Working in magazine journalism, I became very familiar with deadline pressure.
Until recently I worked for a title in Manchester. I spent time writing content for the web and managing social media, but our focus was the print magazine.
Publishing every two months meant working to a repetitive cycle of intensity, reaching a peak two weeks before print. The initial excitement of creating something new quickly turns to stress and you find yourself wanting to quit. The last-minute rushes and panicked communication bring a fear of typos and grainy images that follows you around. Then all of a sudden it's over.
When the dust settles and a crisp magazine lands on your desk, you're proud of what you've made and you forget the pain. Only to return to it a month later.
After two years, this white-knuckle ride took its toll. By the end of last year, it was time for a change. I'd grown tired of the permanence of print and its cyclical stress. I wanted out.
Breaking the cycle
Taking advantage of the cycle's predictable quiet period, I hunted for a new role. Excitingly, I got a job as a content designer in PDS.
After a lengthy security check, I packed my bags, left Manchester, and joined the digital world at the heart of British democracy. The prospect of working for Parliament was exciting enough, but for me the Digital Service was a career opportunity like no other.
While content designer is a new role to me, it involves a lot of skills I've gathered during my time as a journalist, and gives me the chance to get involved in the types of projects I've always wanted to work on.
I've been here two months now and adjusting to the PDS way of working has been a refreshing contrast to my past experiences. Here the work, so far, seems consistent, planned, and manageable. I haven't yet experienced a stressful period that compares to those that were a huge feature of my previous job. It's the ideal working environment for me.
Since starting, I've learnt that being light on my feet isn't the only way to be agile. Here at PDS we work in a way that encourages flexibility, improving things iteratively as we go. That's Agile.
The method has been around since the creation of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, which is made up of a set of values based on trust and respect for team members. It promotes collaboration, and helps to build organisational communities we want to work in.
At its core, Agile working focuses on creating good digital products by operating in an environment that puts user needs first. This approach was music to my ears given my previous role's long periods of independent work without feedback. But, with a new approach came new terminology.
As is often the case with most jobs, industry language can be overwhelming at first. The same was true for PDS.
In a land where sticky notes are King, knowing your standups from your sprints is crucial.
Here are some terms I've learned since I started:
- standup - a daily meeting when the team shares what they're working on and what, if any, blockers they're experiencing
- blockers - anything that stops the delivery of a product/project
- sprint - a set period (usually two weeks) when the team completes specific work and makes it ready for review
- ice box - a backlog of things you know you aren't going to work on anytime soon
- retrospective - a reflection on your past and future way of working to help make improvements
- kanban wall - a visual wall of work items (usually sticky notes), showing progress from task definition to delivery
Agile in action
The end of my sixth week marked the end of my first project - the PDS annual report.
As a content designer, I helped draft the content, provided structure, made recommendations for a design element, developed a coherent and consistent tone of voice, and used plain English throughout.
To begin with, I faced a dry, fact-filled Word document and set one overall goal: make it sexier. This involved trailing different formats for the report. From Word, we evolved to PowerPoint, and from there to Sway - a programme relatively unfamiliar to me.
As expected, we hit obstacles and ideas changed along the way but an agile approach meant that we made changes quickly and delivered the best possible product for our audience, quickly.
It was great to work on a task-by-task basis and get feedback along the way, using it to direct my next move. It's something I believe a lot of individuals and organisations can benefit from.
Flex is best
Like many job changes, there are often as many similarities between roles as there are differences, and the same has proven true for me.
Importantly, PDS has taught me the value of using the skills you have, staying flexible, and collaborating for the best results (without the stress).
Interested in working at PDS? Take a look at our current vacancies.