Another tour of duty

I’m finishing up at MyGov and the Scottish Government’s Digital Directorate. It’s been a short gig but it’s been well-played.

Scotland’s is a digital future

I am pleased to have had the opportunity to represent MyGov. I’ve done my bit by negotiating the team through a period of intense pressure while also bringing longer term stability to the resources in the programme, and mapping out an ambitious roadmap for future delivery.

My decision is not a reflection on MyGov. I believe in the mission and I especially believe in the team. You have a huge amount of talent; you are going to continue to make awesome products and services for Scotland, and make people’s lives better as a result of your efforts – of that I am certain.

You are a resilient and self-supporting bunch, plus you have great leaders in Colin, Graham and Rachel, who will ably see you through this period as you stand up and begin developing again with gusto. And then there are the new starters lined up to join the team, who will complement your abilities and effort.

I’m not leaving government and I’ll remain a strong and active supporter of MyGov.

Back to the future

I’m really pleased to have been invited onto another tour of duty with the Government Digital Service. This time around I’ll be serving the community of product and service managers in GDS and around government in the UK – helping them to stay connected with one another, share their skills and get people excited about their craft.

I’m ridiculously excited about this new role. I’m looking forward to being back with old colleagues of course, but 3 years is a long time to be away and I’m even more inspired about working with the new guard there. There is so much energy in this new era for GDS and the challenges are compelling.

It feels like a good time to be going back to something different.

More on that anon.

Thank you @mygovscot

For the time being, it’s thank you, goodbye and good luck to my colleagues and friends in the Scottish Government.

Continuous improvement as a product manager

Continuous improvement – it’s the way to develop products. It’s also the way to be a better product manager.

I spend more time recruiting and directing product managers than I do being hands on with products these days. But because I love my trade and want to be the best coach that I can, I am always trying to up my game by learning new things.

Here are three ways I’ve been trying to improve as a product manager recently:

Better the devs you know

I am a product person who appreciates programming.

If I have a better understanding of the developer’s craft then my product vision is optimised, my explanation to the engineering team is more articulate and my appraisal of their efforts is better judged. Surely.

To that end, I’ve been steadily working my way through Codecademy’s courses, and by way of revision I’ve installed some of the Sololearn course apps on my phone, which are a better format for the commute.

Don’t send me your pull requests anytime soon. But it’s definitely broadened my thinking about the art of the possible… and the trade-offs. And it’s good to look at a team I work with everyday and see them in sharper focus.

The Jobs at hand

Ever since I started working in product management, it’s involved user stories.

And that’s been going great because user stories place more importance on the task someone is trying to complete when they are using your product than who they are or what my business’s requirements are.

But I’ve been hearing more and more about Jobs-to-be-Done and its application to product development, and I’m intrigued. It might be that ‘Job stories’ offer an even more relentless focus on what someone is trying to do and what their motivation is than ‘User stories’.

It might be that it’s time to make a switch or maybe there’s room for both in the mix of techniques I can use to make sure we are meeting user needs.

I’ve started asking my product managers to explore the possibilities of Jobs-to-be-Done, and Intercom has recently released a book on how they made the switch from user stories, which reads as a good, thorough introduction.

What a release

I’ve written a lot of release notes but I have started reading a lot as well.

It’s really easy just to hit ‘update’ and ignore the release notes; even easier never to acknowledge that release notes might be a thing produced for the service you use. I suspect that release notes are read only slightly more often than updates to T&Cs.

When you start to study release notes, you see there’s more variation between them than you’d first assume. Technical. Conversational. Brief. Detailed. But you can tell the difference between good and poor, well judged and lazy. Good products ought to have good release notes but not always.

I’m going to keep a book of examples, learn from them and see if we can get more users to take note of our release notes and use them as a means of engaging in a dialogue about what we’re developing and why.

Three improvements on before. But there is so much more to do. 

End note – Keep being ambitious Bath

This post was first published on the University of Bath Digital blog

On December 17th I will be saying goodbye to the University of Bath.

My move obviously creates a number of changes in the Digital team. But the central message is one of continuity. Improving digital communication remains a priority for the University, and the central team has the expertise to deliver on that goal. Leadership of the team and its projects will be provided by Phil and Rich, who are stepping up to head the team as an already proven partnership.

This is my opportunity to say a massive thank you to Bath Digital team – you are awesome and there is much to be proud of in terms of achievements.

Delivery is the reward

Digital is a team with a culture and track-record of delivery. Each member of the Digital team has committed to a set of delivery principles. I set high expectations early on and the team rallied. I think there are few challenges that could be put in front of this team that would overwhelm them.

It has been very satisfying to see the values and capability take root. I am proud of every individual team member for taking collective responsibility to transform what the University is capable of achieving through digital media.

Meeting the need

Our number one Delivery principle is ‘Put users’ needs first’. This principle has been transformative for our team as well as in many areas of digital publishing and service delivery around the University.

We now work on the basis that what’s best for our users is what’s best for the University. So when we are designing, developing or creating content for, our users and their need for fast and simple access to information and tools are informing and motivating our every move.

Getting time with users has not been easy but the team has worked and worked away to ensure a steady stream of user insight through interviews, analytics and feedback mechanisms. For me the extent to which we engage with end users mark us out amongst our peers.

Agile for real

We are now a team that uses agile development methods to deliver our work without skipping a beat. It all started with a two-day cross-functional sprint to create a site to welcome our new Chancellor and we have come on so far that we have been invited to coach others in the use of these agile methods. Even still we remain avid students and are always looking to learn and improve.

Agile is embedded across our content, design and development. You can see it all the way from our morning stand ups through to our sprint retrospectives. Establishing agile methods of working has brought structure and flexibility to our delivery and allows Bath to build world-class, user-centred services quickly and affordably.

See through

I think it was unfair but at the time I joined the Digital team was described by some at Bath as an inaccessible ‘black box’. One person’s perception is another’s reality and the situation today could not be more different.

We run weekly new work triage and scheduling sessions, blog about our output at the end of every sprint, we hold a fortnightly Show & Tell where you can meet and ask questions of the team, we issue a monthly roadmapof our scheduled work and our product backlogs are available online for scrutiny at all times.

All of these set pieces, as well as other informal forums make it simple and quick to find out who’s doing what and when. Our openness has been complimented by colleagues at Bath and beyond. There’s always more that could be done, but I am happy that we set a good example for others to follow.

Always aiming for more

We have turned Digital from a unit that simply plugs-and-plays with other people’s software into a team that creates products and runs services. This puts the University in the rare position where it can buy-in or manufacture what it needs based on the objectives and resources to hand.

This is not a luxury, this is a hard-earned and competitive advantage that has involved reskilling and retooling the team, including moving away from a Java based infrastructure to writing applications in Ruby on Rails, establishing pair writing in content and designing mobile-first prototypes in browser. With that power comes great responsibility which we have embraced by upgrading our user support services in parallel.

Judgement by results

The sum of all our new products, services, processes and culture has been growth across all our key performance indicators.

Visits and views are up in the UK and worldwide overseas locations, especially in target overseas markets. Our bounce rates are down and our page level engagements are up. We have launched new sections for Research and first year students and have provided for users’ preference for mobile devices. Furthermore, our volume of incident tickets and downtime have both been slashed.

These results are regularly reported to management and available to staff and students to scrutinise. We have begun to help other teams around the University to supplement their performance reports with digital metrics, which is the beginning of something very important for monitoring return-on-investment and establishing what ‘world class’ really looks like.

Going is good

In an era of pronounced competition across the sector, the hard facts are that Digital’s leadership and delivery has resulted in more traffic and deeper engagement across the University’s activities on- and offline.

It may all sound like a lot of stern, disciplined work but it’s actually been a lot of fun. The Digital team is full of generous, humble and creative people. We all get on well and we bring out the best in one another. There have been laughs every step of the way.

So the going is good. And I will be watching on from my new post in theScottish Government with pride.

Many of the most important developments I have brought in are cultural and procedural. The people who have the technical expertise to deliver on the potential remain in post. All they need now is the reciprocal trust and material support of their colleagues in order to capitalise on the gains Bath has made in the last 36 months. Do so and the collective rewards for the University will be worth it.

So keep being ambitious.

Cue the music

We be shipping #hatday

What’s going on at the Government Digital Service?

Oooft! What’s going on over at Aviation House? Only the end of an era, that’s all.

First Mike left and then the triple-whammy of Ben, Russell and Tom all saying sayonara at the same time. It’s all been a bit of a shock, even for wise-heads who might claim to have seen portents of its coming to be.

Mike, Ben, Russell and Tom – I’ll say again – you guys are awesome! You’re contribution in building digital infrastructure that this country can be proud of will ring out for a long, long time. Continue reading “What’s going on at the Government Digital Service?”

Scotland the Brave

It’s a brave thing that Scotland is about to do.

Are you for or against Scottish independence? I’ve been hauding ma wheesht for a long time on the matter. Thinking it through. But with a week to go until the big decider, I wanted to take part.

Wear it with pride @rossferg :-)

A photo posted by Dan Dineen (@dandineen) on

I don’t get a vote in the #indyref because I live outside of Scotland. A fact that is very hard for a tartan-totting, loch-loving, bru-swilling born-n-bred Scotsman like me to bear. Instead I need to find other means of participation. People who know me know that I believe it’s incredibly important for citizens to engage in democratic processes like the opportunity presented to the people of Scotland on September 18th 2014.

On the night of the first televised debate I was in Scotland, back in my home town. Instead of sitting in the house glued to the Salmond and Darling Show, I was out the back of my pal’s house playing cricket. Cricket?! I never play cricket but here I am in Scotland, in the town where William Wallace killed his first Englishman, with two other fiercely-proud Scots, one of whom is a big ginger sporting a tattoo of the Lion Rampant on his leg, and we’re dabbling in a spot of leather on willow. My point being that these Scottish lads are fundamentally the same in outlook, values and spirit as my mates 500 miles to the south in Billericay.

For me, the differences aren’t so apparent between Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland as to justify a yes vote. No one is oppressing us. We are a recognised nation. People beyond our shores already recognise and love Scottish. People get that we are different to the rest of the UK nations, yet we can still have all the benefits of association when we want it. Devolution has barely gotten started. We can have the best of all worlds, why limit ourselves on the basis of a plan that amounts to little more than a longwinded party manifesto. That’s my view. I’d be a no.

Whatever the result on the 18th, the Scottish people are going to have to go bravely into the future as one. What’s clear is that we have to reconcile ourselves quickly with the result and take full advantage of this renewed focus on being a nation again, a forward-thinking nation of people who are good to one another and good with other people beyond our already well-kent border – whether we’re an independent state or not.

I’d think it was the wrong decision to go independent, but if that’s the choice I’ll get fully behind it and help to make it work. Hell, I’ve seen enough of British politics to know it needs a big constitutional change to reinvigorate it. Independence isn’t what I had in mind but I’ll run with it, if my people make it clear that they want it.

But it has to be a clear result. The worst that could happen is that the people don’t turn out. The Scots have shown ourselves not to be the hottest at voting in recent opportunities, especially Scottish parliamentary elections. When I was up the road recently too many people said they might not bother voting. As a proud and passionate Scotsman that was hard to hear and I implored them tae think again. That’s why the news today that a historic 97% of the adult population registered to vote in the referendum is so amazing.

And that’s my say. Not to push an aye or a naw. But to push for Scotland the Brave. For Scotland to turnout in droves and make themselves heard whatever the decision. The legacy of this event depends on it.

Make sure you get involved. Good luck with it all folks.

The pleasing difficulty of judging a hack day

Bath:Hacked is asking the brightest and most creative people in our city to spend two days thinking, playing and hacking an untapped seam of BANES data.

It was with huge excitement that I headed along to Coworking Bath on Sunday morning for the judging of the first Bath Hacked event.

I arrived around 11AM, by which time the teams had been working for over 24 hours on their hacks. I spent 5 minutes or so with each of the teams in turn, looking at where they’d got to and getting a feel for where they were heading in the rest of the time they had.

There were no set judging criteria as such but I constructed a set of questions that I asked of each team I met to get a feel for:

  • The clarity of user need(s) being addressed
  • The importance being placed on the quality of user experience created
  • The application of locally-sourced data, especially that recently released by B&NES for the event
  • Tactics employed to clean, munge and splice data to make the data meaningful.

Around 3PM, the teams gathered together and presented to one another, the judges and a big group of curious onlookers for 4 minutes. Then it was over to me, Doug Laughlen and Valerie West to try to decide which team should win in each of 4 categories:

  • Grand Prize (£1k) – awarded to the best overall project, judged most imaginative, well conceived and likely to benefit the community, local business and/or the environment
  • Community Impact (£250) – awarded to the project most likely to resonate with the wider community
  • Best use of data (£250) – we’re looking for useful, clever or just plain surprising ways to use local data
  • Best completed project (£250) – shipping certainly isn’t mandatory, but there’s glory for those who manage it!

Continue reading “The pleasing difficulty of judging a hack day”

Delivering a digital strategy for the University of Bath

First published on University of Bath Digital Marketing & Communications blog

In recent posts, we’ve alluded to there being a University of Bath digital strategy. It’s the product of analysis and interviews conducted over the last 3 months, and we have begun taking that strategy around campus to introduce our colleagues to its contents and to get their feedback and support.

Our strategic goal
The University’s goal is to have a world-class digital domain developed around the needs of its users. This digital goal is framed by the actions set out in the University of Bath’s strategy for 2013 – 2016.

Users of our digital domain include students, academics, corporate staff, businesses and the public. While the majority of our digital users are here on campus, we receive high volumes of traffic from elsewhere in the UK and increasingly overseas. Our website serves in part as a marketing channel but our users are mostly task-driven and view our digital domain as a collection of services they use to get things done.

We want the people who use our site and associated digital channels to regard them as informative, trustworthy and useful. We believe that the manner in which we meet our users’ needs sets us apart from our peers and when we perform well it has a positive impact on the reputation and visibility of our research and teaching.

Continue reading “Delivering a digital strategy for the University of Bath”