Workweek 01×05: Extramuros
[Hang on, how many “episodes” are in a “
season series” anyway?]
Bonus day – I spent Saturday at #opentech in London. Might write up thoughts separately, but on the whole, good event to reconnect with politics. Been involved in a lot of personal and company stuff the last year or so, and probably also got into a ‘ukgovcamp bubble’, whatever that is. First went to OpenTech when it started over 10 years ago and great to reflect back to when we were all much younger…
Meta-note: Been at least two weeks without my Android tablet now. (There’s definitely a pixie-esque creature that smashes screens when everyone’s asleep…) Can’t say I miss it, and running off a phone basically covers the same ground – typing is just as annoying on either. Will get the tablet fixed, but nice to know I’m not dependent on it (and one less thing to transport everywhere, and to charge up.)
10am sit-down. Loads going on. Paul is leaving us. LARIA is coming up. There’s homebrew honey in the office. Biscuit choice: lemon and lime jaffa cakes, and raspberry puffs.
11am catch-up on LI user group. Good look back on what we’ve been up to over the last few months, and I balance my dev hat with my PO/UX beret. Feels like the latter is basically an excuse to sit there and go ‘why? why?’ all meeting sometimes.
Noon, finance and cash flow catch up with Gael and rest of the management team. How everyone (in the world) copes with this stuff is amazing – I’m pretty sure I only get it because we spend our whole lives staring at the Excels. (Kidding! Sometimes we use Word.)
Grab lunch, and then an afternoon general management catch up on things which aren’t covered elsewhere – mostly a chance to just fill in some gaps in knowledge, and raise internal ideas/questions that get lost between all the products and projects. We run the agenda off a post-it and take notes on blank white cards – for some reason I’ve moved towards more disposable note-taking. I think the idea is I can clear the notes quickly and not be bogged down with paper. In reality, my desk is covered in unreadable post-its and cards.
Finally, a quick call to the other end of the day to talk to our American clients. Emma (research) has done an amazing job looking into US health care data coverage, and the next challenge is really to turn the work into a process that works for the company – ie to make it sustainable and not a chore. Need to start putting in some time blocks for this, as I’ve started doing for other important thinking things.
Realise I haven’t taken any photos today, so the ‘photo essay’ idea I had for this week’s notes is out. Here’s a made-up pithy motivational saying from today’s experiences instead:
The most important thing on any agenda is the passion of the people in the room.
Day off on Tuesday, went on a train with #son2. Harvey’s Brewery were malting.
On Wednesday David and Jay from HACT came down. I have a personal mission of doing more UX type stuff, and wanted to run a bit of a user story mapping session. Main ideas were about linking a start with an end – what does your user know, and what do they expect to find out when they get to your site, followed by what do you want them to have achieved/felt by the end of it all? Then it’s just a case of filling the gaps in based on this, right?
That approach seemed to work pretty well – a step-by-step approach framed by context and aims. A couple of points where I felt a break in proceedings might have refreshed our group’s neural pathways, but overall proud of a new way of thinking about solving a problem. In this case, two things really stood out as key questions: 1, what do we do next to be most effective (and why?), and 2, is everyone getting what they want out of the next development phase? By airing aims at the start, we had a good checklist to keep ourselves on course, and it’s good to remember that.
By the time I’d got my haircut and caught up on emails, it was mid afternoon, and I caught up with HACT, one of our partner organisations, more broadly.
Then writing up notes, which I’m really bad at but know is important. Maybe some sort of metric for this to induce a better habit is needed?
Then, most importantly, drinks at the pub! Sprint 100, yay! Paul is heading off to pastures new, boo…
Oh yeah, an inspirational quote for the day…
Getting from A to B isn’t as important as getting from U to X.
I’d earmarked Thursday to solidify some thoughts on the future of Value Insight, a tool for measuring social impact that we develop with HACT. However I spent the morning tidying up notes and plans from the day before, various admin things, some tech discussion with Alex (developer, and on some exciting stuff if it all plays out) and catching up on our Australian project before chatting to our partner over there at lunch.
One of the stranger aspects of the Australian work, I’m noticing, is the slight Other Worldly aspect of it all – day/night, summer/winter and north/west are all different, which is fine practically-speaking, but adds up to a sense that what we’re providing has a sort of “mirror life” of its own, like the way toys come to life when you’re asleep, maybe. Maybe I’m just overthinking it.
Anyway, finally got back to thinking through some VI strategy, and ran through some draft ideas for main aims with Flo (user support). We had some internal aims from September, but 1) it’s interesting to look back and see how well our badly they were defined, and 2) it’s very helpful to start with a fresh sheet and blank mind (rather than continue or evolve old aims), to get a better idea of what’s important right now. Things have changed in the world, of course, and also I find my approach changes and refines itself each time I go through the process. It’s pretty amazing what you learn unintentionally over 6 months.
Here’s my note about what I learned about aims:
- More broadly, aims can often be too vague, come with some pre-existing notion of whats important, or are actually proxy aims for something larger. Re-thinking from scratch is a useful exercise. Being harsh (“clear”) with yourself takes time, but being vague takes up more time later on.
Left a bit early because birthday. But good excuse for chocolate tart and indoor fireworks, and for buying second-hand books I can’t afford…
Now, who’s going to clean up the mess?
If you’re still calling it “your” product, you’re doing it wrong.
My Friday plans didn’t pan out too well, but got some stuff done anyway.
Caught up with Kim ahead of heading up to Sheffield for the LARIA conference on Monday, and then spent some time with her looking at what all our Neighbourhood planning earlier in the week looks like “in reality” – what questions do we know about, how feasible is each idea, etc. We’re putting ideas, notes and questions very swiftly into Trello rather than muck about with Jira too much at this point, but next week, once initial estimates and decisions have been addressed, we’ll write up what we need to properly. I guess we use Jira because it scales better to long term, multi-strand, bigger involved team “culture”, but it’s good to figure out when to start using it, and how to integrate with it.
Plus we got to scribble a bit. Monochrome maps FTW?
Carried on wearing the technical hat in the afternoon, looking at the feasibility of some of the stuff Kim and I had chatted about in the morning. To be finished off next week, but not got too much time before going to Sheffield, and plenty to prepare and pack before jumping on the train.
One last one to finish off.
“Inspiration” has three I’s.
Stay tuned next week for a conference special… And no catchy phrases.
Workweek 01×03: It’s Sprint 100…
[Edit: Apols for weird linebreak formatting on this blog. Something not quite right with trying to auto-publish from Evernote to WordPress…]
Week 3 of Weeknotes and going strong. Odd week this week, as needed to do school pick-up, so ended up working mornings on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
It’s Monday and all go. In on a Monday morning for the first time in a while – starting the week with our usual all-team catch-up, with feed-in from different “departments” – slightly arbitrary categories, but it helps to get people discussing and summarising last week and the week ahead. Good sense of progress going on.
Luke (dev/operations) checks in and his new baby has her first meeting. Discussion on various products, how they overlap, and where they’re going, ahead of product meetings later in the week.
Managed to archive my whole inbox by accidentally typing “Hello Stefan” into the wrong place. Fortunately it was cleared out recently, so trawling through “All mail” wasn’t much more than a few minutes work.
Did some time metric retrospective on our recent Neighbourhood Planning project, but then back off to school.
Was working from home on Tuesday. I’d attended the local Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group meet the evening before, so spent a little while writing up my notes. God experience, too – a lot of newfound respect for the people that are committed to this, it can probably best be described as Jumping Through Difficultly-Shaped Hoops at Speed.
Then carried on some metrics – “time is money” and all that. Switched from trying to look at logged time, to thinking through “ideal time” for an ongoing product, which is perhaps both easier and more productive, in the long run. All time tracking numbers are a lie, I learned, but a range of lies is a good indication of some sort of fuzzy truth.
Wednesday was a talking day. Started with phone call to potential_client along with Kim (comms) and Stefan (research) – our initial conversations with people sometimes turn into a bit of a forum as we each have our own specialities, and bring in people to cover various bases. I wonder if we need to, but it does mean conversations can progress quickly.
Then a quick management catchup with Luke and Stefan to organise a longer catch-up next week. Slightly rare – we’re pretty good at deciding things on the fly these days. Another reminder that group communication is really, really important – feels like fluidity for everyday decision-making is a key aspect of agility. Delegation, trust (and personal relationships), quoracy (and democracy), rules and guidelines (and DAOs?) – all of these are ways to resolve unknown directions as quickly and smoothly as possible, without being dependent on particular structures and hierarchies. Together they become a toolset for fluid decisions.
Rest of the day before leaving at 2 (last school run of the week) say meeting David from HACT to catch up on our Neighbourhood Planning work, and look at next steps. Good level of discussion, again with Luke and Kim in. Productivity in this kind of meeting seems to be about finding the correct balance, or back-and-forth, between enthusiasm and focused practicality. “We could do this!” vs “We should do this.”
Wednesday link: You won’t see Montenegro in the final, sadly. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TWtqWD3TlaA
Thursday, a proper full day. Feeling groggy, hope I’m not going down with something. But a special day, as we kick off our ONE HUNDREDTH SPRINT. Following our A-Z of Brighton Pubs, this one’s named after the North Laine brewery.
At 2 weeks a sprint, that’s just over 4 years of constant, iterated routine (we usually stop for 2 weeks at Christmas). Or around a thousand working days. Our approach to backlogs and stories and “done” and retrospectives and planning meetings has changed gradually over that time, as it should. Looking back though, I’d say the most important part is really about how (and why) you get a “sprint culture” in place. Probably worth a separate post in itself, but the rhythm of a fortnightly cycle feels like a core aspect of the company now – so much gets planned around it because a) everyone knows how it works, and b) pretty much everyone (not everyone) is involved with it at some level.
Anyway, more importantly it also meant cake.
Bit of a scattered day after that – various boring loose ends to tidy up and reminded me that I need to sort out some headphones. Some SQL debugging using SHOW WARNINGS in a Stored Procedure. Estimates for work, and drank three cups of tea in a row. Probably not healthy.
On Friday I started by catching up with Flo (user support) on some outstanding user issues on Value Insight, with my Product Owner hat on. This kicked off a few discussions and ideas which I had some time to return to later on in the day. Also a brief catchup on the Australian project, which is nearing its final stages now.
Did a bit of tidying up of Epics in Jira after that for VI, as I wanted a tidy-up ahead of laying out the next strategic steps. One thing I’m slowly working towards is the use of tools to more effectively link product aims with the “actual work” being done. This has evolved from post-its and Confluence docs, to – well, something similar, but the current objective is to make the link a lot more explicit and transparent. Rather than use a Confluence page to link to Jira issues (which is ok, but feels “static”), I have a theory that Epics and their related “progress” bars in the Backlog view can be really good feedback to both PO and the team as a whole.
A second aim is to really identify where new work and stories don’t relate to an aim. In theory, in 3 months, we could see exactly how well we’re doing on any particular aim. In theory.
Anyway, caught up with Emma (researcher) on more international work – American data this time – and made some plans for next stages.
Bit of a free afternoon, so returned to Product thoughts again, and tried writing up some possible thoughts on plans and aims – I’m learning that it’s very difficult to get this stuff right first time, especially in a way that gives it a structure and sense of progress that can be absorbed by anyone else. So going through the process at least once helps to refine and refine and refine that structure. Is that agility? Or just multiple drafts? 🙂 I always enjoy mapping things out so a sketch though…
Otherwise a relaxing comedown to the week. Won’t mention the Eurovision videos and the cherry wine pistol.
Have a good weekend, maybe see you all at OpenTech…
Workweek 01×02: Mayday!
Workweek 01×01: Easter Pilot copy