Weeknotes 08×06: Make it all up then go away

Totorostreet art and graffiti

It’s a bit of a struggle to start writing these weeknotes this week, for two reasons. One I’ve been off for two weeks and am feeling relaxed. Two, a lot of my thoughts are fairly personal, and range long term over the next few years. It’s hard to turn that into something small and daily. But hey, maybe weeknotes is also a good excuse to get out of that a bit, get back to the practical stuff, and to think about just being open by default again.

So here’s a quick run-down of some thoughts on things that are happening. As this is traditionally the sixth and final “episode” in my series, I was going to look back at the aims I set out at the start. But I think I’ll save that for another time.

Three things that happened

(More than three things happened.)

1. Recapping on an ad-hoc strategy process

One of the key strands this series has been helping to draw out a coherent company strategy for the year ahead, including setting out my own directions for the tech team within that. My processes for this have been instinctual, rather than based on a known structure, partly because I didn’t have time to research ideas, and partly because I know the people involved, and it’s easier to design the process to fit their mindsets, working patterns, knowledge domains, styles, etc.

This week I wrote up the results from the process, in order to form my own strategy and see how well it aligns. I wish I could share all this more openly, but it would be remiss to do so. However, in a nice season of synchronicity, I’m also reading a book all about deliberation and decision-making (see “Culture” section, below), which helped put that recap of my own work into some perspective.

The key theme of all of my prices has been to try to gather inputs from a particular group of stakeholders first. This has happened a few times in different forms:

  • A group meeting, in person, to collate tech team pain points, and another meeting to summarise and confirm the ideas
  • A Google form survey to gather thoughts from the wider product team, on what they would like from the team
  • A few face-to-face sessions with the Management Team to draw out overall company aims over the next year

It’s not been the easiest thing to do in an experimental way – it’s not always clear what I’ve been asking for, or why, or what’s going to come out of it. But it does make a lot more sense than before, and I’m at a crux point with it.

The next step is to hammer out a clear and succinct write-up, and to base a final tech strategy on it. This should be fine – the key big challenge after that is to communicate it out to the team. I’ve agreed a date to go through it with the tech team, and would like to take the management team through it. This implies, though, that I should also go back to the other people I surveyed, to fill in the gaps and complete the circle.

2. Work happened while I was away

It’s always good to go away. I see it as a test of how well the team cope without me. 🙂 This time, there’s a particularly gnarly piece of work going on to migrate the geographies we use, and we’re slap-bang on the discovery and design stage.

Migration is one of the harder aspects of technical projects, I think, and I’m surprised there’s not more literature on blogs devoted to it, compared to sprint processes, testing, etc. Maybe I’m just looking in the wrong place, but I’ve done a fair bit of it over the last year, and seem to have an innate fear of doing it badly now.

Really pleased to see that the team had done a great job of planning it the work and looking into what’s required. The efforts we’ve put in over the last year seem to be paying off, and while I think I could do more to create a more ‘unified’ team (whatever that means), what I see, and the feedback I get (including from an annual review this week) is that things are running fairly smoothly.

It’s odd to reflect on that, and the effect I think I’ve had over the last 3 years. When you work with people on a personal and career development level, it’s not always easy to make the link between coaching/mentoring and the delivery of the work. How do people value that? How can that “experience” and “directioning” be taken account of within an organisation? Or is it something that people just “understand”? Sometimes I feel like it’s an intimate connection between myself and my charges, and I have no idea if anyone outside of those relationships sees or values that.

3. Somehow I am a research project advisor

On Friday I met up with Angie from Community Works, who’s running a project for local charities. There’s a survey and lots of data involved, lots of political implications, and some tough choices about how to design the work as a whole. The steering group that I’m on has a lot of great skills and experience shared across it, and I’m really enjoying seeing others jump into action. Just watching others work is so, so important, and sometimes I hit a mindset where I’m really happy to shut up, watch and learn, almost like I’m work-shadowing. It’s great to have that opportunity, and maybe that’s a big part of my weeknotes practice – to try to give something back in return for all the times I’ve learnt from others.

Anyway, we had a good chat, and afterwards I realised this is both what I do, and what I don’t do. I do project design all the time. I’m not considered a “researcher” though. The link between designing a project and designing a piece of code is real though. And between designing an approach to a task, or a strategy. This is all systems designs thinking. And a lot of it boils down to asking:

  • What needs to be done?
  • What order does it need to be done in?
  • Where should it be done? As in, which person, or what phase or component, or which object in your code?

Between these questions you basically get the outline of your system, and – more importantly – a way of dividing up chaos that lets you actually think about it in a simpler way. Scope, dependency, relationships. Everything else is detail.

It’s very rewarding being able to bring this kind of thinking to a fresh context and person. Like I’m testing my own design skills more.

Right, these notes are already well late. Catch you later.

Culture

  • Finished reading The Tao of Democracy by Tom Atlee. Got me thinking about what I do. What I like doing. A lot.
  • Finished watching West Side Story from 1961. Funny, I listened to the soundtrack a lot as a kid, and never realised how much of a social commentary it was 🤔 Some great sound and visual design though, worth a watch.

  • Writing: I finally started a new blog to keep track of my solar power adventures – https://6suns.exmosis.net/ – I’ve been running my phone and watch off solar power for 15 weeks now, and figured it was time to start being a bit open about it.


Also published on Medium.

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