Using the right tools

There’s a reason why your toolbox has various tools of different shapes and sizes. Each one has a purpose and the more different ones you have, the more chance you’ll have in finding the perfect one for the job.

‘I’m sure there’s a website that could do that’

We’re lucky we live in an age where there’s always a website disguised as a handy tool for every occasion. Just a quick search for “most useful websites” comes up with thousands of lists of websites ‘you wish you knew earlier’. From tools to help with writing or to check if a website is working.

What online tools can do

  • Coordinate with your team wherever you are
  • Get the message out – let everyone know what you’re doing
  • Allow others to visualise your ideas – key to getting buy in
  • Give you a place to gather feedback – help steer your project in the right direction
  • Create something that would usually require expensive software to do
  • Provide you with useful information to help build your project

Instructions not included

But people are different and they work in different ways. How can one tool help us all? It never hurts to try something new to see how it can work for you. Don’t think of it as an extra task to add to your workload, think of it as something that can help both you and your team accomplish your goals and use it in the way that works best for you.

Back in 2014 we launched Yammer at BCC, without clear guidelines on how it should be used. We wanted the usage to grow organically, allow people to try it, see where it could benefit them. If they couldn’t find a use for it they didn’t need to use it.

Try it, give it some time, not sure if it’s working? Try a different tactic; use it for a different purpose. Still not working? Maybe there’s another tool that would work better.

What we’ve been using

Slack – Those who took a trip to Pinewood for the Country Parks Hackathon will have heard of this one. It’s essentially a communication channel where you can share what’s happening right now. Love it or hate it, it’s a really quick way to get a message out to someone (or lots of people), whether it’s a document you’ve written or a quick question to the team. You can get pop up notifications on your screen so you can carry on working elsewhere.

Yammer – Nobody wants more emails, but how do you find out what’s going on? How do you tell others what’s going on? Yammer is here to help. Don’t spend hours searching through emails, Yammer has ways of helping you find information, whether it’s using keyword tags, dedicated groups or following colleagues.

Other tools:

  • WordPress – quick and easy way of setting up a blog. Shows both you and others where you’ve been and where you’re heading
  • Google tools – Google offers various tools, if you’re working with anyone outside of BCC, something as simple as a Google Calendar can help you plan together or a Google Form can help you gather information easily and it’s all for free!
  • Pop – not just for apps, this is a great tool for visualising your ideas. Have an idea for a web page you want to test with people? Draw it up and pop it in here and see what they think. Even the most basic pen and paper drawings can provide you with some feedback on whether you’re heading in the right direction

Whatever your project, communicating and working together are key. Any tool that can help you with that is worth using. Take a look around at what’s out there, find out what other colleagues have used and see how it could benefit you.

As the Finns say, “Meni syteen tai saveen”, ‘whether it will turn into clay or charcoal’ don’t be afraid to try it!

What is Alpha?


We completed the Discovery phase of our Digital Services process before Christmas. This means that we have started the New Year in a new phase: Alpha.

Government Digital Service defines Alpha as:

A short phase in which you prototype solutions for your users needs. You’ll be testing with a small group of users or stakeholders, and getting early feedback about the design of the service.

In the Discovery phase we investigated who our customers are and what their needs are. Alpha is about exploring how we are going to meet those needs.

We started off planning for Alpha by:

  1. Considering lessons learned from Discovery.
  2. Ensuring the right team is in place.
  3. Identifying key risks under the headings of technical, design and business process.

The main focus of Alpha will be on how we are going to meet our customers’ needs. We left Discovery with a prototype of an idea, now is the time to find out how to make the idea a reality.

The risks established in planning are turned into hypotheses which are in turn divided into tasks. We are working in two week springs to achieve these tasks making sure we have a clear idea of what we are working on and the deadline for it at all times. At the end of each fortnight we will carry out a retrospective before moving on to the next.

Working in two week sprints allows you to fail fast and turn to alternative solutions when needed. It means a fast pace is maintained throughout the 8 week Alpha. Regular retrospectives also ensure that everyone has a chance to feedback on what they think is working and not allowing the team to tailor the workstream appropriately.

While we will be largely focusing on technical and design capabilities, the customers’ needs and their journey will remain at the heart of our work. We will continue to carry out customer research and will seek customer feedback along the way. This will be through regular demonstrations to customers and show and tell presentations within our organisation inviting feedback at every turn.

The primary goal for Alpha is Learning. By the end of this stage we will know whether we will continue into Beta and what we will be building in Beta with a business case and the potential risks in hand.

You can find out more about the GDS guidelines on Alpha in this video: