Weeknotes

Hi, I’m Richard. I’m Head of Planning, Performance & Change at the Food Standards Agency (FSA). My job is all about ensuring we do the right things, with the right people and money, to achieve the organisation’s objectives and strategy.

Inspired by Dan and Julie — who are both old colleagues and friends from my days working in Parliamentary ICT — I thought I’d write a weeknote.

I thought I’d experiment by answering the three questions posed by James — a mircoaction for #oneteamgov. I decided to this because I thought using this format would help me to step back, pick out themes, reflect and learn.


What was hard?

Doing a mock exam in preparation for my final professional CIMA management accountancy qualification.

Hard, but actually the questions were not as hard as I’d feared. I’ll get the result next week. The real thing is in 2 weeks. One of the hard things was finding a 3-hour window where I could be uninterrupted to do the mock.

Another challenge this week has been building a new team in the FSA — a private office for our Chair and Chief Executive. I’ve put together project and programme teams before, but this team will be a permanent part of the FSA org structure, and it feels a bit different. I’m planning that by the end of September the team will be fully up and running, with nine people (the perfect ‘two pizza’ size?), but right now only two of those people are in post. The team is bringing together people from other teams in the FSA and some new people from outside the organisation. Since the decision to create the team was announced, there’s been lots to do.

Before this week, I’ve been helping out with a couple of bits and pieces, including leading a couple of the recruitments, but only peripherally involved. Now I’m overseeing the set-up. Keeping the show on the road until the team is up to its full complement has involved lots of dedicated people helping out, stepping outside their normal role, and really going that extra mile. It’s been difficult at times, but a real example of #oneteamfsa, as one of my colleagues puts it.

This week I’ve been speaking to people individually, listening, asking questions, thanking people for what they’ve been doing, clarifying my own role, liaising with my HR and finance business partners, and putting in place a plan to onboard the new team members. I want to help them settle and get up to speed as quickly as possible. (My interest in this subject was triggered by reading The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins — if you don’t know it, you can read a summary here. It’s an area where other teams I’ve managed recently have experimented, including through using Trello, with really positive feedback from new joiners.)

On Thursday, we held our first all-team meeting, so everyone could understand the changes in the team and what’s happening when. Although there are still areas of uncertainty, I was keen to give people as much clarity as I could about where we’ve got to and where we’re going and why, and to give everyone the opportunity to ask questions and raise any concerns. Everyone shared updates, and we discussed a couple of upcoming challenges. I found it a really rewarding meeting, and I think by the end we were all better informed than when we started. We decided that we’re going to do it again next week.


What was fun?

I enjoy working across organisations and making connections between different people or pieces of work in order to move things forward. Some of the most enjoyable parts of my week were thanks to people in other departments.

The government’s Infrastructure and projects authority (IPA) is doing some thinking about business cases for large change programmes. Knowing that I have an interest in how to ensure that governance supports delivery, Kit had put the person from the IPA leading their work in touch with me. We met up this week and discussed how we might be able to improve the way the civil service manages the uncertainty around costs and benefits of change programmes and the particular issues involved when such programmes involve more than one department.

I also had a really fun catch up with Dan, who works at the Parliamentary Digital Service. I believe that there’s huge benefit in seeing how others handle similar issues and learning from them (‘looking sideways’). I always learn something from chatting to Dan, and it was lots of fun too.

Thanks to Terry at ONS sharing it on twitter, I had recently read an article on how senior leadership teams can embrace agile ways of working. I’ve worked in digital and now manage the work of the FSA’s top team, so this subject is both dear to my heart and central to my day job. On Tuesday I enjoyed discussing the article with Julie, who is one of the Directors at the FSA. We bounced ideas off each other, compared past experiences, and questioned whether there are things we could learn from the article and seek to do better. I like questioning how/why we do things and seeing where we can improve. I also took a couple of actions from our chat, to follow up with other people and to do a bit of analysis.


What made you proud?

Seeing first-hand the excellent way in which the FSA manages a large incident relating to food.

Some of you might have noticed that there has been quite a lot going on with eggs over the past week… People across the organisation are pulling together to protect public health and to ensure that people in this country have food they can trust.

The FSA deals with a lot of incidents (eg the FSA and Food Standards Scotland were notified of and investigated 2,265 incidents in 2016/17), and our amazing incidents team have a flexible plan for managing incidents and carry out exercises to test our preparedness. (If you’re interested, you can read the report for a major exercise here).

But this was the first time that I had been directly involved. My Director, Chris, is on holiday and I was deputising for him for the week. (One benefit of my CIMA training is that I’m in a better position to cover for him than I was before.) I certainly didn’t imagine when I did a handover with him last Friday that this would involve me spending 10–15% of my week discussing eggs! (It is an ongoing investigation, but this was the position on Thursday 10 August.) I was deputising for Chris in the FSA’s SIOG — that’s “strategic incident oversight group” — in case there were particular financial implications for the FSA arising from the incident, and I was massively proud of how the team are managing the incident.

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