Help with our user research…please!

The Notbinary Alpha team is working with a Government Department to explore how government can best help businesses to navigate the information and support available to them (online). To make sure that we understand businesses’ needs and that we build the right thing for them, we would like to have interviews with a variety of business owners and senior managers.

Taking part will involve a 1-2-1 interview which will last no longer than an hour and can be done either face-to-face or remotely. These interviews will be taking place at a time that suits you between now and Wednesday 18th March.

By taking part, you will help us to build a better service for small businesses. We are offering a £50 Amazon voucher as a thank you for your time.

Who we’re hoping to speak to

Owners or senior managers of businesses that:

  • Have 0 – 50 employees
  • Have been trading for longer than 1 year

Honestly non-digital/tech companies/businesses/shops would be a big win – though obviously a stretch for my network 🙂

If you are interested email me at or comment on this post!

Words to live by..

This post is mainly a reminder to myself of the links to these articles about some of my favourite ‘principles’ / ‘rules’ that I quote a lot and then fail to find when I need to – they are about writing and leadership (because really what else do I do at this point but write and inconsistently ‘lead’) mainly and I’ll add more over time.

I don’t always follow the advice herein but I always want to.

Lessons from Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’

Write for yourself first and be yourself

Write every day*

Good writers read

Don’t be pretentious or stretch your vocabulary

Don’t get overly caught up in grammar

*well I try!

Lessons from Phil Jackson’s Eleven Principles

Lead from the inside out.

Bench the ego.

The key to success is compassion.

Keep your eye on the spirit, not on the scoreboard.

Sometimes you have to pull out the big stick.

Lessons from David Ogilvy on ‘How to write’

Write the way you talk. Naturally.

Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.

Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of pretense.

Never write more than two pages on any subject.

If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.**

**I’m terrible at this

Lessons from the Eleven Laws of Showrunning by Javier Grillo-Marxuach

It’s all about you stop making it all about you

Know your show and tell everyone what it is

Make decisions early and often

Do not demand a final product at the idea stage

Write and rewrite quickly

Deliver good and bad news early and often

Share credit for success to a fault



Enterprise empathy

There has been a fair amount of talk about the ills of Microsoft Teams and Office365 on the Twitters these last couple of days and like Vicky said it is starting to smack a bit of digital privilege and honestly is coming across as a bit blinkered.

Look personally I find both Teams and O365 a struggle. I am well and truly in the Slack and Google Docs camp….but it isn’t like either of those are perfect either.

I think the strongest advocates for Google over MS are either under playing the extent of the disruption that move can cause or maybe are a bit too enamoured of disruption in general. There is no doubt that Google Docs/Sheets/Slides are far superior tools for collaboration and sharing but the formatting options on all of them is weak, the ‘suggesting’ option isn’t as useful as track changes and god knows that document and access management in ‘Drive’ is a shambles. Also for anyone who has never used Gmail before its clear benefits to us are totally invisible and again it seems bizarre.

As for Excel vs Sheets? Come on!

The reality is that these Microsoft tools are prevalent and spreading so instead of spitting in the wind I have decided it is time to learn how to get the best out of them. If some of it – as is so often stated – is an installation issue then I want to understand what good looks like and how we can help clients get there. I want to understand what tricks there are to wring every bit of usability out of the tools and what are the red lines where we should just not push and tweak our ways of working instead. How can we leverage these tools to support the cultural change we want to see rather than wasting energy arguing for our tools.

To be honest if the future of work we are advocating can’t cope with some clumsy enterprise clones of popular products we are probably done for anyway.

Unusually for him (sorry mate – just kidding!) Mr Briggs had a sensible and balanced contribution to the ‘debate’ –>

..but even this I think is risky. We already have too many occasions of places where there are ‘haves and have nots’. Teams with more freedom. Individuals using their own devices when others are not permitted. Shadow systems. As for BYOD I’m not really sure I’m convinced that the majority of people want this. It is just another way for their work life to invade their personal.

So I’m not saying we should stop advocating for the ‘better’ tools. I’m always going to push for Slack, Trello, Google Docs etc (though I’m warming to Notion!) but we should be ready, willing and able to make the most of the Microsoft ecosystem (or whatever – well not Lotus!) as well in support of our broader goals.

Walls that talk

Terence wrote this post this week taking aim at the the pervasiveness of Post-Its in todays digital orthodoxy. He referred to the Post-Its on abandoned ‘agile’ walls as wallpaper. Sam responded with a lovely ode to the wonder of wallpaper.

I’ve been known to take aim at the ‘blizzard of Post-Its’ (™ Charlie Stross) from Agile Coaches (and Product Managers, Service Designers and everybody else really) but I think the problem that Terence is describing has nothing to do with the stationery chosen and everything to do with poor practice and agile theatre. In Terence’s story at least he was able to see and ask the question about ‘Jerry’ – in a million forgotten Trello boards (and Github Projects and Jira Boards and..and…) there remain actions and tasks not monitored and never delivered.

The power of physical ‘agile’ walls is when they become a focal point for a team and a conversation starter with other people. The wall should be a contributor to an ongoing conversation – one that changes and evolves – but also be able to present to the world without translation. The wall should speak in a language understood by all.

Some of my best moments on big agile deliveries were when I stumbled across someone loosely – or not at all – connected to my teams work studying our wall(s) and then later having them attend show and tells with great questions.

The problem is too often this is just a tick box artefact for an agile team going through the motions. Grids are drawn or taped. Post-Its are scribbled and applied. Backs are patted. Then the wall is neglected and eventually abandoned until the next team needs that wall space and there is nobody left who cares to claim it – and too often the cycle continues.

So I’d suggest Terence’s problem is with agile cargo cult-ing  more than Post-Its (in this case – the fact that they are an eco-disaster of a ‘digital’ cliche is another matter!).

For what it is worth I prefer index cards.

The Security Service

One of the great frustrations of being a supplier to Government – particularly with the amount of time we spend embedded on-site with Government teams – is the security pass situation. Regularly working in locations where you need to be permanently escorted and can’t even go to the loo, let alone a meeting room or the canteen, without your chaperone is frustrating, a blocker for delivery and honestly just a little embarrassing (not only for us but for whoever gets lumbered with chaperoning!)

Different Departments have different approaches. Heck different buildings in the same Department can be totally different.

I understand the need for security and vetting staff. That isn’t really the issue. The issue is the path to getting vetted if you are not a Civil Servant.

At the moment for anything above BPSS – the lowest level of check – you need to be sponsored by a Department. There is a cost involved for the supplier – but in the grand scheme that is trivial – the problem is it is time consuming. There is an admin effort on behalf of the Department and then there is a backlog to just get the checks done. It is not a rapid process so it is never at the top of anyones list of tasks to take on.

Of course if you are a List X company – that is a commercial company that has passed the clearance to handle SECRET documents on their own sites then you can sponsor your own staff. This immediately gives the big SIs, the big four consultants and apparently once upon a time Cambridge Analytica a leg-up. As far as I am aware nobody is allowed to make a procurement decision based on this criteria but human beings are prone to unconscious bias and the friction of landing a team needing sponsorship compared to a team where everyone is already holding the relevant clearances is bound to be an factor I think.

At the moment from the open ‘Digital Outcomes’ opportunities on the Digital Marketplace.

Five are BPSS.

Four don’t mention security clearances at all.

Two accept BPSS but require staff to be seeking Security Check (SC).

Two require Counter Terrorism Checks (CTC).

One requires Parliamentary Security Clearance.

Four require Security Check (SC).

Two require Security Check (SC) at a minimum but also Developed Vetting (DV).

Here is my proposal to balance the scales here a bit. All companies that make it onto the DOS framework should have a pathway to arrange for the clearance of their staff. This could be self funding I think – I imagine you could come up with a cost model that would make it at worst cost neutral to the Government and still worth the investment for the suppliers….and it will also improve things for Digital staff on the ground in the Departments.