Week notes 9–12th May an AgileManc takeover

Holly Davis
6 min readMay 13, 2023

This week I attended Agile Manchester, it’s been a long time since I’ve attended a conference in person. I used to attend Deliver Conf in Manchester so over the years have made good friends up North who I don’t get to see in person as often as I’d like, so it was great to attend a conference where a few of my friends were speaking and attending.

Having dinner with my colleague Chris and friends Rachael and Matt

I also really enjoyed meeting some folk who I’ve never actually met in person but have interacted with online. I particualrly enjoyed meeting Jack Collier and chatting about UCD, Neil Vass (in person for the first time) and talking to Emily Webber about some of the themes in her talk (still massively regretting not actually attending it!).

Instead of my normal week note format I’m going to switch it up this week and share some insights from five talks

BFFs and Rocket ships Lianne Mellor and Nikola Goger from the Ministry of Justice

Lianne — Head of Delivery and Nikola — Head of Design talked about silos being one of the biggest blockers for digital transformation and their journey of creating Rocket Ships bringing professions and communities together to help solve cross-cutting issues. Have you ever realised you’re trying to solve the problem as someone else? People want to fix things but we default to fixing the things important to us which can create silos which create knowledge management issues, duplication of effort, lack of innovation, and a focus on professions over delivery.

Lianne and Nikola had the idea to bring together Head of professions for an away day to share all of their backlogs including personal objectives, topics leads within their profession were working on as well as backlogs and objectives at a CoP level.

From the backlog, they started to identify key themes around Capability, Experimentation, Knowledge Management, Data, Culture, Brand and within each theme ideas that professions could come together to work on. These themes and ideas were also linked back to the wider strategy.

Linking Rocket Ships with Strategy

The criteria for a crew for a Rocket Ship consisted of

  • Passion for the topic
  • Different areas/teams from your org
  • Mix of seniority
  • Range of skills

They opted for an “opt-in + transparency” approach but they made sure everyone knew what is happening which lead to a FOMO comms strategy - Fear Of Missing Out — most people sound at least one thing they could get excited about on the shared backlog.

Takeaway: at Torchbox we set company and discipline ‘rocks’ taken from the EOS methodology outlined in the book Traction. I’ve seen first hand working on the delivery framework how many different pockets of the organisation are doing good work to try and add clarity to the process for their team — what greater impact could we have by working together, something we’ve now kick-started but this is a great example of the thinking and value behind Rocket Ships.

The world might be on fire, but we’re doing OK: Building a team in a crisis Darren McCormac, Freelancer

This was a case study of Darren’s time working at the London Borough of Hackney during the pandemic and during a massive Cyberattack breach.

His talk was a great reminder of the space and work you need to put into when working with a new team to create the environment for a high-performing team and what it means to really protect your team and for the team to own mistakes as a team — despite an apprentice on the team making a mistake, not once was that person named and the team instead asked the question “why did we leave such an important critical task to one individual on the team, we‘ve failed as a team’” a great example of a no blame culture.

We had each others’ backs — it didn’t matter who pushed that button because we all pushed it.

Darren said he used this as a good opportunity to discuss failure and asked members of the senior management to share examples of massive failures they had in their careers to role model the opportunities for learning over making the mistake. Another talk also asked us to consider replacing the word “mistake” with “accident” to remind people of the fallible nature of being human.

It was also great to hear how progressive Hackney was in terms of fully embracing flexibility. It doesn’t matter how much time you spent in front of a laptop, it’s what you achieve in the time you are that matters.

Key takeaway: I really liked Darren’s example of asking everyone on the team “What’s the one thing about how you like to work that everyone on the team needs to know”.

Psychological safety — how to boost creativity and increase collaboration Dr Hayley Lewis

Hayley started by providing a useful defintion for Psychological safety “you can say tough stuff to each other whilst maintaing the relationship”. She added, we’ve all become so fearful of debate to the degree that we avoid difficult or more to the point important conversations.

The search for answers always involves argument, debate, exploration. We dodge this because most people fear and avoid conflict.
Margaret Heffernen, Wilful

Avoiding debate is dangerous as it can lead to groupthink, which can lead to people deviating from the correct decision for the sake of maintaining harmony.

Teams that feel psychologically safe are more innovative, more likely to take risks and experiment and feel more safe to challenge.

Sketch note from

How can you build psychological safety as a leader at work

  1. De-stigmatise failture — state upfront that failture is acceptable
  2. Demonstrate fallibility and humility — admit you don’t know all the answers
  3. Respond productively — respond carefully and thank people for their contribution and take on some of the suggestions prvoided

Try giving someone in the team the role of devil’s advocate and give them explicit performission to deliberately ask awkward and difficult questions. Rotate this role amongst the team.

Key takeaway: ask your team questions like “For us to be a high-performing team, how do we need to support each other? What would meaningful support look like? How can we challenge each other without getting defensive?”

Tumbleweed tales, laughter and high performing teams Jaimella Expley Independent

Looking for a bit more of a light-hearted talk, I opted for this talk by delivery manager Jaimella who has great success with incorporating laughter into her work to help build trust and decrease stress. Laughter can help people bond and better handle disagreements.

Just follow the three golden rules and then get fun with being creative

  • Safe for work
  • Kind
  • Inclusive

From physical props like homemade tumbleweed, to designing mission stickers to biscuit olympics and creating monster biscuits. Jaimella proves there’s lots of room to be creative and playful in our roles and there’s good science to back it up too.

Key takeaway: you don’t have to be funny, you just have to look for the laughter and celebrate and amplify it. Jaimella also shared that she’s a advocate of everyone on the team facilitating stand ups’ and retrospectives — I’d love to see us experiment with this at work.

Thanks to

and his team for a really great event!

Normal week note service to resume next week…