Last month I hosted a workshop as part of the Public Service Lab, alongside Adam Walther, Project Director at FutureGov. The Public Service Lab is an independent initiative, committed to promoting new ways of thinking inside Germany’s public sector. It brings together like-minded government professionals, including federal to municipal governments, to introduce user-centred work practices.

Since last year’s event, we’ve had many conversations with government professionals in Germany. Something we continue to hear is frustration that change doesn’t happen fast enough. Or, organisations aren’t ready to work differently and are missing the needed support.

In response to these shared concerns and constraints, we decided to focus this year’s workshop on our “top hacks” to sneak human-centred design and agile thinking into everyday work practices. With a bottom-up approach, we can slowly start to change the way we work. The feedback was so positive. I’d like to share these hacks with you.

1. Talk to users

Our users are everywhere. We can find them in a coffee shop, the doctor’s office, on the bus. Everywhere. Strike up a friendly conversation and use a relaxed atmosphere as an opportunity to ask a few questions. If you aren’t yet brave enough to begin a conversation with a stranger, start by observing them. What about the service they receive at the citizen centre? Is it easy and fluid? Are they dealing with obstacles like finding the right room or form, or are there unique features in place to help users? Watch what happens and take notes.

2. Listen more and talk less

More on taking notes: when talking to your users, focus on spending more time listening. Take notes based on what they say. Conversations with users are a great opportunity to learn something you didn’t know, rather than using them to evaluate your ideas.

Meeting with Public Service Lab

3. Use Post-its

Post-its make it easy to collaborate on complex challenges. Answers can’t be saved within the bounds of our personal notebooks or minds. By working visibly and openly, we allow other people to become part of the process.

The best feature about Post-its is the technique of using ‘one idea per post-it’. This makes all ideas equally important. Post-its are removing hierarchy. Using then enables introverts to take as much part in brainstorming exercises than people who can’t keep an idea to themselves.

Achieving cultural change discussion

4. Hold stand-ups

No one likes meetings. What’s worse are endless conversations that could have been covered in 10 minutes. Change the cycle with stand-ups - a different type of meeting. Rather than waiting all week to find out where people are in their work or sending endless emails, check-in as a team with a stand-up. You can do this daily, weekly or however best suits your needs.

Physically stand up, in a circle, and run through the essentials. What are you working on, what’s been completed, what are you doing next and are there any blockers? No one really wants to stay standing for extended periods of time, so we’ve already got an incentive to keep the information brief. The team will leave on the same page, and blockers or issues can be dealt with quickly. It’s a good agile practice providing everyone with clear actions and a better understanding of what’s going on.

5. Ask for feedback

Ask for it constantly. After meetings, presentations and even the little ideas, we have during the day. Ask for feedback. The people around us can share insight and challenges we can’t think of on our own. You don’t have to take everything into account, and too many opinions can have a negative effect, but their knowledge will improve your work.

6. Share your mistakes

We all make mistakes. That’s how humanity has learnt since the beginning of time. But if we don’t share our mistakes, we are bound to watch others make the same ones. Be brave and share your mistakes. More importantly, share what you learnt from them. If we share our experiences openly with others, we all get better.

7. Leave the building

Taking a colleague outside of your office can be powerful. Difficult conversations can be made easier in a relaxed coffee shop setting because it’s a neutral environment. Talking and walking increases blood flow to the brain and can make complex challenges easier to work through and solve. Take your colleague out and leave the bureaucrat in the office.

8. Ignore the hierarchy and just do it

Government is traditionally hierarchical, and this is even truer within the German government. The organisational hierarchy is seen as set in stone. The notion of ignoring that hierarchy is pretty radical, yet this was an idea which continually came up during the workshop.

To me, a fellow German saying “ignore the hierarchy and just do it” sounded like there is much more of a rebellious heart in German civil servants than I had ever assumed (and hoped for). Knowing this gives me an optimistic view of the progress to expect inside the German administration.

Take the leap

It takes everyone to make change happen. If you’re ready, but your organisation isn’t, or your senior leadership hasn’t bought into the idea yet, changing to agile thinking and human-centred design isn’t going to survive. By using these hacks, you can begin to demonstrate agile thinking in your everyday work. Then when your organisation is ready, they will already know some of the tricks and feel confident in new ways of working.

If you are at the beginning or on the way to embedding human-centred design and agile thinking in your organisation, feel free to use these hacks. You can print and use them in workshops to spark discussions within your team about what you are already doing and what you could give a try.

Get in touch

We’re always happy to answer any questions you have about FutureGov and discuss how we can work together.

Contact us