Week #45 at the Digital Service: Notes for 6–10 March 2023

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A little pile of sticker sheets with 3 colourful stickers: 1 says “breaking barriers” and shows a barrier being broken, another sticker says “stereotypes can’t stop me” and shows a hand-drawn person with longer hair passing a ‘no entry’ sign, and a third sticker saying “this is what a feminist’s laptop looks like” in all capital letters.

Wednesday was International Women’s Day. In Berlin, it has been a public holiday since 2019. The day before, DigitalService hosted a Women Who Code meetup on our office’s mezzanine floor. My colleague Frede, a software engineer, spoke at the event about her work and approach at Digital Service. Daphne designed a sticker sheet for the evening and the upcoming Girls’ Day in April.

In the process of the design of the sheet, we wrote different versions of the sentence. In German, it now says: “Diverse teams for digital public services that truly work for everyone in the country.” It’s phrased as an aspiration and belief rather than an achievement or as-is state. Because we still have quite some work to do.

The starting point of a greater diversity and inclusion effort is generating data about the current state of diversity in our organisation. A few weeks ago, my former GDS colleagues Clara Greo, Harry Vos, Adam Robertson and Martin Lugton wrote a blog post on how to run an employee demographics survey. Their text contains a lot of compressed knowledge and practical advice. It includes these points:

Understand why you are doing this work. Write down your aims, interrogate them and be transparent about them

Collecting data is meaningless if it doesn’t lead to action and change. Find out why and fix it”

Currently, we don’t have the capacity to start this work and act on results effectively, I reckon. But with the arrival of new colleagues in the People team in a few months, I am expecting that to change.

Discussing how we do things

In the last 2 weeks, I spent more time in sprint review sessions. At DigitalService, we have weekly project updates on Wednesday mornings, in which 1 or 2 teams give a quick update on their work and progress. Given our number of teams, it takes several weeks to see anything from that team again. Everyone in a project team and their shareholders attend sprint reviews, but someone from another team rarely does due to a lack of awareness, priority or time.

In my Nokia days, we used to have them sprint reviews with plenty of demo time in an open kitchen space. People in that area might observe what a team recently did while brewing their tea. Follow-up conversations with team members followed occasionally. With many teams running their sprint review remotely or hybrid, the discoverability in a similar fashion is limited. Repopulating the organisational event calendar and encouraging people to join other teams’ sprint reviews might be a start. In the meantime, I have some sprint reviews to attend in the coming weeks.

In our ‘Design Weely’ session on Tuesday, the attending designers looked closer at the design skill level matrix we presented last week. In 4 small groups, they read and checked the 4 different skill areas, their skills and level description. Within 20 minutes, the virtual whiteboard received various questions, comments and suggestions. Some things need more explanation from the design leadership team, and others need rewording and refining. A few designers started using the draft of the design skill level matrix for self-reflection and for conversations with their line managers. Currently, it’s at version 0.92, and I like us to turn it into a versatile tool for designers at Digital Service and equally designers interested in joining our organisation.

In the first few interviews with applicants for the newly opened roles, I received curious questions about our relationship with the rest of government, the working set-up of designers and the perception of design. I was impressed by the number of applications we received and shortly after realised why: quite a few people had their contracts terminated. Within a year, the dynamic in the tech industry changed significantly.

On Thursday, Ann Cathrin Riedel, NExT network’s new managing director, and I had a vivid exchange about the openness of communication, the role of communities of practice, and international connections. She is in listening mode for the next few weeks, and I’m glad she’s regularly around in our office. With quite some delay, I want us to start with the user-centred design community events on a national level shortly.

What’s next

In the coming week, I’ll be participating in workshops on our company values and further development of our blog. In addition, I will continue interviewing candidates, while there’s also some people management work that will keep me busy.