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Housing repairs service discovery project: 7 lessons learned

We have been working on a discovery project to identify an ideal end-to-end user journey for housing repairs services across four local authorities.

Despite being able to report issues online, most council residents continue to report housing by phone which is inefficient, expensive and puts strain on the contact centre. Our discovery project has seen us explore the reporting processes at Southwark council, Lewisham Homes, Lincoln council and Gravesham council so that we can identify a service pattern that can be shared across the four local authorities.

The discovery phase of the project is coming to an end so we wanted to share our lessons learned.

1 Understanding users’ needs includes staff and residents

The starting point of the project was to establish a complete understanding of how different local authorities manage housing repairs so we could identify common ground and opportunities for development. This phase of the project saw us work closely with the contact centre and housing repairs teams at all four authorities.

While spending time in contact centres we listened in to calls from residents. This not only helped us to understand the frustrations of the end user but also those of the customer service staff.

As well as face-to-face interviews, we added a short survey to the end of the script for calls to customer service teams. This enabled us to find out more about residents’ knowledge and experience of the housing repairs reporting process.

Next we spent time with housing repairs service operatives and planners at Southwark council, Lewisham Homes, Lincoln council and Gravesham council. This gave us a good understanding of how they do their jobs and how a new process could improve things for them.

2 Make it easy to collaborate

Each of the four local authorities we worked with were in very different locations so we needed to make it easy to collaborate. As well as full-day meetings at each of the authorities, we used digital collaboration tools to connect us when working remotely.

Trello was used for project and task management for each sprint, Slack for daily chats, Hangouts for our daily stand ups, show and tells and workshops, and Google Drive to share documents.

3 Reach out to other organisations

As well as conducting authority-specific research, we spent time reviewing the approach of housing associations. In doing this we were able to identify some valuable insights on not only how to improve the process but how best to implement changes.

4 Not everybody is familiar with Agile working

Although the core team were familiar with Agile working it soon became clear that the wider team were not.

We learned the importance of explaining Agile terminology like stand-ups, retros and show and tells, and adapting our approach for each team we worked with. For example, sending meeting agendas ahead of catch-ups and sharing input requirements for invitees so they could come prepared.

5 Getting staff and residents to engage isn’t easy…

… but it is worth it! We spent a great deal of time nurturing relationships with different teams and reaching out to residents via the contact centre and face-to-face surveys. In total we listened to more than 100 calls and carried out more than 80 resident interviews.

This meant we had a lot of data to collate so we divided our team to assign one authority to each member of staff individually.

6 It’s your day job  —  but it’s not theirs

An important takeaway from this project is one that project teams can easily forget: involvement in the project was for most people an add-on to their everyday work. This meant we needed to be prepared to get maximum value from the time we did have with staff. We also learned that it might be useful to make it clear how much time we might need from individuals and teams at the start of the project.

7 Meet face-to-face as often as possible

We’ve already mentioned how digital collaboration tools helped us to work remotely, but on reflection we feel some meetings would have been better delivered in person. Although we were communicating with teams on the digital channels, it was difficult to get timely input from all four authorities therefore more in-person discussions or diarised meetings would have made collaboration easier.

All-in-all working on one project with four authorities has been a great challenge. Aside from location and audience demographic differences, we’ve also had to explore effective ways of collaborating across the board. That said, we are hugely excited by the results of the project itself and are looking forward to the next phase.

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