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.



#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?



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:


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.