Delivery Management at CYB: getting up to speed quickly with new work
Starting something new can be a daunting task. It doesn’t matter if it’s trying a new recipe for Friday night dinner, a new area of work responsibility - or, maybe worst of all, the blank page before starting a new blog post.
In my role as Associate Delivery Manager, I’ve found that Caution Your Blast Ltd (CYB) is regularly starting new pieces of work with clients - and that means having to navigate the steep learning curve of gaining as much knowledge as quickly as possible. That knowledge enables CYB to deliver world class services for users, and give better outcomes and value for money for clients.
Take the project I have been working on with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). I joined a team on the first day of a new project to develop a range of digital products to support British nationals in difficult overseas circumstances, for example if they have been a victim of crime, hospitalised or arrested. We were iterating products that the team and client were already very familiar with. The team was ready to work at pace and I didn't want to slow them down. I had to build my context and knowledge quickly so I could contribute at the same pace.
But how do you get up to speed quickly? Here are three things you should do at the start of any project.
1. Ask yourself - what do I already know?
It can often feel like the biggest challenge when starting something new is overcoming your knowledge gaps - it’s easy to focus on everything that you don’t know, and become daunted by the task of learning ‘everything’ from scratch.
To counteract this, when starting something new, I focus on what I do know. I have been working in delivery management for over a decade - my experience as Head of Agile Delivery for Zoopla and working with organisations like Tesco and the Government Digital Service has given me a wealth of knowledge about a variety of practices and tools. Whilst initially it might feel like I’m in a totally foreign environment, by focusing on what I do know, I can spot similarities and identify the gaps that I need to focus on.
I’ve found this compliments the approach of CYB. Working with CYB, at the start of a project we always collate our collective knowledge and ask how it relates to the subject matter, organisation or tools of the new work area.
2. Have a framework - that you’re ready to ignore
When I start working with a new client, I have a framework of information that I want to find out. I’ve turned this into a personal Miro board, where I can track exactly what I know - and what I don’t - about my new project. However it’s rarely as simple as sitting down frame-by-frame and filling in the blanks. I have to be ready to ignore the order set out in my framework, and find things in a different time frame. Sometimes by the end of a project I'll even have totally different 'frames' to the one that I started with, because the context of the work has taken me in a different direction. However, having an initial framework helps me find structure when I feel most lost.
At the beginning of a project, I return to the full board at the end of each week and think about what I’ve found out and how it fits into the overarching picture. So much knowledge is shared organically - but that can make it difficult to process. By using the framework, I have a way of filtering and sorting information. I can also see how my overall knowledge base is developing.
If I have significant gaps on the board then I will make sure I know who the right people are to speak to and arrange a focus session with them to build my context.
CYB takes a similar approach when starting new work. The more context gathered as quickly as possible helps CYB immediately focus on the right areas. We have templates to help synthesis information, and then ask:
What are the desired outcomes?
Who are the users?
What organisations and stakeholders are involved?
What do we need to learn or validate?
What do we need to communicate?
What other work relates to this?
What difficulties might we expect?
By collaborating with the client to answer these questions, we make sure that there’s alignment and knowledge sharing from the start of the work.
The templates used during the kick-off of the project form the basis of CYB’s central knowledge repository for the duration of the engagement. The repository is maintained by everyone on the engagement so that context about the work is always up-to-date. That helps when onboarding new starters or revisiting areas after some time has lapsed.
CYB is a delivery partner for several clients, so long-term our teams are delivering true digital transformation. This store of information becomes more useful as it’s reused as new projects start, filling in blanks without needing to ask, which increases pace and value for money. Recently, we’ve been able to establish something that would normally take 1 week in a matter of hours.
3. Playback information to confirm knowledge
In terms of delivery management, knowledge means being able to:
communicate effectively across teams
demonstrate understanding to create trust with teams and stakeholders
effectively react and respond to challenges
connect context across different product areas, teams or disciplines to align understanding and goals
To confirm I am in a position to do this, I take the final critical step of arranging a playback to a friendly group of teammates or stakeholders. I will synthesise all of the information I’ve gathered into an overview of the work area, which helps me spot:
Where I have knowledge gaps or struggle to explain things
Where my understanding is incorrect
Whether I am focused on the most important things
Working with CYB, we have regular playbacks with our clients to share the progress that we’re making and ensure we’re focused on the most important things from the client’s perspective. It helps us identify early if our understanding is incorrect. This is really important - it increases communication, but also gives people an open space to challenge and confirm so that everyone has a shared understanding.
Continuously implementing the three steps
These three steps not only help me get up-to-speed quickly but they also help me maintain my knowledge level. Context around work is always changing and I continuously need to process new information as quickly as possible so that the team can continue to deliver at pace. If I feel like something is slowing me or the team down, I will often return to my three steps to think about whether there is some missing knowledge that will help inform how to get the team back up-to-pace.
With this foundation, I’m ready to deliver value for money and the best possible outcome for my team, clients and users.