Weeknote 1

It’s time to continue what I started last week – an experiment with “readerless” weeknote blogging. I know it has been done before. But will it work for me? 


The full version:

I published the first ever weeknote on Sunday late afternoon. On Monday morning, I walked into the office and got instant, in-person feedback (thanks!). What have I done? Aren’t weeknotes readerless? Have I broken the system already?

Luckily in the office was Mr Civil Service Weeknote himself. We talked for a while. He told me about the history of weeknotes, the Government Digital Service, and digital services in the Civil Service. I couldn’t share what I learned in that conversation in a single post, even if I tried. But that’s beside the point. It was the first indication that writing reflections in public as if nobody will ever read them can spark unplanned but valuable interactions. 

That chat, thank you, Mr Weeknote, was what we are yet to replace in the new “hybrid” and “remote” world. Of course, we can schedule calls and virtual meetings, but how do we create opportunities for such spontaneous exchanges of ideas. Writing weeknotes is probably not the answer I’m looking for, but it could help. 

Enough of this meta-writing. Let’s start weeknote 1 proper… 

How much should we listen to the user “needs”?

Last week I missed a few things in my first weeknote as I decided to go and do some community first responding for a few hours. I published what I had and booked on just after 20:00. I wanted to be home by midnight as I had to be in the office early in the morning. It wasn’t to be. As soon as I logged into the system, I was sent to a 90-year-old male who’s fallen and couldn’t get up. He’s been waiting for help since 15:00. The plan (or hope) was to get him up and into his bed. One less patient for the ambulance proper. Not this time! He couldn’t be safely lifted or left as he was, so I kept an eye on him until a professional crew relieved me just after 03:00.

What has it got to do with users and their needs? The initial hour of a response can be busy. There are checks to make, techniques to perform, and things to discuss. But once that is all done, then there is the wait. Then, there is time to think, interrupted by more and more impatient questions, “how long until the ambulance arrives?” 

My “users” want to know when an ambulance will arrive. That’s their “need”. They and their families want to know how long the wait will be here and then at the emergency department. And I must admit, by 01:00, I was with them on that! I had been there already for four hours, and now I had only 5 hours left until my alarm clock went off. Unlike them, I knew nobody was coming just yet. And so a thought was born. Couldn’t we build a digital service that shows current ambulance waits? Couldn’t we apply some machine learning doodah to predict the delay? Couldn’t we show the patient and their family exactly how hopeless their situation is? 

Of course, we could! But should we? Our users want this. We could confirm this with user research, but I was in the field listening to the question for six hours. I felt the urge too. By 03:00 I was half asleep, but my head was full of ideas about how such a system could be built. And then it dawned on me! We all want to know when the help will come, not because it is important to us or it matters in any real sense. We just want the help to be there now. Wouldn’t it be better to fix the service, so the ambulance arrived before this question crossed anybody’s mind? 

I know. I’m opening myself up for criticism that I don’t understand the User Centric Design gospel. A good User Researcher would realise that the need is superficial and uncover the actual “ask”. We could address it with a beautifully designed service by a skilled Service Designer… and so on. But before you get on your high horse, can you honestly say that things like that never happened? How many services are there to address symptoms of some form of pathology? How many digital services have been built to plaster over a gaping hole, lack of this or failure of that? Why?

Things I will not write about

So… yes, I do think about user-centric design and delivery of digital services when treating patients in my volunteering roles. But I also think about the very agile and cross-functional ways of working I see in emergency services when I’m back in my day role. I find it beneficial and inspiring. I have been thinking about ways to write about it for quite some time. I still haven’t figured out how to do it, but I hope to write about it one day. 

It’s just that it takes time. It is Tuesday night, and I’m trying to finish last week’s weeknote! I will stop here, but I wanted to list things I thought a lot about last week which I won’t write about just yet. 

  • Cross-governmental communities of practice and how anaemic, frail and small they tend to be despite people who are assigned “leads”. It is a real problem for me as I’m thinking of starting such a community myself and the only thing that stops me is this image of… I don’t even know what to call it. 
  • The “Future Ways of Working” and how much more we have to figure out there. And that the communication has to be bi-directional. And that wellbeing is essential to consider. 
  • Throughout the week, I also considered and discussed the need for CPD. Why don’t we do it in our professions? Should this be done in the open?
  • I missed my graduation and failed to pick up some award.
  • I remembered the Jolie language and how it could revolutionise how we build our applications. I’d like to try it again soon.
  • We had a Christmas party, dinner and associated meetings, something we hadn’t done in a few years.
  • I have also learnt about the Law of Stretched (cognitive) systems.
  • I have watched an interesting “intellectual riffing” between Matthew Skelton (Team Topologies) and Dave Farley (Continues Delivery). 
  • I have read a fascinating article by Robin Sloan – A Year of New Avenues
  • And the Agile Baristas slowly start to be helpful, perhaps going back to the original point about writing things out in the open. 

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