DfE Digital and Technology podcast

Think digital, act human: a spotlight on Shafiqa Gunton

December 22, 2021

Here is our sixth, holiday bonus, episode of the ‘Think digital, act human’ podcast series.  

In this podcast our host, Adaobi Ifeachor, speaks to Shafiqa Gunton, Programme delivery manager. This is a continuation of Shaf’s conversation from our previous Get help with technology episode.

 

Shaf gives us an overview of what a programme delivery manager is, her career progression in government, and what made her set up an engineering academy for young people in Scarborough.

 

Transcription 

 

[music plays]

 

Adaobi Ifeachor

Hello. Welcome to Think digital act human. This is a podcast from the Department for Education. It's where we tell the everyday stories of digital specialists working on extraordinary projects. What you're about to hear is a bonus episode just in time for Christmas. This is an extended version of a chat that I had with Shafiqa Gunton about the Get help with technology programme. You're about to hear an insight into Shaf’s journey to becoming a programme delivery manager.  So that's a delivery manager that sits across a whole range of different projects and looks after a whole portfolio of things. She gave some advice for anyone who's looking to work in product particularly useful if you went to work in product in the civil service. And she also talks about what's next for the Get help with technology brand. 

 

Adaobi Ifeachor

Hello, Shaf! 

 

Shafiqa Gunton

Hello, thank you. Thank you for having me. 

 

Adaobi Ifeachor 

So full disclosure, Shaf is my manager, so you know, but don't you worry, it's not going to affect how I treat Shaf in this podcast, Shaf, you're one of the most amazing people I know. I'm joking, I'm joking. OK, so Shaf, tell us what your job title is and what your kind of area of responsibility is at the DfE. 

 

Shafiqa Gunton 

Sure. So I'm a programme delivery manager, so that's a bit of a fancy title for somebody who manages programmes of digital delivery. At the minute, I have a couple of clusters of policy areas, the early years sector, schools and FE, which is further education. 

 

Adaobi Ifeachor 

So you're kind of looking at programmes that help or create like services from people who were like real kids like toddlers, almost to, you know, adults in further education. So it spans the whole gamut. Right. So when it comes to Get help with tech as I understand it, and I'm frankly, my understanding may be wrong, that’s absolutely fine. Let me know. But as I understand it, Get help with tech, that kind of programme rolling out like laptops and other kind of digital infrastructure to help kids with remote education. The need for that was kind of tailing off a bit annd then you spotted an opportunity for the brand to live again. Is that right? 

 

Shafiqa Gunton 

I did. And that's kind of like what a programme delivery manager does. Where teams are doing the really good digital delivery, programme delivery managers are looking up and across and around and actually seeing where we can join up our services, where we can reuse common components, basically not reinventing the wheel, not duplicating effort and again spotting opportunities, as you've said. So we've got this incredible brand from this amazing service that teams have built in the pandemic and they built it quickly and they're doing great stuff and their meeting user needs and making sure that young people can still have access to an education. So really, really valuable, really important. I've been working on something called the digital standards for technology. So these are core standards that schools will need to look to when buying and procuring technology. Now producing that content on its own isn’t going to solve the whole problem. And actually, as you know, Adobe, you've worked on these things yourself, we need to be looking at solving the whole problem, not just the piece of it. So very much thinking about how we can create a family of services that help users when they're trying to buy or procure technology because it's such a broad problem space. There's lots of problems within this problem. And, you know, by utilising a brand that's successful and is trusted, we could look at bringing all of these initiatives and new ones under one umbrella. 

 

Adaobi Ifeachor

So this is about, and correct me if I'm wrong, this is about literally doing what it says on the tin. If a school or an FE (further education) college wants to get help with tech, then you're creating something that will help them with that. Is that right? 

 

Shafiqa Gunton  

Exactly.  So you’ve hit the nail on the head. We just want to we want to make sure that it does what it says on the tin and that's get help with technology. And as I mentioned, that's such a broad space, you could get help with laptops, you could get help with broadband, you could get help with moving to the cloud, you could get help with buying cable, the list is endless. And our challenge is actually, you know, where do we start and where is the most valuable thing that we can do first? And what is the minimum we could learn before moving on to the next thing building the next thing? But essentially, what we want to do first is bring it all together. So kind of create a bit more of a streamlined, seamless user journey rather than having just pockets of services here, there and everywhere. 

 

Adaobi Ifeachor 

So if I'm a school leader hearing this, that sounds very exciting. A brave new world. When is this all going to happen? When can I get my hands on whatever the service is going to be?

 

Shafiqa Gunton 

Oh you're going to tie me now to deadlines. I think we're aiming to have something from the next financial year, so it might just be something, you know we’re working in an agile way. So it will be, you know, the minimum viable thing that we can launch. And in my mind, it looks very much like a home page that brings all this together on GOV.UK. And we're working with some amazing content designers and service designers to help us solve that design challenge, how do we present all of this? Because the risk is if you try and put everything together without understanding the user journeys and user needs and mapping that out correctly, you're at risk of advertising everything but reaching no one. So there's a few things that we're working through some knotty, knotty design challenges that will, that will help us unlock some of that over the next few months.

 

Adaobi Ifeachor 

OK, so that's really interesting to me is that you have this idea of a problem in your head as the kind of programme lead and then you have also an idea of what this could look like, some sort of thing that brings together lots of different kind of like services that help schools and educators get help with tech. But you must know as a programme lead that if you're putting a product manager on that, they may turn around and say: Well, you know Shaf, that idea of a website that's that's not what people want, they want an all singing, all dancing mobile app thing. Are you prepared to have that, you know, that kind of recommendation come back and be something completely different from what you had asked for? 

 

Shafiqa Gunton

I'm not only prepared Adaobi, I welcome it. I love it when people come back and say: you know, we've done the research, we've gathered some data and this is what the data is telling us. This is what our users are telling us. I think certainly when you start kind of an early strategic thinking, you have to have some idea of what this thing could be. But ultimately, we need to start with the problem statements and actually start with what are the problems we're trying to solve. And I love giving those problems to people like yourself who are, you know, incredible at going away and trying to solve them. So, yeah, I welcome that feedback. Absolutely. 

 

Adaobi Ifeachor

OK, so a couple more questions for you. One, we like to always dig into the background of the guests that we have on this show just to find out how did you get here? I happen to know used to be a product manager at one stage, you told me that. So what are the kind of steps that took you to get to this level where you will oversee so many different product managers and projects? 

 

Shafiqa Gunton 

I don't know how far back you want it to go, I think we could go back to 13 years ago when I built my first website using Dreamweaver, and it was just a drag and drop horrible thing. But yeah, I think that's where my interest in building digital things and helping people, you know, solving people's problems through digital, that's kind of when it started. Think I've always been really busy in terms of managing or looking after a family of services or websites is what you would call it in the private sector. So I've always had that experience, I guess, it’s a bit of, you know, enjoying and loving what I do, a bit of fate, you know, the right thing at the right time coming along. But the reason why I'm at DfE is probably down to the fact that in my hometown of Scarborough, I help set up an engineering academy for young people and actually help them have a chance at something else other than the kind of, you know, usual regular jobs, which is great but actually expose them to a whole world of STEM careers. And I think that's where I started to get really interested in wanting to become a civil servant and going above and beyond just creating websites, you know, that help people buy things. 

 

Adaobi Ifeachor  

So then you moved from that to a product management role inside the Department for Education?

 

Shafiqa Gunton 

DfE, yeah in DfE. And yeah, I was kind of again looking after a suite of services. And yeah, it just kind of, you know, the programme delivery manager role came up. I went for the EOI (expression of interest)l I was successful and then applied for the job permanently. 

 

Adaobi Ifeachor 

EOI you said? 

 

Shafiqa Gunton 

EOI, expression of interest. So yeah, I think you have to juggle things, multiple things at the same time. And that's that's fine. I think I've always worked that way. And I think that's where I thrive. The key thing is I get to work with so many different people. My programme is really rich and diverse in people and thought and I get to work people like yourself, Adaobi, who you know, I give, I give you this, these challenging problems to solve and with a team of digital specialists, you go and solve them. 

 

Adaobi Ifeachor 

Thank you, your check is in the post later Shaf [laugh]. So the final thing really is just, is there anything that you, like any piece of advice for other people doing product in the public sector or in the private sector who where maybe there, maybe they have the programme delivery role or they're trying to kind of build that function where they are? Is there any sort of thing you want to tell them or any further piece of advice? 

 

Shafiqa Gunton 

Yeah, I think the advice if I was you know, looking at myself 10 years ago, talking to myself 10 years ago, I'd say be brave. Do you know what, if things don't go the way they should, if you make a mistake, if you break something it’s fine, you know, you learn from it and that's OK, don't be put off by, I guess, the size or scope of the job at hand. Just try it. You know, you can always change it. You can always do something else, and that's OK. But just be bold. And be a bit brave. 

 

Adaobi Ifeachor

Perfect. What a great note to end on. 

 

Adaobi Ifeachor

Thanks to everyone who's listening, we really hope that you enjoyed it, and we hope you have a relaxing Christmas break. A big thank you to our guest, Shafiqa Gunton, Programme delivery manager here at DfE Digital and Technology. This pod (podcast) was brought to you by the Department for Education. Our producers are Rosie Roff, Louise Mullan, Nettie Williams and Leila Haffar. 

And I'm your host, Adaobi Ifeachor. Join us next time in the New Year. Goodbye! 

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