Weeknote: Structured conversations and moving things along

tobiogunsina Product management, weeknotes Leave a Comment

Hello. I didn’t write a weeknote last week because I spent the weekend writing about how I work and my journey so far. It looks like my current capacity is limited to publishing one article a weekend but I need to figure out a way to make that better. 

Here are the highlights of the last 2 weeks. 

What went well

A few weeks ago we shared our roadmap for GOV.UK accessibility, some key decisions and recommendations with the management team. We’ve since had several conversations where they gave us feedback, and this resulted in making some small changes to our roadmap and scope. 

Some of the biggest outcomes of those discussions is that: 

  • we now have a better and shared understanding of the boundaries of GOV.UK’s role in helping departments make their content accessible 
  • work on providing accessibility training will be owned by different teams with support from us as subject matter experts where needed. 

We’ve discussed this with the team. It led to very interesting conversations but I’m glad we are all aligned on what we will be focusing on and more importantly, what we will NOT be focusing on. 

In my last weeknote, I talked about the need to clarify and articulate the distinction between our role as the GOV.UK accessibility team and the role of other teams who support accessibility (and accessibility training) on GOV.UK so we can communicate better with departments and teams. We had some structured conversations with the GDS accessibility team and the content community team about this. 

I say structured conversations because a huge part of my job as a product manager is communication and I find ‘chats’ are more effective if I’ve spent some time thinking about how to structure it and what I want to get out of it. 

Based on those structured conversations, we’ve now documented the roles of the teams that support accessibility, how to reach them and the programs/plans/processes they have available. Our plan is to share this widely so it’s easier for people to know who to talk to when they need help and it’s easier for us to signposts them when needed. 

Lots of the accessibility issues on GOV.UK are created by publishers through the content that’s published. We had a kick off session to start exploring how we might prevent accessibility issues before they are published – for example making it impossible to publish content with a table that has no headers. 

We talked about the problems, consideration and constraints then we tried to identify where we can explicitly prevent it and where we can make small adjustments to the workflow or improve in-app guidance to discourage it. We now have some ideas to explore further. 

I spent some time analysing the report on confusing heading structures (skipped heading levels, multiple h1s or missing headings) on GOV.UK. They are not Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 fails but they are accessibility issues and are confusing for people using assistive technologies so we want to make them better. 

Looking at tens of thousands of occurrences meant finding patterns and working out what caused them. It turns out finding interesting patterns in a large dataset actually comes easy to me.  

There were some pages with multiple h1s that were caused by the design of the templates but most of the other issues were because the publisher skipped heading levels i.e from H2 to H4. We’ll spend time in the next sprint fixing the template issues and telling departments where the problems are. 

I helped move things along and supported the team as they worked on

  • auditing our front end applications – the apps that render the pages you see on GOV.UK – to find out of date templates and things that should be replaced with existing/new components so they and are no longer left behind when making accessibility improvements. We now know exactly what needs updating and can start fixing the plumbing
  • fixing bugs with bar charts on GOV.UK
  • Improving footnotes so they are easier for people using assistive technologies to understand

We also had our usual pre-planning, planning, team playback and retro sessions which all went well. 

What could have been better

The kickoff for exploring how we might prevent accessibility issues before they are published was done a little differently.

Normally, kick offs focus on one thing at a time but I tried to run one session looking at all the known problems caused by publishers – It was to get us to quickly understand  if it’s feasible to prevent some of the accessibility issues and get some high level ideas.

This was based on the assumption that since we’ve been working on these problems, the team had enough context. In hindsight, that was a miscalculation especially as we are looking at the publishing workflow (not the front end) which the team is not as familiar with as I am. Being in a space for so long, it’s easy to take for granted how much context you’ve gained and how much detail is needed to help others understand that context. 

While the kick off generally went well and achieved its goal, It felt rushed. We’ve now seen that even where we can’t explicitly prevent something, there may be other things we can do to discourage it or provide better in-app guidance. 

In the future, we’ll stick to our regular kick offs where we focus on one thing so they are more focused and we can explore in more detail. John Cutler’s recent newsletter talks about what teams choose to be stubborn about. I think this will be one of mine. 

Another thing is the popular publishing documents in PDFs vs HTML saga – PDFs are generally problematic and hard to make fully accessible or usable. Even though GOV.UK has been pretty clear about prioritising publishing documents in HTML, we’ve seen that sometimes PDFs are still used in cases where HTML would have been a better choice. 

Ultimately, we cannot stop people from publishing PDFs if they insist but this has led to a lot of still ongoing conversations on how to improve guidance on what’s okay and what’s not. 

In other news

I was on interview panels for a senior developer role and a content designer role. I also attended the accessibility community meeting and got a free ticket for techshare pro conference – Thanks to Richard Morton. 

I caught up with other people doing interesting work across GOV.UK, which is always great. I also listened to Fiona Deans, the Director General of Government Digital Service talk about her career – my key takeaways are to prioritise investing in relationships within your organisation and to put yourself in challenging situations.