Eddie Davies is a service manager at Land Registry. Today he shares the experiences of the first cross-government service manager community meeting.
Last week around 40 service managers and colleagues from Government Digital Service (GDS) met at the Land Registry for the first cross-government service manager community meeting.
What service managers discuss when we get together
The day began with me sharing my experiences of the Service Standard assessment that I'd been to the day before. I talked about some of the successes and challenges my teams faced in developing new services. I also spoke about the need for service managers to engage more with each other and form a community.
What we wanted to achieve
When arranging the day I said I wanted 3 things to come from it:
- To debate some of the key issues slowing down digital delivery within government from a service manager point of view.
- Develop a community feel to the group and seek to re-run the meetings every quarter.
- Capture 3 things on each topic debated which we can share on a blog for others to relate with and act as a reference point for future meetings.
Following a vote the first 3 hot topics to debate were:
- internal and external spend approval processes
- the role of the service manager
- digital delivery models
Spend approval process
The group debating this issue agreed that our approval processes should be smooth, streamlined and add value, rather than being seen as a blocker. This didn’t appear to be where we are currently, so we plan to review and revise the current process.
One idea from the group was to bundle assessment and approval together, meaning pass the assessment and you get approval to advance for the next 12 months. It would mean someone from approvals sitting on the assessment board – we didn’t see this as being too arduous. GDS are undertaking a discovery into the service assessment process and will consider this as part of that work.
Role of the service manager
The nature of the service manager role will depend upon a number of factors eg size/impact of service, volume of services managed. One challenge that was identified in this discussion was the end to end ownership of online and offline services.
This was a common challenge for many service managers and an area that will be considered again in future meetings. One thing the group did agree was, leaving banding and grading aside, we should agree on core accountabilities as a community we see as being fundamental to the role of a service manager.
Digital delivery models
Many departments have embraced agile ways of working in their digital delivery, but challenges are still met. Some departments are more mature and better resourced to support agile delivery than others. Sharing good practice was one of the main opportunities identified here. The distinction between ‘being’ agile rather than ‘doing’ agile was also highlighted.
Another interesting discussion was to do with the different challenges between co-location and working in multiple sites. An alternative to these ways of working was mentioned including the concept of no-location where a base location is not defined. This would open it up to all and encourage the use of digital collaboration tools in cultures that need encouragement or additional support to use new technologies.
After lunch, 3 more sessions were held discussing the next hot topics:
A common problem was balancing the need for continuous improvement of services after they are live, against other competing priorities.
A number of departments are able to keep a small team for iterating improvements, but for many the need to move to the next big thing means that investment in continuous improvement is less than service managers would like. Another one to discuss next time.
Beta vs live
The group questioned whether the bar was set too high and if improvements are needed. The view in the room was many had not successfully passed beta first time, possibly pointing to the fact we are all just still learning (maybe); or that the bar is too high and public beta really means live (possibly).
Building a community
Visibility and collaboration is essential for this to happen. An interesting idea from this group was that every community meeting should focus on solutions to problems identified in the previous meeting.
When the sessions were complete Steve Railton, transformation lead at GDS, ran a final session. Steve invited service managers to tell him what they wanted from GDS.
The main themes to emerge were support, guidance, and expertise, collaboration, help with assessments and controls and clarity around how GDS is structured and where to go for support. Steve will feed these points back into GDS to be actioned.
Looking back on the session
Overall, the event went well and can be built on to develop a strong service manager community. It was clear that many service managers find themselves with similar challenges.
This event gave us the opportunity to share good practice and get advice from others doing the same thing. Also, learning from their mistakes can prove really useful.
It was great to see everyone getting involved in the discussions. We were all open, inclusive, and honest. Which I guess made for a great day and positive atmosphere.
The important issues, and, therefore, those that offer the greatest opportunities, remain:
- assessment criteria
- managing continuous improvement and service delivery
- effective delivery models
- developing communities
We’re already looking forward to the next service manager meeting soon.