Weeknotes 08×02: High level art talking to stakeholders

This is a 2-in-1 catch-up weeknote which just lists some of the most important stuff that’s been happening over the last two weeks. Last week I was busy getting ready for the talk talked about below, but now I feel I can talk about the talk, now that I’ve talked the talk.

1. High level is on the level

I’m sure that senior management level discussion and activity is a good metric, I’m just not sure what of. As a small company, the senior managers are fairly stuck into day-to-day work as well. For me that’s usually fixing high priority bugs, code reviews, maybe some washing up if I’m good.

The last few weeks have been very Senior Management level heavy – lots of chatter and emails going on around skills, recruitment, projects, strategy and that. I think half of it comes from external change – various things out of our control which either have a knock-on effect, or need some input. And half of it is internal – Kim (Head of Comms and Marketing) has joined the senior team recently, and she has most excellently been lighting a fire under us. I’ve also been determined to get my own plans in place whatever else happens, and everything has dovetailed fairly nicely with my own tech strategy work.

Anyway, it’s a decent chunk of work, and I think I’m managing my time well too. I trialled publishing my time for the next two-week sprint to the team, broken down into mornings and afternoons, and working with things at this level feels good. I can chunk together similar work into one afternoon, and block out whole half-days (or days) for particular high priority work.

The publicness of this overview schedule is not used by others too much, but does greatly help with: 1) letting me work out how much time I can commit to for sprint work – and stick to it, and 2) give me a quick reference guide to what I’m supposed to be doing this week.

2. Talking is a lot of fun

A couple of weeknotes ago I mentioned that I’d signed up to a talk. On Thursday I did the talk.

As talks go, it was a fairly small one about “Trust and Ethics in the Data Supply Chain” to about a dozen people (mostly academics) for the Democratising Big Data workshop at Sussex Uni’s Digital Humanities lab. My slides are online, and the video should follow soon.

I’m mentioning the talk in my weeknotes for a couple of main reasons:

  1. I don’t do very many talks, maybe once every year or two
  2. I am traditionally very shy and very anxious about talks
  3. As such, each talk is a chance to check in on how I react to giving a talk

This time round, I had some background nerves, but actually the overall feeling from the start was hugely positive and not at all anxious – the topic was very much of interest, and I think I took a good, incremental approach to it.

Sketching a narrative overview is the fun part. Finding images and deciding main points to definitely say is trickier detail, and always takes more time than you hope. But I ran rough versions past a few people, and ran the final version a few times – a 15 minute talk is a nice length of time to practice, and I think if I had to give a longer talk, I’d try to break it up into similarly-lengthed sections.

I’m almost tempted to see if I can give the talk somewhere else, but perhaps I’ll leave that up to providence?

It was also great to get back to my old campus.

Jubilee House, Sussex Uni, morning

p.s. I’m looking to visit London mid-to-late July. If you’re reading this and would like to meet for a coffee, let me know via twitter or comments.

3. Art is awesome

As part of the workshop mentioned above, but also as a personal side project to help out a friend, I got chatting with people from more arty background this week. The more I do this, the more I realise just how much value there is in this type of connection.

The people I chat to have ideas that are alive with energy. Helen clearly says she deletes her tweets after 3 months, and brings DIY hardware together with neighbourhood plans because you can. Dr Bert MBE has that subtle anger about minority voices being taken away. Orange (pseudonym) brings multiple identities into the real world, and uses bots to reflect society back at itself.

At the heart of a lot of what I saw was just a single question, that formed around a community like a pearl. But a question that reflected something angry, something unjust. How can minority voices be heard so that we’re not erased? How can we verify our own air quality so that we’re not sickened? How can we pick apart the software that we use so that we’re not exploited? How can we track Twitter so that we can measure violence against women?

The passion crackling around under tables was invigorating. I want to know how I can tap into it more.

4. Stakeholders are everywhere

The technical strategy I’m working on is progressing well, even if I had hoped to finish it off two weeks ago.

After sending out a quick email to get input from people outside the direct team, asking them what they wanted from the team/product, I had to sort the feedback into some categories. Some of this was directly associated with what the tech team do, and some was more-or-less indirect – where we might be able to help, but only as part of a wider team strategy.

I put together a spreadsheet that plotted expected focuses for the next 6 months, against all the ideas people had fed back, and scored them on an ‘impact’ scale that I made up. Then I applied colour formatting to try to make it clearer which ones I would expect to address, and when.

I haven’t fed this back to anyone properly yet, but I’m sure it will all come in handy some day soon.

I also took the tech team through the draft version so far. Nobody made confused or sceptical faces at me, and sometimes that’s all you need.

Culturewatch

Finished reading John Blofeld’s old Taoism: The Road to Immortality, which was very useful and good if you’ve been into taoism for a few years.

Room to Dream, the memoirs of David Lynch, turned up.

Finally watched Bladerunner 2049. On a small TV with the sound mostly down, but I enjoyed it. What’s going on with ending though, I hope they Director’s cut that in future. And enough with the “lost/returned father” theme that seems to haunt so many damn films. I’m getting very desensitised.

Pondwatch

Moar chicks! Saw two new moorhen chicks today, which must have popped out of an egg about four hours previously – they are sooooo small and cute. There are also two or three new ducklings, which scoot and scoosh about the pond with some bravado. Last week, we shifted two massive bags of gravel from one end of the grass to the other, to create a ‘hidden beach’ by the water’s edge. Visible labour is really important with community projects like this – a couple of people stopped and parked when they saw us, and came over and offered to help. The group is growing…

Bindweed flowering

Weeknotes 08×01: Recovering the satellites

Hello, welcome back. Its officially mid June, and only a week away from the bright height of summer. Yang is dancing on the tips of budding fruit, and whirlpools of tiny, invisible storms silently cover all of our dreams.

It’s series 8!

Extended leave

I intended to take a week off after series 7 ended, but it’s been two weeks. I spent the first week pushing on a big migration for our Australian work – the end of May deadline was sort of internal and abitrary, but a deadline was essential. We hit a few borks in the last couple of days, and decided to push it another day rather than make tired mistakes after 5pm. Internal deadlines are nice like that.

The second week I was mostly absolootly shattered. A combination of franticness in May coming to a sudden halt, hay fever, and maybe something going round left me out for the count and falling asleep 2 or 3 times in the middle of the day. (Usually it’s just the once 😉 It wasn’t fun, and some combination of tiredness and deadlines got me thinking a lot about life, the universe and everything. More than I normally think about it.

3 things this week

1. Opening up

It’s a week later now, and the crash has kicked a few things into action. I had a good chat with Luke, which ties in nicely with my previous promise-to-myself to ask for 1-1s more. As mentioned before, I think lack of feedback hits me hard, and a lot of what I’m doing feels like it’s “for me” in a way. (It’s not, but it’s just harder to get constructive feedback at more senior levels, I think.) So the chat got a lot of stuff out of my head, and the day after I was much more able to come up with practical actions I can get behind.

I’ve written down a lot – suggestions, my own values, thoughts on where things might be in a year, even some frustrations. I feel like I’m orienting myself a lot, or perhaps “having a mid-life crisis” as some have suggested… 😉 Or maybe, like Dan, it’s just a time when change is needed.

2. Tech strategy

I promised myself I’d block some time in to refresh our tech roadmap in June, after the craziness of May. This is sort of the third time I’ve had a go at this, although looking back a couple of years, the first stab was so bad (ambitious and unstructured) that I’m not sure if it counts.

I spent a very nice day on Monday, at a standing desk away from the screen, with lots of bits of paper. A separate room would have been a bonus but the screen is the main thing. Memory is the biggest, most important sense when thinking through strategy, not your eyes.

I’d planned to plan out a few projects in the day, but that turned out quite ambitious too – I got a decent chunk of just the tech strategy done, which makes me think that 2 to 3 days is really about the right time to get a 6 month plan together. A whole week might even be good, and (if you can link strategy to backlog planning effectively) would save vast amounts of decision-making overhead going forwards.

(Oh god, when I write it down, it sounds obvious. But it’s often really hard to make time for decent planning. Should I just block a week into my calendar every 6 months?)

The strategy needs more work to prioritise things, but it has key aims, sets out context and risk/impact, and has a few metrics – I’m particularly keen on having some “down to earth”, emotional metrics for the team, inspired by this WTFs-per-minute cartoon. Measuring WTFs feels like a good indicator of team confusion. I also want to try measuring “TIBS” (This Is BullShit Boring Stuff) as an indicator for repetitive, unnecessary work.

3. Meeting up

It was a lovely sunny day on Friday, with a fairly quiet office. We’d signed off some work on a report which I’d been trying to get done for months, so I was in a good mood to meet up with Steph Gray in the afternoon. This was a nice culmination of thing 1 and thing 2 above, and was a great chance to just chat through what we’re both doing, in our efforts to bring together tech and team building. I also had a quote from Steph pinned to my weeknotes template last series, which has kept me guided through a lot of these notes.

In truth, it was probably the first time I’ve had this sort of chat with anyone, which is probably something I’ve been subconsciously picking up in when looking for a mentor this year. But “mentorship” can be a bit of a tricky one. Really, the most useful thing is just time to chat with someone in the same position – through this time, it’s nice to realise that actually we’re all trying to work this out as we go, and that perhaps nobody really has all the answers. Just lots of good books, and experience.

So mentorship is one thing. But it’s going to be easier to simply make the time and find the people to compare notes with. Exmosis in action.

Aims this series

I haven’t done this in a while, but now seems like a good time to think through what I want to achieve in the next six weeks. The important stuff for me now is:

  • Re-establish my own goals, and be more open about it. Does “open” imply “pushy” though?
  • Set the course of work and of the team for the next six months so that I don’t have to think about it.
  • Get out of the office and go and talk to people.

Culturewatch

Reading

Writing

Pondwatch

  • Everything is alive. There were seven ducklings, although I’ve only seen three recently. There were two new moorhen chicks, but I’ve only seen one recently. There is some sort of large fish causing a few ripples. I don’t know if all of this is related. Also, little rats, a whole family of them. Is this cute or not?