The day that Ben left

Today, Friday, is the day that Ben Holliday leaves the Department for Work and Pensions.
In one way, it’s a sad day. Ben will be a huge miss within the team, but also a miss within the wider realms of government. An influential voice with experience to match. His work and effort has had a positive impact on the whole design community whether they know it or not.
For my last two years in government, Ben has been a strong leader, mentor and friend. He spent time supporting me at my lowest, and pushing me at my highest. I spent time watching him work, learning how to articulate the thoughts in my head to a larger group of people. He helped me figure out the maze that is government and where to focus my energy. He left the department after making me a better, stronger, more experienced person than I was.
And as much as it is sad, there is also a bright future ahead. There have been some strong personalities who have left Government since I joined. It is often said that this could cause huge repercussions. It never does. Yes, we will miss those people, but we should treat it like a changing of the guard.
As long as there are enough of us left to pick up the flag and keep making our line in the sand, we’ll be ok. We will keep moving forward.
Thank you, Ben. A million times over.
For the rest of us, we have much work to do, let’s #keepgoing.

2 years ago

2 years ago I started my first day working at the Department for Work and Pensions. It’s been a wild ride with no sign it’s slowing down.

I’m enjoying every minute.

For the first 10 days of my time in the department, I made a point of posting some thoughts and observations in the form of a tweet per day. I kept them and thought this was a better time than any to take a look back.

Day 1: 1st Day was great, topped off by catching up with @csswizardry over Thai food.

Day 2: 2nd day at @DigitalDWP, there’s a tremendous amount of people that really care and strive to make a real difference for users.

Day 3: There are no ego’s in Government Design teams, everyone cares and shares. #ofthegovernment

Day 4: The need to make Gov Services better doesn’t stop with Designers. User Researchers, Product Owners, FED’s and more work in cohesion.

Day 5: Proud of working as part of a multidisciplinary team who aren’t just passionate but they’re emotionally invested. #ofthegovernment

Day 6: Iterate. #ofthegovernment

Day 7: You can’t set an assumption in stone unless you’ve done your research on it. It’s also ok to have assumptions.

Day 8: It’s not just your team and service, Government Digital teams communicate A LOT to build a better digital service. #ofthegovernment

Day 9: No matter how simple *you* think something is, user research will always inform you of a reality. #ofthegovernment

Day 10: Proper design challenges, stuff that matters. #ofthegovernment

To sum it up

Day 10 sums it all up. I’m two years in and we still have ‘proper’ design challenges on ‘stuff’ that really matters. More now than ever.

There’s a lot of hard work ahead of us. We’re only just getting started.

I’ll be hiring soon.



Service Goals

A little under two years ago, I joined Government at the Department for Work and Pensions and began work on the Get your State Pension service.

The team had just finished their discovery work. Anna had done some excellent user research and clearly presented the user needs for the service.

Based on the user needs we could see that people needed to be prompted or nudged, they needed to be authenticated to make sure they were getting ‘their’ pension, they needed to give us the right details (change in marital status matters) and then they need to do something like submit their application/request.

It sounds quite simple, but not everything is simple in Government. That’s our problem, not our users. For them we want to make it easy and seamless and most importantly fullfil their need.

Our Goals

At the time and as a multi-disciplinary team we created service goals to make sure we always had focus. These were;

  • It works – it doesn’t crash and the end result happens as expected
  • It’s simple – users can navigate through with ease
  • It’s trusted – users believe the data they see
  • It’s not a long process – when we need to confirm details we don’t make the user feel it’s a massive thing

How has it worked out?

Over the last six months as I began to manage and lead the interaction design team at DWP, I stepped further away from the service team but still keeping an eye on the outcomes.

I’m proud to say that the goals have been realised. The service is in private beta and whilst a lot has changed, overall the service is still simple to use and the analytics show that it’s not a very long process at all.

Catherine Hope has started a series of articles talking about using analytics on the Get your State Pension service.

What is the hardest part of running a design team?

This was cross posted from Quora where I’m answering questions on design leadership.

I don’t think anything is ‘hard’ per sè. There are various challenges of running large teams and then even more for running large teams in different locations.

It all boils down to communication.

If you’re an effective leader, with solid communication skills and are focused on making your team better than you are then you’re well on your way.

Create a community

This should be the base of your role, everything stacks on top of it. Get the right balance of bringing the team together face-to-face and virtually. Make sure they’re open with their work and are also effective communicators

Remove blockers

Your team can’t do their best work when they’re constantly embattled with silly processes

Get a seat at the table

Sell/Preach the value of your profession up the chain, these days in any organisation, design should have a seat at the table

Develop your team

To develop your team you have to know them. Know them well enough so the personal and professional development becomes easy for you to support them with.

Listen to your team

They’re on the front line, often working with other professions and personalities in multi-disciplinary teams. Support them.

Remember your role

You’re not supposed to be there until you retire. You’re there to let everyone in your team have the chance at taking your job at some point in their career.

Hope that helps. If you want to know more, send me an email.

Complaining is nothing without action.

Complaining is nothing without action.

If you’re passionate enough to complain, then you have an equal amount of passion to lean in, engage and make something better.

Your greatest supporters WILL NOT be the ones helping you to complain or the ones listening to you complain.

Your greatest supporters WILL be those helping to channel your passion and enabling you to succeed.

So, the next time you want to complain, ask yourself if it’s worth complaining, and if it is, use that passion, lean in, engage and put a dent in the universe.

A letter from the future

Dear past me,

You were right, we’re more connected than ever before. We didn’t look for calm in our lives nor did we look to take anything away.

You see, connectivity and devices are still everywhere. No longer are they just in our pockets and attached to our wrists.

What you had back then was only the start.

People laughed when they said they wanted less notifications and interruptions, that they didn’t need wearables or the internet of things.

You on the other hand often used to think about how this would all turn out, you thought that instead of less, there would be more, just different.

You were so right.

Now the entire world is connected, Facebook and Google did good on their promise and regions of the world that never had connectivity are 100% covered with connector drones.

You’re probably wondering about how things have changed? It’s probably best explained with a rundown of my day.

Eleanor knows the optimal time for me to wake up so she does so in a natural manner providing an increase of natural light and ambient noise around me to wake me. I jump out of bed with a spring in my step as I’m fully rested and ready for the day. I head to the bathroom to grab a shower which is nice and warm as Eleanor had the switched it on just a couple of minutes before I woke.

As I get dry, I wander back to the bedroom as Eleanor brings up my vitals on the HUD. She lets me know that the work that I’ve been doing in the gym has had a good effect on my resting heart rate, my BMI has been stable for a week and my muscle growth is on track. She notes that I should take a hay-fever tablet as a precaution as she’s found a higher level of pollen which will have an effect on me. Thanks, Eleanor.

We run through my diary for the day. Eleanor gives me a run down of the personality types for the people I’m meeting. She’s recognised that I’ll have to change my approach for one specific meeting in order for me to get a positive outcome.

Eleanor has my breakfast ready downstairs, I pull it directly from the refrigerator, we still have them, but as well as stocking our cold food, they also make it for us as well. She’s stored the rest of the days meal data directly to the hub so everything will be ready on schedule.

At 08:45 I leave for the office. I walk upstairs, open my office door and my commute is done. You see, our team is totally remote, but we now achieve this in a way you would never have done in the past.

Eleanor has the VHUB ready, I step in and the curved door slides shut behind me. The floor of the VHUB moves beneath your feet as you walk, so you effectively walk and move in the same way as you would walk down the street. I connect in to our company hub, the 360 degree screens around me display our reception, the early birds are already here. There are over a million sensors in the VHUB tracking my every movement.

The VHUB enables our company to have a virtual office where all the staff are at, we’re just not actually there. Everything is virtual. I think at one time you would have called these holograms, but to look at any of your friends in the VHUB is like looking at them face to face.

At work, everything is virtual but so incredibly real, we can do all of our jobs yet don’t have to be together to do them.

After work I decide to head out to the local park for a run, there’s traffic so Eleanor recalculates the best route, I sit back and ask Eleanor to give me a running route to help with some cardio training. As we arrive at the park Eleanor prepares the data I need for the run and syncs it to my eye-glass (it’s like a contact lens but way more functional).

Most people have hearing chips these days which connect with your eye-glass. You can do everything through voice activation. No more carrying around a device, they’re almost part of us. As soon as I begin talking Eleanor simply recognises my voice.

It’s only 3pm, work days are shorter now due to the heightened productivity our world now lives in. Due to everything being connected we have nothing to take up time in our lives allowing me to go for a run or enjoy time with the family. Everything is smarter now, not harder.

Oh, and by the way, Eleanor, that’s the name of my halo system, the thing that takes care of me.

New hardware and technology have given us the ability to live with connectivity all around us in an non-disruptive and non-obtrusive way.

This is it. This is our world.

A stand up, retro or planning does not make you ‘agile’.

Having worked within government for a little over a year now, I’ve seen a lot.

I’ve heard from teams who work within Home Office, Land Registry, DVLA, HMRC and my own teams within the Department for Work and Pensions.

I’ve found that fellow Interaction Designers, Front-end Developers, Content Designers and a few more roles work in agile environments. They often don’t just work in these environments, but they live in them. They get the value and often they’re the driving force behind keeping them going.

Over recent months I’ve spoken to teams in other areas and asked “What is your way of working?” and follow it up with “Agile, waterfall or wagile?”

It often gets a lot of laughs, but I’m deadly serious in my questioning. I ask to quickly determine what a teams setup is, how empowered the team is to make quick changes, iterate and deliver at speed.

Sometimes I hear the right answers, and unfortunately sometimes I hear the worst kind of answers like “Agile, we do standups and everything…”

Whilst that’s not what I’m wanting to hear, which I’ll get to in a minute, it doesn’t dishearten me as it’s a huge opportunity to guide or provide an ‘education piece’ as I describe it.

You see, doing standups, retrospectives and planning is not agile. You don’t suddenly become agile by doing ceremonies. I’d challenge anyone that tells me any different.

If you truly want to ‘BE’ agile, you have to realise the fundamentals of being able to move at speed, learn, iterate, fail fast, iterate and deliver. To ‘BE’ agile, you have to have a clear focus that it is ultimately about the delivery of something, iterate and continuously deliver.

There’s something which can often derail  ‘being agile’ before it even gets off the ground, especially in government and that’s risk. It’s a killer. But here’s something which we can all try… worry about risk where risk needs worrying about, everywhere else you can focus on doing the above.

I’m looking forward to meeting more teams in the near future and delivering education pieces on how to ‘BE’ agile and to focus on helping them figure out there ways of working and I’m excited to find a team that is truly being agile to learn from them and feed that back in to my own work.

Let’s all try and BE rather than DO.


It’s time.

Make no mistake, 2016 has been the worst year ever and as I write this I’m nearly half way through one of the worst weeks.

I’ve been managing to write snippets on Medium when I’ve felt able, but there’s been nothing of substance here for so long and I felt like I couldn’t even begin to write anymore.

So what do you do when something stalls or becomes frozen?

You switch it off and on again.

So this is the reboot, the thing you do when you want to get going again and I’ve got a lot to say.