Weeknotes 2: my first big project

My second week in the new job and I’m still getting to know people and projects. One thing I do know already is that I’m very happy to be here.

One thing I love about GDS is the scale of some of the projects we get to be involved in. On Monday I was introduced to the ERTP (Electoral Registration Transformation Programme), a project which will let people apply online to register to vote. That’s pretty important. Mat Wall (previously of the Guardian) is the technical architect on the project. His team had already completed their first sprint by the time I joined, but they’d been coping without a product owner. On Tuesday, I picked up that role. Much of the rest of the week was spent getting familiar with the product backlog (expressed as user stories of course) and making sure they were prioritised ready for the start of the next sprint.

On Friday we had our second weekly show and tell, showing various project stakeholders the progress so far. We got good feedback and they were especially impressed to see the choices we’ve been talking about in the past few days delivered already in working code. This is where the power of working iteratively and using agile methods really shows its worth.  Lots more iterations to come of course, but we already have an end-to-end product working, and have made a good start on the user experience.

Speaking of which, it’s been really good to work closely with Paul Annett this week, and we have some big decisions to make about the online form. For example, should it be “First name” or “Given name”? Is it “Surname”, “Last name” or “Family name”? Various online (and paper) forms already exist of course, but it’s incredibly inconsistent. While there are some agreed standards for how to pass data around, there is no equivalent for how to describe these things to users. That’s something we should get to fix and define as part of the Global Experience Language that will be used for lots of other government products.

Things I’ve been doing this week:

  • Picking up the product manager role for ERTP. Working with the various stakeholders and requirements wranglers for that project
  • Making sure the important user stories are captured, and starting to get them prioritised.
  • Drafting a plan for bringing in a few developers to work on innovation projects. Lots of re-drafts, and it’s still not done.
  • Agreeing next steps for another big project and starting to line up workshops to capture user needs. I look forward to the world being awash with index cards.
  • Meeting various departments. I turned down one potential project on the grounds that two weeks wasn’t long enough to do a good job of it. We’ll stay in touch and hopefully work on something for the same team later in the year. More of this sort of thing.
  • Lots more bits and pieces with the innovation team, mainly focusing on ensuring user stories are captured and priorities are understood. Everyone loves learning a new thing, so helping people learn agile + scrum stuff is fun.
  • Passing on a not-as-tongue-in-cheek-as-it-sounds pet theory: good techies are lazy. Being a lazy developer means you’re more efficient and don’t waste time on things you don’t need to do. I was delighted when I overheard someone subsequently encouraging someone else in the team to be lazy and do the simplest thing that would work, rather than over-develop something.
  • Continuing to send my newsletter every week day. It’s up to 270 subscribers now, and I’m enjoying having to find a handful of interesting things to share.
  • Setting up some time with Leila to record some more Shift Run Stop.

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