https://sfadigital.blog.gov.uk/2019/06/10/hack-days-how-we-worked-collaboratively-to-improve-service-performance/

Hack days: how we worked collaboratively to improve service performance

Hack day
Hack day

Rob Sparks, Product Manager, from the Funding Transformation Programme talks about running a hack day.

I’ve been working on developing ‘Calculate Funding’, a new service for the ESFA’s funding teams. This service enables us to calculate the amount to be allocated to each organisation that the ESFA funds. We’re developing it to futureproof the ESFA’s capacity and capability to calculate funding.

 What we did

 To calculate funding, colleagues had been writing code for several years using Visual Basic, a computer programming language. The introduction of the Calculate Funding service means that code now needs to be written in a slightly different way to improve the speed and performance of calculations within the service. Coding is, after all, part art, part science! To empower the funding teams to update their coding, we decided to run ‘hack days’ (also known as hackathons). They are all about bringing people together to work collaboratively and intensively on a specific issue, such as coding, over a short period of time.

How we did it

As the development team, we took examples of expert Visual Basic coding to the funding teams. Everyone worked together on understanding how the examples were constructed and then using this new knowledge to update some of the complex coding already in the service.

We continued to give the funding teams access to our developers after the hack days, so that they could carry on building their Visual Basic coding expertise. We took full advantage of our smarter ways of working, such as using Skype and Microsoft Teams, to support the teams at business critical times.

Feedback from attendees

Everyone who attended told us how buoyed they felt and that they had all improved their skills in computer programming, even the most experienced colleagues. They couldn’t believe that we hadn’t done something like this before!

As a development team, we found it really helpful to spend time with the funding teams as this gave us huge insight into how we can improve their experience of using the service in the future.

What’s happened since?

Since the hack days took place, the funding teams have updated over 1000 pieces of code! This has really improved the technical performance of the service. The team members who took part in the hack days are now cascading what they learnt to other colleagues, with great success.

During the hack days, the development team also learnt about new technical requirements that users have for the service. Through identifying and implementing these, the volume of support calls that colleagues have needed to make has reduced.

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