Weeknotes 07×01: Post-its rule my world

What am I looking forward to this week?

  • First meeting with Fabrice to discuss what tech lead mentoring could look like
  • Our first Tech Team Roadmap Review meeting, we’ve achieved a lot in 6 months, I think?

What am I not looking forward to this week?

  • Having conversations about work without a clear plan of capacity. There’s a lot coming up and I’m not sure if it’s too much.

What am I not sure about?

  • An Internal analysis session that’s planned, which could go either way and be either really useful, or really messy and drawn-out.
  • GDPR work which I need to get on with. I feel like it could be interesting, but isn’t because I “have” to do it…

What’s the expected theme?

Not doing as much dev work as I could, but getting useful stuff done instead.

Now that it’s finished, what was the actual theme

Loads of time on Planning and Strategy, which was in-depth, and felt good. Success and sunshine.

What surprised me?

  • How many post-its you can fit on one board if you really try
  • How much I really like the Pebble smart watch I got for Christmas. Lost the link to my phone for a day, and it felt weird being having to go to my phone for notifications. Also started using my watch for walking and sleeping data, which is another story.
  • How little I’ve picked up and called out certain things I’m not happy with.
  • That my gut instinct can lead to some useful insights at the end of a risky, exploratory, ‘creative’ process.

Space for links.

“The act of writing, forces the author to think through all the details and steps required to share the lesson. It avoids what happens in business all the time which is “I just know” or “experience” and brings along the team and other job functions on thinking.

Monday

Company sit down: First time that nearly all of the company have been in together (12 of 13), felt nice, like a feeling of pride in building something that supported this team. Shame not to be able to do a team lunch.

Tech team planning stand-up, which turned into me talking a lot. There was a job to catch Alex and Gregor up with what happened last week, which I think comes best from one person (?) but is a different exercise to a round of status updates. Summarising is a bit of an art, everyone should practice it, but how? What exercises and guidance would be useful? Should I add “summarising” to my new Capabilities Framework?

Also it felt like the team is working working together well currently, even if it was me saying lots. Feels fairly nicely focused and balanced at the moment, like all that that strategy, feedback, and support in the background traces a line through to the work detail. It’s a shame I can’t prove that, it’s a big part of what I think I bring to the team, but a lot of it feels invisible, or subtle.

Spent a lot of the day on some database setup, which was only interesting because I got to dig out some code I wrote years ago and use it again in anger, like dusting off an old motorbike, and firing it up to ride round the block.

Met up with Fabrice to discuss some tech lead mentorship. Coming out of Christmas, and some ukgovcamp chat, I’ve been taking the mentorship stuff more seriously. Over the last 6 months, I think I’ve started to move away from trying to take everything on myself, and the idea of mentoring (me mentoring others, others mentoring me) is a part of that confidence of “opening up”. For some in-built reason, I find it quite scary giving people career advice, or asking for support. So today’s chat (which wasn’t at all scary), and offering recently on Twitter to help out junior developers, feel like some big milestones, like I’m stepping into a new chapter in life. No longer just a doer.

Talked through some fresh feedback from our Australian client, after we delivered an update in January. Turned into a recap of outstanding work and timescales which are forever shifting. Feel like I’m eternally trying to lock this down, and it’s mentally tiring to keep trying to get some structure and clarity on what’s left. Still, managed to identify some key work, time frames and questions, using nothing but good old post-its and a big piece of paper. I guess the most important first step of anything complex (the same is true with Roadmap, code design, etc) is to find “chunks” of the right size. Chunks that are “just clear enough”, clear enough to be given time, and to be understood as something concrete.

Got a theory that managers should practice this “chunking” activity until they can (and do) do it in their sleep.

Broke up the train journey to get stuff for the guinea pigs. I’d forgotten how refreshing it is to walk for 20 minutes in a low, warm sun after work.

Brucie and Noodles

Tuesday

The first half of the morning was taken up with a management team look at the 3 months ahead of, which turned into the next 6 months. I was responsible for arranging the meeting as in my gut I know we have a lot on over the next few months, and experience says that everything gets really stressful when there’s no planning on it at all. But I haven’t had much time to be particularly organised, so a bit of a moment of “oh shit, I should probably lead on this” as I got in this morning.

The two thoughts which carried me through were:

  1. The main aim of the meeting is to actively air what’s in everyone’s heads anyway. Personally I’m infinitely more relaxed once I’ve written stuff down, so I hope the same is true of other people. Getting any sort of structured timeline wasn’t a particular goal, but highlighting the amount of work, and looming crunch points, was the first step.

  2. This was, in some sense, a personal effort on behalf of the wider team. I don’t know if it’s because I have to organise a larger section of people, or if I’m just more wont to push for some organisation because I know others that want it, but there’s a sense of duty, to stop ourselves getting frustrated later, as a team. It doesn’t matter how much you pay people, or what incentives you give them to be happy – setting out clear goals and priorities is the one major thing you can do to help people do their job, and by extension, enjoy what they’re doing.

So it’s weird, and sometimes uncomfortable, to force people to list their 6-month to-do lists like this. There’s a risk of it being too chaotic, or of getting depressed because it seems like too much when it’s opened up, or getting into arguments about deadlines and what should take precedence. As one person commented, it felt like a frenetic process, as hundreds of post-its got hammered out and stuck up. And a bit of me wished I had a neater, more structured approach to it. But the calmer part of me knows that it’s an inherent part of capturing the frenetic chaos that is going to happen anyway, and that it’s ok to be the one to force it into the open, right now, instead of being an unseen elephant in the office.

The next job on it is to make it a practical tool. I’d also post a photo here if there wasn’t sensitive info on it. Oh go on then.

So much post-its

Today we:

  • Brain dumped onto post-its
  • Arranged post-its along a rough 6-month timeline on the Big Green Board
  • Identified the things we definitely had in our heads – what were the important things keeping us awake?
  • Identified the things we could potentially push back
  • Identified the things which were actually being pushed back already

Tomorrow, I’m aiming to order these, so we can see 1) the “easy” must-do, are-doing stuff, 2) the “at risk” must-do, but pushing-back stuff, 3) the lower-priority stuff, and 4) the “omg” stuff we’ve not even considered yet. Then we can work out what to do with it. It’s all slightly backwards, but sort of ties in with my own sense of reactive planning…

After that, started on our new information security policy for GDPR day, and filled in a short feedback form for Alex to turn into a retro on client involvement.

Wednesday

Catch up with Gregor (Sysadmin) on infrastructure planning and GDPR stuff. Also had a nice chat about kids – Gregor’s tales are basically the tales I’ll be telling in a few years. Ran through actions quickly with the help of last month’s notes, and the Jira Kanban board I set up a month or two back – now I can set up tasks, tag them with a ‘sysadmin’ label, and generally the whole process for ordering and tracking this aspect feels a lot cleaner now.

First OCSI Read Club! John and I sat on the sofa in the cafe downstairs and ate lunch while reading our own books. It’s something I did once upon a time, by accident, and recently wanted to give it a go. No pressure to chat, or read the same book, just a space to get away from things and read. Reading is awesome. Be suspicious of people who don’t read.

Club for Staff Who Read Good

6 month Tech Team Roadmap review in the afternoon, which is the one thing I most proud of getting in the calendar finally. 6-months seems a good time to review long-term progress. This is what I want to lead on – everything else is just checking what’s going on really. I didn’t have a set structure, but sent out the main aims/sections via email in he morning, and a brief survey to set the scene beforehand. Cue lots of post-its and dot-voting – by the end, alongside the 3-month planning post-its, I felt like I could probably get commission from 3M.

On the whole, I was pleased with how the session went – pretty much everyone on the team contributed, and by specifically asking for everyone’s “pain points”, it felt like a sensible way to address major gripes that we have. There was deliberately no expectation of setting next priorities, but it evolved so that I can propose the next Roadmap pretty easily, with good buy-in and evidence from the team. Bosh.

Alongside the notes of the outcomes, I also wrote up my notes of how the session was run. Maybe I should post these on GitHub, rather than just keep them as internal notes?

Thursday

Woke up, disturbed early by #son2, realising that I use post-its notes as an extension of my mind – I think with my hands. It explains a lot: why I love pen and paper, why so might abstract concept can be modeled as physical objects, why I wave my palms in the air when I talk, why I hate phone screen keyboards and their vague non-commitment to reality. Even why, perhaps, I have an obsession with “craft” as a desire to “sculpt” something, tangible or otherwise.

And why not everyone maybe gets flustered, chaotic post-its heavy approaches. Not everyone is a builder, not in the same way.

What a day though. Kim ran a great session in the morning for the management team on company strategy – it’s funny how a single question can lead to a much higher level discussion. We had a lot of ideas coming up, and the discussion was civilised, structured and thought through.

I tend to be a bit ‘punk’ in these situations sometimes – that is, I know what I want to do, and can get a bit argumentative or defensive if others have a different opinion. It’s not a great attribute though, and goes against the taoist idea of “do not contend”. After a long day yesterday, I’d promised myself to relax a bit, and so I worried less about being “right” in this session, and was a bit happier to sit back and listen. It’s a hard skill, not sticking your oar in. I should practice it more.

The session was interrupted 5 minutes from the end by being told one of the team was locked in the toilet – the only diabetic member of staff, natch, which meant we had a hit more urgency to get them out. Cue locksmith, fire brigade and, ultimately, big yellow battering ram.

BLAMMO

Tech planning session for some upcoming development. We/I/we decided to bring 4 of the devs in on this – rather than just me, or just one other person leading on it. The original aim was to open up planning experience to some others who are interested in developing their skills. In practice, this happened (with some guidance to help split the planning work up), but we also got a chance to discuss something together, and iron out gaps in our shared understanding. “Everyone understands, but in their own way”, I think I said. I wonder if that ironing out process will help in a few weeks.

Spent some good time shuffling the post-its on the Big Green Board. I do like working in 3D. Tactile cognition loops. Tangible abstracts.

Ended with Prosecco – celebrating some important sales, project kick-off, project closure, and freeing employees from lavatories prisons.

Friday

Half day, worked from home. Lousy sleep so good to have a bit of a gentler catch-up – I’m really noticing the need for downtime after longer days, maybe since noting down the idea of measuring it previously. Finished putting the next 6 months into a Google Sheet, which was a great exercise. It’s a lot clearer to see what’s at risk, what needs more emphasis, or what could possibly be re-considered or re-factored. My brain is thanking me for it, and hopefully I can translate it into tasks to help the team out as we go.

Wrote up some 1-1 notes, replied to emails, did some user support checks, etc.

Done.

Culcher

Reading

Catch me on Goodreads

  • Finished Spirits of Place, my review here
  • Started Italo Calvino’s The Distance of the Moon – went on a bit of a binge at Waterstones, including this little £1 quick read.

Watching

Pondwatch

  • 4 moorhen chicks have turned up on the duck pond outside the house, and the 2 turtles have been sunning themselves on the island. The moorhen parents seem to have their work cut out gathering food while chasing away pigeons and rats.

Also published on Medium.