Weeknotes 08×10: Open Cat Strategy

  • Monday. First meeting with a cat in. Takes the idea of “herding cats” to a new level.

  • Tuesday. Day off, but some pro bono work for the charity project steering group I’m on. A group of four of us pore over survey questions for a few hours, assessing whether we need them, or whether they need changing. Two words: User Needs. By keeping that at the front of our minds, we get to the core – relevance. The words blow everything open – who are the stakeholders and what do they want? How does each question relate to that? It’s murky work, bouncing between impossible problems and linguistic technicalities. Here are biscuits half-covered in chocolate, and no cats.

  • Wednesday sees me going through the ‘final’ tech strategy approach with the tech team. It’s ‘final’ in that it forms the starting point for more targeted action and discussion. No plan is ever final. The finality is a con trick really – the plan will change, but in terms of the planning process, the stamp of “[FINAL]” in the document is a token and a symbol for timescales and confidence. Some work has been “done”.

  • Tuesday’s survey work weirdly overlaps a lot for the tech strategy work, for me. Measuring stuff is really hard, and both strands of work involve deciding what to measure, up against the bleak shards of limited time. Danger in every direction – the fine sliver of a Venn diagram that collates objectives and relevance, with practicality and available tools. It strikes me that nobody really gets how hard that is – that applied metrics is more of a bugger than software, which is already a form of voodoo magick.

  • This week I’ve finally got a near-final version of the tech team strategy for the year ahead (although all the juicy detail is for the next 6 months). I thought I’d write up the final approach as a weeknotes bonus – I really want to open up my thoughts more on this, for some reason. As it is, it’s taking longer than expected, so here’s a start – my approach to a tech team strategy as a Google Doc. Hopefully I’ll carry this on and fill out the later details over the next week or so, but maybe it’s useful to someone out there, or others can chip in their notes too?

Kevin Bacon saying "Free the Bacon"?

Bacon and chips?

  • Wednesday morning, presenting the tech strategy to my team of 5 is… An interesting exercise. Going into it, you assume people are on board, forgetting that people are involved in other work, and that this has been ‘your baby’ for a while. They have other other priorities, like deliverables and getting out of the door on time. Switching the atmosphere is hard – “hey everyone, stop what you’re doing and listen to me” doesn’t always work well. I set out my slides with bullet points and really try to avoid sounding like a damn corporate manager, but slides make it so easy. Still, the basic narrative is there – I spend a few minutes on why it’s important and what’s happened, before getting to the details. It’s always good to slow people down a bit, even if they don’t want to.

  • Halfway through I realise that while I assume that the tech strategy has been formed from “inclusive consultation” and picking people’s brains a lot, it’s now at the point where I, as tech lead, have to kick it on a gear and take on ownership. There’s a switching point, where I realise I’m saying: “This is what’s going to happen. I’ve decided.” – this is, to be honest, quite a scary point as it’s a flip from how I usually think, and it’s a moment that risks a lot of negative comeback. It’s the moment you have to have a bit of confidence – in the way you’ve approached it, and in what you’ve drawn out. And there’s always time to change it later. A plan is never the end point.

  • In fact, all the work up to that point has been to sense check that you’re satisfying everyone to a decent extent. A plan is never going to solve everything – the plan is there to work out what you’re not going to solve, either now or soon, at least. And the job of the lead here is to understand the difference between individuals’ needs, and team needs. The team strategy will address team needs. 1-1s, mentoring, and general life can address everything else.

  • The long period (months) of tapping into people, followed by an hour to turn it into a planned push. Is this like tai chi? In tai chi, in pushing hands, everything is sensory – observe, flow, observe, flow. If it is necessary to push things in a new direction, then it is only to assist it in a direction that it is going already, and only at a moment when there is no resistance. Everything is already in place, there is nothing really to do. Bonus link of Cheng Man Ching footage.

Animated gif of some very good tai chi or kung fu choreography

Last retro

  • One of the worst outcomes for any strategy-type meeting though is silence. Fortunately, and I take this as a good sign, I have to stop the meeting descending into a retro – questions and suggestions for detail start coming up, which I hope/think means that people understand it, and want to get on with it. Relief.

  • I’ve had a couple of bugs I’ve been looking into recently which have gone quite deep into code and history. I’m reminded of just how powerful tools can be – the combination of git, github, Jira, and the myriad APIs which tie them all together, mean I can skip through time like Scott Bakula. Thanks to everything getting tracked, I can give an explanation of why something is so with time and certainty. Amazing.

Animated gif of Quantum Leap with Scott Bakula surrounded by blue light. Text reads "My Body is Ready"

Logging into Jira

  • Thursday brings a celebration of Joel’s 30th, and Obi’s departure next week. They organise a wine and cheese tasting after work. Sadly I have no photos which are suitable for here.

  • Friday is supposed to be a day for retro and a 1-1, but #son2 hits the season of colds, and we’re cautious after breathing problems the last two years. A troublesome night with wheezy coughs (not helped by getting back at midnight), a Doctor’s appointment in the morning, and we end up with the day back in the hospital in Brighton. Shuttling back and forth along the coast is a dreamy way to end the week. We’re all good by 5pm and out and home by 7pm, but I’m asleep soon after. Feels like the end of the series.

In links

Following on from last week’s thoughts on games, movement and focus, this article on Shinran, the founder of Shin Buddhism has some interesting notes on the overlap between the body and compassion:

Buddhism is a bodily practice first, in which one speaks the nembutsu aloud. Then the heart may open and the mind may follow, but only if one is sufficiently humble and clear of the need to possess and the desire to control the world through the intellect.

This post on what a leader does has been reassuring, in light of the strategy work. Sam sets out three important threads and responsibilities: Seek feedback, set context, provide support (“safety zone”).

Things I’ve written:

In culture

  • I’ve come off Steam recently, as am very much in Nintendo world. Currently playing Mario Golf: Advance Tour on the GBA, Zelda: Spirit Tracks on the DS, and Link (the first) and Mario Kart: Double Dash on the Gamecube. They’re all fantastic, in their own way. So much thought.

  • I’m back to reading The Erstwhile again, and really getting back into it. The first few chapters seemed to be a bit clunky, but Catling has found his style again, and the language and ideas are now barreling along in an impressive and fearful way.

  • After reading issue 1, I’ve also picked up the other 4 issues of Barrier, an English/Spanish comic about migration and aliens? Looking forward to it.

Also published on Medium.