Week Notes: looking backwards and looking forwards

The first post in a series of Week Notes from our Deputy Director of Digital Experience, Rhiannon Davies.

Find out more about what ‘week notes’ and ‘working in the open’ are, and why they’re great.

Coming back from summer holiday last week, distinctly autumnal weather, a slightly confusing three day week, and waiting for a new boss to start, has meant the last week has felt like some kind of weird twilight time before the new academic year kicks off. A great moment for a bit of reflection.

Making the commitment to a regular reflective practise of Week Notes, feels like exactly that – a commitment. But I’ve decided to give it a go, for a couple of reasons, all the usual ones, but mainly:

  • My development: This job is full on, and I believe creating space to look back on what’s worked and what’s not (even if it’s just 30 minutes a week) will help me do a better job.
  • Transparency: Lots of the stuff I work on is change related, which means it’s often slow going, so I hope this will help enable the team and our wider network of colleagues to see that I am on the case, even if you can’t see the outcome just yet.

But this time of year feels more like the start of the new year than the actual New Year (how can we be at September and the start of the autumn term again already?!), so I’ve been looking forward to, and thinking about some of “the big stuff”, the stuff that we need as a team to set us up for success over the next year or two.

1. Recruiting new roles into the team

At the moment we’re recruiting for a Digital Analytics role and two Digital Product roles, and it’s really reinforcing two key things:

    • There are just not enough people with digital-specific skills and experience to fill all the roles that organisations so desperately need. It’s great to see some organisations considering developing the talent pool by bringing in junior team members to coach and develop, or setting up apprenticeships (see Danny Attias’ work at London Business School for a great example of this), but it’s nowhere near enough. Filling that gap is something that, as digital leaders, we need to commit to addressing.
    • Those who have selected to lead digital careers are a great bunch – passionate, values-led, self-learners, committed to curiosity and personal development, and the impact they can have on organisations and the people they serve. And so full of empathy – what is user-led design if not basically just trying to make stuff easier and more accessible for everyone? Reading some great applications this week, has really got me excited about the future.

2. A new boss

This week we’ve welcomed our new Executive Director of Strategic Communications and Marketing, Annabel Chalker. We’re only a few days in, and I’m already very excited about working with Annabel.

Everything you ever read about digital strategy and digital change starts by talking about how essential it is to have someone at the top who “gets it” and is committed to the necessary change. This looks like:

  • Understanding of concepts that enable digital delivery like user centred design, agile and cross-functional working.
  • Advocacy and/ or “a voice” at the top table. So often the most senior or experienced “digital” colleague is not the decision maker, or even in the room when decisions are made. Having someone willing to listen, understand the problem and recommended solution, and take this into the room, or even create space for the subject matter expert is a boon.
  • A willingness to deliver on the “investment in digital” promises that are in almost every organisation’s strategies these days. Yet so often these good intentions tend to materialise as IT infrastructure alone, and miss out the equally important if less tangible elements of user understanding, design, organisational change and capability building.

3. The tough bit – where to start when there’s so much to do?

A colleague recently described the work we do as “flying the plane, while building the plane” and never a truer word was said.

The university year stops for no one, and pretty much everything the university does has a digital delivery element we want to support – often the hardest thing is deciding what not to do and when to stop, in order to create space to focus on the more scalable, enabling parts of our work (which often is not the things our colleagues are pressing for us to get done).

A couple of things we’ve found that has so far helped us start to move from reactive fire-fighting mode, into more proactive forward planning, and focus our activity on the things that will have the biggest impact:

  • A quarterly planning cycle (so far a quarterly lean roadmap, and longer term strategic plan), and sitting with the discomfort of not getting it perfect, but a bit better each time.
  • Timeboxing activity, and trying to be disciplined about applying a theory of “diminishing returns/ 80:20 rule” (so hard, when we’re all perfectionists).
  • Prioritising cross-cutting and capability building activities, and sticking to it when there’s so much more tangible delivery to be done, with more immediate (but almost certainly less impactful and sustainable) returns.

If you work at the University of Bristol and would like the Digital Experience team’s support with understanding your users, designing user-led services, nailing content that works for everyone, or evaluating how well your digital service is working, you can request support with our simple form.

If you fancy having a go at writing Week Notes yourself, here’s a great guide for how to do it in 30 minutes from Deloitte.

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