Workweek 04×02: [Impressive database SQL geekery omitted]

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Previously on Weeknotes…

Here’s a quick reminder of what I’m aiming to focus on this series (see last time):

  1. Tech direction – can we get some?
  2. Storm Box – can this project be given closure?
  3. Explore the ‘Craft’ of what I do – what exactly do I mean by this?

Progress and reflections

Overall, this week has seen me in developer mode a lot more – partially out of necessity as (between annual leave and staff moving on) we’re down on dev skills, and partly deliberately as the need to deliver stuff before Christmas has gained weight. I’m secretly looking forward to doing more coding over the next few months, and the challenge here will be to keep what we make light and flexible, but (or so) also speedy and on track against some tight deadlines. Bring it.

Storm Box has definitely made some progress, but we’ll see how it goes early next week. Getting some agreements in place – who, what when – is the most important step now. There’s still some organisation work to be done, but it feels like we’re moving towards an endpoint. “It’ll be done by Christmas” could actually be 90% plausible.

I’m noticing “craft” in different aspects of what I do, and switching to more coding is actually a chance to apply that in a familiar but slightly-forgotten area. Keeping code agile is a “crafting” process, just as much as making it work is.

Questions

  • How is unit testing a metaphor for reviewing work and providing feedback? How can it support learning?
  • How can I format my weeknotes better? I’m using a bit of indenting this week to try drawing out some lessons and reflections from particular aspects of work, but I don’t think it works in RSS readers. I’m still struggling a bit with formatting, maybe I need to change my note-taking workflow. How does everyone else keep track of their #weeknotes?


All about PE class. Thanks for the reminder, primary school!

Monday

Sit-down. Luke did some hand-drawn pie charts for a finance overview. We also have a ghost called Gary in the office now.

Sent an important email to move Storm Box along a bit. In my head, I suspect project management is all about timing and pace – nothing too early, but nothing left too late. Everything is revealed bit by bit, in a manner that people can take in and understand.

Went through the EXPLAIN statement in SQL with Alex. (No, auto-correct, not EX-PAIN. But might as well be.)

Traditionally, as the team grew, we tried to be fairly flexible and develop broad skills across the team as a whole (for contingency and efficiency, natch). Over time, as the team developed and the senior developers (me and Luke) had to step out a bit to take on management duties, I think the team settled into their strengths a bit.

Now we’ve shrunk back a bit, the dynamic is different again. I’m thinking through how we can maintain flexibility, but basically bring in training-as-needed at the same time.

Luke took me and Stefan through his work on putting together a Budget for the year ahead. Impressive.

After lunch, Luke, Stefan and I joined forces again to undertake Stage 2 of deciding company strategy for the year ahead. The initial brainstorming session was useful, and we all arrived with some good thoughts on what we thought was important.

This format for making group decisions seems to work quite well:

  1. Brainstorm, and cluster ideas into similar themes
  2. If you can, take a break, and start again, but limit the suggestions under each theme to 1 or 2 per person
  3. Dot vote on the available suggestions
  4. Use the dot voting as a discussion starter, not a final decision – don’t be afraid to add extra dot votes, or move things around to make sense
  5. Pull out the 1 or 2 (maximum) top suggestions in each theme, and sanity check – would these be a good set of things if you were to publish them? Holisticism is good.
  6. Set time to think about each identified suggestion separately, to start looking at more concrete aims and measurable things.

At the end of the day, I probably did some emails and coding.

Wednesday

I was feeling pretty manic in the morning. I always have various strands of working ticking along, but today it felt like they were all on the move at the same time. I felt like I needed to clear things out a bit, for personal sanity plus project health, which basically either means closing things off, or handing them over (or postponing them, but I’m not sure this helps much in the grand scheme of things).

I spent some time with Stefan going through the Storm Box work, and figuring out the best course of action on each part. This led on to checking workload against our other work leading up to Christmas, which was a useful discussion. Our aims are ambitious, but mostly doable if we’re careful and we have the right hands to the right pumps.

I learnt a good chunk about teamwork in the process, and we decided that I’d do less client management and more delivery – this feels sensible given the diminished dev team currently, and the upcoming new hire. I’m very appreciative of others taking on what I was doing, as I know everyone else has lots on, and am trying not to doubt the decision to “step out”. Just need to focus on Getting Things Done as much as possible now.

This meant I felt happier picking up some more code tasks too. I got some Javascript working fairly quickly, and spent some good time hacking unit tests to run on some data processing. It’s good to get back to helping the dev team again.

Thursday

Oh dear, I have a feeling these weeknotes will start to get more technical now, so I’ll try to avoid turning into #geeknotes. Still, we’re a tech-heavy company, so there. These days, managing technical processes is probably more important than the technical details and designs themselves, so perhaps I’ll concentrate on that.

In the morning though, Kim took Stefan and me through a quarterly marketing catchup. This was a great session, looking at how things have gone since we put some finger-in-the-air plans together last year, and working out what to do next year. We even cross-referenced our company strategy for the first time (albeit in a very sketchy way) and the budget work that Luke has done, so it really did feel like Something Was Happening. Spooky.

One of the things I think we’ve developed and are pretty good at now is our two-week sprint cycle. Everyone seems to ‘get’ how it works and what it means, even if it has rough edges and some tough decisions.

But a fortnightly view does mean it’s easy to lose sight of longer term threads, I think. Some things lend themselves naturally to longer term feedback loops, like yearly strategies. Others need more explicit coaxing – annual reviews should go through monthly notes, for instance, or work and reports from a year ago should be dug up, just to see how much has changed.

Otherwise, it’s easy to assume the status quo is how it’s always been.

Tech wise, two things are in play. Obi and Gregor are moving a giant database from one server to another, which means moving everything else out of the way in order to wipe it. So I sanity-checked on this. There’s a time limit on this, so with a bit of luck the pain will be short and sharp and done by some time next week.

The other tech arm is development on a major new feature. Alex has been charging on with this, so my main work here was to carry on getting it tested in a flexible way. I was pretty pleased with how this went, and bringing the “test it small” mindset helped identify a few issues already, which is nice. Looking forward to carrying this on over the next few days. Again, this may well be ready soon, so it could be all go next week…

Friday

Developer day! I donned the cybergloves and hit up the git and immersed myself into some “proper” development for the first time today.

Well, testing, anyway. I carried on with my unit tests for the new data processes in the morning, and [impressive database SQL geekery omitted] which says good because now we can make changes and run them in a few seconds, rather than a few minutes, or way off in the future when everyone’s forgotten their history.

This aspect of innovation and change (not just software development) has got really important to me over the years. The more you can block out stuff and focus on one thing, the more you can get that one thing right.

Maybe this is a part of what Craft is? The clarity of mind, the lack of distraction, the jumping from high level to low level without blinking an eyelid because everything is setup, and simple.

Simplify, then add Lightness.” Make it doable, then make it easy. So easy you don’t have to think about it.

I also had a great session with Kim and Alex to introduce them to our outstanding work for the year, and ask for their help. This was an awesome (yet short) session, for two main reasons.

One, I think it’s the first time in a long time that I’ve actually explicitly asked others to do task management. Or it feels like it. At this level. (Which, admittedly, isn’t massively high level, relatively.) it highlighted the split between planning and doing for me, which is daft because I like planning things because it makes easier for me to do them, and everything I’ve seen up to now indicates that’s the same for others too.

Two, it was great to see Kim and Alex pick it up and jump in – not a surprise, in a way, but… I don’t know, a mixture of guilt at handing it on, relief, and joy that people get to do something they like doing. Sometimes you think a situation is dire and people will be depressed about it. Then you realise people are happy to help – it’s their lives too, I guess.

Work wise, that was sort of it – I made some more dev tidies and tests, and managed got branches while Alex, Kim and Emma swarmed like bees over their new project management challenge. I met Dan for lunch who worked with us a year ago which was really good and now we have an agreement to do plans.

I had beer and went through old voicemails and sent some emails I’d been meaning to send all week. I left half an hour early to pick up #son1 from a disco. I’m still on the train there.

Workweek 04×01: The One With No Particular Theme

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…and when Bagpuss woke up, all his friends woke up too. Stre-e-etch. The mouse organ clicks into action, kicking out rebellious neurons determined to upset bark-faced professors. Except – only the toad one and the raggedy doll know – the wooden bird is a tulpa, dreamed from the collective subsconscious of the distracted mice. They mock only themselves.

Recapping for anyone other than me (flashback, wibbly-woo-wibbly-woo), I decided back at the start of series 2 to limit each series to 6 episodes, taking a 1 week break in between to recharge and refresh. 6 weeks as an epoch – a 6 week sprint, perhaps – seems about the right to set some medium term aims, try to get something done, and reflect on progress. Also, I’d just missed a week for the first time, so there.

So I had last week off writing – no notes, no pressure. It felt good, although the fragments of plated work didn’t mean less hecticness.

What happened while I was gone?

  • I had a day off, all to myself, first time in ages. It was good.
  • We started discussing company strategy for the year ahead. Notes on difficulty:
    • It’s hard to pick focus and while brainstorming is an important step, there’s a risk of a “wishlist” approach that achieves nothing.
    • It’s hard to agree a structure to the debate / decision-making if everyone had different experience – it’s helpful to have one person run it, and an external party may have more experience and impartiality, but at the same time it’s important to try these things out for oneself.
    • It’s hard to decide between three people, and there’s a risk of design-death-by-commitee, but that’s where things like voting come in. We use it in retrospectives and team strategy, and it’s a useful and transparent way to quickly air and identify priorities, and move the discussion on
      • (Transparency is highlighted because it shows that everyone understands it and is on the same ruleset.)
  • We had our first joint monthly lookahead between Luke, Stefan, Kim and myself, and we sent notes round the team and the board on what we’d done in September and what was happening in October. It’s of different use to different people, and having done similar things previously, I still think it could be done better somehow? It’ll also be interesting to see if we can maintain the rhythm in the monthly joint meetings here – getting 4 people in a room once a month is difficult.
  • I ran a 1-to-1 for Luke finally, after many months (years?) – I decided to run this one slightly differently and be much more listening and passive than I would be with less senior people. I think it worked well.
  • External things happened which made me think a lot – and, crucially, subtly differently – about where we are as a company. It’s hard to explain this so I won’t, but I’m sure it’ll ripple into future weeks. Still, it’s good to know that there is still magic in the old universe.

Where am I now?

Honestly? Fluttering between relaxed and fragmented. I was struggling to get some stuff done that I wanted to, and that’s got a bit harder now that we’re down another developer. It feels like there’s one plate too many to keep spinning. Some things are going well, but some things need some progress and closure fast, certainly before Christmas.

Series aims

Series 4. Time to set myself some future.

Admission time – I’m also writing this up on the Monday after my original notes, and a lot has changed since then. Technically, these aims have had the benefit of an extra week’s reflection (which is good! I’ma gonna try to do this inside the rest week next time).

  1. Something about tech direction. There are a lot of movements here at the moment – new developer joining, a tech team Roadmap that needs kindling, a requirement to make our tools faster, more reliable, and more secure. I need to kick all this off, get plans in place for December onwards. I need some serious thought time on this, stat.
  2. Have a finish line for our Storm Box project (codename), which has been going on for far too long and… Needs some dedicated project management. Writing this now, I wonder how Weeknotes can perhaps help with this, as a tool in itself. There are various aspects here with such I’m slightly out of my comfort zone(s), so this requires not just time in the work itself, but time to simply have the energy to do it properly.
  3. My thoughts on craft are continuing to evolve. It’s a time line between the craft of “job” and the craft of “life”, I suppose. I’m inspired by various “Zen and the art of…” books, but at the same time I know their context isn’t necessarily my context, so it’s not totally applicable. I have one guiding sentence to start me off, and the rest is perhaps better left as exploration rather than anything with predefined aims. That sentence? “Look for sharp edges, dissatisfaction, things that stick out and contend against the nature of the universe.” It’s not succinct, or particularly wise, but it’s what I wrote a week ago and it was my state of mind at the time. It’s a good a starting point as any because I wrote it. Buy-in.

Collaboration wanted

I put this section in because I’d mentioned it previously to @stamanfar (whose nick still makes me hum Staralfur every time I see it) and didn’t want to take it out quite so quickly 😉

My previous attempt identified story point estimation as something I’d be interested in discussing with others, but no take up. That’s cool, it’s good to just think about what would be useful to get advice on.

This week, I’m listing Brighton/Sussex Weeknoters as my pie-in-the-sky shout-out in case anyone else in the local area is interested in doing the same – or already doing it. Come on Seaford, I know that train home is actually full of avid diarists hammering there day out into a small screen. Not just reading Facebook at all.

So if you’re based around Brighton/Sussex and are, or like the idea of, putting your life out there on the line (the on-line) then give me a shout via a comment, or Twitter (@6loss) – maybe we can get a scene or a zine going or something?

Things I’ve learned

Big, vague project specs are a killer all round. Obvs.

Buy in for agile isn’t obvious if you’re not used to it. I feel like I can put it across succinctly to people that are inclined, but not argue for it where they’re not. Feature lists are still attractive over real world outcomes because people attach to them as a creative endeavour, and can be “ticked off” much easier than real-world outcomes and value. Self-esteem is tied to delivering things, not change. How do we interface with that?

Things I am curious about

I’m really struggling to do 2 or 3 things at the moment, despite them being lined up to do for weeks. Why is this? Probably too many unseen, important things? Can weeknotes help me to identify stuff I’m dropping, and do something other than drop them?

Dan’s post on publicness, fast writing, getting taken the wrong way, etc got me thinking again. Is the value of Weeknotes about reflecting, asking questions, or forcing yourself to explain stuff? I write for me, but also an ‘external’ me. Um, What? i mean, like, hmm, is it possible the “weeknotes scene” is starting to take over from what I actually get out of the practice? When I wrote How Weeknotes can Save Your Life, it was all about me-me-me, not us-us-us. A bit of me likes the privacy of it still. (Note to self: Ramble more and make notes more unreadable.)

ie. I like writing things because it forces me to elucidate the murky brainthinks. I like publishing things because it forces me to be even clearer – but at the end of the day, I’m still writing a letter to myself. It just needs to be public to jump that line between the internal self and the external self.

 

OK, here are brief bullets on what I actually did last week…

 

Monday

  • Good news from HMRC
  • Catch up with HACT
  • Chat with Mike Brophy
  • AUS project planning
  • Sprint planning

 

Wednesday

Urrrrgh. Mental working as a tired parent is not good for the soul. Also #son2 is now 3? He does love fire engines though.

  • Javascript to get this mapping working – I can see me having to get into JS again over the next few months, but that’s cool
  • Storm Box planning – caught up with Joel in user support, and chatted to the client
  • Saw Joel’s work and tried to help move his needs along – a lot of our daily stuff is “in progress”, and helped me realise that we’ve hammered out our “entry points” quite well, but they’re also fairly lofty and non-transparent. Must remember to follow this up later.
  • Wrote up some notes from Monday.

Home for #son2’s birthday pizza!

 

Thursday

  • Sprint planning! Nice and quick, less people, but also a really “spritely” Backlog that knows what it wants.
  • MT catch up where we are exploring how to do stuff but making some good progress. Step by step.
  • Lunch, read a bit more of the Island of the Day Before. Getting into it.
  • Code review on some mapping, get it up in testing server for signoff. Emails.
  • Start organising Christmas. New Slack channel from one of the team – #xmax17, favourite typo of the week
  • Storm Box project admin, where I am columbo.

 

Friday

  • Dug through Storm Box contracts more, put together a list of work, contacted people
  • Helped Alex out with getting weighting data together
  • Looked at my development environment VM – and it’s working!

 

Workweek 03×06: Things are basically fine?

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Last in the current series, yippee-kay-ay. my last chance to have a direct impact on my main aims set out in episode 1.

End of season uncliffhanger

Aim 1 was about coordinating a sense of company direction. I feel mostly good on this. We (across the team) have had various product planning chats with partners, which is a step up from last year. There are always more strategies you could put in place, but it feels like it’s on people’s radars a lot more, even if everyone has a different way of approaching it. We’ve had board-level discussions on what the company is here for, and nothing out-of-the-ordinary has come up. My own processes have been refined and got more structure, and are bearing fruit already.

There’s still some detail to do, and the hard part is coming up next – coordinate, and communicate everything out to people in a way that hits that fine line between too vague and too detailed.

The question has become: how much do I need to do “directly”, vs just keep “pushing the agenda”? Maybe it’s the same challenge as delegation, but less direct. For any particular change, there are a number of ways of effecting it:

  1. Do it myself
  2. Ask someone else to do it
  3. Encourage a culture in which someone else takes it up anyway
  4. Realise that it would happen anyway and don’t worry about it

it’s fine to set goals. But not healthy to confuse personal goals (aka Control Phreaking) with team (or wider) goals.

Hmm, also relevant:

Aim 2 was about feeling like a head of tech again. I feel like I’m letting the dev team side of things slip, although we have some work underway, aims in place, and are expecting a new member in the coming months, so I’m just probably being too harsh on myself. I just need to write up some details mainly, which takes more time than I think it should, and I’ve got a lot better at recently. The question here is: how does it balance against other hats, in terms of time, effort, independence of hats?

Aim 3 was about bringing a sense of being Calm and Crafted to my work/job/life: I’m noticing something here, but not sure what. I think the pocket watch of calm had a real, larger-than-expected effect. Actually, I think this has become a background brain process that is trying to work out what “craft” is. Zen and the art of running a company doesn’t make much sense though. Zen is mystical and unfathomable. Expect this to return in series 4.


Oh damn this is the opposite of what I just wrote.

Collaborations Wanted

OK, this was a weeknotes section idea that came out of a quick Twitter chatter with @stamanfar, like basically a) it’s OK to ask for help on an idea and b) the #weeknotes bunch are awesome. So I’m giving it a go.

This week? I’m interested in “early” estimates vs “late estimates” for stories in Jira. How early do you estimate a piece of work? How do you measure the “fuzziness” factor, or the uncertainty that comes with time? How and when do you translate from one to another, to refine the estimation? is it even useful?


We gonna need more story points

The Week that Was

Monday

No real look at the week ahead today, but got some main themes penciled into my calendar as a keepsake. Super efficient week organising 100%. Got Lawrence, a developer, leaving this week, and a job ad out. And lots of tech investigation jobs piling up.

Weather: fresh, colder. Caught somewhere between summer and not summer. Autumn, but Christmas is in the shops.

Monday morning team catch-up. Feeling relaxed.

Caught up with Stefan a bit from his product chats last week, sounds positive, hooray.

Chatted with James at HACT, productive and feel like we’re starting to get a good balance between long term and short term thinking.

Trello tidy up, which was refreshing.

Bought a new notebook, Moleskine, plain pages, smooth. One of the more important sigils.

Code review and changes on the user-feedback framework that Lawrence has been working on.

Sprint pre planning with new user support agent Joel on board, felt structured and “flowy”, whatever that means.

Code review and changes on the improvements to error logging that Alex has been doing.

Tuesday

Was off, but realised stuff goes on at work when I’m not there which I’m still involved in, so maybe I should start thinking about it for series 4?

Wednesday

Feel pretty subdued today, a mix of interrupted sleep and binge-watching series 3 of twin peaks.

Declan Cassidy of Brighton Makerspace came in, to chat about what they do and possible sponsorship.

Chatted with Obi and Gregor on migrating our internal databases, which are pretty hefty, but we now have a good plan in place.

Emails.

There was much discussion in the office about Baby names, because they’re the cool stats.


Looked over Luke’s budget stuff.

Alex was looking at UK property shapefiles.

Values meeting with Kim. Forgotten how hard this stuff is, but interesting. Storytelling as creating the world we live in – crafting. Going to pick this up.

Writing up notes from the migration meeting.

Day note: Need to reorient myself again. Lots on. Some stuff finished, but some stuff I feel like I should do but don’t need to. Tension between defined responsibilities and responsiveness – between the two parts of my job title? And how do my weeknotes series goals fit into this? I have this urge to map everything out again.

Thursday

Sprint meeting – tiny tiny Hive Pixie stories makes me feel like a ninja, slipping in and getting a tiny thing done each time… Can’t wait to apply what I’ve learned to something slightly meatier in a few months.

Carry on writing up Jira tasks for server migration stuff. Getting a route set up is great. Getting it into Jira makes my life so much easier – grab the next thing, tick off the epic. The work basically runs itself. I need a way to get some basic estimates in, just to gauge progress. Will ask Obi and Gregor what they think. There are different *kinds* of estimates – rough ones are really useful early in the process, more detailed ones are useful as you get closer.

Pub lunch! Great to get a chance to chat to Joel about code and twin peaks, and to eat battered halloumi which is probably the thing which will Finally Get Me.

Exit interview with Lawrence, which I will keep private obviously but it was good. I know some people say you shouldn’t do them, but we do (optionally) for a few reasons. Firstly it’s nice to get a sense of “handing over” as part of them. Secondly we try to keep a close, supportive relationship with employees at all times, so it’s nice to have an “end” on an ongoing conversation. And thirdly, it’s a stage of career interaction that each employee will (probably) only ever get a single chance to go through with us, so it’s an opportunity to gain valuable insights which wouldn’t have come up in other daily contexts.

Friday

Coding day as we make a push on a few dev-heavy tasks. There’s a quick check to bring some code across from one product to another, to carry on fixing up our logs. Then I review a chunk of code that Lawrence has been working on as his last task – it’s his last day today.

This takes up most of the day, but is done and we begin proper coding. In between, I finish up Jira tasks for our server migration, and fix my dev environment VM after breaking it a few weeks ago.

Also get to buy lunch with Bitcoins.

After work, a quick pint as not is Lawrence leaving, but Flo is also going part-time as she heads to Uni. Changes. Exciting. And feels like an appropriate place to end this series. Not a cliffhanger, but a certain sense of things being wrapped up.

Next week: I’m not expecting myself to do an official weeknotes entry. But I will probably think about what’s just happened and what’s to come. I’m not sure what form that will take publicly, but I guess something has a good chance of appearing.

Workweek 03×05: A Pocket watch of Calm

[Note: I’ve noticed I play a lot with my writing style. I tend to use weeknotes as my own personal playground, maybe because I don’t have to think so much about content? I don’t know if a slightly obscure approach puts readers off. Or if I should even care? Let me know what you reckon.]

[Note: Contactable via blog comments, or via Twitter at @6loss.]

Week plan. Assemble sigils: a stopped pocket watch to plot my stress level (of which more here). Lego men representing craft. A pen that creates beauty for me. Tools of the trade, indistinguishable from symbols.

Week aims: Relax / Tech team Roadmap / Australian route ahead.

Lots on and a three-day week to do it. Monday morning is a street market of ideas and avenues to tidy up. Hungover ghosts left from last week. The pocket watch has gone from 6 to 9 this morning. A spot of rain and a cancelled train, mixture of forced relaxation and a hasty arrival.

Check in on Australia, all good. Run the aggregating later. Feels good to be on the home run, job done.

Tidy up on the work for Hive Pixie I was looking at on Friday, and get to introduce Luke to GROUP_CONCAT. Experience gives you a wealth of tools to draw on. Every function call has a function, just like the sigils in my pocket. I do some git branches, commits, Jira buttons. Move on.

Talk to Lawrence, who is back from holiday and leaving in 2 weeks. My pen flows around the page, mapping my thoughts as we go. My pen hates me for writing its loving curls into the strait-jacket of a digital screen.

Talk to Stefan on meetings and strategies. I have my thoughts, but notice he has his, and try to step back a bit. Everyone has their own journey, their own weeknotes that they’re inscribing into their head as they go, even if they’re not writing them down on the net. Got to respect that.

Make sure I take lunch today, I’m owed some from last week. Plus I’m too knackered not to take it. Pressure will kill you. I adjust my pocket watch, set it back an hour.

Get back in to sit down and talk about market strategies and the crossover between a couple of products. This is an old path, trodden but neglected by a common need. I’m in Transmission mode for this – what needs doing is sometimes less important than who knows what and who should be doing what. We have a tentacled conversation between ten people, in my estimation, and most of the conversation is about who’s being conversing. I’m not convinced I’m in the best place to take the conversation forwards. Sometimes it’s helpful to jump in, help out, and all that. Sometimes it’s not. If you’re talking long term strategy, then go with long term roles. Use inaction to (re-)establish patterns. Feels like meta-bullshit on one level, but seriously – it’s not good to get in the way of patterns. Patterns will kill you.

Writing this down helps me realise we have conflicting patterns, layers of responsibility cascading against each other for attention. Responsibility buried in legacy – power inferred by titles, experience, history, personality. It’s amazing anything happens if this is how the world works.

I embark on a new quest. We’ll be looking for a new web developer soon, and I pull together old job adverts to construct a new Frankenstein’s monster. It’s funny how the skills I value have changed over time. [Spoiler: Here’s the job ad, please do pass it on to anyone who might be interested!]

Does anyone else find that general skills take more precedence over specific expertise as you get older? What would your advice to fresh graduates be? Learn how to communicate. Be humble and willing. Be ready to experiment. Is it right to advertise for such skills “ahead” of specific skills?

Talking of new hires, I finally get the chance to chat with Joel, our new User Support person (what is that, “user supporter”?) about the history of OCSI, its future, and how we work. It’s a fun chat – I love seeing what we do through totally fresh eyes, even if it’s scary and daunting and you feel vulnerable and proud all at the same time. It’s – surprisingly – a chance to check in on The Big Journey, a half-hour chat which touches 15 years of my life. I’m careful not to judge ourselves too harshly.

Time to go. Two days off, but plenty of cogs turning.

I return on Thursday, filled with calm. It feels like a strange Britishness that seems to un-equate calm with productivity. “Stress = doing stuff” we tell ourselves. At this level, in a knowledge-worker environment, the opposite is true. Lucidity and insight are everything.

How can we establish calmness as a factor of productivity? Should we establish a “checklist” of “how to think well” or something? Let me know if you fancy discussing this one further…

The morning is mostly a management meetup with Stefan and Luke where we take a whistle-stop tour of many, many things. The setup isn’t great – we’re surrounded by deadlines and other meetings and haven’t caught up in far too long – and I (as chair) let it run over, but it’s good to do and we survive, etc.

This leaves less time to chat about next stages of our Australian project, but we have a catch up and come to some quick decisions. Starting to lining up a bunch of stuff to look into next week…

Finish up the advert for the new web developer in the afternoon, and investigate which job titles may or may not come across as more gender-biased than others. After some quick messages and a lot of Googling, I settle on “Web Developer” as fine. (Did you know searching for “female coder” on a desktop shows a list of historical figures? Are these… People that other people relate to?)

Also sneak in a meeting to think through some area-conversion work.

Friday feels like end of the week. I spend a few hours reviewing a chunk of code, which is fun (thinking back, this is probably the kind of stuff I should be doing more of as head of tech/tech architect – maybe something to bring up with the dev team as we move forward into new worlds).

We launched the new Web Developer job advert! Here it is again.

Closed our Australian delivery epic! This is symbolic because we’re trying to use Epics better in Jira, and by “better” I mean a) clearer and b) more focused. Realistic strands of with. Real, practical indications of progress, and where we’re letting things drop.

Basically otherwise tidied up the hundred emails in my inbox and restarted VMs and something about cardboard dinosaurs.

WW 03×04: It is happening again

Nuclear war and project admin. That’s how my week started. The swirls of power and closure wafting round my head. Term time and dictators. Strategy and strategy.

Sorted myself out on the train. Interesting to tie everything back to goals – series goals, week goals. Busy week ahead. Free coffee.

So I thought I’d sprinkle in a few links this week (or “splinkle”?), for gits and shiggles.

Link one is a selfish one. But one that introduces a thread this week. Last Sunday I wrote a piece on How Weeknotes can Save Your Life. I’m not really sure if it was an ironic title or not, TBH. But it did seem to go down well within the weeknotes community. And more importantly/ironically, got me actually writing more about my week than ever before. So much so that I don’t even know how to present it. Am I escaping the confines of my existing weeknotes structure and questioning my own routine?

We’ll see what happens as I write up and tidy up.

It was Monday. We all sat down, I warbled on a bit. I figure I should probably be better at the big company stuff – team cohesion, inspiration and all that. Monday’s a weird time – I’m recovering from the weekend, getting thoughts together for the week ahead, thinking about sprint, and all that. I’m probably just expecting too much from myself, but maybe it fits in with that “craft” thing I’ve started on about for this series. or maybe it’s the hardest thing to empathise about – what do team members want from their management? At that point in time? After all, everyone’s probably in the same, confused headspace I am, right?

Then I pulled the old giant sprint board into a precious position, and held our AUS update chat in this new “meeting space” plastered with marker-drawn arrows and fading progress demarcations. Boundaries surrounding boundaries. Never be afraid to re-factor physical space.

Then I touched in on my journey on bid-writing, which I still have a love-hate relationship with, but seem to be OK at. Took the company blurb that Kim had written and tidied it up to send. Nice to get in touch with Giuseppe with some business talking. Felt all professional, like.

Then I ended up wading into emails, lots of emails. Everything felt a bit wild and out of control. I haven’t even updated my email backlog stats in ages. Maybe I should. Maybe it’s the first step to knowing what state you’re in. (Friday Note: I didn’t.)

Luke was putting together a summary of the year behind us for a Board meeting on Wednesday, so dug through my old monthly round-ups. We done lots. It’s been probably one of the madder years of my life, and doesn’t feel like it’s over yet.

Then (FN: wow I was busy this day.) caught up with the devs on what we can do about our error logging, and then straight into our pre-sprint chat ahead of Thursday. Stefan was away, and I’m out Tuesday, so needed to set some initial priorities for others to discuss in my absence.

Link two: Warren Ellis on journals. Montaigne, via Brian Dillon, via Ellis:

What I write here is not my teaching, but my study; it is not a lesson for others, but for me. And yet it should not be held against me if I publish what I write.

It was Wednesday. We had a Board Meeting lined up, but a special one – sort of a review of where the company is at 6 months on from Tom leaving as CEO, except it got delayed so it was more of a 8 month review. Time inflation is cool like that. I have this written down in my notes from the train journey in:

“How much should one stare out of the window?”

Which is to ask: how much should one just sit and think? If I was clever I’d tie together the reflection in the window with the reflection on one’s own life. But that would be weird, so I won’t. But I do find thinking things through and reflecting-without-doing a very useful practice. Wu wei? But can you do “nothing” too much? Or is the problem a qualitative challenge of knowing when to do it and when to act?

Then we had a really good meeting and we got to have a think about the vision and direction of the company as a whole. I wanted to have that discussion at Board level because it acts as the yardstick by which I measure my own actions – and help others with theirs. Knowing we have buy in from the Board makes every day life just that so much easier. Maybe I should think about how we take it to the team.

Back at the office, my big focus for the week was to kick the Australian work we’ve been doing for the last few weeks out of the door. It’s not simple, and the deployment involves a lot of converting old data to new, so I’m trying to get into full on “completer/finisher” mode.

Long story short, we rolled it out and tried to get on with our lives. Booyah.

Link three: an awesome visual guide to being a Product Owner which I might try redrawing into my own separate notepad for reference if I can be bothered.

It was Thursday and Life was being interrupted with tales of bombs and having to dodge Twin Peaks spoilers.

I was pleased about releasing the new Australian code, so bought some muffins for the sprint meeting.

Then I did some checking and tidying on the Australian site. There are some aspects here that really only come to light when we’re dealing with that blue-moon release that needs to revise all of history, and it tends to get ignored or brushed over. I wonder how we could capture this for future similar work.

Then sprint planning, which was tense in places, but I think we navigated it well. Sprint meeting is an anxious time sometimes – nobody really likes the heavy mix of priorities and details. But it does force the conversation, and in a relatively short, intense time. Should probably write up an “it’s ok to…” article for the occasion.

Then AUS AUS AUS Complete Complete Finish. Sort of.

I got to read through the draft text for the bid I’d submitted draft text for, which felt like being an academic again. Mixed feelings.

Thursday evening I was a bit all over the place. I had some conflict bubbling around my brain, which usually means I lie awake for hours repeating what to say in my head so I don’t forget it. My post from earlier led me to want to use writing as a way to dig into my thoughts, and so a “Stream of reflection” happened. It was useful, and calmed me down a bit. Then I wanted to reflect a bit more, so I started going through my Season Aims and noting down some positive progress. I’ll admit that I have no idea what to do with this, or the effect it had. I’ll probably publish it separately in a few days, rather than overload this week’s (already lengthy) notes.

Link four: James’s month of blogging:

“Blogging is also a good way of processing the massive amount of information I take in. A few months back, I quoted Warren Ellis: “If we’re not doing something with the information we’re taking in, then we’re just pigs at the media trough.” These posts put this information into a larger structure. It also acts as a brake on the amount of information I take in, giving a way to see how relevant it is.”

It was Friday. We weary travelers dripped graciously into the end of the week. Raindrops hammered their song into the slats outside hard like the echo of hurricanes and earthquakes. At home, taps broke, sending us stumbling for the stopcock. The weather and the news weighed on the office, manifesting as a certain desire to escape.

Looking back, my plans were many, and fragmented. Lots of cruft which I’d hoped to not necessarily tidy up, but cleared from my head. As it was, it took me a while to tidy up some more bits of the Australian work from the day before. I really tried to stick to my “completer finisher” role to stop things lingering, but it’s a lot harder on some tasks than others, and bloody knackering after doing it for 3 days. (FN: There’s a lesson there.)

Still, my general plan of 1) INVESTIGATE 2) WEIGH UP OPTIONS 3) WRITE UP 4) DISCUSS worked well. Found a way forwards with Flo that meant I could park the work until the end of the day and get on with other stuff.

Alongside that, we had a slightly irritating conversation happening (or not happening) and it took a fair bit of energy to decide a route forwards. Not helped by everyone seeming to be absent, and also being in code mode. I wish there was a way to balance two tasks which are both urgent, but require completely different mindsets. If “craft” is about committing to a polished job, then multitasking is the opposite of it.

The grey rain crashed down into lunch. I returned to thinking through my strategy, objective and epic organisation for [Hive Pixie], wrote it up in Confluence to get some thoughts straight, and went through it with Alex which helped a lot. Made me realise that understanding (or defining) what you mean by an “Epic” is actually really important – too big, and it becomes just a category, a box without any attempt to sense “progress”. Too small and it becomes ignorable. I now have 1 short term strategy, with 3 objectives, each with 2 epics. It feels good.

(I also showed Alex the Epic reports I’d found in Jira. His response went “OOOOOOOOOOOOOOO”, which is either very encouraging or a bit spooky.)

The Friday feeling evolved into talk of chicken houses and from there Baba Yaga and the Witcher.

Going through the [Hive Pixie] work had brought up a few questions, but the structure and Trello board meant it was really easy to talk through with the co-PO at HACT in the afternoon, so I think a big TICK for improving general cross-organisation coordination and understanding. Yesss. She also had some great ideas to take it further, including review dates and ways to start capturing user feedback in a useful way. I’m enjoying working with her and her new team.

I went back to the code at the end of the day, to hammer out some SQL to dig through our slightly gnarly data model. Ran it past Hon Mond and it seems legit, so hoping we can run it on Monday and deploy a move new feature on [Hive Pixie] – it’s been knocked about by holidays, other work, and complications for so long that it’ll be good to get it out before end of the sprint. Completer-finisher go-go-go.

Had a small beer, used the late money to buy crisps, played table football, washed up, went home. Can’t wait to try out our new tap.

Link: The Difference Between Amateurs and Professionals:

Professionals think in probabilities.

WEEKNOTES FIN.

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