First on my schedule for the week was heading to Portcullis House in Westminster to attend an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Assistive Technologies. The focus of the group is not only assistive technologies but more broadly, the accessibility of digital services in the public sector – something Kainos knows a thing or two about.
Prior to the meeting, I dialled in to my weekly call with our Belfast-based Operations team to discuss staff moves in and out of projects. This is a vital opportunity for me to help influence the career progression of people within the design capability by ensuring they get the right opportunities working on projects that will challenge them.
On the train, I read through briefing notes provided to me Bonnie, our Inclusive Design Principal. She’s been really key in our capability in ensuring inclusive design is on top of the agenda. The introduction of new accessibility legislation affects many of the services we deliver – and have delivered – for our public sector clients. At the meeting, I had the opportunity to discuss the inclusive design offering we are developing, as well as understand how the new legislation will be enforced and what it means for our clients.
Leaving Westminster, I headed home to pack for a flight to Edinburgh. On my way, I had a call with Nikos, Chief Design Officer to report back the findings from the Parliamentary Group meeting, and the opportunities it offers us to grow our design capabilities.
Sat at the airport facing a delayed flight, I started work on the plan for the design team, to indicate to the rest of the business our ambitions and requirements for the remainder of the year. Each capability within Kainos is required to produce a plan which lays out training needs, growth plans, recruitment strategies and an overall vision for people to ascribe to.
I landed in Edinburgh and headed to my hotel to check in. This is one of the many UK locations where we have a project team; in this case working with the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service. My plan was to visit the design team that work onsite, check in on how they’re doing and understand the needs of the project. I’d arrived pretty late in the day, so I managed a quick dinner then wandered up to the castle and back before having an early night.
I woke to grey skies and pouring rain – not an uncommon occurrence in Edinburgh! Thankfully it cleared by the time I had navigated the buffet breakfast and headed out to meet one of our Service Designers who has been working on the project for 18 months.
Part of working on location with clients all over the UK means that you often get to see some weird and wonderful sights. Tuesday was no exception, as it turned out that the latest Fast & Furious film was being shot directly outside the client office. As the production crew had closed the Royal Mile, there was no option other than to walk through the filmset past several heavily-covered high power cars to enter the office!
Once I’d had my taste of Hollywood and made it to the office, I attended stand up with our delivery team and heard about some of the day’s challenges, what was in the backlog and what was the priority for that week. Across one wall of the office is the ‘Experience Map’ that is helping to inform the delivery of the service. Having it so visible means everyone in the team is clear about where their work fits in.
I took some time out to conduct a phone interview with a potential candidate for a user research role on another project. We’re always looking for good researchers, and often I will screen CVs and conduct first-line phone interviews before we invite people in to meet the team in a more formal, structured meeting.
The afternoon was spent with the Scottish Courts team understanding what the next six months looks like for the project, what the challenges have been and what we have learned. Following dinner with the team, I headed back through the rain to my hotel where I spent an hour answering emails and catching up on the day’s communications.
After my literal flying visit to the Scottish Courts team, I was up far too early for a train to Birmingham, where we have a growing office. The sun was just rising as we pulled out of Waverley and headed South. Long train journeys are a good opportunity to catch up on deeper work, or when more thinking is needed. The lack of distractions and interruptions mean I’m particularly productive hurtling through the countryside.
In the Brum office, I met with some of the design team that are based there. At the moment, we’re running an ‘Academy’ for our recent intake of grads – something we’ve never done before, but are trialling as a way of supporting the transition of our bright new entry level talent from academic theory to practical delivery, supporting them to be project ready.
I took the opportunity to spend some time with other design team members to see what they’re up to and find out what they need, before dialling in to a review call with our customer HM Land Registry. The monthly review call is a great opportunity for the Kainos team to discuss what’s going on, where we are, what’s going well and what we need to do better for our client.
Dinner was spent with the grads and their mentors running the Academy, hearing about how their time at Kainos had been so far.
I spent Thursday morning sat in at the Academy, observing and finding out some of the content that has been developed. Today’s module was on inclusive design, so I was happy to chip in with some of the findings and discussion points from Monday’s Parliamentary roundtable discussion.
Following the Academy session, I spent some time talking to both mentors and our Operations team in Belfast to start working out which projects the grads would move on to, mindful of development opportunities and who would work best in which team. It’s no exact science, and I suspect will undergo several revisions before we arrive at a workable plan!
Birmingham is a relatively new office for Kainos, and we’ve grown massively there, from seven to more than 100 in just over a year. Unusually, we have several client teams working from the office meaning there is a consistent buzz about the place. There’s quite a few designers based there, so I scheduled in some 1-2-1s to catch up and hear how things were going.
Lunch was foraged from Grand Central above New Street station, eaten looking across Birmingham. Every time I visit there seems to be a new high rise or trendy coffee shop; exciting times to be growing a business in the area!
Fridays are typically my days for catching up with London-based people and the design team in general.
The day started with an early briefing to the Design Academy, to give the grads their project for the next three weeks. They will be supported as they work through a live project, working toward a showcase on 4th October where they will present their work to the wider company, including Brendan the CEO!
Next was dialling in to a call with the whole design team. Twice a month, people from within the team share their work and walk the rest of us through their project. Sometimes this results in an informal ‘design crit’ where assumptions and patterns are challenged and interrogated. Sometimes this is an opportunity for identifying cross-project learnings, or where methods can be transferred and applied. In this instance, one of our User Researchers walked us through a new approach they are taking to research on the project they are working on in Leeds.
After lunch, I joined a remote meeting, discussing the people plan for growth for the remainder of the year, followed by a presentation to some of our Delivery Management folk about the difference between Service Design and Product Management at Kainos. As the design team grows, the need to educate both clients and colleagues about the benefits of utilising design within projects grows as well. Some of our more established disciplines like User Research or UX Design are well understood, whereas some of our newer roles need more explanation.
The week wrapped with a quick reflection exercise to understand whether it had been a good week, and to highlight what had been accomplished. As part of this exercise, I make notes on what I need to focus on for the following week, and write my to-do for Monday. I can guarantee it won’t look the same…
Challenging, rewarding work, with people right at the centre of every day is why I get up in the morning.