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Monday 09 Jan - Sunday 15 Jan 2023


Monday 9th

A 05:30 alarm for a trip from Manchester Piccadilly to Bristol Temple Meads for a meeting at the Planning Inspectorate.

My train was at 07:03 but I didn’t mind because it meant no change and having a laptop friendly table for the whole 3+ hour journey.

After lunch I was joined by Paul.

As it was my first time in Bristol we decided to walk, see a bit of the town at the same time as discussing and preparing for our meeting the following day.

Later it was nice to briefly say hello to a member of the Downey family before they headed off for a curry because I had my name on a Deliveroo and an early night at the hotel.

Tuesday 10th

We met our colleagues at the Planning Inspectorate, Why? because as you might expect, they have an interest in the types of data we collect and their data is potentially valuable to our service.

So we spent the day talking about and aligning some of our work.

Initially we had bigger plans for our time together, perhaps to build something or visualise some data but we quickly realised the morning was gone by the time we’d finished sharing what both our teams were doing.

Paul talking to the team at the Planning Inspectorate, sat at a table presenting on a screen

We decided something more hands-on would be for a future meeting.

These cross-government meetings are one of the things I really like about working the public sector. I like the term Simon Wilson has used the past, when he said teams should look sideways more.

Teams helping each other is the way it should be, we need to be mindful that the fact that the needs of users often don’t fit neatly within the boundaries of government departments.

For that reason point 2 of the Service Standard, says ‘Solve a whole problem for users

And you get an added bonus of the chance to sample new food places at lunch time.

A bowl of pasta with pesto and a fresh made flatbread on the top. Steaming in the cold air

If you’re ever near Bristol Temple Meads station at lunch time, get yourself over to the Temple Quay Market - I went for Creamy Rigatoni alla Vodka from Toff’s Pasta which was most excellent indeed.

Wednesday 11th

Wednesday morning, having taken the train from Bristol to London, it was a chance for me to physically work with people in the same office.

As a team we have a good understanding of what constitutes the planning data service as a whole, however, it takes regular work to not only achieve that shared understanding but to keep it aligned because things are always changing as we learn and iterate.

Making sure we still had that alignment is what we wanted to do. So first thing in the morning we commandeered a large wall-space and desk in a corner of the building.

Paul intended to be with us for this most of the day but ended up having to attend some other meetings. Not ideal but we made it work, changing our activities to be asynchronous and catching him up between them.

I made a basic service map on the wall using post-it notes, breaking down our service into phases and then relating the following rows against them:

Language is really hard, the key is we all agreed and understood what those things meant. Whatever the language what mattered was it helped us talk about the problems we’re trying to solve, their design and technical challenges and what we have done so far.

Photo of the wall with post-it notes arranged across it.

This helped us see gaps and to evaluate our strategy and progress we’re making towards it.

We should do this more often actually. It is just really hard to do remotely. Mural, Miro and those tools are exhausting after a while and quickly become out of date.

Although I did recreate the board virtually afterwards using Mural to help us continue the discussion when no longer in the same room.

Photo of the wall with post-it notes arranged across it.

This is where having a service designer in the team would help.

Somebody to do this important work, own such an artefact and help the team to keep in sync. Fingers crossed somebody is joining the team to fill that role in the near future.

Despite Paul’s time being eaten up I think we did arrive at roughly the place I’d hoped by the end of the day.

I want to meet the team more often but it has been a struggle the past 6 months. Hopefully something gets resolved and train strikes are no longer a problem.

Thursday 12th

Last day in London before travelling home was spent near Covent Garden for a directorate all-hands event. It was good to say hello to people who until then had been an avatar in Slack or Teams.

It was a well organised day and I did get value from some of the discussion.

I had a 19:15 train back to Manchester but left early to help a colleague across London who was unfamiliar with the underground.

Sadly this is where a generally very good and productive week of travelling ended less well. My train was delayed for nearly two hours and then cancelled.

It was a little stressful in a packed Euston station, having nearly lost all sensation in my legs due to nowhere to sit down, eventually a different train was made available.

Thousands of people in the main concourse in Euston station all trying to see train times on the new screens

The cherry on the cake was when the train broke down outside Nuneaton, adding an extra 30 minute delay to getting home.

Friday 13th 😱

Not getting home until gone midnight meant this was a light day.

I checked-in with the team and began the work to capture some of our discussions. I made it a short day and then watched ‘The little things’ on Amazon Prime which was a different type of detective movie. 3 out of 5 for that one but not Denzel’s best film.

If you read all that then thank you! I thought I’d try a longer form post this week as hopefully a good way to take stock of a busy week in which I had done very little practical ‘design’.