Workweek 02×07: Bonus Stream of Consciousness

Workweek 02×07: Bonus Stream of Consciousness

I had an idea to do this as a bonus season finale as I’m over my original plan of 6 episodes a series, and I was thinking in a Buffy-style dream-sequence approach. It didn’t work out like that. I’ll save that for Series 3.

This week. Separate the wheat from the chaff. Things I have to do. Things I should do. Things I like doing. Things I don’t need to do/shouldn’t be doing. I’ve got a busy head on me these week as I plummet into annual leave time. I’m off for the next two weeks, and already relishing the chance to reset my brain.

What are the big questions I have about what I should be doing?

1: External links? Competition, collaboration, community?

2: How relaxed should I be?

3: Balance? Maybe Work [tm] divides into…

  • planning
  • puzzle solving
  • producing
  • personal (email, etc)

I’ll leave these here as draft notes. Blog like no-one’s reading.

Monday

My aims this week are mostly focused on going away cleanly. I’ll admit it, I really hate the run up to going on holiday. So much pressure to leave things handed over and not blocked in annual leave purgatory.

1:1s with Lawrence and Alex.

Chat to HACT, nice lot, plus Flo rocks.

Look at documenting my VM setup and accidentally turn it into starting a fresh VM, which fails to work.

Wednesday

There are interviews in the office. I try to make some progress on my VM set up in the background, and tidy up last sprint / prep for next sprint for tomorrow.

Had first “official” retro in a while, and not a technical one this time. Alex taking on the reins of running the meeting, and trying his hardest to stay out of the discussion – this is hard, and kind of feels like it would be great for anyone to be able to facilitate a retro, so we can all take it in turns. But that’s even harder, so.

Had a good, if too-brief chat between Flo as user support and me/Stefan as POs on how to improve how we line things up before the sprint – it’s probably a long overdue chat, but always worth having. Lots of chat on expectations which is probably a codeword for “shared understanding”? Anyway, it was good that we all coincidentally decided we wanted to talk about the same thing. One to pick up when I’m back from holiday.

Thursday: become the joker.

Sprint went well. I think it helps having a retro beforehand for “clusters” of people to just get in the same mindset.

Struck by the difference between client requests and our own internal processes. As a data – handling team, a core of what we do is moving data between systems. This means we have to map data from structure A to structure B a lot – or interpret between data structures.

Data structures are both objectively and subjectively better or worse. De-duplication is *usually* better as a rule. Scalability is always a bugger.

The challenge as a company handing out data is to put effective decoupling between these systems, so that each side of the equation can do what it needs to do best. This is the whole point of APIs. There is minimal unnecessary risk spread across the system as a whole.

You know that bit in films where the bad guy falls off a tower, but manages to grab the good guy and threatens to take them both down? That’s basically how I see data systems, and what you’re always trying to avoid. It’s called “end scene coupling” (no it’s not), and the risk is that a defect in one side (the guy about to plummet 50 floors) causes a massive upset on the other side.

In Batman, (spoiler) Batman falls off the top of a belfry tower as he battles the Joker. The joker offers to help him up, but a moment of tension reveals – gasp! – it’s a fake hand!

Now I’m not saying at should all be psychopathic criminals, but the Joker’s little joke there is actually a great example of decoupling – maybe he could have used the hand if he wanted to. But his soul wasn’t defined by it. The hand was an intermediary between joker and batman. A proxy layer. Disposable risk.

How can we achieve this disposable proxy risk layer as an organisation? How can we do things our way (because we’re pretty good at what we do, and we’ll want to improve it) while at the same time doing things the way an external party want it?

And really, the data schema style introduction was just a ploy. Really, the same question is true of any process – an agile team “interfacing” with another team, me as an individual “interfacing” with existing company processes and cultures. Internal-interface-external.

I have a chance to play with this when I get back from holiday. Run a project as a black box. Work out the comms architecture to sit alongside it. Avoid coupling, momentum.

Had a late call with our American clients, and while I always find conference calls the worst way to do database design, feels like there’s a good way forwards. Looking forward to picking this one up and giving it some proper attention when I get back too.

Friday: end of term.

Worked from home as feel a cold coming on. Typical.

Mostly tidying. Writing up. Making sure everything is handed over smoothly. Some tech chat.

Now it’s 9.30pm and I’ve just sorted out some Skype refunds, and hit Inbox Zero. Holiday time.

*drops mic*

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Workweek 02×06: Colon Architecture

The humble colon runs the modern world.

Mood: Tired, like I haven’t stopped. Not stopped dancing. Like I’m trying to cut through the trees, see the wood hiding in my head. Batting moths away, one by one.

This week: A chance to stop and reflect and reassert on a couple of fronts, including the big one – the company, and what we’re all here for. / The challenge: Either manage all the moths flying around, or ignore them until the cloud lifts.

Once upon a time I dreamed I was a developer, re-factoring here and there. Soon I awoke, and there I was, a Director. Now I do not know if I was then a Director dreaming I was a developer, or if now I am a developer dreaming I am a Director.

Monday:

Weekly catchup feels relaxed. I didn’t manage to get team snacks today, but didn’t feel like I needed to. I think people can manage without.

I have a rummage through the company general inbox. Mostly chaff and old newsletters. I take one small move to more freedom by closing an old colleague’s GitHub account, and pass an enquiry onto interested parties. Little steps.

A chat with Luke to look at our R&D efforts over the last few years. Scrape bits of memory from the wall of my brain, try to remember which project was which. Spin it and weave it into a thread. Scribble notes down on my pad to help myself along. Cross-compare brains and spreadsheets dotted around the room. Everyone’s looking for narrative. Information is multi-dimensional, but transmission is a single, linear stream.

Alex has come up with a plan to make sprint planning better! Great to see him bearing fruit (not literally yet?), I think some scrum master mentoring from Luke has really helped give him confidence/permission to take this and run with it. I feed back a bit, but mostly to note that everyone’s on holiday coming up, but we chat a bit about it on Slack.

We’re off to see our partners HACT on Wednesday about directions for Version 2 of [Hive Pixie] which I’m semi-Product-Owner for (on our side of the partnership), so stop for a prep chat with Stefan and Flo, who are coming up too. We all air our thoughts, and are roughly in the same headspace I think.

A sense of disentangling – between past and future. A new version should be the opportunity to gather passion and excitement. I think maybe our Continual Improvement Agile Thing [TM] blinds us to that sometimes – doing stuff becomes a habit, and reasserting the drive for something new, something of value, becomes mundane. Both Wednesday and Thursday this week are a chance to get excited again. But will others get that too? I venture into ‘excited’ territory tentatively, not over pushing it, dropping it in to shake things up when I think it’s needed.

I also write up lots of post it notes. They get written into a Google doc and organised in lists, as the bones for a summary doc. They don’t look very exciting or passionate, I must admit. Maybe I should add that in a bit more.

A note on to-do’s. This week I’m continuing to use Trello, I think, with Wunderlist in the background. Can’t work out if Trello is more useful, or if it’s just the move to a new way of organising things that helps. The latter would explain why I’ve used so many different methods over the months – perhaps working out how to organise stuff helps think about what I’m organising…

Text message: “Feel all blown around this week, like a leaf.”

Wednesday:

I’ve got a date in London with HACT, and some of their new staff. However the other two I’m supposed to go up with are all kinds of I’ll – the huge lightning storm seems to have cleared out the flying ants, but brought the plague with it. End times.

I’m feeling perky though, some how. I tidy up and send over some notes ahead of the meeting, chat through a potential client request and sales points with various people, and go for the train.

Equipment note – I’m trying out my new Bluetooth keyboard, and resting it with my phone perching on top, on a book on my lap on the train just about works. I can get some emails done, and while it probably isn’t much faster than the onscreen keyboard, it definitely feels nicer to use – I do like typing with real keys. Is key lag a feature of Bluetooth keyboards generally, or my fairly cheap one? I should try out some other combinations if this feels like it’s going in the right direction….

So despite it being only myself representing OCSI in a room of 6, it’s a good session and feels very relaxed. I’ve really enjoyed having more product direction and strategy discussions over the last year, and a bit of me would love to have a lot more time to do it ‘properly’.

This time round, I really notice how sharp and structured some of our own company thinking has become. On the other hand though, it does make it harder to have discussions without that structure and sharpness – it’s easy to get a bit controlling, and/or frustrated when not everyone is on the same page. I have to remind myself that a lot of that thinking has come about through a fair amount of training, practice, and experimentation – and that you can’t just force that into a meeting if others aren’t prepared for it. Just like ‘being agile’ requires certain management of expectations around where agile processes interact with ‘other’ processes, so each organisation inherently has its own culture, its own identity and approach. The challenge for us/me is to a) translate other people’s thought processes into something compatible with ours, and b) really demonstrate why we do what we do, and the value that comes from it, to inspire people to experiment in the same way.

(Some of that sounds slightly self-important. It’s not intended to say we know best, but more reflect that we’re a team developing our own distinct ways of doing things, and to acknowledge that this sense of developing a joint philosophy is something really important to us.)

On the way home, I write up my notes and thoughts as a draft email to update people. Then I rewrite it, and decide to put it into Confluence in the morning instead.

Trains: Decidedly OK.

Thursday:

A similar tale – we have a Board meeting planned for most of the day to look at where we are, as a company, after the 7+ months of running without a CEO. But again illness abounds, and we’re restricted to a lot more virtual presence and a lot less brain power than would be good. So we curtail to an abbreviated, more regular agenda, and finish at lunch.

This gives me a bit more time, so I end up archiving the two draft emails I wrote the day before, and writing up a proper report in Confluence instead. In fact, I want to structure this whole project a bit better, so I take some time to tidy up the wiki space, make it Into a more useful dashboard, and write a blog update to keep everyone informed.

It’s a good exercise to think through what a Project Dashboard needs – or what I want from it. Here’s the layout I settle on:

  • Main panel
    • Link to main product site
    • Product overview – elevator pitch intro
    • Link to Product aims and strategy pages
    • Link to Product process and how-to pages
    • Recent blog posts
  • Side panel
    • Recently updated Jira issues (last 2 weeks)
    • Recently updated Confluence pages (last 10)
    • Recent product release notes

Thinking this through requires me to think about what the information architecture for communicating the project to the team is. It makes me think about what pieces of information are most important, and to whom. It becomes a map to introduce the project, to get on with it, and to structure both high and low level thoughts around what’s needed next.

In fact, I’ve written up the meeting notes about 3 times now, but it feels useful. A conversation is, in itself, ‘messy’ and chaotic, which is fine. Writing up notes is a filtration process, but there is often still no architecture there – in the analogy of planning a building, listing all of the small maintenance tasks needed doesn’t tell you anything about who’s doing each, what the context of each is, or what’s important. A building has foundations, infrastructure (pipes, cables, etc), furniture, fire exits. Each exists for a different reason and has different needs (regulatory, functional, time loops, etc).

So setting out the IA for a project to be worked on is similar – strategy is a foundation for everything to build on. Processes are a sort of infrastructure. What you release is just an event, a moment in time which emerges from everything else.

The next day I write an email an discuss this (hello Ash!), and come up with the phrase “communication architecture”, rather than information architecture. I love this phrase. I bet someone has invented it already.

Pastry: Chocolate almond croissant.

Friday:

An end of week catchup day. Catch up with Hon Mond in my efforts to check in more with the team I’m responsible for. Have a good thought about asking what help people need from an aging senior developer (ie me) which seems to flip my responsibilities on their head. In line with “management as support”, I should be finding ways to make it easier for me to help, not (necessarily) always putting structures in place to tell people what to do.

Then I look through some draft database design to integrate data with a partner more efficiently. Need to really sit down and plan this stream of work out in a bit more depth next week.

Then I catch up with Flo on what happened on Wednesday and plan a phone call on Monday. Feels productive.

Then co-Product Owner Stefan is away on Monday, so we shift our upcoming-sprint session and go through some plans. Really finding it very useful to get context in place sooner rather than later.

OK: Done.

Technically, this weeknote is the last in the series of 6. I made it, hooray! Technically, there’s now a break until the next series, but I have one more week and then I’m away for a bit. So next week might be something. Or it might not be. We’ll see.

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Workweek 02×05: Dance, Dance, Dance

Jumping straight in, Monday started with me organising my week. I sat down and scribbled the usual list of projects and known tasks/aims in my book. This week, for more context, I added in what I did last week and what’s coming up next week. I’m not a big fan of focusing on just what’s happening now. The other stuff is still there, bouncing around.

At some point, I also tried moving my week’s tasks into Trello. So now I’m sort of split between Trello, Wanderlust, and my notebook. Previous efforts have involved post-it notes too. Maybe I can merge them all into some sort of Mega ToDo List X. But on the other hand, it doesn’t really matter if you don’t have a set structure. Do what works. Evolution is all about what works, not what’s “better” or “worse”. Go with your feels.

After the morning weekly lookahead, a few of us talked through our new(ish) product pricing structure which Kim’s done a brilliant job of organising. We agreed we need to establish it with partners, to make sure everyone’s able to put the same information forward. Otherwise Things Go Wrong – changing information or expectations halfway through a conversation is confusing and inefficient.

it was a complex discussion (Tipsy-tip: Always schedule complex or difficult discussions for the start of the week and the start of the day, when you’re fresh) and I wasn’t quite sure what the boundaries of it were to be.

[Related Sideline, Feel Free To Skip, TL;DR: “Listen to the meaning of the words, not the people.”]: Anonymous conversation online is often deprecated as people think participants can say anything, which allows them free reign to be an idiot. In my experience, it’s the setup and culture that determines whether the participants are idiots, anonymous or not. I’ve always enjoyed anonymous conversations because it forces you to focus on the content and the discourse, the balance and interplay between not just the words, but their meaning – what people are trying to get across. I have a theory that anonymous/pseudonymous discussion can make you a better listener and arguer. [Sideline ends.]

Listem to the rhythm.

[A return from the sojourn.] Sometimes a meeting feels like an organism, with opinionated information coming in from everywhere at once to form a common endpoint. I’m finding one of the “arts” of “Management” is to listen to everything, track the threads, act as a sympathetic judge crossed with a documentary curator. I was tired for this meeting, but also relaxed thanks to some simple breathing exercises that had hit my RSS stream the day before, and I ended up staying out of the conversation a bit more than usual, only chipping in to add something I thought was being missed, or move things in a direction.

By the end, everyone else had told me what I needed to do, and it was something I’d been meaning to do for ages anyway. At first I had a bit of resistance to that, but I think that was the tiredness. After a few minutes out of the room and away from the office, I realised the discussion meant I had to do very little thinking for myself (which is probably why I haven’t done it already yet), and that actually I just had to write it down and send an email. Result.

[A second sojourn into “transmission”.] On top of my monitor, a tiny gemstone has been blu-tacked [TM] for a couple of years now. I got it at a company workshop – drew it at the end from a cloth bag as a symbolic takeaway. I forgot what kind of stone it is instantly, but I remember what it symbolises: “communication”.

Communication of what, to whom? Maybe that’s the secret. I suppose “transmission” might be another word – in times like these, I feel like my a key part of my job is to move ideas – and their reasons, their benefits – from one place to another. From one mind to another. Break down silos, from personal ones to departmental ones to company ones and beyond.

From pricing in the morning, we moved on to a meeting on changes to Australian areas, and how they affect us. That’s kind of how an OCSI day rolls (and possibly why I’m knackered by the end of the week). We have a fairly sick (should be “quick” but sometimes, hey, autocorrect wins) chat and think we have a good way forwards. This stuff is What We Do, even if we forget it sometimes.

I’m pretty tired today, and on into the evening. But grumpy, feel like I need a break from things a bit. The to do list has felt a bit incessant and scattered recently, and I keep getting a desire to clear it out and start again, a bit like my desk last week. I’ve never found a good way to do this though, electronically or physically.

I’ve got Tuesday and Wednesday off, so I’m going to give myself a break and check back in on Thursday.

[Curtain falls. Darkness picked out by Emergency Exit signs. Sounds of laughing and bumping from somewhere far away. Curtain up.]

It’s Thursday. I’ve spent two days with kids, messy play and a playground full of school children. Made up stories at bedtime, and a cherubic assembly. It was great.

I get in late after school assembly, a decent coffee, and a sparse train timetable. I arrive halfway through the fortnightly sprint meeting, which is an interesting chance to observe a snapshot of meeting room energy, a fresh perspective on our ritual. I notice how difficult we still find certain aspects of our development process – we’ve put a lot of effort into categorising and estimating well-defined tasks accurately. But we still seem to fall over and muddle through when the definition is yet to be hammered out.

The sprint meeting is the one aspect of our ritual that has survived 100 sprints. It’s evolved ok, along with the sprint itself. But it feels like we need some better structure for the work that leads up to it. And some disruption to happen before that can even happen. Lots of options, but some team buy-in needed first, just to shake the habit. A week’s disruption here is months of confusion saved later. A couple of other team members might be good to talk to here, if I ever make time for it. I’d add it to my list of priorities for the month ahead. But I don’t have that list. Maybe I do now?

I have some important emails to write today. I set aside some time Monday and in the cafe to write up a draft of one. Over lunch, I take a break, and realise I’ve overcomplicated it – the draft email was perfect, but only for getting my own thoughts in order. It’s the throat-clearing piece, the author’s timeline, the working prototype. But it’s not the email to send. I go back, take a copy, and send an email a quarter of the length. It works. I feel like I’ve learnt something important here:

  1. It’s ok to write like you’re going to send (or publish).
  2. It’s ok to throw it away, start again, and send something less than half as big.
  3. It’s ok to help other people to reply. Don’t litter inboxes with cognitive load. KISS. I wish I could put that in my email signature.

We invent a new way for 3 people to play on one table football side. It confuses us. We lose. But, I think, maybe with more practice…

Then have a really good catch up with Luke and Stefan, the other Directors. We talk to each other about what our roles and responsibilities have been over the last few months, as we’ve been developing these fairly ad hocly, and haven’t had a chance to reflect on it yet. It’s good to do, to talk so openly about it with each other.

Personally, it’s a chance for me to look at what I like doing, what I want to do better, and what I want to do less of. Broadly speaking, I enjoy making stuff, so I like the dev work and building the dev team. I’m getting more and more into Product work alongside that – Product Ownership, and in particular product design, and UX. I don’t like working weekends or scrabbling for time, so forward thinking and planning (aka “strategy”) is big on my books.

I could happily drop project management though – maybe I’d enjoy it more if I could dedicate myself to it, but it jars with planning what to make, how to make it, and then making it.

And there are things which glue it all together. That “Communication” stone I mentioned above is maybe just a necessity, the transmission of synchronicity that means the creative process can happen across everyone at once. Communication is about unblocking vision across an organism. Joint understanding. Shared fluidity.

By the end of the meeting, I’ve scribbled some things which I think make a good manager down on a post-it:

  • set targets & expectations
  • support team members
  • make decisions
  • step in when needed (by asking questions)

I start out Friday by helping Alex (dev) with wrapping up his piece of development – it’s good work in some tricky codebase, and he’s really tackled it head on and by himself. And I feel like a senior dev again, which is nice – we delve a bit into re-factoring approaches and class design, although afterwards I wonder if that’s the best way of imparting knowledge; does stuff stick if it’s not part of the core task? How would I know? Can I summarise the advice I’m giving for future reference?

Then there’s some admin stuff in the middle of the day, which I’m trying to get better at on a Friday. Spring out invoices, emails, scheduling 1:1s, getting a haircut, etc. Calendars are full of holiday over the next month and a bit, so it’s difficult to get the important chats in place any time soon.

Then I do a bit of own-time in the afternoon. I’d read about some simple storytelling for website design, and wanted to give it a go. Google Doc open, blank screen, it felt like an hour and half of automatic writing. The challenge – what’s the story about OCSI I would want to tell, and how could I tell it? I tried different approaches, starting with what I know already (how I introduce us to people I just met), and moved on to things like a TV advert, and a newspaper front page. TBH. if you’ve made it this far, you deserve a “treat” – here it is. Don’t judge.

Finished the week well by getting our core library to pass all its unit tests. SMILE.

Workweek 02×04: The Zen Machine

I still read. Curled forms on curled paper, ancient glue in the air, fingerprint grease leaving interminable stains In beige faded margins. I admit it, I read for the experience as well as the content. Each page turn is another step, each paragraph break a little rest on a wooden bridge by a small, inky stream.

Last week I finished reading Zen in the Art of the Tea Ceremony, a book with a backstory embedded in the ramshackle shelves of a crumbling, life-threatening bookshop somewhere just outside Bournemouth. While zen/tao literature already lines many of my bookshelves at home in an ironically physical way, it’s always refreshing to re-immerse myself in that other universe set out within a book.

Real world effects therefore abound this week. I have zen on the brain. Talk of utensils, ritual and symbolism has cleared a few thoughts into focus this week. Forgive me a brief distraction from everyday dust:

1. What we are permeates how we do something, and where we do it. And vice versa – we are our environment as much as our movements. A beautiful plan is let down without equally beautiful implementation in beautiful surrounding – because they are all different aspects of the same underlying beauty.

2. We are always in transition and in context. Fail to pay attention to where you were, and where you’re going, and you’ll be out of alignment. You can know how long a book is, but you can’t read it in the wrong order.

I’m finding that these weeknotes are an increasingly playful way to rewrite my own past, in order to acutely, subconsciously, magickly influence my own future. Last week is just as important as this week. We weeknotes reflect, but we can’t always tell you if the mirror is facing forwards or back.

So this week’s weeknotes are an attempt to catalogue a journey, a trip taking in a rich abundance of routes leading from place to place. A project is not a project, but a vicinity, an area of town. An interaction is a cafe, a temple, a train station.

I’m wandering here.

(p.s. I write up zen-ish thoughts elsewhere if you’re interested.)

Day One

The train meanders between different morning routines, individuals including mee, shaken out of habit. The track wanders between harsh economies and unruly power games, rocks sticking out of the cutting, nettles waiting to be cut back at the height of summer. Three carriages, one for each of the Holy Trinity. Grim rows, fresh encounters.

The shake-up of daily routine deposits me in a new pocket of time, somewhere around where Monday wakes up. I climb into the pocket with a coffee, and draw out a twisted, listed vision of the week ahead. It’s a busy sketch, fragmented and messy, full of spires and troughs and dangerous climbs.

I arrive at my desk, and thinking back to the casual, dedicated simplicity of the Japanese tea rooms etched In my mind last week, decide to clear out all the layers of paper that palimpsest my keyboard. It feels good. I wonder if my desk reflects me, or if I reflect my desk.

The Monday morning team catchup feels relaxed, in among the chaos. The usual round-up of what’s happened and happening elsewhere. Luke runs through a financial update. What link is there between a management presentation, and a Punch and Judy show?

Before lunch I catch up with our Australian client – there’s a bit of tree lying in the road, and there’s some work here to try to think about the best way either to clear it, or find another route. The tree has been there, fallen, for some time. But fresh leaves are growing out, traces of seeds, life beneath the bark.

After lunch I take a step back, into the dirty but fascinating industrial zone. I’ve summoned the developers / engineers / coal-shovellers to gather ideas about error logging and better debugging. There are hundreds of years of cogs and pistons and cranks and strange batteries whirring away behind us, as we draw our circle of salt around us and carve glyphs into whiteboards. I know I want to spend more time here, but I struggle to know if I’m a local, a tourist, or a tourist guide here. Maybe I’m a tourist guide for locals, if such a thing can exist.

There are similar, parallel lands around, and I travel to a sister place to chat to Obi about database keys. These are not like Keys to the City, with a capital K. These keys are more like switches, toggling between pain and pleasure. Calm and despair. I point him at a path and hope it leads home.

Day Two involves B&W and a playground with strange cheese-on-toast, and the Destruction of Weeds. I think about how weeding is actually just a form of curation. Maintenance has the potential to be a gloriously creative process.

Day Three

The early train routine is appreciably different – is it worth an extra few pounds a day to have time to plan out my itinerary more? Perhaps. Another tool to be drawn on when I need it, like sitting in a church to focus focus focus.

I take a deep breath and enter into a strange world this morning, the catacombs of the past. For one reason and another, we’re considering our R&D activities over the past few years. The catacombs contain relics and bones of our reflection, an all-too-real trail of past discretions and victories that, strung together, make it feel like the entirety of my life is now flashing before my eyes. I have to inhale hard, see through the mixture of dust and dots in front of my eyes.

We make it through, and scrape layers of memory from our worn clothes. It was a… slightly weird experience. Neither good nor bad. Disconcerting, perhaps – we’ve been through a lot. I feel awkwardly proud of the journey. Proud of the team that left their relics and their bones.

Exiting the underground vault of the catacombs, I emerge into a dark space which I’ve been away from, but which is all too familiar. The smell of cog grease and electric steam is in the air. Something has gone awry, and the wheels of our data machine are running a little too loosely. A few user support requests have come in, plus there are some internal requests waiting for the great machine to output its value. I roll up my sleeves.

The rest of the afternoon is hazy, lost in a thick fog of database gloop and VM valves.

Day Four

As Flo points out, it feels like the weekend.

The early train provides another opportunity for encounter – I bump into an old Uni friend who is taking time out among the morning commuters, and catch up. We chat about kids and academia and data, and make plans to make plans. I even get time to have a reset of my week’s tasks, to regain some halfway focus. Feels good. Even my inbox feels manageable. Definitely sold on more early starts. (Well, early for me, anyway.)

I’ve cleared my morning to venture back into the Great Machine, armed with weapons and strategies to attack the yesterday with. After stand-up, I assemble our team – Flo is our user liaison, Hon Mond is making sure things don’t grind to a halt, and myself and Obi are donning up our hazmat suits. Some quick SQL provides Flo with a ‘live’ view onto the dashboard, and we use a Google Doc to keep ourselves communicative. In times of fixes, getting your tools set up properly is the first thing you should be doing. Don’t waste time fighting what you don’t have to fight. Your utensils should be an extension of you and of your environment. What you see should make sense.

With that in place, Obi and I work out where the Machine’s weak points – interjection points – are. We devise some plans to get more information and research what we need to. The tourist guide to the Machine is big and often complex or contradictory. It takes most of the morning to dig through it and compare it to what we’re seeing, but we have some ideas to relieve the pressure.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I have a sojourn to the marketing garden after lunch. I leave Hon Mond and Obi with the plans, and excuse myself.

Kim gives us a catch-up on successes and challenges around the garden – it’s amazing to see the work going into it, and I can safely say this is the most amount of thought, effort, planning and attention that this part of the company has ever had. Seeds planted, it’ll be great to watch how this grow over the next quarter.

Some final check-ins with everyone before the day is done. Some code blockers around, but the Great Machine is under control and we’ll discuss more solid improvements Tomorrow. At least we don’t have to deal with fence posts embedded in its guts. Alex has got a solid chunk of functionality for our new extension working, lending the office an air of excited trepidation. Time to leave while things are calm.

Day Five

Reports spread across the region that the fence post has been removed, and we seem to have an infrastructure again, so I’m working from the hills of home today. This is a bit of an outing that I started trying out last week – the non-commute physically is something of a commit spiritually, in that it feels fresh to get away from the office for a while.

In the morning I get time to sit by the pond for a few minutes and clear the edges of my head a bit. This is not a metaphorical pond, at this point. But this moment to reflect, re-target, and remind myself of priorities is fast becoming an essential part of the day.

We have a catch-up with David from HACT this morning as it’s his last day – so after remote stand-up, I meet Stefan in the ether vapour and compare notes, before all three of us we all float around virtually. David has been our closest point of contact for every day work on a lot of our products over the last few years, and it’s safe to say we’ve both learned a hell of a lot about product development in that time. It looks like we’ll be keeping in touch in his new role, and his replacements sound pretty switched on, so it’s an exciting switchover and reshuffle rather than the end of something. Best of luck, David!

I check in to the archive to record my conversations, which seems to be very much part of the OCSI enclave now. I wonder what future virtual corporate archaeologists will make of company transcripts in 100 years’ time.

Then some swanning around town, checking in on venues and events to see how things are going Hon Mond and Obi have made great progress, and next week could be a Big Fat Win if their changes do what they think they’re doing. We should definitely spend more time optimising stuff more. There are some email threads caught in the wind like gossamer, and bits of admin to pick up from under benches and down alleyways. but I leave at 3pm to do the school run, and don’t look back.

Open original in Evernote

Workweek 02×03: “Ew, Hard Copy”

Bit “floaty” this week – I tend to come in on projects when I’m needed, and project herding has recently become a bit more distributed across the team. I seem to have a slight penchant for planning out work, but I’m not so great at hammering it out at the end. There must be tools and frameworks that do this for me. What would I need to do?

  • Set out clear work streams and packages (maybe like Epics?)
  • Decide who’s checking in for each and, importantly, get and keep but-in on status updates
  • Be able to see a clear list of what’s in progress and what’s left (Kanban-type boards have been good for this in the past)
  • Easily see what’s changed – what’s been added unexpectedly, and what’s at risk or been dropped.
  • Have a robot or scrum master to gently prod people to keep things updated.

In writing that up though, I feel like I have a lot of that. So either it’s something else missing, or I’m just really hard on myself (or both). The Tao Te Ching reminds us that we need to preserve our attention towards the end of a journey – 93% of road accidents happen within 5 miles of home. Designate a special ‘clampdown’ phase for a project to stay on target. Have hard timelines. Set aside as much planning time at the end as at the start.

 

Anyway. Monday we had a quick morning catch up for the week. Loads going on, so I tried resolving my floatiness a bit by checking in with Stefan (Head of Research) about where I might be of help. Decided I could take more charge on project herding (my term) to help lift some of the pressure on him, as he’s delivering a project at the end of the week.

Maybe there’s something there about ‘value’. Maybe I should ask myself things like…

  • Who am I helping?
  • How much am I helping – is this the most effective thing I could do to help?
  • What do they want done by the end of the week?

Spent the morning trying to close off some sprint tasks – there are some fiddly and annoying ones in there this sprint, and I don’t think I was very successful, to be honest. Too many fiddly things going on, too hard to focus, too much decision paralysis. Pick one thing, dammit. Not helped by the fact that I’m out of the office tomorrow. Also not helped by my week planning focusing on other things.

Still, tidied up some code I was looking at on Friday and raised the question of what to do with code maintenance. I do enjoy unit testing, sadly. NO WAIT IT’S NOT SAD IT’S JUST GROWN UP AND AWESOME. Sometimes it’s like tightening up bolts that are a bit loose – sure, it wasn’t technically broken, but now you just feel a lot closer to perfection. OK, a little closer.

A call with our American friends later in the afternoon, and various bits of catchup and preparation with Emma (senior researcher). Trying to untangle all kinds of data thoughts in my head probably isn’t healthy or useful. Wednesday is going to be fun though.

A phone call on my way to the train station, #son1 is being taken to A&E. We’ll see what tonight and tomorrow bring, in that case.

 

Tuesday

#son1 was fine, it turned out. He just didn’t want to move his arm after falling on it. I’ll teach him about the strain on the NHS one of these days and joked about taking my taxi fare to Eastbourne out of his pocket money. I hope he knew it was a joke anyway.

Random background thought as I was probably wandering around the garden centre with #son2. Should we stop thinking of [Incense Chapter] as a product and think of it as a tool instead? Function wise and applicability wise, what does this change? A tool for what? For engaging with communities? For users? For us?

 

Wednesday

I’m now writing this on the Monday after, which makes me think about: a) Why didn’t I add notes on the day? Ah, because I was frantic. b) How good my memory is, or rather, how much writing week notes helps me to refresh and refine my memory. c) How determined I am to write up my week notes.

Monday’s phone call had stressed me out a little – nothing major, but I wanted to make sure I hit Wednesday running and really tick off my target. I’d planned to come in early to talk to P- about some potential work, but Stefan is doing a great job on picking up new projects at the moment, and didn’t need me. So I spent a wee while sorting through emails and clearing the decks, then grabbing a coffee, booting the monitor out the way, and getting down to some serious database design.

Realised I can sort of do a lot of (common) database design in my sleep these days, which is useful as a parent. It’s handy to have some skills to draw on under some pressure – I kept thinking back to the films Hackers and Swordfish for some reason, as I pored over bad PDF print-outs of undocumented, un-relationed database schema, and tried to assemble some meaningful structure from it.

All in all, I fired off a draft spec for discussion with the client at 5 minutes to 2pm, which was handy as I’d planned to leave at 2pm to pick up #son1. However, the amazing missus stepped in and managed to get out of her meeting on time, so I got to have some lunch instead.

After lunch there was a New(wish) Meeting of Minds, where Stefan (Product Owner hat), Flo (User Support), Alex (Apprentice Scrum master) and I (also with PO hat on) got together to think through the issues for discussion in our sprint meeting the next day.

We used to involve the scrum master a bit more for these “pre-meets”, as a sanity check on status of issues and priorities, but stopped over time. Then we started bringing in user support and other stakeholders. I think this was the first time we had both, so I was glad to be able to make it.

The meeting went well – it helped us settle priorities and contexts. In retrospect, it also meant it was a lot easier to run the meeting with Stefan absent, so +1 for preparedness! Feels like we’re learning some good stuff about context still.

In fact, I think we even then came out of the meeting, and did the World’s Fastest Roadmap Plan [tm] as we have so much known work on. Instead of the usual month-by-month post-its grid, we went with a very quick-fly “NOW”, “NEXT”, “FUTURE” axis (no gridlines, this is important) and put up post-its for each project. It took us 5 minutes, but gives us a structure for the next 3 months at least. I can’t work out if we’re good at generating ideas, or slow at implementing them. it worked though.

Bonus midweek link for making it this far: Warren Ellis on blogging for yourself: http://ift.tt/2slpbiR

 

Thursday was a bit of a weird day because the trains were playing silly-buggers thanks to an ASLEF overtime ban, which meant a revised time table and all my routine being way out of whack. Looks like I’m getting the earlier, more expensive train more while it’s all playing out. but aiming to leave a bit earlier, so interesting opportunities there. More next week.

The morning was sprint-meeting, which is when we find out if a) our planning 2 weeks ago was any cop, and b) whether our planning the day before was any cop.

Stefan was taken up on some urgent work for the [English Hermit] delivery he’s heads down on, so I hopefully did a decent job of stepping in and explaining. We’d done a fair bit of work over the last 2 weeks on working out options and possibilities for various projects, so there was a fair bit of continuation which made my role a bit easier. All ran to time, hooray.

I’d also planned to take Thursday afternoon off to pick up #son1 (it’s academia busy time) but again didn’t need to, so had some more time in the afternoon. Caught up with Kim (Marketing) about some admin stuff, and then had a look into some HTTPS related updates, which I’d pushed for and was very pleased, with my cypherpunk head on, to get out there.

 

On Friday I opted to try working from home for the morning – getting more time to do admin and catch up on emails is a Thing I’ve identified before as a Thing I’d like to clear some space for.

Fortunately/unfortunately, the first email I replied to made me realise an error with the HTTPS update I’d made, so spent a few minutes fixing that. Boo, error! Yay, encryption!

Replied to lots of emails. The email stats are looking pretty good.

Then jumped on a later train, and got in to the office about midday. Totally forgot about a call with T- from N- about charities and the data ecosystem, but gave her a late call back, and had an absolutely lovely chat – being able to chat about the broader picture is something I’ve actually really enjoyed as I’ve picked up more public-facing streams. And it was great to chat to someone else who was really passionate about making things better, and pushing the data agenda. Hopefully we’ll get to work together in future, and might even be able to get a blog post out of some of the thoughts one day.

In the afternoon we had a few support issues coming in, which I looked at with Hon Mond (Developer). This highlighted a secondary issue with the changes I’d made – can you tell I’m less involved in dev work these days? Anyway, sat down with Lawrence (Developer) to support me, and did some rather handy scp’ing, vimming, and even some sedding to put a nifty fix in place.

BOOM. Went to the pub.