Making Assumptions

My first post of 2012 is one which is very much a reflection on 2011 and also about looking forward.

One of the things I did last year which I have now firmly embedded in my approach to work and actually life in general is to never, NEVER, EVER make assumptions.

Assumptions about:

  • people – this is an obvious one really, people are unpredictable and act differently when faced with hugely challenging situations as well as other personal and professional pressures.
  • processes – there are a range of processes which are logical but most don’t actually make sense when looking at them…I have made mistakes in the past about assuming that a particular process would result in specific actions taking place – but they didn’t and unfortunately i spent some time remedying that which if I’d thought about it and checked the process then it would have saved time.
  • technology – technology amazes me, at a basic level, remote controls for TV’s still blow my mind…as do mobile phones. However we can never assume that people use technology in the same way…my use of computers, mobile phones and technology in general differs greatly from my mothers for example…I can’t and must never assume people operate the same…
  • organisations – some organisations don’t actually act as you’d expect in certain conditions, for example the restructure process last year here at the council highlighted a few things to me personally which I’d not experienced before and ultimately led to me staying with the council.

One area where all of these assumptions come together is when you start to write and share strategies, plans and projects.

Now you can create very lengthy documents which allow you to capture all the “strategic assumptions” but this isn’t always a practical approach, nor is it what your readers actually want (no assumption made here as this is based on actual feedback – shorter and clearer documents are preferred)…however it is worth capturing and highlighting the assumptions as it does avoid the unnecessary discussions about all the stuff that “isn’t written down”.

Anyway…the key point to this post is that I can’t and mustn’t assume anything and that is a key lesson which was validated through last year.

What do you think?

What assumptions do you or are you making?



The Intranet is not a single system

This post is not about stating anything new…but merely sharing some thoughts…

In my new role I am also responsible for the councils Intranet, which is currently not fit for purpose as the core technology for content, much like our public website is using an outdated technology, it doesn’t support dynamic content and is generally poorly managed.

No one  is to blame for that, we are where we are…but it is clear that we need to change the way we operate around the intranet in order to provide more efficient internal communications and better access to internal services and business processes.

One area which is often hard for people to get to grips with is that the Intranet is not a single system…you may have a content management system which presents your content and manages the intranet homepage, but this is only part of your intranet’s ecosystem…So when people refer to the intranet being rubbish or poor, they are generally referring to the top level content and the look and feel of templates…which fortunately is something we can do something about…But the whole ecosystem needs to fit together in order for an intranet to be useful and usable.

I’ve written before on Intranet’s here, here and here and this is an opportunity to get a broader view on the way forward and have a conversation about the core business purpose and not about the underlying technology, which is where my focus in the past has been.

A few weeks back I put together a single side of A4 on the core purpose and some strategic assumptions in order to frame and inform the future direction and creation of an Intranet Strategy, It was kind of quick and dirty but did the job as we now have a collective acceptance to the current picture…which certainly helps when agreeing a future direction.

This is what I wrote:

Core Purpose

The Intranet should aim to be the number one business support tool for all staff across the council.

The ultimate purpose for our intranet (the source) is to contribute to the Council’s strategic objectives by establishing an internal communications network which is able to provide an efficient, internal service-delivery mechanism accessible from anywhere and at any time.

Typical intranet objectives would be:

  1. enabling high levels of employee involvement (2 way dialogue) and productivity.
  2. support collaboration, information sharing and connecting with colleagues (staff directory).
  3. facilitating business efficiency (employee self service tools).
  4. to become a key repository (the source) for information to assist people in their roles.

Strategic Assumptions

  • The current Intranet platform is no longer fit for purpose.
  • The Intranet is part of the councils wider web presence which also includes the public website and extranet capabilities and should be seen in this context when considering and planning technology solutions.
  • The intranet is not a single system, it is an ecosystem of platforms, tools and applications which contribute to the core purpose above. Note: we will need to understand the relationship between the new desktop, extranet and a new redefined intranet.
  • The intranet should be available to all staff regardless of location.
  • The intranet should make it possible for all staff to contribute to the knowledge repository through formal and informal routes.
  • The information structure should focus on the user perspective and not on the organisation structure. As an example, Figure 1 shows a context diagram for intranet services from an end-users perspective.



Thoughts on BBC NEWS | Facebook banned for council staff

Now this is a very interesting story, not just because another council has banned access to a social networking site, but because the lack of tackling the real issues.

A council is to ban Facebook on its computers after it was revealed staff spent on average 400 hours on the site every month.

Portsmouth City Council said it had decided to change its policy and block access to the social networking site.

It added the figures equated to each of its 4,500 staff, who have access to computers, spending between five and six minutes a month on the site.

via BBC NEWS | England | Hampshire | Facebook banned for council staff.

The headlines in many of today’s newspapers are interesting but in fact that are inaccurate and do not truly represent the real issues around “waste” in councils.

Now i am in full support of eradicating waste in business and in processes, but this is not a good way to go about it and in fact reduces the opportunities that could be realised by council by using such sites for communications and engagement activities.

What i would suggest the headlines should read which would truly represent the real factor behind this story is:

Lack of Management in Council leads to 400 hours a month being wasted

Now I get really annoyed and frustrated when i see councils make decisions like this because the real thing to concentrate on is the lack of management is that leading to this amount of time being wasted.

Why are we not focusing on the poor management practices or lack of performance management instead of the 5-6 minutes per employee per month on facebook.

It is easy for councils to focus and even target sites like facebook because they can monitor and measure usage through the corporate networks (unless of course people are accessing on their mobiles or via wifi connections)

BUT what about the other activities that could be classified as “waste” that we are not focusing on for example: phone calls, chatting with friends, emailing friends and colleagues plus many more including smoking.

It is quite sad that people are focusing on the technology when that is not the problem, just like technology itself can not solve business problems. What needs to happen here when these kind of decisions are made is to ask the question “What are we really trying to stop?” Is it time wasting? or is it access to social networks that councils don’t on the whole understand? i would suggest the latter.

There is a huge opportunity to promote such networks, in fact i am a member of a government funded and supported social network (IDeA Community of Practice) so i would ask what fundamentally is the difference between the two platforms from a technology point of view? How much council officer time is taken up accessing the community of practice and would this also be classified as “waste”? I feel that being part of that community saves me time in accessing information and research from other council staff and stops me emailing them or phoning them for the same information. This is what social networks can facilitate – information and knowledge exchange.

Now i’m not promoting facebook as such, but this is a decision which allows councils to make further blocks and banning orders easier unless they start to truly understand what is happening in online spaces where communities are alive and thriving and councils need to be connected if they want to understand the needs of local people in designing services. Would we consider a member of staff visiting a village hall and listening to community issues and communicating with them about council services a “waste” of time or would that be considered community engagement? If so then why ban access to social networking sites…

HBR – Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership –

Found this article via this Tweet from Dominic Campbell. To say it was VERY interesting is right on the money.

Over the last few years i have started to develop a fascination with , which has kind of led me to where i am now – Enterprise Architecture. Forget the perception that Enterprise Architects are technical experts, there is a shift and it is more about facilitation, communications and strategy. In my opinion it requires an understanding of people, business and in particular Leaders who make decisions.

The subject of Leadership has always been something which kept coming up in that we need “real” leaders to drive dynamic customer driven organsiations forward, people who are prepared to enable and support people to take measured risk and to innovate and strive for greater creativity in the way we work, live and play.

This Harvard Business review article “Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership –” struck a chord and has confirmed my desire to study in this area and to look at expanding my knowledge in this area.

If anyone has any suggested materials or articles worth reading in this area, please let me know.

Do we really need web managers?

Now this is a question that has bothered me for some time and has caused me to question the validity of my job.

I want to ensure that my councils websites is one which can benefit and deliver efficiencies for the organisation and one which provides services and information for our customers. A simple vision but one which is way out of my scope as a web manager.

I of course have influence on aspects of the website, style, tone, design (although branding is more important). But when it comes to range of services and what people really want to do in terms of performing tasks, this is something that a service manager needs to be engaged in and needs to decide whether they wish to spend their service budget on a channel that for some is still unknown. When we don’t have huge amounts of information about the types of online customers we have and serve.

My dilemma and perhaps cause for confusion is that the web is too broad an area to be managed by just one person, a web manager and their team.

When the web is in fact at the heart of a range of existing disciplines in the council.

  • Technology and Innovation – we are perhaps fortunate that our corporate ICT function has a team of Enterprise Architects who are there to look at the strategic business architecture which would include the web, but also looks at the latest innovations and how they can support and deliver business benefits, web 2.0 is one area that this team will look at.
    In terms of operational web development, this is provided by our in-house development team who do the actual programming etc.
  • Content (text, image, video, audio etc) – for me this the bread and butter of websites and is mostly driven by communications and marketing people across the council, but also involves web editors and publishers. what we need here though is a content strategy which highlights all content amd which channel it needs to be delivered to. This is wider than just websites
  • Information Management (metadata and taxonomy) – This is the field of information specialists and we also have a tool which helps us tag our pages with correct metadata and contributes to the taxonomy management
  • Services (what people come to do – the tasks!) – this has been the drive of eGovernment for the last few years and continues to be the main focus of websites now, but it driven by customer services and service managers looking to provide alternative channel of access for services. But we need to put the right service in the right channel if they are to be used.
  • Design – last but not least, a visual framework by which people navigate, search and perform information and search requests. This is a design function and in terms of framework is easy to manage but overall design needs to compliment the organisational brand, a communications and marketing role.

How can a web manager truly manage all of those aspects to ensure that the website as a whole develops consistently and in a usable way. They would need to be multi-disciplined and have a wide range of knowledge or they focus on one area and do that well.

It maybe that what we need is effective governance and key people from each specialist area to ensure that we can deliver a multichannel approach. Not to cut myself out and sell myself short, i have managed to do elements of this co-ordination for the past 4 years, but that is all it has been – “Co-ordination”, it has not been about truly managing the website as a strategic platform for business and staff. Perhaps my dilemma is that iu ahve outgrown my role instead of it out-growing me.

The web needs to be mainstreamed into everyday business thinking and when that happens you won’t need a web manager as it becomes part of how we work.  However you will need all those specialist areas to focus on the wider picture.

I could be tempting fate but stating such things but this is my dilemma, i welcome your thoughts