Weeknotes: week 23

Services not solutions

Neil Lawrence
Apr 2 · 4 min read
A bath with the side panel off and the pipes exposed

Bear with me on this analogy. It does work if you squint and tip your head sideways a bit…

Since getting our heating and hot water sorted we’ve been enjoying daily baths in our new house, focusing on how lovely and warm the water is and how big the bath is. Sometimes we’d mention how slowly the water was draining out afterwards, but really we just looked forward to the next bath.

Until yesterday, when it took 90 mins for the bath to drain. A plumber was called, who gave up on the plunger, stripped out the plumbing to reveal all manner of problems previously hidden by the sealed-in bath panel and our not paying enough attention to the obvious signs of a problem that was growing.

Similarly, it was with a heavy heart this week I recognised we were not going to be able to meet our 1 May launch date for the new website and have gone back to our plans to work out a more realistic date and what we need to do differently.

Was it an easy decision? I know you’re supposed to say “no” in these circumstances, but I’ve often found when you reach a tipping point the reasons to change direction stack up quite quickly and the decision becomes clearer and easier. The water wasn’t draining fast enough; simple as.

I’ll admit I’ve been as avid a flag waver for the original launch date as anyone (as was pointed out to me at a meeting to discuss the change), but new information we had on Tuesday about completion times for migrated content followed by a meeting with the Content Designers to try and plan around these times, assessing the scale of work we needed to do pre-launch, finally showed it wasn’t going to work.

So what went wrong? It was important to be clear about the reasons so we can plan to fix the errors or fill the gaps going forward to avoid a repeat. One key one was that we’d focused too much on building a set of tools to move content from one platform to another than we had on the work needed to deliver a new website that worked well for its users. Actually, two websites, which was another issue; there hadn’t been enough focus on the work needed to develop a new home for a sister site moving across at the same time. Added to that, our Content Designers still weren’t confident on a platform they’d need to embrace and start teaching others on using fairly soon after launch.

As was accurately put by Adam at Placecube when we talked about it, we’d become focused on solutions and not services. We need our new site to be better, not just finished. As one of the Content Designers had said at one of our planning sessions; she wanted to be proud of the site. So do I.

So now the side of the bath is off with the plumbing is exposed (to continue the analogy), and we are all rolling up our sleeves to sort it out. That started in earnest quickly with a great meeting with my ICT Ops colleagues looking through our user stories and deciding to set up a mini-project to tackle the work. Placecube are responding, as ever, with a ‘whatever is needed’ approach to getting us back on track, tightening up governance and process so we’re all better focused on working together to deliver.

That big F word, ‘failure’, has kicked around, even if not said out loud by others. So I’ll say it:

  • I failed to listed to my colleagues properly when they voiced concerns
  • I failed to nail down others on promises to contribute when they were made or be clearer about what was needed from them
  • I failed to plan in enough detail to cover every aspect of the project and didn’t seek more help when I needed it
  • I failed to be objective in assessing our progress, caught up in the excitement of a new migration method

Our bath gets fixed this morning. I’m fixing the project next week. Happy Easter all.

Some other things that happened this week:

  • Susie in our Content Design team had an awkwardly-timed birthday right next to Easter meaning there was zero chance of a delivery arriving in time, so I had to visit in person to deliver her presents (and finally meet her for the first time). Next time I’ll take her address with me…
  • That man Ben Unsworth fished around in his Big Shed to find me the user research on the Care Advice Buckinghamshire to help us reassess our adult social care user journeys
  • Entering the Kafkaesque world of council/recruitment agency partnerships to identify a temporary replacement for a departing Content Designer. One week, two confusing forms, no sign yet of talking about people or posts
  • Going for a health after work cycle ride with my wife only to discover a burger van in the village and….never again
  • All our migrated pages finally dropped on our Dev site, showing there is a lot of work to do, absolutely positively validating the decision to push our launch date back

A new feature celebrating the finest journalism on offer in Dorset this week:

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