12th December 2015
Digital Service Managers x3 (Office for National Statistics)
Newport or Fareham
London, Cardiff or Sheffield
London, Cardiff or Sheffield
Director of Digital
Government Digital Service
Open Knowledge Foundation
Head of Digital
Digital Product Manager
The National Archives
Digital Product Designer
Co-operative Group Digital
Senior Digital Product Manager
I’m still thinking about the whole people conundrum at the heart of the agile, digital development approach we are taking. My consistent online whingeing has certainly identified that it isn’t an uncommon problem and it isn’t just the public sector facing it. There is clearly a something of a ‘talent shortage’ and the traditional brain drain to London (either for GDS, startup life in Shoreditch or a pay day in the City) isn’t showing any sign of slowing.
There are genuinely talented people interested in working in the Gov space though – inspired by the work of GDS but not willing to move to London they are curious about opportunities out in the regions. I know this because a number of them have sought me out for conversations about it.
I know I can be a bit of a grumpy git at times but I am pretty passionate about what I do and why I do it so I try to share that passion with anybody interested but at the moment I just don’t seem to be able to really close the sale. Something in the story just isn’t quite compelling enough. Yet.
I think we are going to have to investigate other models of working that might help encourage people to sign up – or we need to look elsewhere. One way or another I need a new perspective.
I love working in a co-located team but maybe more research needs to be done in to how we could run remote agile teams and still live up to the Service Standard? Clearly this would mean resolving a whole host of security as well as cultural issues but would it help? Clearly some businesses do this successfully but it does still seem to be unusual at scale.
Or maybe it is time for Departments/Organisations to pool resources and set-up shared digital ‘hubs’ (perhaps under the GDS banner) where genuine multi-disciplinary dev teams come together to work with an embedded representative (Service Manager?) on a project by project basis. This has the advantage that you can build a genuine digital first culture – in the manner GDS did – rather than always being an adjunct of an adjunct (organisation culture, divisional culture…baggage of some sort.)
The DWP Digital Academy idea is extremely interesting. Is the answer that we invest in existing staff and fast track them with the skills and responsibilities to operate in these agile development environments? Many organisations are probably too small to do this themselves and where do you get the right kind of training and mentoring but there is probably a lot of hidden talent out there just looking for someone to take a chance on them.
The other option is of course to continue to use suppliers to plug the gaps. This doesn’t really seem sustainable in the long term and if you followed the G-Cloud/Digital Services Framework debate this week you would have seen this route has its own issues. That said almost nothing I have achieved professionally in the last few years would have happened without the help of some brilliant SMEs and I can’t see the need for that kind of injection of expertise ever being totally replaced.
As ever I am just thinking out loud here. Maybe if I keep doing that somebody smarter will come along and offer me a solution.
Here is hoping.
If you follow me on Twitter I probably owe you a bit of an apology. In recent weeks I have become obsessed with using my networks to publicise a couple of jobs that we have open at ONS and I think I have probably pushed the patience of my network to the edge.
It is unlikely to be the last time either. Recruitment for digital jobs to implement the ‘multi-disciplinary’ dev-ops type of approach advocated by GDS (and entirely supported by me) is tough.
[I think the team behind the ‘Digital People’ blog on the blogs.gov.uk network might be working on some of this so this might be premature but it won’t hurt to get my thoughts written down.]
The are a number of major obstacles and some of them are not things that are easily solvable (geographic location, national skills shortage..) but there are things we/I should be able to influence and I want to get a better handle on how to do those things better. I just need a little help (well a lot.)
For a start we need to get away from the whole..
..attitude to posting jobs. If there aren’t budgets associated for advertising the roles on the major jobs boards – and even if there are – we need to better understand how to make sure the right kind of people see the job descriptions.
To be honest somebody should probably do a proper ‘discovery’ on this but in the meantime I’m interested in identifying things like a list of national and regional networks, mailing lists, meet-ups, job boards etc where the jobs could be publicised. Equally important I want to know the rules of those communities when it comes to posting jobs – last thing we want is to be seen as spam.
Next I’m convinced all the job descriptions and job titles could do with some work. Take some of that vaunted GDS approach to plain English and content design and rework them so they are more straightforward (and reusable). The job descriptions that are available on the Service Manual are a helpful start but that is all. I think a common vocabulary across Government when talking about these digital jobs is great but at the moment it seems more of an informal effort to get a little residual GDS attention rather than a consistent approach?
I’ve read a little (and need to read more) about the need to ensure that job descriptions aren’t written with hidden biases that discourage a more diverse pool of people from applying. Is anybody thinking about that? Is that on me as the ‘hiring manager’? Which is fine – I just need to be better.
So you have got managed to get somebody to follow a link* to a job and the description has got them interested now what? Well anecdotally at least for some some people they take one look at the application process and decide their time could be spent better elsewhere.
Is the more simple CV plus a covering letter approach more acceptable than the slightly intimidating ‘competencies’ based application forms? I’ve noticed DVLA take this approach. Is it acceptable to ask designers for links to portfolios. To ask developers for links to Github? (I understand this is controversial as it creates one of those biases against people who might have responsibilities outside of work that prevent contributions like this?)
I actually think the competency based interviews we tend to do in the civil service are a good approach (but I’d love a note taker in the interviews so I could focus on the interviewee!) but what about things like coding tests? Are they useful? Does the artificial nature of them mean you are likely to miss out on talented individuals who work in a different manner?
I don’t know but I know people have opinions.
How much do things like good chairs, standing desks, the latest hardware matter? What kind of wider benefits have the most impact? There is no way the civil service is going to be able to compete when it comes to the best salaries out there for some of these jobs but regionally at least (i.e. not London) they don’t seem miles off (albeit there is a tendency to ask for the world in the job descriptions – see above about rewriting them!) and much as things have changed in recent years the civil service does still have a lot of pluses.
The big thing we have to offer I guess is what Will McInness calls a ‘Purpose of Significance’ in his book Culture Shock. The idea of a job having some worth beyond just being a way to earn a living – that what you are doing is meaningful in some way. A part of a wider mission. GDS have been great at creating this I think and teams like Ministry of Justice Digital and the DWP Academy work is putting their own spin on it. Only GDS really has that wider recognition though.
This has been a bit of a rambling mess of a post and congratulations if you managed to stick with it this far. Really I guess what I want to try and do is ‘crowd source’ answers, suggestions, thoughts – and probably more questions – about all these things and start to build a practical resource that can be shared because I can’t be the only person thinking about all these things? (Maybe I am – it wouldn’t be the first time!) Maybe a wiki or something? I’m happy to set something up if I am not just talking to myself on the back of the bus…
* One quick win would be to just make the Civil Service Jobs URLs more easily shareable – they are horrible at the moment and although there is a nice little hack** that isn’t a great long term solution.
** Just use this template
[The role has been slightly tweaked and is now called User Experience Lead but it available again – the vast majority of this post is still valid]
There are still a few days to apply for the
two User Researcher UX Lead job with me at ONS and so I thought I would say a little about what the work might entail and why I believe it is interesting and important.
The role will be embedded in one of two agile development teams – both committed to a ‘user first’ approach. My project is the redevelopment of the ONS corporate website including everything from the publishing platform to data manipulation and visualisation tools on the front-end. The other is a project to radically rethink how ONS does surveys – a huge part of our activity – moving it to a truly ‘digital by default’ approach. This project includes everything from identity assurance, to ‘nudge’ thinking as well as a lot of form design. It is crucial work to the future of the organisation.
Everybody involved in these projects is committed to following the approach advocated by GDS. Service Managers are being trained alongside those from the GDS exemplar projects and ONS work voluntarily goes through the GDS Service Assessment process to reassure everybody involved that the right processes are followed.
We have built our own user lab on the premises in Newport and also are able to book the facilities at GDS HQ in Holborn. The ONS users are a passionate community who are always happy to share their opinions and experiences. Between this large community and a relationship with a participant recruitment company getting people in to provide feedback is not a problem. Finding time for everybody who wants their say is more difficult.
Speaking for my project we practice what I have heard called ‘user driven development’ and so the User Researcher has a vital role. We undertake formal lab based research at the end of every sprint and expect supplementary work to be going on all the time. Our user stories are genuinely directly based on our research and so the Researcher has enormous influence alongside the Product Lead (i.e. me!). The team develops and deploys at pace so there are really quick feedback loops and you can really see the difference you are making.
The work of the ONS is high profile and important to the ensure an informed debate based on data rather than anecdote. Not to mention the influence the statistics have on the nations economy and political policy. Anybody involved in this work has an opportunity to make a real difference.
Now the job is in Newport but it is commutable from Cardiff and Bristol (despite my moaning I have done it everyday for two years) and the organisation is really embracing the digital agenda so it is an exciting time to be involved.
So if you have ever been inspired by the work of GDS but don’t fancy moving to London I really want you to take a look at the job description and take some time this weekend to apply!
*within reason 🙂