Monthly Archives: March 2023

Weeknowt – 25th March

Karl Hyde of Underworld, human sized and with a huge video screen image of himself just behind him, with the silhouettes of dancing middle-aged people in the foreground
Not exactly ‘a hundred days off’

A curious week, this one. Really busy, and lots of progress, but no major things that have happened or new ways I’m thinking about stuff. Or at least nothing worth sharing yet.

The good news is that, following on from the ‘new jobs are like being a new parent’ analogy of a few posts ago, the end of week five looks like a bit of a turning point. A few things are starting to make a bit more sense, I’m not quite so exhausted by all the newness, and I’m starting to see the hints of good things coming to fruition soon.

I’ve definitely been channeling quite a bit of my former partner in crime, and the wisdom of gigbuddy Victor, when thinking about ways the Heads of Profession can be more of a team, rather than merely a shared job title. There’s so much collective wisdom to draw upon, it would be a shame if we tackled any of our challenges fully alone.

Aside from this, I’m generally turning over ambiguous terms like “roadmap” and “delivery”, and starting to get my brain back into the zone for the next round of Mind the Product’s Product Leadership course in April. I’m taking a slight back seat this time round, because (for some wonderful reasons) I might be taking over from Bea in leading it in the Autumn so they need to get some other trainers up to speed.

I’m also wondering whether weeknotes are the right format for all this. The rhythm of reflection is unbelievably helpful, but I suspect I’m half-finishing thoughts that should really be stand-alone articles.

Due to a few deadlines at work I’ve been slightly neglecting exercise, meditation and a ton of my other self-care routines over the last fortnight. Just one of those “I need the fifteen minutes to prepare x before this particular day starts, so I’ll have that walk later” spirals it’s so easy to fall into. By the end of this week I was definitely feeling the cumulative effect of not looking after myself enough, so for next week I’m planning to be much more strict about being virtuous – and staving off some gloom as a result.

Oh, and I got to meet some lovely people from the US version of GDS. We were given Joe Biden-inscribed boxes of Hersheys Kisses as gifts which was very lovely. Of course, I now have to decide whether to actually eat American Chocolate, which can be a high-risk manouvre.

small blue box of chocolates, with a presidential seal and signature printed on the outside.
As weird perks of the job go…


Underworld at the Royal Albert Hall was just amazing. It was a charity gig, and so they stuck to The Hits. But it has inspired me to finally catch up on their epic lockdown opus Drift. And to perhaps rethink a few of my own approaches to writing music. I really admire the internal rhyming scheme of fairly-recent track “S T A R”.

Each, peach, tinfoil
I spy Danny Boyle
Danny Boyle made my summer
I spy Joe Strummer
Joe Strummer up in heaven
I spy Nye Bevan
Nye Bevan at the top
I spy Iggy Pop
Iggy Pop at the wheel
I spy John Peel
John Peel double decker
I spy Sally Becker
Sally Becker is a star

V and I were in a box, which was just lovely. It was even better when we were in the correct one, so huge retrospective apologies to the residents of Loggia 4 that we couldn’t read our own bloody tickets.

Sadly we didn’t get to catch up with the delightful Kate Collins who runs Teenage Cancer Trust, and we know from early-2000s Children In Need days when we were all mere babbies – the poor thing had an incredibly badly-timed case of Covid!

Anyway, here are some videos I took on the night.

The track’s actually called “Two Months Off”, but hey.

What else?

  • Got to toast Matt Jukes’ entry into his 50s on Wednesday, catch up with a few very lovely people, and meet two new folks I previously only knew from Twitter
  • Vicky’s choir performed Bob Chilcott’s “St John Passion” on Saturday, which was delightful. “Nice tunes and nice chords” are sadly hugely underrated. And I was just blown away by last-minute stand-in tenor Tim Burton who’d not even heard the piece until the night before and yet absolutely smashed the narrator role.
  • Daisy came down to see ‘Phaedra’ at the National yesterday, and I feel we ought to see it too.
  • Drove to UEA and back today to pick up all her stuff. Slightly numb, but largely doing ok.
    • Last piano lesson for nearly a month – but no zen moments to pass on really. Sadly it’s all about me doing the work from here on in…

Weeknote – 18th March – Work in Progress

This was one of those weeks where there was no one specific thing that got ‘finished’. Or even to the next stage of ‘finished enough’. There are quite a few big things in play, and I’m making progress on them all, but it’s been slow going and I started the week feeling pretty low.

Some of that emotional slump wasn’t work-related. Last Sunday the family had gone down to Brighton, to take my stepfather-in-law out to lunch for the first time since V’s mum’s funeral. Because of COVID and other factors, it was my first time visiting the house in nearly four years – and obviously the first time I’d been there without her in it. So yes. Hmmm. It’s therefore definitely been a week tending towards the contemplative.

On a more practical note…

I’ve met three more of the Deputy Directors, and we got to chat about both the “Heads of Profession” model at GDS and how I can help them/the product people in their area. I’m starting to spot a few more patterns on the former now; this means there’s enough to go on that we can start to shape a slightly more scaled engagement model – the individual chats are great, but don’t scale for the matrix of every single DD and HoP.

We’d previously sent out a version of our vision for senior folk to react to, which had elements of ‘a learning prototype’. The core felt pretty good, and nobody’s objected to that – but the surrounding document had a few Big Ideas in it, essentially to find out what people did/didn’t want us to be. We’ve had some good (and occasionally very clear) feedback on that, which has been really useful. It took a while to collate all this into a form I could share with colleagues – but time spent gathering well-written-up context is rarely wasted. The other HoPs have been getting stuck in to an updated draft and it’s coming together really nicely. It’s also been great seeing everyone playing to their strengths – my user research counterpart is already thinking about how best to do that ‘engagement at scale’, for example – rather than me inventing it for myself. We’re really working as a team, which is wonderful.

I also had my first session with the GDS neurodiversity network. They were talking about shaping recruitment processes to reduce the chances these sorts of candidates weren’t disadvantaged. Lots of the things they’ve talked about are ideas I’d put in at DIT anyway – being really clear in adverts about the process, sharing everything you reasonably can in advance (including some of the interview questions), making it as easy as possible for people to know the criteria they’re being judged against. But I also got to hear new things like the ‘six second rule’ – which is how long you should allow for someone to process the question. Tony Richards, who runs the network, has a really good blogpost about their work. We’ve also talked about ‘manual of me’, but that’s a topic for another day.

One of the other things I’m turning over is how we can better share information and feel more united in purpose within the directorate I belong to. I came up with a pretty good ‘hybrid wall walk’ process – but realised it could only support a maximum of 13ish teams in an hour’s session. And we’ve got 20. So there’s the challenge: I don’t want important learning not to be shared across and upwards; I don’t want risks not to be surfaced; I don’t want people not to have the chance to say they’ll collaborate. But I also don’t want to bore people by making it 90 minutes, or even longer. And too often I’ve seen “scrum of scrums” type activities get filled with people talking about how busy they are, and not getting into the things that really matter. So if you have any ideas/links to approaches that have worked, those would be very welcome! I’ll keep reading/researching/experimenting too, and hopefully be able to share some stuff back here in due course.

Three bars of Debussy's "Sarabande" with pencil markings of fingerings on them
It’s all about the middle finger. Particularly during the crescendo.


  • Picked up a stupid injury to the arch of my left foot, so running’s stopped again – pah.
  • Finally got to the bottom of the cryptic cadence of getting paid in the new gig – and sadly a glitch on the timesheet system means I missed one of the critical drumbeats where the weekly/monthly cycles come together. This means it’s going to be a few weeks still before I can do the much-anticipated hitting Rough Trade/Bandcamp in anger. Catching up on the Ladytron back catalogue will have to wait. Thank heavens for overdrafts and credit cards (and yeah, Spotify I suppose) in the meantime!
  • Another incredibly Zen piano lesson. A bit like work, I feel like I’ve got a load of pieces that are ‘nearly there’ but taking ages to come together. There’s a Schubert Impromptu that’s just a slog of learning sooooo many notes; Debussy’s “Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum” that I can get through, but needs a ton of polish; and Debussy’s “Sarabande” which is furthest along, but still not really where I want it. All of them feel like I’m pushing uphill, and not seeing much progress or joy. (Which has also contributed to my general gloom.) But Seb the piano teacher tried to reframe all this – that the piano is never “done”. A given piece is never “done”. You might get it to “good enough to play to other people”. So don’t be practicing too much with that target of completion – just enjoy deeply working on the four bars you’re currently trying to improve, and the bigger picture will look after itself.
  • I’ve been particularly looking at the few bars in the picture above, where I’ve realised that the problems I’ve been having are down to the weight distribution of my hand. Unlike synth playing, to get the best sound out of the piano you have all the weight of your arm carried through your fingers. But I was really struggling on these phrases. And that’s because I’d made the wrong trade-off (but been able to mask it with the sustain pedal, to Seb and myself). I’d been anchoring most of my weight into the thumb and second finger – but actually it needs to be focused on the third finger. This helps you bring the melody out at the start, and then helps your thumb to be all floppy and slide through the semiquavers in the second bar – while your fourth and fifth fingers are freed up to be carrying on with The Tune. I love these types of problem-solving you get in piano pieces. Compared to the clarinet, where there’s only one way to do it, the piano remains far more fascinating.
  • Daisy came home for mother’s day, which was a lovely surprise she and I managed to spring. Har har har.
  • I got hugely frustrated with the studio – all the electronics just felt utterly technical and uninspiring this weekend. Modular experiments that would normally have kicked off new ideas completely failed to. I fell into a bunch of clichés when trying to play synth keyboards. I couldn’t settle to anything. I ended up having a massive tidy to try and reset the space – and also the storage area where bikes and cables and camping gear and stationery and other bits of musical gear are piled up. There are now far fewer piles of “admin things in progress” everywhere and hopefully that’ll mean my brain can settle a little more without feeling oppressed by all the to-dos. And perhaps that’s sorted through some of the rest of my brain too.
  • Nearly finished the book of “Orlando” after seeing the play a few weeks ago. It’s got really quite weird at the end of the 19th Century, particularly when her child arrives, but it’s somehow got me thinking a lot about odd corners/side-effects of my early catholic upbringing. That’s going to be a blog post in its own right – or maybe some songs.
  • Oh, and it’s been twenty years since I first started having piano lessons again. They’ve been “off and on” over the years, but it’s been a hugely rewarding journey to go on.

Next week will bring Underworld, a few social things, and hopefully a lot more progress.

Weeknote 11th-ish March – Lean life (GDS week 4)

Last week was pretty epic, and I remember writing that I considered myself “tired, but not exhausted”. This week there’s lots less to say, but somehow I feel absolutely shattered.

Some of that is because I’ve been in many more “pretending to be extrovert” scenarios, but also I suspect I’m slightly running out of mental swap space – there’s not quite enough autopilot yet to process some of the increasing numbers of things I’m working on.

I know it’ll come though. It always does. I try to remember this phase of any new role is like the arc of when we were new parents. Week four was always the worst, because you’d run out of mental and emotional reserves from before it all started – but weren’t yet seeing many tangible benefits. You just had to endure until week six or seven, when unexpectedly things would start to make a bit more sense.

The people, meanwhile, continue to be generally lovely. It’s just my brain that needs to catch up.

My week at GDS

  • I had a delightful chat with another of the Deputy Directors, as I start to do my rounds of the organisation. We rather hit it off, and I hope we’re going to get the chance to work together soon. I’m seeing two more next week – and I really hope they go the same way.
  • I had another of my open “meet Tom/Ask Me Anything” sessions for the Product Managers to find out a bit about me and how I work. There were lots of good questions from PMs ranging from senior to associate. It was particularly nice to be able to talk about my plans for how we can make career progression a bit more transparent. In the “vanilla” DDaT framework for product managers, it merely says that staff should be able to use product techniques with greater confidence – but doesn’t actually get into the specifics of what those are. So…one of my plans is that we should actually write down our detailed expectations at the different grades. When should you be focused just on usability? When might we expect you to be confident with A/B or landing page tests? When should you be able to create a prototype to test assumptions? How do you make the judgement on the risks around concierge tests? Etc etc. And that’s just product craft. We can do the same around how people think about value-for-money (and therefore the risks associated with any given bet). This all seemed to go down well, so now I just need to get on with bringing it together. The word “just” is doing a lot of heavy lifting there.
  • I was part of a panel sifting a large number of CVs for a new role in our Digital Identity team, and the moderation session was a really good way to beter get to know some team members and see what they valued in Product Management in their particular context.
  • The three of us got to collaborate on finessing the interview process a bit, bringing in some of the scenario-based techniques I introduced at DIT. The HoP did a fab job of coming up with something that I think is really going to give the best candidates a chance to shine – so 🎉.
  • I also got to have a good in-depth chat with one of the Lead PMs from that programme, and it was super-useful to hear in detail about their background and current work, and start thinking about how I might best help them.
  • And finally, I had my first “Heads of Product” get together – bringing together the HoPs from the three big directorates at GDS. We’re all so busy it took ages to find a diary slot, but I’m really glad we met. The four of us got to cover loads of really important stuff, in terms of what we’re doing for staff, how we can build a product leadership community, and how we can support each other. (We talked about early talent, mentoring, skills, L&D offer and loads more. Plus a bit of group therapy, of course.) I’m also picking up a few things they’ve had on their “I should do this for the greater good of the community, but dayjob argh” lists, which is a nice bit of help to be able to offer them already.

I’m trying to be ultra-ultra-Lean in how I approach many of these things. Do as little as possible to give people something to react to – I can fill in the detail later once I know things are ‘more true’. For example with the HoPs gathering I was pretty sure we’d end up with some sort of trello board, how our flow might work, and I had some ideas about what topics we should cover – but I knew that if I engineered flow too heavily around my reckons, I’ve wasted a big opportunity for everyone to tell me what they really need. (But yes, we do now have a trello board, and I’m very pleased that loads of the bigger things on it aren’t the priorities I first thought of.)

Similarly, we had a session about roadmapping with all the heads of product and delivery. I’ve joined a central team thinking about how we might improve things. I kicked off the session with a bit of a roundup of the thinking that had been going on – and on our hypothesis for improvements. But I deliberately didn’t over-engineer the Mural board we might use for testing the next stage work, or force anyone into an activity – because I wanted a chance to test the underlying value proposition of the work (always producting, me). We got a lot of interesting feedback to our approach, and it’s clearly going to need a bit of iteration, but we also got one team saying they’d be interested in doing a light-weight experiment with us to see how it plays out in reality, and another wanting to get involved in April. As ever, I’m always wondering about the least possible work we can do to get the next bit of insight we need.

It was also interesting when telling our story to a new group people that I spotted a slight creeping assumption. It would be incredibly convenient if it was true (which is why I’d not spotted it) but it definitely needs checking. So in some ways I’m actually glad we aren’t “go go go!” and have been gifted a little bit of time to validate. It’s funny how saying things out loud, to a completely new set of people, can reveal things like that.

An unexpected tour into meta-kanban

On Thursday evening I got to drop into a Zoom chat from one of the original masters of Kanban, Dave Burrows. Kanban isn’t a specialist area of mine, but I always like to stay curious, and Dave had come highly recommended by my fellow Head of Profession for software engineering.

(An aside on curiosity: I remember signing up for a quite expensive workshop on the “Accelerate” book about DevOps with Nicole Forsgren and Jez Humble, thinking it would be an interesting perspective on my work with PaaS – and having SOOOOOO many new perspectives and insights and tangents and books from that day, lots of which I still use. Metrics hierarchies? Corporate culture mapping? How to measure anything? Storytelling with data? All from that day. As a result, I’m always prepared to take a chance on something new. Plus, one of my favourite books is Steven Johnson’s “Where Good Ideas Come From”, which highlights the importance of cross-pollination between disciplines to foster sustainable innovation. He calls this exaptation, and I’m a fan. I’ve rarely regretted going to a talk about something a bit leftfield.)

It's a complicated powerpoint diagram showing feedback loops between teams at varying levels of a hierarchy. It's a visual metaphor, and it's better explained in the text that follows.
One of many fascinating slides – well, abstract slides, accompanied by fascinating chat.

Mike’s talk was actually wonderful. I sadly had to join it late because I was in the first “Heads of Product” meeting mentioned above, but there was a ton of great things to think about – mainly textural rather than anything to do with what’s going on now, but a few highlights:

  • “Watermelon projects” – Green on the outside, red on the inside. This term caused quite a virtual cackle from all of us on zoom. We’ve all seen them, some of us have worked on them, and now they have a name.
  • A disaffection with the increasing process-centricity around agile. I’ve always worried about the lack of upward flows of insight within frameworks like SAFe, but Mike put it really well: “we’re in danger of reinventing waterfall, and losing all the benefits of this way of working.”
  • He also talked about a list of “dysfunctions” – not in the Patrick Lencioni sense – but he would occasionally use throwaway lists like “dysfunctions of power, of levels of detail, of…” that I didn’t have time to write down. And I didn’t want to ask about because it may have been in the bit at the start that I missed. So I’m going to wait for the recording, and if it’s not covered I’m going to ask him on LinkedIn! (It may be I have to sign up for his course to find out, but hey – that’s quite tempting already.) The term “dysfunction” might be a bit ‘strong’, but there’s definitely something in it.
  • One example he gave of this was in a context I’d simply never considered before, and was a total eye-opener. It’s what the diagram above represents. He talked about work dependencies or flows between teams – all happily working in a kanban way.

    But there’s also a layer of kanban *between* the teams.

    Handoffs in multi-team delivery can sometimes end up being “we’ve done our bit, it’s now on them”. (Guilty as charged here!) But he calls this a dysfunction of power: the first team feels they can push work into the next team’s queue before they’re ready for it, breaking the kanban pull flow of the team that inherits the work.

    Another potential way to look at it is: why was that team working on something before it was going to be needed by the team inheriting the work? Perhaps that work should remain “not fully delivered” within the first team’s board until it’s ready to be worked on by the new team? Would that create better visibility around bottlenecks and flow to management, making it easier to spot the overall tensions in the delivery/learning system?

    I need to do a lot more thinking about this, but that meta-kanban approach is something pretty new to me. (It might be buried in “Lean Enterprise” of course, but I didn’t spot it 5-6 years ago because I didn’t have enough experience/context!)

We were also in the presence of Dave “Cynefin” Snowden – who clearly has a “resting unimpressed face”. Perhaps he was also thinking “5:30 on a Thursday evening, what kind of a time for a talk is this?”

Dave Snowden on Zoom, resting his chin on his fist.
Are his feelings complex? Complicated? Chaotic?


  • I got to enjoy my first tentative visit to Rough Trade East as “the local record shop”. I’m going in gently – I picked up an online order of the new Orbital album – but I can see this is going to be a very fruitful (if financially ruinous) relationship.
  • Managed to get out for a run on Tuesday morning before work, and also did Parkrun today – so last week’s excuse-making has been seen off, and I’m managing to hold onto the exercise habits I built up during January.
  • It was a really unfocused week of piano practice this week – I felt I needed to play more for pleasure than to sort out any specific problems. So I don’t know how the lesson will go in fifteen minutes or so.
  • Which reminds me: someone at work asked me “when do you find the time to write this”. In general I’ll write a list of key topics on Friday night – either in Notes on the phone, or maybe in wordpress if I’ve got the laptop to hand. But I simply don’t have the energy or perspective to try and synthesise anything meaningful from it all at that point. That generally comes out when I do the bulk of the writing – which is during Milo’s piano lesson, just before mine. Sometimes I realise I’ve got a lot more to say than I thought – or I spot there are bits of “thinking about thinking” that other people might find useful. Frameworks I realise I’m using, or implicit knowledge I can try to make more explicit. This is how last week’s turned into a bit of an epic, that needed to be finished off on Sunday!
  • SXSW has kicked off. I’m slightly missing not being there – but not $10K-levels-of-missing. I’ve signed up for the online streaming/on-demand version, so there’s now an absolute ton of stuff I’ve now got queued up to watch. Obviously I don’t get to see Self Esteem or Baby Queen or Nova Twins from three feet away, nor go to premieres of Sandra Bullock/King Crimson films – but I also don’t get horribly, horribly homesick.

Weeknote 4th March

So, a few things to talk about this week, but – to be honest – none of them are as exciting as Cate Blanchett’s dancing in the video for Sparks’ “The Girl is Crying in Her Latte”.

(The song is…OK. Not among their best, and it’s a bit of a grower…but hey, Cate Blanchett!)

Anyway, it’s been something of a tiring week, but probably in a good way. I’m definitely “tired, but not exhausted” – as one early books about Scrum used to say.

This is a welcome change. After the blip at the tail end of last week, working days are now looking largely sensible. On days I’m in the office, I’ve also got a shorter commute – which is hugely welcome. But these cumulative changes have definitely messed with my rhythm a bit: I’m not used to having this extra time, and I even accidentally went to bed an hour early on Tuesday because I’d ticked off all the ‘normal tasks’ and blindly assumed there wasn’t capacity for anything else.

I’m still grappling with the whole tasks/goals balance in the new role, and slightly trying to work out what the job really is. And isn’t. I’m aware that I personally took on a lot more than I really should have done at DIT, and got way too emotionally invested in far too many things, which led to getting pretty burnt out – and I don’t want to end up there again. So I’m still sifting through everything and deciding what’s a goal, or an opportunity to make an adjacent big difference, or a quest other people hope I might take on (for better or worse). Accordingly the goals list in my A3 sheet I talked about two weeks ago is getting really quite long. Nearly as long as the tasks list. Not all of that is going to be equally valuable – but I don’t yet have a handle on how to prioritise. But whatever – this all leads to good opportunities for user/stakeholder research into Me As A Product. I have a few thoughts on how to better design those sessions, but nothing solid yet.

The Vision Thing, Leaders and Leading

On Monday, a few of us presented our vision for Heads of Profession to the GDS People Board, and to a subset of our Deputy Directors. I was quite pleased with the structure and content of the story we told, and how we organised it as a set of hypotheses and opportunities. Feedback from the first session was pretty good, with good (if perhaps slighlty premature) questions about metrics. The second session was a little beige – something didn’t quite chime with them. Still need to work out why – which ties into the better stakeholder conversations in the previous paragraphs.

I had the first one of those in on Tuesday afternoon, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Got some useful confirmation on the particular issues I thought I could see in that DD’s area, and positive feedback on how I was proposing to help. I think we are going to be a good team, and I’m going to bring some useful capacity to help us improve things together.

One thing I’m pondering on the back of that discussion is how much it’s the responsibility of Product people to “lead”.

Personally, I tend to think that in high-functioning multidisciplinary teams, the vision and strategy should come from a combination of design, technology and product working together – and it should be something continually validated through user research, analytics, economics, the evolution of the roadmap to emerging circumstances etc. Product people definitely have a key responsibility for making sure the business value side is thoroughly understood – and teasing out the riskiest assumptions in the strategy/approach, so they can be dealt with ASAP. But the bulk of this work should still be done together within the core team. Of course, not all teams are equal, and there are sometimes capability gaps – so the product and delivery people are still usually on the hook for making sure there’s something sensible to go forward with, in a sensible timescale. But if all the ideas have come from the product person, that’s something of a wasted opportunity. That kind of CEO-of-the-product leadership should really be the absolute last resort.

How that plays out in practice (and how you might formalise that as a set of principles for teams) is something I want to work through with the other Heads of Profession. We’re trying to model the behaviours we want to see in our teams – and if we can’t sort this out between us, how should we expect our people to know what good looks like?

Consistent, not uniform

Another thing that’s emerging from these conversations and thinking is that I suspect many of our Heads of Profession actually have quite different jobs. We have things in common, but we aren’t identical. I’m currently wondering: where are we separately strategic, operational, coordinating, managing, inspiring? Each profession has its own balance between those, and there are different pressures in each directorate. So we need the time to think about this carefully as we iterate this vision – because we want to make the most of the areas where HoPs overlap, but shouldn’t force everyone into the same box.


Elsewhere I found myself helping our Business and People Services team think a bit about how to categorise different types of work. They’ve got a lot of things that “just have to happen”, which are definitely prone to political and organisational ‘weather’. When will an unexpected request from on high arrive, what will a role be greenlit and suddenly have to be advertised, how will you deal with a key person being on leave just as a monthly return to Cabinet Office is due? All that makes it hard to make time for important projects to improve things. And without visibility into that day-to-day, it’s hard for management to have confidence or shape what’s going on – they just see projects running late.

As we talked it through, I realised this was remarkably close to the SRE ideas of ‘service level objectives’ and ‘error budgets’. Were teams over-responding to BAU tasks as though they were “incidents”? Did they have a clear handle on management’s priorities in the most valuable BAU? And if a given project was critical to improvement, is it unnecessarily getting pushed aside by hitting an over-ambitious service level on process x?

It was a really interesting conversation, and I liked drawing up a fictional set of SLOs to help illustrate the sort of choices that might lead to – in teams and with senior management. An unexpected place to be using my creative side, but I think it’s going to lead to some good benefits elsewhere.

(I did have moments where I thought “where are Emily and Jess when you need them”, of course. 🙂 )

“Measuring” Buy-In

There’s been a lot of change happening at GDS recently. GOV.UK has a new strategy, the Government as a Platform programme is hoping to be a more unified and self-reinforcing suite of tools, Digital Identity has succeeded in replacing Verify and might be able to be less heads-down.

With all that rapid change, in a distributed organisation of way more than 500 people, that works in a hybrid way, there’s a real chance of teams and leadership becoming detached from each other. So I’m lightly pondering what leading and lagging indicators might be of scenarios around that detachment such as:

  • This team simply doesn’t know the strategy
  • This teams know the strategy but doesn’t understand why it is the strategy
  • This team knows the strategy, but doesn’t believe your reasoning
  • This team knows the strategy, but can’t free up enough mental/delivery capacity to work out how to make any progress on it in their own work, so have become passive
  • The team knows the strategy is wrong, understands the goal and believes in you, but needs help and context for coming up with a better idea
  • The team came up with a better idea, and didn’t notice you’ve changed your original plans because of their feedback

I don’t yet know if any of those apply anywhere, but it’s a first rough framework to have in my mind when talking to teams – and working out where I can help everyone collaborate and do their best work.

Funnels and Systems and Flows for our Platforms

As I mentioned above, the Digital Services Platform (formerly GaaP), is trying to be a more coherent and self-reinforcing offer. It’s also focused on growth – getting more people to use these products to make their own services quicker and easier to use. This blogpost from Lenny’s Newsletter on Duolingo’s various bets to improve usage has been doing the rounds, and I was really impressed by a few things.

DuoLingo model for user ‘buckets’ and the flows between them

Firstly I really liked how they’d managed to divide up the flows of different user groups and types, and how they measure the rates of dropoffs between them. Obviously with our services it’s more about the adoption cycle – what’s it going to take for someone to use this the first time, to then get it into production, to then use it on multiple services, and finally to try more complex products. But this was the sort of diagram I could half-feel in my head when thinking about how to explain that, had it not been for my aphantasia stopping me.

Secondly I loved how they’d then run the model over time to see which changes to which metrics would have the biggest effect on overall ROI. They were able to prove that keeping current users satisfied was by far the most effective tactic for sustainability in their first phase. Once that was sorted they could move onto other metrics/paths of the network.

(That they were talking about gamification as particular tactics to achieve that is of course much less relevant – analysing the network, and working out what ideas are relvant in your context, then being able to measure their impact is far more important. We need to do that at an individual product level – but also at the pan-product level. For example, how likely is a developer or designer that actively uses Notify to also try Pay? Do designers using the prototype kit understand the problems the rest of our tools are there to solve, and have we made it sufficiently easy for them to build the concepts into their fledgeling service ideas?)


  • Weirdly, no new gig or theatre tickets bought this week. I think.
  • Had a very, very Zen piano lesson. “You’re thinking about how to get from A to B, when actually you should be thinking about how to play it”. But I’m making good progress on Schubert, and it’s reassuring to see that Debussy’s Sarabande is as hard as I think it is.
  • Have been enjoying reading a few small Product Craft books this weekend – little essays really – by both Jeff Gothelf (Agile vs Lean vs Design Thinking) and Josh Seiden (Outcomes over Outputs). Lots of exciting ideas came out of that, but I realise that I don’t currently know where to take that excitement at GDS. At DIT I know exactly who to go to, and we’d go “oooh” at each other for a bit while we worked out how/when/where to apply it. But I don’t yet know how to share these ideas within GDS, how to get buy-in, and to understand the landscape to create some interventions. Probably another place to try some experiments – because I definitely need to come across as “here to help” rather than a troublemaker.
  • Hugely enjoyed seeing some old friends at Product in the Aether #42 on Tuesday evening, and was pleased to be able to blithely pass on Tom Wujek’s “mental models” exercise to a new set of people. (I suspect I’m going to need to use this myself quite soon, so it should turn up in a new blog post in time.)