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Weeknote 7 - 11 December 2020

7 min read

On habit-breaking training, learning to code and loads and loads on money and people systems.


New Digital Public Services Training

Go and read Rose Waite’s blog post about the self-managed learning course she has developed. Over the last few months a small group of us have been meeting virtually to go through the course materials and pick Rose’s brains about how to run it. I think this is an amazing act of generosity and I am looking forward to piloting the course at Cornwall Council soon.


I’m currently spending most of my time on our finance and people management systems. We went live with a new cloud hosted version of these systems back in April and we are gradually shifting how we manage this area. For a couple of years we have been organised as an implementation programme but most of the programme scope has now been delivered. We are now starting to put in place the things we need to run this area as a product (or several linked products).

A new Delivery Manager has recently joined the department and has been assigned to work with our team. I’ve been covering several roles recently so this assignment gives me a chance to focus more on Product Management. Delivery Management in the Council is a big topic and this is one of our most complex and critical product areas so it is quite a daunting assignment. There is a big backlog of things to hand over but we are going step by step and getting one or two things properly handed-over before moving on to the next.

I’ve also been interviewing candidates to grow the engineering team for this area. We’re hoping to fill one of the permanent vacancies early in 2021 and also take on temporary contractors to complete some of our urgent work before we all get caught up in our financial year-end processes.

As I am handing over some of my Delivery Management work I am taking up more of the Product Management responsibilities such as the commercial arrangements and budgets related to these systems. It has been great getting to know more of the people in our commercial team and start planning some of the tenders and contract renewals that will be needed over the next few months. It feels like we have a shared understanding of the commercial risks involved and a joint willingness to come up with new ways to manage them, where appropriate.

A few weeks ago I started to build a product roadmap for our finance and people management systems and since then have been developing it with the various teams involved. This week was the first refinement session with the leaders of our finance and people management services. The roadmap already has more than 120 items in it so this session was focused on identifying the top priority items and developing some prioritisation principles. I think we did pretty well but we are going to have to keep experimenting for the next couple of months. Here are some of the things we need to learn more about.

  • What technical work should be shown in the roadmap and what should be covered elsewhere? For example, we don’t want the roadmap to be our incident and request management system but if a significant problem is taking up a lot of our effort, it will impact the roadmap so we should probably include it.
  • How many products are we dealing with and how many roadmaps do we need? Our finance and people systems are used directly by staff but they are just one part of our finance and people management services. Supporting all of this is our team of engineers. Is it best to treat these as one product with many elements or several distinct products which are tightly integrated?
  • How do we create a roadmap that helps our teams coordinate their work without getting in their way? Day to day management of work and longer term management of investments already happen in existing processes so the roadmap needs to act as a bridge, or pipe, between them and, ideally, speed up the flow of both. If the work to maintain the roadmap exceeds the value our teams get from it we need to change it or drop it.

Our first draft roadmap is based upon some principles that have been working well for other product teams but we need to see how this works out in practice for our teams.


Work highlights for the next few weeks or so are also focused on our finance and people management systems:

  • Updating the Implementation Project Board on our roadmap work and seeking their advice and support in developing it further
  • Sorting out a service level agreement for reporting and analytics
  • Getting involved in the budgeting process so that our product funding for next year is broadly in line with the new developments that the Council is seeking
  • Helping the team that is developing our Target Operating Model to design and evaluate some potential options
  • Understanding what we need to do to support some big department changes being planned for next year


One evening this week I joined in a virtual codebar[1] event as a coach. The codebar community are trying to help members of under represented groups to develop their technology and coding skills and, ultimately, change the demographics of the industry. Ideally, there would be enough attendees for one-to-one coaching but this time we were in groups of three. I really enjoyed working with my two students for the evening.

One of the students was learning Python using an online course and wanted help with some of the exercises. It turned out she already knew a lot about coding in Python and just needed a little help to break the challenges down into manageable steps. I spent most of the time saying “That makes sense, let’s try it.” That probably sums up a lot of my work at the Council too! By the middle of our session we were both cheering as each automated test passed. When our time was up she headed off to virtually meet a friend who was helping her learn a completely different programming language. I can imagine the cheers carrying on into the evening.

My other student wanted some help debugging a prototype app that he had created to help prepare for an interview with a well known tech firm. I was amazed at how much he had already done and I surprised him by suggesting he should consider being a coach too. We didn’t manage to get everything fixed but I was able to suggest some tools which would help him investigate the bugs further. Before we finished we also talked about the interview and what might come up, as I had done a similar role earlier in my career.

I really enjoyed the event and will definitely take part again. Hopefully, I was able to help the two students a little.

I’ve been really impressed by Black Voices Cornwall. It is a very new organisation but it is making an impact. Even The Economist has taken notice. This week I signed up to their Race Charter. Even if you don’t want to sign up yourself take a look at the charter commitments[2] as I think they are a great summary of what a good ally should aim for.


  1. codebar website ↩︎

  2. Black Voices Cornwall Race Charter ↩︎

Originally published on by Richard Barton