23 November 2020

Published in weeknotes

I didn't work on Monday because I had extremely poor sleep. Insomnia is something I've battled with for a few years now. I'm currently using Sleepio to improve my sleep. Sleep restriction is hard but works.

This week I was lucky enough to tune into some great talks as part of Justice Servies 2020 conference. Plus I listened to Chris Atkins talk about his experiences in prison, captured in his book A Bit Of A Stretch. He did a Q&A with colleagues and gave some insight into why investments around digital and technology can be hard to land, despite the better outcomes that could be realised.

What is multidisciplinary?

One of the panel talks I listened to pondered the above question. That evening I happened to listen to Roger Marting talk on The Knowledge Project podcast, which covered integrative thinking:

the ability to face constructively the tension of opposing ideas and, instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generate a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a new idea that contains elements of the opposing ideas but is superior to each.

Roger Martin

Working in multidisciplinary teams sets us up for integrative thinking, it makes it more likely. The best multidisciplinary teams are curious about each others work and open to challenge. Peter Drucker said, “There are no marketing problems, there are no finance problems, there are no accounting problems, there are only business problems.” True, yet working within the bounds of business functions is often the norm. Business school teaches siloed working. It's hard to break out this habit. I've noticed a culture clash between digital teams and "the business" stakeholders. The business are often confused about the way digital teams work and digital teams are often bemused by seemingly antiquated ways of working, e.g. committees formed around single topics, formal minutes, etc... closing the opportunity for open and integrative thinking.

Back to the panel discussion, Laura spoke about how onboarding people on to high performing multidisciplinary teams can be easy. Less mature teams should slow down and make sure people have a chance to understand who does and who knows what. She'd run an expectations exercise to help people get to this point quicker. She made a brilliant point: "if you can't describe the value that someone else brings, you are missing a trick. You will be missing opportunities to lean on others expertise and experience."

Katrin worked in the German public sector. They are at the very start of building good digital services. It's a very legalistic culture. They're just starting to form multidisciplinary teams. This is fascinating. We shouldn't take the progress UK local and central government departments have come in their digital journey. I wish Germany good luck!

Sam made a point of encouraging new starters on existing teams to challenge the language they come across. Empower people to value the power of questions.

Kaz asked if the next step for multidisciplinary teams is outside of digital. This would be awesome, although who knows, this might already happen across MoJ. Digital definitely doesn't own this way of working. Indeed, when you Google "multidisciplinary team" results cluster around healthcare professionals working together to help patients.

What continues to be hard?

  • Understanding commercial routes to get people in. So complicated and constant source of frustration.
  • Increasing confidence when migrating systems from on-prem to public cloud. The difficult thing here is lack of domain knowledge, and overcoming hurdles to improve QA capacity and capability.

Who else did you talk to?

I talked with Giulio and Toni about cycles of work, and in particular, the legislative timetable and fast-tracked legislation, and the impact it has on teams. We were recently asked by a senior person if we could move some people from one team to another piece of work. Tom DeMarco calls this the myth of the fungible resource in his book Slack. I completely agree with the idea of making organisations less efficient and more effective. Departments like mine are already driving up a steep hill with the weight of old technology. Increasing the incline of that hill without increasing the engine size is not going to get us anywhere faster. Expect stalling to occur and slides back down the hill! (Remember, these are my thoughts, not anyone elses). Janet's blog post goes into aligning cycles, people and goals. Having a vision and set of guiding principles keeps us aligned, yet having no slack in the system deviates from this. A good strategy will identify the key challenges to overcome and the cycles and sources of work are challenges unless we can simply say no to lots of things. Another Justice Services panel session I watched was about innovation. Time to think and experiment is a key ingredient to innovation. And innovation is key to the long term health of an organisation. Slack (the book) represents operational capacity sacrificed for the interests of long-term health. Slack in the system also allows for maintainance and sustainable ways of working. And all this is linked to mental wellbeing.

Did you watch / listen / read anything helpful?

Spoilt a good walk by listening to the Integration challenges in an ERP-heavy world. And part 2. The problem they open with is digital technology is a major source of revenue these days. ERP processes are notoriously difficult to upgrade, incrementally change, putting "a fairly large technological albatross around an organisation's neck whilst teams try to chase digital opportunities". Mmm, sounds very familiar. Questions pondered: Where does an ERP system end and external new capabilities begin? Should an ERP remain the system of record? What are some guiding principles behind abstractions to the ERP? What are the modes of integration? How can teams be organised? What about the impedance mismatch of architectural patterns like REST and events, how do they work with batch-oriented or request-response patterns? What tooling is worth building? When is the right time to move from on-prem to cloud? And I learnt a new term: data gravity. And this article on cloud escape velocity - switching cloud providers puts the term into good use, making me think of a a few LAA Digital services that have recently been migrated and they challenges they had to overcome.

Did you meet anyone new?

Yes. But sadly I have run out time! Trying to get better at timeboxing weeknotes.