was inspired by one of my colleagues, I’d never gotten my hands dirty with electronics. Over the last few years I’ve been building something which started as a Christmas light display[9] and has turned into a virtual meeting back drop. I’m now collecting parts and equipment for something a bit larger. It won’t be showing 4K movies but might manage some old-fashioned computer game characters.


  1. It must have been really hard for Matthew Cain to write about this but I am really glad he did. ↩︎

  2. I wrote about the limits to security a couple of years ago. ↩︎

  3. LocalGovCamp2020. ↩︎

  4. Digital Leaders Week. ↩︎

  5. UCD Gathering. ↩︎

  6. The Digital team at the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government have a great approach to helping the sector. ↩︎

  7. We already do a lot of sprint retrospectives but this one for a whole project will need to be a little different. ↩︎

  8. There is a bit more about our BAME forum in a previous note. ↩︎

  9. Some more on the light display in a previous week note ↩︎

Originally published on by Richard Barton