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.