Workweek 04×03: In between movement

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Week tip:

Use single-letter keywords in your Firefox bookmarks to bring up common pages quickly. Eg ctrl-t, s, enter to bring up sprint board.

Series check-in

  • Tech direction – can we get some?
    • Feeling good on this, if something like a bit guilty for relaxing on other duties. But the push is helped by a need to deliver lots over the next few months – the big challenge for me here, I think, is to “sell” useful tech changes internally, but having “case studies” and small wins to draw on is really useful.
  • Storm Box – can this project be given closure?
    • It’s looking a lot better than a week ago, and realistic timescales and specifications are a lot more abundant. The challenge here is to find the time to review progress, keep ourselves centred and on track. Bringing the rest of the team in on this will (hopefully) do wonders.
  • Explore the ‘Craft’ of what I do – what exactly do I mean by this?
    • Some random thoughts on this:
      • On Monday I was pretty stressed, with lots of upcoming conversations and too many threads. By Wednesday I’d got through a lot of it and felt a lot happier, even satisfied.
      • There’s a lot to be said for boldness in conversation.
      • I’ve changed the purpose of the pocket watch – now it gets set to what level of calmness I’d like to achieve, not
      • Really, the first question is: what am I trying to craft? A codebase, a tech team, a product, a company – all with various hats.

Late Note

I’m really aware I’m writing these weeknotes up at 10pm on a Tuesday the week after, which is not to say that I’ve been bad, but it does highlight… something? Either that life is mad busy, and I haven’t been able to organise my thoughts as I go, or I’m not feeling the weeknotes pull this week. Or a bit of both, probably related.

This means readers probably won’t get the most out of them? But more importantly, it means I’m not getting what want out of them, if it feels like a chore. I need buy-in. Yesterday, as my reminder to publish kept sneaking up on screen, I was even considering stopping for more than my usual planned week. Like I just need to create something else – get back to some blogging or something.

Writing up the below has highlighted a conflict in my weeknotes – a conflict between wanting to think things through, and wanting to explain things. These have slightly different audiences and loci – one deals with feelings, the other is more pragmatic. One is “this made me feel X”, the other is “I did X by doing Y because Z”.

I sort of want to get back to the latter, with its focus on efficiency and helpfulness. it makes it easier to be more open, and often useful reflection comes out of it at the end of the day.

Maybe I’ll factor that in next week. Or this week, as it is.

Monday

Feels like a lot of hard pushing going on. More effort than we’re used to, but feels like we’re pushing in the right places. Work management is all about knowing the right questions to ask. Usually it’s a lot easier to do that with people from more than one perspective.

Train ran late. Cleared through some old emails.

Planned out remaining work on UYD with Alex and Hon Mond.

Server played up a bit. Switched off some old sites.

OND planning with Stefan, Kim, Alex, Emma.

Git branches, pushing things into testing.

Crazy sky.

Dug into various misbehaving reports and VMs.

Pre-sprint planning – getting flexible code lined up in the form of fixing our unit tests.

Wednesday

Early start, rain, trains to London, but coffee, and a space to catch up. I really need to figure out how to get space for electronic comms. Such a “separate” thing. Got some thoughts on how to move on with this, something about user stories for myself.

Met with Chris and Anthony from a similar organisation* who contacted us a few months ago, interesting discussion and test of my ability to rapidly draw together other people’s thoughts, and discuss potential. [ooh, I feel all entrepreneurial. A statsy, product-ownery entrepreneur.] Made a semi-conscious decision to a) not wear a shirt, and b) arrive late. Too much on, something’s got to give, and I need to be me?

Went for a walk through London. I do like doing this. I mean, I sort of hate London and want to get away from its crazy crowds and grey slabs. But I love the foreignness of it all, the chaos of the lines and its desperate want to “be” something. It’s amazing in its organised, creative pitifulness. I took photos and smelled smells.

Chatted to Mike, our chairman, about a potentially controversial project, which was really good. I need to block out some time to structure thoughts on it, which feels annoying because it’s extra work, but also worth doing and exciting because it’s the first time we’ve thought about what we do in this way.

Visited the House of St Barnabas for the first (professional) time – I’d been here before for a posh whisky tasting evening, but it’s quite a different place when you’re sober.

In between movement, I offered as much remote feedback and guidance to the team as I could. I was impressed that my aging laptop lasted the journey up, and that the 3G-wifi dongle lasted the whole day non-stop. Win for tech, there. But strange doing everything remotely. I felt like a disembodied voice, speaking out of the walls.

* Still haven’t resolved how much to link to other people – not because I don’t want to advertise them because usually they’re great, but because I’m info-paranoid on the net, and I think these notes would be very different if I sent them to all the people I’d been talking about.

That is a good burndown chart, monochrome wall.

Thursday

Early start with #son1’s tooth falling out.

Sprint planning – there’s a lot of efficiency in our meetings at the moment. Maybe bringing in Alex has helped, certainly the pre-sprint planning on Monday is great, and perhaps a broader view on focuses. Might be interesting to look through previous sprint reports to see if they have more focus. We were done by 11am instead of midday, but we also have loads on over the next few months, so there was a push to get on with it.

(More generally, I have been thinking that it would be lovely to restrict any and all meetings to no more than ONE HOUR.)

My focus at the moment is really on making sure delivery happens as much as possible. This, for me, means reducing our overheads and distractions as much as physically possible. So we have some work lined up finally to fix up our unit tests – this is primarily my thing so far, but I know Hon Mond is interested too. If we can test code early and fast, then we reduce unknown risks as much as possible. Maybe agility is all about just avoiding “validation lag”.

Caught up with Gregor (sysadmin) and Obi (researcher) on our large database migration – this is going really well (and I haven’t done much on it at all, except track progress). We should make the big switch on Monday, so checked and alerted others on our plans. 1 Epic of 3 for this work closed!

Did some git trawling to check where and how our code has diverged – not too bad, all said. Tempting to resolve it earlier rather than later, but not one for just yet.

Alex deployed our latest large feature release to project Chip Fork. (I was thinking of linking to the news announce here, but again – should these notes focus more on personal feelings, or have an open explanatory aim instead? CONFLICT, duh duh uhhh.) Great work from him, he’s really taken this one by the horns. The work itself has been going on for over 6 months (on and off), so closing this Epic felt like a strangely big deal. We don’t celebrate enough.

Dug into Javascript to put in some code which used to work – not my forte, but I learnt fast and can jump around between my IDE and my browser debugger like a pro now. Made good progress, updated Flo (user support) on it, and looking forward to getting back to it tomorrow.

Finished with a chat with our American clients – I’ve finally got out of a bit of a rut with taking this on myself, and have promised (to them and me) to get Obi involved in this along with Emma (senior researcher), to keep things moving better than it has been. We’ll catch up on it in a month, but looking at a good final delivery in January or February. Felt more positive than I was expecting.

Friday

A productive day to cap off a productive, if intensive week. Never boring.

Today’s fun was seeing our (auto-generated) reports getting picked up on the Cornish local press for some awkward 2011 census data. Sometimes it feels like we’re so heads down in data pipelines and text editors that we forget how far the real world reach of our work is.

Finished off the Javascript I was looking at on Thursday, not as bad as I’d feared – seems I haven’t lost my front-end development skills just yet. And it’s a simple feature that should add a whole bunch of value, which is pretty satisfying.

Spent some time debugging an issue Obi was having. Some of Ash’s old documentation, with my rekindled Javascript head, made it pretty quick to narrow down. Good chance to discuss process a little with Obi too.

Wanted to really get my work on unit tests into place ahead of upcoming work, so took Hon Mond through the code I’d written 4 months ago – I think I took a little while to make sense.

Good reminder that just giving people some time and space to air and structure their thoughts is valuable in itself – code reviews and 1:1s and retros should all factor in “um, urrr” time I think.

Spent a while trying to figure out the best way to test the tests I’d fixed 4 months ago – tricky to isolate them, and the main codebase has moved on since I wrote them, so there are multiple, multiple versions going around in git. I’ve also switched VM and PHP version since the original changes, to add to the confusion.

Still, bite-sized chunks make it a lot easier to pick through, and I was reminded that code review is great not just to force you to understand what you’ve done, but also for information sharing. I need to write up some more howto’s in Confluence next week…

So now I’m running two branches – one to bring together the current set of changes, and one to bring that together with the latest codebase. It’s a bit hacky, but it makes sense and I can explain it. It’s also nothing as insane as the longer term git catchup that Alex was working on…

Very Christmassy…

Til next time…