First day of development

We have started developing a new tool for pest control. We showed our web developers the list of work we need to complete, which we have written as user stories. This is a way of keeping the customer at the centre of our work when setting out requirements. An example of a user story would be:

“As a resident needing help with pests,

I need to be able to book an appointment at a time that suits me,

so I can get rid of the rat that eats all the Doritos.”

The team then divided into pairs to build different sections of work addressing these user stories. We tried to build an initial form for customers to request help with pests, to book an appointment and to be able to pay.

The team divided into pairs.

We encountered stumbling blocks, of course, but we were expecting that on day one of development. Some documentation wasn’t clear, and some connectivity didn’t quite work between databases. On Agile projects like ours, there is a role called scrum master who supports the product manager and development team by taking any problems away and finding solutions. Gary Duckworth is our scrum master and is doing an amazing job. I think he must be hiding some sort of time travelling ability. There is no other explanation for how problems get solved so quickly!

The combination of experienced software developers and excellent scrum-mastery has meant we also had some success. There was an upbeat air to the room and a lot of clever technical conversation going on around me.

Admiring our results at the end of a very promising first day.

New building, new people, new wall

Our new digs at Jubilee Library.

The hard work we’ve been putting in over the last few months is starting to bear fruit.

Last week, the Digital First team moved to new digs in the award-winning Jubilee Library at the heart of the city. Our old space at Barts House was great and right next to the seafront, but it was short of wall space and we often were unable to sit together as a team.

Jubilee Library gives us everything we need: a bank of desks, a huge wall for stand ups (more on that later) and plenty of meeting space. We’d like to thank Sally and all the Brighton & Hove libraries team for accommodating us and making everyone feel so welcome.

The second big change is a new role within the Digital First team. As of now, we have five Product Managers dedicated to different services within the council. Modelled on the GDS Product Manager role, they’ll be working with services to understand how we can best help users. They’ll pull together everything we’re doing into one prioritised backlog for that service and work with the council’s development team to get great things built.

Here’s who is doing what:

  • Guy Hancock is working with Cityclean on a wide range of services from garden waste to bins and boxes
  • Ollie Lewis is running our mobile strategy, picking the most appropriate tools for colleagues to work remotely
  • Ivanka Majic led user research in Adult Social Care last year and will now be taking on all of our work in this area
  • Annie Heath is looking at queues in our customer service centres at Hove Town Hall and Barts House and how we can better serve those customers online. She’s also finishing off a pilot of the pest control service with other members of the team
  • Charlotte Bennett is working alongside Revenues & Benefits on a host of projects and is also doubling up as our customer insight specialist. We want to put genuine user needs at the heart of our work and Charlotte will help us do that.

We’re also gearing up in other areas. Nora Gombos has joined as Digital Communications Officer, Gary Duckworth as Delivery Manager and Neil Cholerton as Enterprise Architect.

Finally, we’ve made a few changes to the wall. You’ll remember last year we gave it an overhaul. Now, with more available space, we can give the backlog a lot more room.

Charlotte, Nora and Annie (left to right) building our new wall.

Once a week, we’ll gather around the big wall to steer our ship. Product Managers can share what they’re doing, and everyone can see the overlap between different projects. The idea is to give each Product Manager enough autonomy to get things done, while making sure the whole programme heads in a direction that suits our users.

Eventually, I’d like Product Managers to run their own stand ups with developers and members of the service. This will help them focus on the nitty gritty and enable us to deliver products quickly. We had a similar set up at GDS, and I think it will work here. I’ll blog more about this once we’re fully up and running.

We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but the right foundations to get it done.

New year, new tools

Happy New Software!

We have been back at work for a couple of weeks and I am looking forward to testing our new council-wide updates and changes in software. We’re currently in the pilot phase. If this goes well, we’ll be able to move on to developing mobile working solutions for our staff and customers.

One of our key areas for developing new mobile working solutions is within Inspection and Enforcement. The aim is to create a single field officer role that can deal with a wide range of complaints while out in the field.

I have already shadowed Food Inspections to understand how they work. More recently, I also shadowed the pest control team (more about this in a future blog post). The whole of Inspection and Enforcement are up for modernising their service, making the work easy and fun. We had a couple of brilliant workshops identifying the different stages involved in dealing with complaints and what a mobile device and software should do as a result.

We want to test our new Inspection and Enforcement mobile working tool to see if it can deliver the requirements we need to make field officers a reality. We need to improve the payments and bookings system. We also need to develop online forms that save officers from having to write down information that later needs to be typed or scanned.

We discovered that the pest control team have all the key requirements we want to test out on our new tool. As it is much easier to build a real tool rather than make up processes, we decided to use pest control as our pilot project. After shadowing Will, one of the pest control officers, I was able to develop a prototype of what a new system might look like to share with the new mobile working platform providers.


This is a really invigorating start to the year. We are working to make sure all the pieces of the technology and security puzzle are ready. We want to hit the ground running when the software experts come to work with us in two weeks’ time. The pest control mobile working pilot will teach us how to connect to the online system that field officers would need to use. Once we know how to do this, we can apply the same methods to connect to other services.

It’s nice to have a buzz about the place, unlike the pest control wasp call-outs in summer! (groan).