Weeknotes 09×03/04: The Colin McRae of Software Delivery

Dear Reader. I will admit I have struggled to get this set of notes out, for all the reasons of time and energy set out below. I just didn’t have the wherewithal to post last week, so this covers a couple of weeks, referred to lovingly as “Week 1” and “Week 2”.

Screenshot of a rally car skidding round a dirt track, from the game "Dirt"

Momentum, drive, setup. Project delivery with style.

  • Torn between workflows again, and spun out across trips to London and planning birthdays. Week 1, I’m out Monday and Tuesday for half-term including a trip to London’s Science Museum, and I’m not sure where I am by the time Wednesday hits. The week doesn’t particularly want to let up either. So many jigsaws litter my head.

  • I’ve been playing a rally game called “Dirt” recently, which has super-realistic physics, in my view. I’m struck by two lessons to take from it : 1) Momentum counts. In learning that the key to rally driving is to understand the route notes so that you can set up the car in the right way – speed, position, wheel direction, etc. Once you have that, going round the corner is just a matter of momentum and fine control – trying to correct a bad setup once the corner is happening often results in things getting worse.

  • 2) Throttle is dangerous. If momentum is everything for delivery of a corner, then keeping the throttle down is the worst way of driving. It took me a couple of days to learn to brake, to learn to learn, even. I had to begin by accepting I was going to come last at first, that you can’t go quickly just because you’ve played a hundred driving games before. I started feathering the throttle to avoid hitting turns too quickly. I braked more than I needed to, to find out how the car reacted under very controlled situations. I used practice time to go through the motions 5 or 6 times and get a feel for the track.

  • All of this has real world learning. Humility in your assumptions about what you can achieve realistically. Time for practice and, in particular, to slow things down and really “exercise” in how you approach things. Thought about set-up and planning. All of it.

  • Week 1: I think I’m really not building in enough rest /thinking time at the moment – or building it out.

  • Week 2: I’m cut down by exhaustion. Looking back, September and October have been a constant barrage of organisation, and I’m not really one of those people that organises stuff naturally. Balancing work at the same time as balancing people and contexts takes its toll – jumping from work life to home life and back again with only half-hour breaks in between. The pace is unsustainable, and has left me feeling like I’ve done a good job, but with treacle where my energy was.

  • I tried to rest up from home on the Wednesday of week 2, but some server issues had me chasing old domain names for most of the day. It’s frustrating to have to clear out legacy and debt in a reactive way, but at the and time therapeutic and work that needs doing. But it means I was proper wiped out by Thursday, especially with a few hours of sleep missing. I struggled to get up, then switch off, managed to go for a walk. Felt a lot better for just a morning of my own head space and no demands. So much better.

  • Thursday, week 1, and a meeting with Flo (user support, notionally) who has been looking at redesigning our dashboard page. She’s started to look into UX more properly and thoroughly than we usually do, which is very encouraging – a few of us are interested in the design side of things, but it’s not something we spend much time on as a company, so it’s great to see more people cotton on to it. It has the (good) potential to affect our how workflow and approach to development, of course, and the discussion bounces between the dashboard itself, users, and general philosophy.

Photo of a 'Dashboard Epic' powerpoint slide

  • Friday in week 1 made up for only a three-day week. Had a really interesting catchup with Angie from Community Works on the Taking Account project, delving into charities and politics and local budgets and national budgets and Brexit. And ended the chat with some practical next steps to help drive the research forwards – we’ve now got some good ideas for follow-on work, which serves to both limit the scope of the current effort, and to sell the potential of the work when it does get released, I think. I really enjoyed that crossover between societal trends and movements, and a technical solution that acts on a particular, known point within that context.

  • I then picked up #son1 – hello again half-term. He was pretty good on the office – he’s getting a bit cheekier as he settles into being 8, but is now tall enough to play table football properly, and managed to pass a good amount of time chasing after the cat which invaded.

  • After some rewarding coding (hands in the air, I love optimisation work), I had a few minutes to start on some kind of dashboard/planner tool in Google Sheets. The aim of this is to get a concise list of company objectives, map them to the planned work for each project and product, and allow us to 1) get a rough timeline in place for concentrating on things, and 2) get an instant overview of how the plan feeds into company objectives. Spreadsheets are an amazing resource for throwing this stuff together, and I’ve realised I’m drawing heavily on the social impact work I’ve been product-managing for a few years, just without any translation into financial metrics. The bones are in place now, but the tricky bit will be working out weightings between everything. Bring it on.

  • Read an interesting piece on the end of ‘Mr Indispensable’ in the FT, on being a solution finder with a duty to those you serve. I think I’m a solution finder. But increasingly in the sense of “healing” a system in order to keep it resilient, like a gardener finding a solution to something troubling a garden. What does all this mean?

The week ahead looks pretty frantic too. Maybe see you at the end of it.

Also published on Medium.