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Weeknote 10th May 2024

6 min read

It felt good leaving some frustrations behind in my previous week note. This time I thought I would try to dispose of some persistent mistakes that organisations of all types make. These are also frustrating as I am not very good at persuading people that these are, in fact, mistakes and so they get repeated more than I would like.

Persistent Mistakes

  • Increase the rate of starting new things in an attempt to increase the rate of delivery. It almost always does the opposite.
  • Undertake risky and uncertain work without making allowance for learning and surprises. This usually multiplies the risk and reduces control - the opposite of what is usually intended.
  • Confuse accuracy and precision or think that they normally increase and decrease together. They are almost always a trade off. People often drive up precision without realising they are reducing accuracy or recognising that accuracy is often the more useful of the two.
  • Putting effort and investment into gathering and reporting information which is not used. This is a particularly pure form of waste. A subtler version of this mistake is when the information is used but the use has no consequence. An example of this is using the information to chose between options which are not feasible.
  • Seeking a single source of the truth but ignoring how context, value and audience changes what the truth is. Even if someone can see this is a mistake for complex things like the status of a project they might still make the mistake with apparently simple things like money and physical dimensions.
  • Forgetting that projects and organisations are just labels. Real work only gets done by a load of small groups of people collaborating together. If you manage the projects or organisations but neglect the small teams you won’t get much real work done.

This week’s touch points

Checked in with our supporting families team and heard about new ways we might be able to use the data that we are required to compile for Central Government [1]. We also covered the obstacles. Some obstacles are deliberate and legitimate such as privacy. Some are unintended side effects that, with some effort, could be removed.

Attended the latest LocalGovDigital event[2] online and learnt about the different ways Councils set up their website content. This community is a big part of why I became a Local Government Officer so it is nice to join after a long spell away.

Helped facilitate an online meet up for Service Designers in Local Government[3]. This was the first time the group had tried the lean coffee format[4] and it seemed to work really well. My breakout group spent most of the time talking about how the roles of Service Designer and Business Analysis get mixed together. Views on this varied quite a lot. Some people identify strongly with their job role and want to protect it. Others see it as a transient thing and are more likely to blend the roles together.

I got my first look at some of the detailed work being done on our digital customer journey opportunities. It is easy to pick holes in this sort of analysis work but that can miss the point (see some of my persistent mistakes earlier in this note). Councils, especially unitary authorities, provide an enormous range of services. It would be comforting to know we are working on the absolute most valuable opportunity but not really necessary. We are going to need to work on many of these so as long as we start with something plausibly near the top of the list that will be good enough. Any effort we put into fine tuning the priority rankings would be better spent getting started, aligning the teams involved and helping them get ready to do the hard work required.

I caught up on some replays of events and meetings that I had missed due to diary clashes. One I will need to explore more was about scaling agile frameworks [5]. I am pretty sceptical about most of the large scale agile initiatives but this new one isn’t anything like the others. It might be worth exploring further.

This week included another Race Equality Drop-in. These are based on the Tea Break format promoted by Race Equality Matters[6]. We usually start these with a prepared topic and then let the attendees take the conversation where they want. Our opening topic this time was Volunteerism[7]. I talked a bit about the anxiety this triggered before my recent holiday in Kenya. It was good to hear about some much more positive examples from others during the call.

The idea of a data community and/or challenge for Cornwall is ticking along. We are at an interesting stage where we need to think about stakeholder management. We would like to welcome anyone who has an interest but is it practical to be that broad to get started? We will need leaders but is the small self-selected group enough and are we the right people? We can do a lot on a voluntary basis but, at some point, we will create demands upon people that haven’t chosen to take part. For example, imagine a data challenge event, working with public domain data, that uncovered issues with a Council service. Can we create the conditions so that everyone is able to engage in a safe and constructive way? On my own, I think I would get stuck here but I’m working with some great supporters and collaborators with the experience to keep things moving.

From the archives

Before I moved down to Cornwall I often spent hours a day commuting to central London and most of those hours were filled by reading. Without that imposed time I got out of the habit. I seem to have lost the stamina for reading and even a chunky article or blog post seems like a chore now. Over the last couple of years audio books have given me a bridge back into reading. I’ve started a blog post[8] with work related titles from the last couple of years (and one or two from before that because they are awesome).


  1. Background to the Supporting Families scheme ↩︎

  2. LocalGovDigital Live ↩︎

  3. Get in touch by one of the social media links below if you want an invite to join the community ↩︎

  4. An introduction to the Lean Coffee format ↩︎

  5. The scrum organisation launch of an framework they are calling Hexi ↩︎

  6. Race Equality Matters Teabreak ↩︎

  7. Volunteerism ↩︎

  8. My books blog post ↩︎

Originally published on by Richard Barton