Workweek 04×02: [Impressive database SQL geekery omitted]

About Me
Subscribe via RSS
Other stuff I’ve published
Comments welcome via the blog, or to @6loss on Twitter

Previously on Weeknotes…

Here’s a quick reminder of what I’m aiming to focus on this series (see last time):

  1. Tech direction – can we get some?
  2. Storm Box – can this project be given closure?
  3. Explore the ‘Craft’ of what I do – what exactly do I mean by this?

Progress and reflections

Overall, this week has seen me in developer mode a lot more – partially out of necessity as (between annual leave and staff moving on) we’re down on dev skills, and partly deliberately as the need to deliver stuff before Christmas has gained weight. I’m secretly looking forward to doing more coding over the next few months, and the challenge here will be to keep what we make light and flexible, but (or so) also speedy and on track against some tight deadlines. Bring it.

Storm Box has definitely made some progress, but we’ll see how it goes early next week. Getting some agreements in place – who, what when – is the most important step now. There’s still some organisation work to be done, but it feels like we’re moving towards an endpoint. “It’ll be done by Christmas” could actually be 90% plausible.

I’m noticing “craft” in different aspects of what I do, and switching to more coding is actually a chance to apply that in a familiar but slightly-forgotten area. Keeping code agile is a “crafting” process, just as much as making it work is.

Questions

  • How is unit testing a metaphor for reviewing work and providing feedback? How can it support learning?
  • How can I format my weeknotes better? I’m using a bit of indenting this week to try drawing out some lessons and reflections from particular aspects of work, but I don’t think it works in RSS readers. I’m still struggling a bit with formatting, maybe I need to change my note-taking workflow. How does everyone else keep track of their #weeknotes?


All about PE class. Thanks for the reminder, primary school!

Monday

Sit-down. Luke did some hand-drawn pie charts for a finance overview. We also have a ghost called Gary in the office now.

Sent an important email to move Storm Box along a bit. In my head, I suspect project management is all about timing and pace – nothing too early, but nothing left too late. Everything is revealed bit by bit, in a manner that people can take in and understand.

Went through the EXPLAIN statement in SQL with Alex. (No, auto-correct, not EX-PAIN. But might as well be.)

Traditionally, as the team grew, we tried to be fairly flexible and develop broad skills across the team as a whole (for contingency and efficiency, natch). Over time, as the team developed and the senior developers (me and Luke) had to step out a bit to take on management duties, I think the team settled into their strengths a bit.

Now we’ve shrunk back a bit, the dynamic is different again. I’m thinking through how we can maintain flexibility, but basically bring in training-as-needed at the same time.

Luke took me and Stefan through his work on putting together a Budget for the year ahead. Impressive.

After lunch, Luke, Stefan and I joined forces again to undertake Stage 2 of deciding company strategy for the year ahead. The initial brainstorming session was useful, and we all arrived with some good thoughts on what we thought was important.

This format for making group decisions seems to work quite well:

  1. Brainstorm, and cluster ideas into similar themes
  2. If you can, take a break, and start again, but limit the suggestions under each theme to 1 or 2 per person
  3. Dot vote on the available suggestions
  4. Use the dot voting as a discussion starter, not a final decision – don’t be afraid to add extra dot votes, or move things around to make sense
  5. Pull out the 1 or 2 (maximum) top suggestions in each theme, and sanity check – would these be a good set of things if you were to publish them? Holisticism is good.
  6. Set time to think about each identified suggestion separately, to start looking at more concrete aims and measurable things.

At the end of the day, I probably did some emails and coding.

Wednesday

I was feeling pretty manic in the morning. I always have various strands of working ticking along, but today it felt like they were all on the move at the same time. I felt like I needed to clear things out a bit, for personal sanity plus project health, which basically either means closing things off, or handing them over (or postponing them, but I’m not sure this helps much in the grand scheme of things).

I spent some time with Stefan going through the Storm Box work, and figuring out the best course of action on each part. This led on to checking workload against our other work leading up to Christmas, which was a useful discussion. Our aims are ambitious, but mostly doable if we’re careful and we have the right hands to the right pumps.

I learnt a good chunk about teamwork in the process, and we decided that I’d do less client management and more delivery – this feels sensible given the diminished dev team currently, and the upcoming new hire. I’m very appreciative of others taking on what I was doing, as I know everyone else has lots on, and am trying not to doubt the decision to “step out”. Just need to focus on Getting Things Done as much as possible now.

This meant I felt happier picking up some more code tasks too. I got some Javascript working fairly quickly, and spent some good time hacking unit tests to run on some data processing. It’s good to get back to helping the dev team again.

Thursday

Oh dear, I have a feeling these weeknotes will start to get more technical now, so I’ll try to avoid turning into #geeknotes. Still, we’re a tech-heavy company, so there. These days, managing technical processes is probably more important than the technical details and designs themselves, so perhaps I’ll concentrate on that.

In the morning though, Kim took Stefan and me through a quarterly marketing catchup. This was a great session, looking at how things have gone since we put some finger-in-the-air plans together last year, and working out what to do next year. We even cross-referenced our company strategy for the first time (albeit in a very sketchy way) and the budget work that Luke has done, so it really did feel like Something Was Happening. Spooky.

One of the things I think we’ve developed and are pretty good at now is our two-week sprint cycle. Everyone seems to ‘get’ how it works and what it means, even if it has rough edges and some tough decisions.

But a fortnightly view does mean it’s easy to lose sight of longer term threads, I think. Some things lend themselves naturally to longer term feedback loops, like yearly strategies. Others need more explicit coaxing – annual reviews should go through monthly notes, for instance, or work and reports from a year ago should be dug up, just to see how much has changed.

Otherwise, it’s easy to assume the status quo is how it’s always been.

Tech wise, two things are in play. Obi and Gregor are moving a giant database from one server to another, which means moving everything else out of the way in order to wipe it. So I sanity-checked on this. There’s a time limit on this, so with a bit of luck the pain will be short and sharp and done by some time next week.

The other tech arm is development on a major new feature. Alex has been charging on with this, so my main work here was to carry on getting it tested in a flexible way. I was pretty pleased with how this went, and bringing the “test it small” mindset helped identify a few issues already, which is nice. Looking forward to carrying this on over the next few days. Again, this may well be ready soon, so it could be all go next week…

Friday

Developer day! I donned the cybergloves and hit up the git and immersed myself into some “proper” development for the first time today.

Well, testing, anyway. I carried on with my unit tests for the new data processes in the morning, and [impressive database SQL geekery omitted] which says good because now we can make changes and run them in a few seconds, rather than a few minutes, or way off in the future when everyone’s forgotten their history.

This aspect of innovation and change (not just software development) has got really important to me over the years. The more you can block out stuff and focus on one thing, the more you can get that one thing right.

Maybe this is a part of what Craft is? The clarity of mind, the lack of distraction, the jumping from high level to low level without blinking an eyelid because everything is setup, and simple.

Simplify, then add Lightness.” Make it doable, then make it easy. So easy you don’t have to think about it.

I also had a great session with Kim and Alex to introduce them to our outstanding work for the year, and ask for their help. This was an awesome (yet short) session, for two main reasons.

One, I think it’s the first time in a long time that I’ve actually explicitly asked others to do task management. Or it feels like it. At this level. (Which, admittedly, isn’t massively high level, relatively.) it highlighted the split between planning and doing for me, which is daft because I like planning things because it makes easier for me to do them, and everything I’ve seen up to now indicates that’s the same for others too.

Two, it was great to see Kim and Alex pick it up and jump in – not a surprise, in a way, but… I don’t know, a mixture of guilt at handing it on, relief, and joy that people get to do something they like doing. Sometimes you think a situation is dire and people will be depressed about it. Then you realise people are happy to help – it’s their lives too, I guess.

Work wise, that was sort of it – I made some more dev tidies and tests, and managed got branches while Alex, Kim and Emma swarmed like bees over their new project management challenge. I met Dan for lunch who worked with us a year ago which was really good and now we have an agreement to do plans.

I had beer and went through old voicemails and sent some emails I’d been meaning to send all week. I left half an hour early to pick up #son1 from a disco. I’m still on the train there.