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Wednesday, 12th September 2018

A bit of a late delivery this week - no real excuse I'm afraid other than feeling a little under the weather. Do you actually mind what day this arrives? If you have a view, hit reply and let me know.

Remember - if you enjoy this newsletter, others might too! Please forward it on to anybody you think might like it, or encourage folk to sign themselves up! Got something I ought to include? Mail me!

Only agile?

A question popped up on LinkedIn the other day, asking whether people new to the project delivery game should invest their L&D time in agile or Prince2 approaches. 

There ought to be an easy answer to this - after all, agile is the future! Prince2 and other 'waterfall' approaches suck! To an extent this is true (although remember that oftentimes there's nothing wrong with any particular approach, but plenty wrong with the implementation of that approach - the same is true of course of a lot of software).

However, it might be that there's still a role for some more traditional approaches to play. This is something I have learned over the last few years putting together complicated digital and technology programmes for change in organisations like local councils. In an ideal world every service would be fully transformed, made digital end to end, including the underlying operating model, using technology that delivers the perfect user experience in an easy to maintain way.

Sadly though, there is too much to be done with too few people and too little money to enable this to happen. Not everything that has to be done can be done as above. It's a travesty, but it's also the reality. So, we have to get smart about how we use the resources and people available to us to extract the maximum benefit for our services users and our organisation.

I'm reminded here of Simon Wardley's approach (link - as always, I dramatically simplify Simon's work to suit my smaller brain) of splitting approaches into three: pioneers, settlers and town planners. We can use these buckets to put projects, technologies and processes into, to help figure out the best way to make them happen.

Pioneers are cutting edge projects, involving a high level of experimentation, risk and reward, innovation and transformation. They are likely to make use of new technology, and involve a high level of custom development or configuration, which is often best delivered in house. This sort of work benefits from an agile approach - it needs to get working products out to users rapidly, respond quickly to feedback and changing circumstances.

Work classified as settlers is slightly less risky and experimental. It might involve putting in new software or other technology capabilities, but it might be a fairly standard implementation of something off the shelf, that's not likely to dramatically affect the relationship between the organisation and its customers. It's new, and necessary, but not transformative. Such projects are better suited to more traditional approaches, because the outcomes are fairly standardised and well known. A project manager can be assigned and work with whatever internal folk, suppliers and contractors are needed to get the thing over the line.

Town planner describes work that deals with the business as usual, taking existing, mature systems and processes and working to improve them and increase quality levels, making use of heavily commoditised technology to simplify and make efficient existing processes and services. Approaches to take will include the use of ITIL and other service management and quality improvement methods.

So back to my usual theme - there's no one size fits all silver bullet. You can't do everything in agile, nor can you apply waterfall to everything as well. Instead, pick the method that suits the work you are doing. Acknowledge that not everything you do is cutting edge, transformative work and that it's ok in some cases to just implement or improve something. And if you're looking at what skills you need, get a good grounding in as much as you can, so you don't get pigeon-holed.



  • Theo Blackwell blogs about the progress of the Greater London Authority's Civic Innovation Challenge. The aim is to "mobilise London’s tech community to meet citizen needs" - sounds a bit like the GovTech Catalyst happening at a national level. Link.
  • David Carboni on why people shouldn't be seen as a 'resource'. He's quite right - it's dehumanising. However, I do find myself at times as a manager doing so, particularly in conversations about making savings on service delivery. We talk of 'efficiencies' when we mean job cuts, invariably. We should be plain in our language and clear what we mean, but it's understandable to avoid it in this case - assuming you want people to keep talking to you. Link.
  • Stefan writes about the importance of incorporating leeway in policies and systems. Link.

Tools and techniques

  • The NHS have published the first iteration of their digital service manual. A few people wondered why this is necessary, given the existence of the GDS one. A fair point perhaps, but every sector and indeed organisation has its own context, and it isn't as if the NHS one has been written in a vacuum - it borrows heavily from the GDS manual in places. Link.
  • Fab post from Alex on figuring out "[h]ow do you balance delivering quickly and big enough to keep everyone interested/excited enough to make sure that the political capital and money keep flowing, but at the same time fix the plumbing?". Link.


  • Some very thoughtful notes from Matt Edgar on using AI in healthcare, but well worth a read and a ponder from everyone - particularly on the need for openness and transparency. Link
  • A useful frame for thinking about how to use the functionality that Office 365 brings with it. Link.


  • LocalGovCamp is only a week or so away! Very exciting - I've not been for a couple of years so it will be great to re-engage with the network and meet some new faces. Nice to be back in Birmingham (despite the long trek from the south coast) where it all started with the first one in 2009. It's probably too late to get a ticket, but you never know. Link
  • "DeliverCon is a free un-conference designed for Delivery Professionals in the UK Public Sector". Link


  • Senior Delivery Manager - Digital Services, Croydon Council. Link
  • Policy Designer, Cabinet Office. Link.
  • Projects Coordinator, Social Engine. Link.
If you're on the lookout for a new public service digital job, then you'd do a lot worse than signing up for Matt Jukes' entirely job-focused newsletter.

That's it for this week. Thanks for reading and please feel free to forward this onto friends and colleagues - and maybe even encourage them to sign up!

If you have any feedback, or an idea for something to be included, please just hit reply and send me an email.

Until next time,

~ Dave
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