Weeknotes 09×06: Wrapping up the year

Hello weeknotes diary. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’m afraid the momentum got too much, and the last few weeks have been a balance of doing Those Last Finnicky Bits, and crashing into illness, like a lot of people.

I’m feeling a lot better now though. A few days off with daytime TV and Kung-fu films. An ultrasound scan and the office Christmas outing (separate events). I can feel my brain and my stomach again, and it’s nice to have a lot of stuff officially sorted out and behind me. I actually feel like I can rest and relax over the week ahead, which makes a change. The reminder in my calendar which I set last year agreed with me: “RELAX,” it prompts, “CHRISTMAS IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN.” So true.

Meta

A bunch of things happened while I wasn’t weeknoting:

  • We shunted Local Insight over to fresh geographies as planned.
  • We also decided to switch our databases to a whole new server, just cos we could.
  • There was lots of fallout from the above.
  • I tried out collaborative live-journalling (daynotes?) with @jacattell – you can see our side-by-side notes here and while it could be made easier, it was interesting to ‘virtually shadow’ someone totally unrelated throughout the day. Would do it again, but would also write a proper blogpost about it beforehand.
  • The Taking Account project to audit charities in Brighton, which I’m helping steer, launched its survey and it’s nice when something you’re working on gets published like that. It’s been a while since I did project-like work.

I had Tuesday and Wednesday off this week.

Monday

So I spent Monday trying to relax while I caught up with emails and postponed meeting dates. I’ve lined up a lot of catch-ups for Thursday, so I’ll need to extra-relax that day. I’ve been reading the Upanishads and reminding myself that the world of work is not the world of brahman, and that existence, well, exists and takes up a lot of space all by itself, putting any stress that work can cause into paltry shade, really. Aum etc.

I missed the Board meeting last week, in which there were some changes to the Board. There are interesting opportunities in such changes, and so the future of the company next year will be shaken up in ways yet-to-be-decided. Haven’t really thought it through yet though.

I spent a bit of time revising my work/epic/objective* planning board, so that it now supports two sets of work. I set it up wihh 4 “related” streams previously, to allow for economies of scope, but decided this precluded our “diverse” approach to focus, and so re-purposed two workstreams into their own, “secondary” workstream. This made it a lot easier to add in my own IT and Systems objectives alongside Product objectives.

* Maybe “Workstream Object/Epic Planner”, or WOE planner for short.

I had a haircut.

I also finally went through various potential projects, and the workstream planning, wihh Stefan – been meaning to do this for a month at least, but it really has been that busy. We agreed that one set of work probably wasn’t going to work out, and another work.

It was also useful to check in on what the Research Team have planned for the next few months. I definitely want to move more towards a “strategy and support” role to help people think through this kind of stuff – I’ve noticed that any conversation on thinking ahead seems valuable, and I think it’s really valuable to have a second head to make the time, and bounce discussion off. One to pick up next year.

Thursday

After a couple of days off. The train ride in is quiet at the moment, with none of the regular acquaintances commuting at the same time. I’ve been deliberately trying to use it as a space for thought and focus, instead of slack and email, to set me up for the day.

I figure focus is actually a really important part of what I do – a clear head helps in so many ways; to keep everyone calm, to make rational and confident decisions, to make sure everything is happening in line with plans, and to keep everything running smoothly in the face of the unknown. All that stuff is glossed over in “traditional” productivity, but can you imagine an organisation that is anything but calm and focused? Of course you can, there are plenty. And all because people are too busy doing stuff to actually think about what they’re doing.

I also knew that I’d need brainpower today, as I’d booked in back-to-back catch-ups with most of the devs, plus a session on strategic thinking with Luke, and lunch with an old friend. I love talking to people, but it’s not natural and does take it out of me. I think this is something that the reflection of weeknotes has really helped me understand, so cheers for that.

Wanted to basically catch up with my team to check in before we broke up on Friday – make sure they’re OK coming out of some tough work the last few months, and prime them for a tech meet on Friday to set out thoughts for the quarter ahead.

I actually enjoyed doing all the chats in one day, and felt like it gave me a real “snapshot” into the team at a particular point in time. Usually I scatter 1-1s around to avoid overloading myself, but it does make it more fragmented, and individualistic. Not always a bad thing, so maybe a mix of timing is useful.

The session on strategic thinking was also interesting. I hope I didn’t ramble on with my opinions like an old man, but it was good to delve into someone else’s thought processes, help give it some structure, and identify/prompt what Luke’s next steps could be. It reminded me that strategy requires a lot of different skills and mindsets, and that we need to practice these and not be afraid of making mistakes, despite all the big businessy words and posh docs.

I ended the day by taking Flo and Alex through my slightly-crazy planning sheet. As expected, the draft plan for work over the year ahead needed some further refinement – and by “some”, I mean we electronically tore it apart and booted spreadsheet cells around like balls in soft play.

The tool seems to be achieving its aim of forcing discussion though – I’m treading a careful balance between getting others to figure out their conflicts in priorities, and just making the plan myself (based on input). Really, though, it should develop into a tool that others can use, and not be one that is dependent on me as the operator.

Still, it does remind me a lot of Iain Banks’ Wasp Factory, which is probably the fate of all “clever” spreadsheets the world over.

Friday

My copy of the Toyota Way arrived today, which alongside my new copy of Digital Transformation at Scale and the final volume of the Unwritten means I’m probably going to spend a lot of my Christmas evenings with my nose in books?

(Also reading the Upanishads currently, which is actually helping to bring a lot of calm and perspective back into my daily life.)

Friday was the LAST DAY OF TERM, so we had a few things to wrap up.

Helped out with a few technical support things, one for a client to dig into shapefiles, and one internal issue we were seeing. Both minor, but keeps you on your toes, don’t it?

Then held and hosted a tech meeting for the core set of developers – this was already delayed by a month, but I wanted to do something before we all left and replaced our heads with Christmas food. Need to get back to regular meetings, and as we held this one on the day of the solstice, I think I may aim for quarterly meetings that coincide with equinoxes and solstices, with review meetings in between. ‘A pagan company’ joked one person, but I do like the idea – symbols and rhythms go a long way when gathering teams together.

As this was the first meet since introducing the new tech team strategy back in September, the aim of the meeting was less to review “actual” progress, and more demonstrate the power of metrics. We’ve been starting to label issues in Jira with certain tags (like ‘wtf’ for general confusion, which comes from this comic, and ‘fixwtf’ to indicate work which addresses the root cause of the confusion). I showed some charts which were based on these labels, and which let us/me see if we’re actually making progress in our efforts to clear up confusion, debt, and legacy processes. I think it worked, with some actions to clear up what the labels are for, and to go back and retrospectively add labels as not everyone is using them yet. Moar data, moar evidence.

The meeting also captured a bunch of the team’s ideas on what we should be addressing – firstly as a quick brainstorm to help open up discussion generally, and secondly to narrow the ideas down to what we can address over the next quarter alone. This went well with the help of blank white cards, but I’ll need to write it up and consider seriously whether what we have (plus deliverables, plus other tech strategy focuses) is realistic. Still, planning is good.

Otherwise, the day wound down nicely. I wrote up 1-1 notes from yesterday, and we had a nicely brief sprint-planning session, all ready for discussion when we get back in a few weeks’ time.

Drank beer.

Went home.

And that, one way or another, is the end of season 9, and the end of the year. It’s the shortest day and the moon is one day off being as full as a ripe plum, all of which I take as an omen for … something. Next year is lining up to be one of change, so here’s to some rest and relaxation, and to fresh starts.

Merry Christmas!