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A first week in a dynamic Digital Team

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Arriving at Richmond House on a cold, overcast Monday morning, my expectations for the next 6 months were not sky high. Thankfully, my initial thoughts have been proved spectacularly and superbly, wrong!

A bit about me

My name is Katie. I’m a European Fast streamer and after changing job role and Department 4 times in a year and a half, I am experienced, at least, in starting afresh.
All of my previous posts have focused on EU-work and I’ve just returned from Brussels, where I was working in the Cabinet of the Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation. This was great as I got a real overview of the work of the Commission, in an area that interests me (science), as well as exposure to a political environment I wouldn’t otherwise get in the Civil Service.
My other two posts were at the Ministry of Justice, leading on the strategy for engaging with other EU countries; and at DEFRA. I really enjoyed both of these posts, especially having the chance to represent the UK in international negotiations over the discard plans, and being exposed to a policy area which has such acute impact on many communities. It was perhaps because of these experiences, and the fact that European work really interests me that I was apprehensive when told I would work on digital capability building in the Department of Health. I didn’t think anything else could be as forward-moving, interesting or important as what I had been working on before.

First Impressions

Sian, my vibrant and lovely predecessor had reassured me that the Digital team in the Department of Health were wonderful and their work interesting. Indeed, my first impressions were of a busy, but very friendly team. The Digital Team hot-desks; an efficient way of working that almost automatically leads to a more dynamic and innovative environment and something I’d missed in Brussels. On the other hand, it is taking some getting used to sitting behind the Press Office after spending 5 months in an office with just one other person!

What went really well: Great Organisation

On arriving, I already had a phone line established, a laptop ordered and a log-in, all set up and ready to go. Most importantly, my manager and team knew how the IT and administration worked. This was so helpful, as I wasn’t left trying to find the relevant expertise in the team myself to get me all set up, whilst grappling with everything else that was new.
Another really positive experience this week has been the organisation of a string of introductory meetings with much of the wider team. It was also particularly useful to sit-in on a user-testing session to see how this key tool for the team really works. My strategy role will involve linking up and being aware of what the rest of the team do, so getting to grips with this early is vital. I’d like to give a really big shout-out to Laurence for having set-up these initial meetings and for his early guidance. Thanks to his fantastic pre-organisation, the first week went smoothly despite him being poorly since my second day. The team have also been brilliant for taking the time to have these meetings with me and answer my questions.

What went really well: Time to read and consideration by the team

Having the time to properly read Sian’s handover, and to find out more about the team and wider government strategy for digital transformation, has been brilliant. It will have hopefully laid good foundations so I can start adding real, lasting value as soon as possible. I’ve also been really impressed by Stephen’s focus on finding the right work for me, both in terms of finding something I can contribute to in real terms in the next 6-moths (emphasising projects that fit into that short window), but also through acknowledging my ‘development needs’.

So what could have gone better?

It would have been useful to have been shown an organogram of the team, with summaries of their responsibilities early on. I’m still not 100% clear on where everyone sits and where their expertise lies, although this is improving. Whilst we are a small team, it really helps to know who has particular expertise and on what, in case I need to find out more about specific areas of work. I’m a bit of a visual-learner, so it was particularly helpful of Joe to draw out a rough diagram of the team and how it straddles two Directorates.
It would also have helped to have been given more information from the start about the guiding principles of the team, such as Agile. Despite having done quite a few Google searches on it since, I’m still feeling a little lost around the exact processes!

There are some really interesting blogs on Agile from the Government Digital Service. I think it started out in Japan and can be a bit scary at first: especially when you first hear the words 'Kanban' and 'scrum' thrown about as if they were in everyone's most basic vocabulary, but actually the principles are quite simple and have already transformed my way of approaching work! I'm now even looking at delving into the world of tools like Trello, armed with this new direction...

Two only other small things which made the first week less smooth were that my security pass took much longer than hoped for (due to issues with finding my security clearance) and the difficulty in fitting meetings into diaries in order to get started on the work. Again this is due to the team being so active, which is great, and underlines how important the initial introductory meetings were.

Looking ahead

I’m really excited about the work I’ll be getting started on and feel the team have a great deal of momentum I can join. The Engage Platform for standardising and facilitating Campaign site development is an exciting piece of work that seems to have a great deal of potential for helping move Government further into the digital age. Agile development and User-testing to inform it is a new way of working, but one that really does seem to make a lot of sense; as I think Chris said, once you see how it works and how it can improve processes and tools so quickly, you can’t un-see it!
The Thought Streamer by Tom Chi from Google was something I was lucky enough to attend on my first day. These sessions show a video of a Thought Leader giving an inspirational talk followed by discussion about how lessons can be applied to public service work. It was fantastic to see how engaged people were from the Department in the discussions, and to see how much insight can actually be gained from these Thought Leaders. Relaunching the Digital Champions and setting up the Digital Policy Network could really help a lot of people in their work across the Department, and I hope it will be rewarding. It will be a good chance to see the impact of Digital across the breadth of policy-making and I hope to get as many people involved and engaged as possible!

In summary

I’ve had a fantastic first 2 weeks and am excited to start work with such a friendly, forward-looking team working on truly tangible products. There will undoubtedly be plenty more learning to be done and I’m gazing up at the steep learning curve of all things Digital ahead with a little nervousness. I am, however, really excited about the challenges and look forward, in particular, to the work on relaunching the Digital Champions network. Hopefully I can make a substantial contribution to the Digital Team during my time here!

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