This is my write up of the session that @pubstrat and I curated at UKGC12. Large apologies for the delay.

@pubstrat and I have been meaning to have coffee and general catchup ever since UKGC11 and I am hugely glad we finally managed it as it set my brain buzzing – will be stalking him for more regular meet-ups as a result.

The conversation built on earlier discussions about how we might apply agile principles outside of software development and into the wider project management process. The reasoning for this is twofold – firstly that coders have developed Agile in response to working in a shifting and boundary-less world which is the situation we are all faced with and secondly because of a need to harmonise project and software management practices if you want technology dependent projects to work. More on this background here.

The UKGC session focused more directly on how we might approach amending project management practice – the subtitle of the session could be ‘plan for the permanent eradication of PRINCE2’.

I’ve broken this post into sequential steps for project management. Apologies for the bullet points – I will expand on anything that doesn’t make sense if you ask…

**Scoping the project**
Scoping the project is about setting up the boundaries and ensuring that you have a clear vision as to what you are trying to achieve. This is even more important with respect to Agile projects in my opinion as they can, if not tightly managed, take off in unexpected directions and you end up with an outward focused spiral rather than a tight development process. The points we discussed with respect to this in the session were:

  • Be less obsessed with edge cases – agile is about focusing on the main body of the work and dealing with exceptions as exceptions rather than core functionality. Its interesting to reflect on exactly how that feels culturally in the public sector.
  • Understand the minimal viable product – This is not a limit on ambition but instead a clear description of what actual achievement that you can build on looks like
  • Don’t run away from it because it’s difficult – run towards it – problems are not reduced by hiding from them
  • Create a lean start up mentality – don’t try and plan for every eventuality instead get the basics in place and build as you need to.

**Creating the team**
Teams are created – they don’t just happen. I think too many project managers ignore this piece of the puzzle and then wonder why the developers seem to be masters of passive resistance. You need to set a context that all participants can work in.

  • Find emotional connection – stop imagining that you can get programmers and non-programmers to speak the same language. Instead focus on the emotional and narrative impacts of the project which is where these different skills and knowledge bases can come together
  • Bringing different cultures together – any large project is about blending internal and external cultures. Do this knowingly and create a new culture for the project.

**Project structure**
Agile relies on working forward in defined ‘sprints’ that move you closer towards your goal. We discussed the resonance that this has with action research or experiment based policy making and the fact that this would involve accepting a greater degree of uncertainty in the project process that a waterfall approach would (falsely) bring:

  • Base your project plan on iterations and experimentation – create iterations that involve testing parts of your core proposition and build in a formal review cycle to capture learning and actively use this to inform the definition of the next iteration
  • Focus on the impact and objective – ensure that you have a clear set of project metrics that will allow you to describe each of these iterations in terms of your overall objective
  • Positive byproducts – look for and design in positive byproducts – in terms of code or learning – that can mitigate the perceived risk from the agile approach

**Communication and Reporting**
A big part of the communication process was seen as both building internal and external confidence at the same time as helping with the ‘cultural integration’ from the first section. One of the ideas that Stefan suggested was getting non-coding participants to actually sit in on a scrum meeting to see how the process works. At Public-i we have a daily scrum for the whole company that works on this principle – though I think the frequency may dilute the impact a bit its really useful. More specifically we talked about:

  • Stronger informal feedback loops – if your process is iterative you want to be communicating more regularly so that the end of iteration review is not a horrible shock to people. You need to use this regular feedback to strengthen shared use of language and understanding and just embed the habit of conversation between different parts of the project team.
  • Making your reporting agile – critical path and milestones are both still important but they need to reflect the project iterations and milestones, the idea of minimum viable release and also be mutable in the future – we don’t write the whole plan in detail at the start – instead we fix on the next critical decision or delivery and sketch it out beyond there. This is very disconcerting for someone used to PRINCE2 but much more honest with respect to how project actually work….
  • Use new forms of feedback – we discussed how to include different feedback mechanisms – for example video or blogs – in order create a more consistent way of communicating

This is a bit barebones I’m afraid but I will follow this up as I am working with our project manager to design a project management template based on these principles which we will share when its done. In the meantime please shout if I have forgotten anything!

Thanks to all who participated.

  1. If you pitch 4 sessions you will have a lot to write up
  2. We have moved on from last year – more stuff is mainstream and big ideas are being taken seriously.  However we now need to focus on building a proper evidence base to stop ourselves running away with ideas that we have not yet proved
  3. At some point soon GovCamp will need to reconcile its relationship with ‘the suits’ and accept that it is difficult to get stuff into the mainstream without it being diluted.
  4. We really need to agree on the new context so we can help our projects support each other
  5. If we are in a network society then we need to start using the power of that network – and not just talk about it at GovCamp
  6. Agile projects need agile management – not Prince2
  7. Lists are much faster than text – thanks Dan
  8. Dave and Steph do an incredible job with the organising – thank you both
  9. Lloyd Davis is an excellent facilitator and I got a huge amount from his Human Scale conversation
  10. Carrie Bishop is the best and most positive disrupter I know – I love the way she thinks
  11. One aspect of a smaller state is less concern for edge cases – I am not sure how I feel about this
  12. Its great to have the wisdom of @tomsprints at our disposal
  13. I am really glad that @pubstrat is running a huge project – its reassuring
  14. Every time I think I know enough people I meet a new ones who are fantastic
  15. When is the centre  going to realise that Government doesn’t mean Whitehall?
  16. I liked the 2 day format – but I think we should try running some sessions explicitly aimed at new people
  17. I talk too much
  18. Information is going to drive the new economy – we need to treat it like a valuable raw material not a finished product
  19. Its a huge shame that only one politician appeared in two days – hats off to @cllriansherwood for being the one who bothered
  20. Its not about digital – its about social change

Huge thanks to the folks who joined me for the session on elected Police and Crime Commissioners – including @demsoc, @Nickkeane, @SashaTayler and a some others who I don’t yet know on twitter.

I used the session to test and expand some work I have been doing on this which you can read about here.  Put simply I am proposing 4 principles for the PCC:

  1. The Office should own the Democracy
  2. Be open by default
  3. Create a space where the politician can listen to the relevant debate and connect with the public
  4. Use really good consultation tools to ensure that decisions are fact rather than media based

I pitched the session because of my increasing concern that there seems to be no conversation happening about the kind of democratic opportunity that the creation of the new PCCs will bring.  Now – I am fairly sure that someone in the Home Office is thinking about this – but not sure enough not to want to poke it with a big stick to try and get some wider debate happening.  I am going to redouble efforts to find the person who is doing this so please say if you know!  Without this wider debate I think the risk is that we end up with a mild adjustment to the current (failing) system rather than looking at this as the chance to create a democratic structure that is going to be relevant and effective for the next 20 years.

My observations from the Police Authorities and Forces that I have been speaking to is that we have all been so certain it wouldn’t happen that we have failed to really engage with what it means.  However – thanks to the intervention of the folks in South Yorkshire I started to think about this and the session at GovCamp was a chance to test my thinking out on a group of informed and interested folks who as is always the case with the GovCamp crowd had some really useful observations:

  • Perhaps the biggest issue is not the structure but the fact that the public don’t understand what the role is and are not likely to turnout in great numbers to select the person.  The question of the validity of the mandate they will get is a very real one
  • There is an opportunity to reengage the public with the task of priority setting – its not all bad!
  • The Police and Crome Panels should be able to hold the democratic accountability but the risk is that they will be weak in the same was as the Police Authorities have often been perceived
  • I really need to read up about the US models which have influenced this approach and find out more about how they work
  • The boundaries of some of the forces are extremely unwieldily (the example used being Thames Valley) and this is not going to help the public feel as if this is a ‘local’ policing solution
  • There is a real question as to where the community engagement role will sit between the Force and the PCC – this is going to need to be faced head on
  • We need to remember that they have responsibility for Crime and not Just for Policing – and try and unpick what this means

So, I’m going to keep trying to find the person who (I hope) is thinking about this and I’m also going to follow up on some of the really useful suggestions that were made in the session with respect to people to speak to.  I’ll update here when we get a meeting sorted with somePolice Authorities (looks like March) and if I find that someone else has got this all in hand then I will also let you know…in the meantime will sharpen the big stick and keep poking this