February [month note]

February has been the classic ‘game of two halves’. Basically before and after we started the Beta in earnest.

The first week was dominated by a trip up to Durham for a really interesting and useful meeting with the team at Nomis – one of the ONS satellite sites that supports ‘small area data’ (which is local statistics to novices like me!). They are an interesting team that have been running the service for a couple of decades with virtually no staff turnover and a working methodology that was ‘agile’ before ‘agile’. Useful as it was it is a long way to go on a train – I’d forgotten.

Got pretty deep in to procurement and recruitment mode – the procurement stuff actually went pretty smoothly (thanks to G-Cloud and our team locally – thanks Amy) but still seemed more stressful than it could have been and we ended up scrambling a bit to get the team in when I needed them.

Recruitment is a whole other thing. I’ve become a bit obsessed with the whole requirement to build a sustainably in-house capability. There really aren’t any easy answers but I think it is incredibly important. I can’t see any way to make this digital by default revolution stick unless the skills are in-house. The GDS skills matrix stuff published yesterday is a start but only that.

I got my blogging mojo back but maybe got a bit carried away – blogging a lot here and a couple of times over on the work blog. It is also starting to rub off on some of my team!

On the 16th the team from Methods Digital started and the Beta journey really kicked off. I’m really pleased with the team – it is a nice mix of skill sets and personalities and they have really embraced the challenge from the start. It is a much longer project this time compared to the Alpha so I am trying to build a ‘one team’ culture from the start – not an ‘us and them’ vibe you often get with contractors.

The early focus is on our publishing platform, Florence. We are taking a similar approach to GDS by not using an off the shelf CMS (despite my well established love of WordPress) but I am challenging hard as we go along to make sure we aren’t doing it for the wrong reasons.

The progress is already really significant and once again we are going to get code deployed immediately and test with users as soon as we possibly can.

As I’m on the topic of user research I gave a talk at the MySociety meet-up in Cardiff about our approach to ‘user driven development’. I was a last minute stand-in and I tried to give a different perspective on my usual talk as it was a more technical audience. Seemed to go OK – always hard to tell but there were some great questions. MySociety really are an organisation I admire and I always enjoy meeting their staff. If I was to leave the civil service (which isn’t something on my mind actually) I think I’d like to work for them one day.

I’ve been spending a bit more time helping our social media team out as I’ve been slow to sort out a replacement for the Social Media Lead since he moved to Innovate UK. It has been quite eye opening – there are a lot of moving parts and while I guess I knew that intellectually it is different seeing it first hand. I like to think I have an instinctive feel for what works in social media – especially Twitter – but I think too much exposure to a corporate account could damage my love of the medium!

March is a big month as I am off to speak at SXSW in Austin and also I become the answer to ‘life, the universe and everything’ (I turn 42) so that might be a bumper edition.