Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Reply all

November 20, 2009

People blame technology for things all the time.  “My alarm clock didn’t go off”, “the train was late”, “my tamegotchi ate my homework”.  However, what most of these people fail to grasp is that invariably it is they that are at fault, not the bundle of plastic, metal and assorted techie goodness that they are passing the buck to.

Never is this more true than in the workplace, and never in the workplace is it more true than when it comes to one of Microsoft’s greatest and most oft-misused ideas: the dreaded Reply All button.

Countless are the examples of important information getting accidentally copied to each and every member of a large group or organisation.  Information such as pay cheques, personal phone numbers, even expenses can have hugely damaging effects on all those involved, as recently was proved by those in Westminster.

However, just as damaging in terms of wasting staff time are those discussions which pale into insignificance when compared to, well, just about everything else.

Over the course of the average year we will have an average of four such discussions take place.  In the past these have included the installation of new water coolers, the changing of vending machine suppliers and the all important problem of the lack of toilet rolls in some toilets.  Don’t get me wrong, all of these are things which need to be brought up, but surely not with every single person in the Council, from Assistant Tea Stirer’s Mate down to Chief Executive.

Not only are these discussions entirely pointless but often aren’t even made up of people discussing the original problem.  Besides a few comments about similar problems in different Council buildings the majority of conversational additions are simply people telling everyone else to stop using the reply all button.  The irony in them using the reply all button to do just that is generally missed by all concerned, and results in gems such as:

e-mailer 1 – “Can everyone stop using the reply all button to reply to these comments as it is filling up my inbox.”

e-mailer 2 – “That’s right, with the problem of only being allowed 2MB inboxes anyway which get filled up with the first picture of a cat being cute sent on a Monday I struggle to delete things quick enough as it is, and these e-mails aren’t helping.”

e-mailer 3 – “If people have something to say can they direct it to facilities management rather than replying to all, as it is really annoying.”

e-mailer 4 – “Not only is it annoying but actually goes against the Council’s e-mail and intranet usage policy.  Still, technically so does making any use of e-mail or the intranet for anything interesting, so that doesn’t actually get us anywhere…”

e-mailer 5 – “And anyway, we shouldn’t be talking about this, instead we should be discussing what we are going to do about the lifts, which take ages to come.  Let’s get them sorted out before worrying about who our office suppliers are.”

e-mailer 6 – “Can anyone explain why we aren’t allowed to use the stairs any more?”

e-mailer 1 – “Look, I’ve asked nicely and now I’m telling you – STOP REPLYING TO EVERYONE!”

e-mailer 3 – “Oh, and here’s a picture of a kitten that looks like it’s got a moustache, isn’t it cute!”

And so the list goes on until we all get told off and put on the naughty step (which is impressive as we are not officially allowed to use the stairs, but that’s a subject for another post).

Seriously, if you can’t be responsible about using the reply all button then frankly you shouldn’t be allowed to use a computer.  In fact, you shouldn’t really be allowed out of the house, or be left alone with anything complicated like shoe laces or peanut butter.

The curse of the calendar

November 19, 2009

I don’t like to piggy back on another post but the last one reminded me of an e-mail received in the office. It has three bullet points but number 2 read:

2. Completing calendars

The manager expects everyone to keep their calendars completely up-to-date with their whereabouts, hence if the calendar appears empty, please note that he will be forwarding work your way.

We all quickly filled up our calendars with long ‘writing report’ or ‘researching’ sessions which I guess sort of defeated the object.

Ironically productivity is inversely proportional to how busy you appear:

1) In meeting – Not very productive but considered to be busy

2) At desk – Moderately productive but considered to be ‘free’

3) Working from home – Highly productive but considered by those in the office to be slacking

Give us a break and let us work!

November 19, 2009

Imagine the conversation.

Boss: “What are you doing?”

Me: “Writing up a risk assessment for the programme I’m working on.”

Boss: “But you’re at your desk.”

Me: “Er, yes…..”

Boss: “Then why aren’t you doing any work?”

Me: “Well, as I said I’m writing a risk assessment for…”

Boss: “How can you possibly be working when you are at your desk?! If you are not in a meeting then you are obviously wasting time and there’s plenty of other work I can give you. For example, make me a cup of tea but be sure to only stir anti-clockwise…”

Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the gist of it is a true story. Recently we got an e-mail from our Director which said she will be checking our diaries over the coming weeks to see how busy we are.  If we have lots of empty space then she will be handing over some more work to do.

Firstly, at what stage did a meeting constitute a good way to spend most of your working day?  The overwhelming majority of meetings are pointless exercises designed to allow morons to feel important and that they are doing something.  Don’t get me wrong, sometimes they are really useful and end up with some good actions and outcomes, but most of the time I don’t even bother taking a pen as I know there will be nothing worth writing down in it and no actions for me to take.  It’s a bit like being a celebrity at the Oscars; if you are not there people will notice but the show will go on, and if we’re honest the real work is done outside of the show anyway.

The absurdity of thinking that if you are not talking with people you are not working is beyond belief – when do they think we actually get things done?  Those 1-pagers and briefings that are demanded actually take some screen time to produce, projects need to be properly planned and e-mails need to be responded to; unless of course you want to invest in some kind of brainwave-reading speech recognising robot to obey your every command and churn out whatever you need whenever you need it, responding to every request for advice or support from anyone across any public sector organisation in the city.

What’s that I hear you say, you already have a team of those? That’s right, it’s us, your team who try to be one step ahead of your ever changing whims and make sure that the information you need is at your fingertips before they are even extended in our general direction.

Give us a break. Give us some desk time.

And yes, those are five words I never thought I would type and actually mean.

It’s not just the Council who can spin…

November 19, 2009

Recently I was asked to deliver a project to talk with the public about some local parks and open spaces in the borough.  I developed a pretty good project plan which the parks team agreed, then brought in a team of facilitators to deliver it and reported back the findings.  We did events, surveys, meetings and more, and had about 4000 people talk to us about their local parks and how they wanted to see them develop.

Once this was all over, I was contacted by an IT company who were touting a nice piece of software.  They knew nothing at all about the parks project, but wanted to show off how their software could take the public’s comments and make them easier to understand, so as a test I sent over the comments we had received to see if their claims could be proved.  Whilst interesting, they didn’t actually tell us anything we couldn’t find out by reading the comments ourselves (old school, I know…) so I’ve not used them since.

Imagine my surprise therefore when a Google alert brought this to my attention:

The xxxxxx Solution

The Borough of yyyyyyyyyyy wanted to enable the constituent population to be able to engage on what mattered to them in respect of the parks and open spaces. They also needed to be able to separate out the responses and understand what was important to different parts of the population. xxxxxxx deployed a Community Consultation Dashboard for yyyyyyyyyyyy. This was designed around the specific locations in question and gave them the power to analyse, understand and interpret meaning from the various engagement activities.

xxxxxxxxx worked with yyyyyyyyyyyy on creating effective ways to elicit information from the population. During face to face meetings in the actual parks, respondents were invited to use narrative style in order to describe issues of importance in their own language. This approach encouraged a much richer source of information and a more considered set of perspectives. The Community Consultation Dashboard meant that yyyyyyyyyyy were able to ask “what are your priorities for the parks and open spaces” and then create a fully interactive map of the key themes that emerged.

Now, these are just excerpts from the case study they put out which pretty much implies that they planned, delivered and evaluated the entire programme themselves – which they didn’t.  I’ve got no problem at all with sharing good or bad practice, but these people are trying to sell their product on the back of my hard work!  It’s the equivalent of me forwarding an e-mail from e-bay and then trying to get money from every sale they then make – I had nothing to do with the work they are doing but as they are doing alright I want to get on that bandwagon!

Why can’t people just be honest about what they are doing?!


November 18, 2009

I love Spin and in a Local Govt context being able to right good spin can really benefit you when dealing with those more senior than you (provided that you are able to sort out whatever your are in the process of spinning!).

As an example a recently submitted report read as follows. The project was focused on attracting women to undertake courses and was not on target:

’30 women came to initial workshop in Quarter 2. The figures need to be broken down by local area. A project officer has been appointed to help target the service in the local areas. Although 15 women signed up to the programme after that workshop only 5 attended due to an administrative breakdown. The newly appointed project officer will help to better co-ordinate the project. The training programme is on hold until the project officer engages sufficent numbers. Spend will commence in quarter 3 & 4 as the primary source of spend will be against the training. Limited spend in Q2 will be processed in Q3 after SLA has been finalised.’

Our Corporate Director then read it and it became:

‘Early phase recruitment met with a high drop out rate. A project officer has been appointed to help target the recruitment in local areas and to better co-ordinate the project. Spend will commence in quarter 3 & 4 as the primary source of spend will be against the training. Limited spend in Q2 will be processed in Q3 after SLA has been finalised.’

You can’t fault the spin invovled in that can you… Does anyone else have any examples???


November 18, 2009

The post about walking reminded me about the second half of the walking application form. As well as asking about whether the walkers were new walkers old walkers or returning walkers (?!?) the form also asked for the, by now, traditional collection of equalities information.

It can be really useful to know who uses your service especially when there are access issues. Indeed, some aspects of the equalities information will directly impact on the service. For example, what age are the participants or do they have a disability.

In fairness to this form (it was a form about going for a walk but we’ll leave that for a moment) it only asked for age, disability, gender and ethnicity.

The full equalities form used in most council enterprises includes the classic: ‘Is your gender identity the same as that which you were born with?’

There are occasions where this might be necessary but surely we don’t need to measure the ethnicity of those who are walking or the sexuality of those who have completed surveys about their bins being collected or the religious beliefs of those who use our open spaces?

Are we not falling into the trap of assuming that things like race, religion, sexuality, age define us more than our individual personality or even our socio-economic background?

We can tell you some fascinating things about who does what but for what benefit?

How to walk in three easy steps

November 18, 2009

Today we got given a flyer and sent an e-mail about a lunch-time walk.  This certainly sounds nice on the face of it – a scenic stroll next to the river in the company of interesting colleagues and in decent (if not fine) weather.

That, my friends, is where Local Government kicked in.

If we wanted to take part in this walk firstly we had to register our interest.  Register interest?!  It’s a walk for crying out loud!!!  What possible reason could there be for registering interest in walking from a to b – if we are interested then we’ll just do it!

Of course that wasn’t all, we also were told we had to fill in a form.  For walking.  Seriously, I know Councils like forms like the average man likes a Pussy Cat Dolls video, but what information about walking could they possibly hope to garner?  “do you start usually with the left foot or the right?” perhaps, or “What is your preferred direction of walking: forwards, sideways or backwards?”.

That’s not all.  Each walk will have a leader.  Should you wish to lead a walk yourself you will need to go on a training course first.  Never fear however, as they have a shortened version of the course which only takes three hours.  I know it took me a good eight or nine months to learn how to walk first time around, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got it down pat by now.

We are seriously considering being rebels and going for a walk at the same time along the same path but not going through this rigmoral.  Most of us don’t even particularly like walking, but it’s the principal of the thing after all!