Background

Today we held our Firebreak Show and Tell. The concept behind the Firebreak was explained in a previous blog, but basically the idea is that teams are given a few days away from business as usual to focus on some innovation or efficiency projects that interest them most.

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We held a hustings event a few weeks ago, and there was enormous energy and enthusiasm as people committed their time and energy to the various ideas. We then had a brief gap before the two-week firebreak itself started. During the two week period, we’ve been updating various Trello boards and some limited internal communications, but generally it was hard to see the overall progress, so it was with some considerable anticipation that we turned up to the Show and Tell day — the opportunity for all the teams to demonstrate their progress (or indeed otherwise).

Coming out of the husting event, one of the fears was that expectations were set too high — could all that energy and enthusiasm in the room really translate into real delivery over a two period? But the NHS.UK pulled it off! Fears were unfounded — we had a packed day of brilliant success — well done to everyone!

Show and Tell Highlights

The morning consisted of different project teams showing a summary of the outcome of their firebreak ideas. Some of these projects didn’t get off the ground, some failed along the way and some achieved their outcomes. Teams shared what they learnt; some experienced new ways or working, some failed fast and realised their ideas wouldn’t work and some made astonishing progress. All of those potential outcomes were expected and welcomed!

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Things we heard about were in the following broad categories:

Improving Public facing things

  • Pop-up user research for a new alcohol calculator which was sketched and prototyped
  • Three social media quizzes created from scratch around sugar, ‘mole or melanoma’ and snack-burning
  • Work on exploring a health timeline view (see the blog here)
  • Facebook and Twitter bots as a different ways to get to the content on NHS.UK
  • Making it clear to users when they are leaving NHS.UK
  • Visual search engine of conditions
  • Using Amazon Echo to speak NHS.UK content
  • Further improvements to the responsive design

Back-office efficiencies

  • Looking at the way we gather and process user feedback
  • Some significant operation efficiencies — some that are already live(!) — such as adding back buttons when adding comment administrators, and prefixing some fields with common text
  • Decoupling one of our main web services from main site
  • Discovery about comments and moderation and end to end complaints
  • Exploring the potential for documenting the NHS structure in a wiki
  • Using email as a way to update areas of the site, rather than through a webpage
  • Planning on improving our application logging arrangements
  • Automated scheduling shutdown/startups of virtual machines (this is already live and will release an immediate saving p.a.)
  • New video library inspired by Netflix
  • Exploring new tools to identify gaps in data
  • Better process to onboard new starters

Strategic improvements

  • Running a Benefits Mapping Workshop with the management team

We also had a workshop area where some of the more interactive projects were able to offer demos.

What We Learnt (early thoughts)

  • It confirmed we have some astonishingly great talent and gave some people new opportunities to show their creativity and innovation.
  • It’s easy to get carried away and be over-ambitious in volunteering to contribute to exciting and interesting sounding projects… BUT having more ideas that we could handle was fabulous and reflects the brilliant team we have.
  • Did encouraging people to ‘donate’ time in units of 1 day contribute to that over-ambition? Might it work better to allocate 1 week blocks next time instead?
  • Business still goes on — some real live service issues still need to be solved and given higher priority, impacting on the time people had to spend on firebreak ideas. Do we need to be more realistic about what live service things need to keep going.
  • It was great to give everyone an opportunity to form self-organising teams and handle the scheduling and challenges of working across disciplines and locations.

We’ll continue to capture more detailed learning over the next few weeks, but we can certainly confirm immediately that the organisational investment in the two weeks of the firebreak were more than worth it, and we definitely will do it again!

So Now What?

We’ll be looking at the different ideas and assessing which ones join the backlog to make it onto the public facing site.

For more reaction from the day, we updated Twitter along the way using #nhsukfirebreak

Also see a Storify put together from the day:

Husband. Dad to 3 smashing lads. Cub Leader. MAMIL. Group CDIO for Northampton and Kettering Hospitals. Ex NHS Digital. Views own. Always learning.

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