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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