Weeknotes TEN:3 – Twisty and Strange

Can you believe it’s Monday already? Last week feels like eons ago, as I jumped on a train Friday night, and then UkGovCamp 2019 happened. I want to write that up separately, but just wanted to say that the weeknotes session organised by Lizzi and Jenny was great. It was amazing to see all the people in the room who had started, or were thinking of it – almost as amazing as seeing Jukesie seem to wonder and tremble at what he hath created. 😯

This week we went for a truly eatable lunch to celebrate Joel leaving and Mary and John having birthdays, at Chilli Pickle where the ceiling was stars and a green pepper wiped me out for a good 5 minutes.

Photo of decorative stars hanging from a restaurant ceiling.

1. The path of a manager is twisty and strange

I finished reading The Manager’s Path by Camille Fournier this week. I can’t remember who recommended this originally but I think it was one of the weeknoters. If it was you, then thank you!

It’s a very readable book, and comes across with the air of a gentle, experienced mentor. There isn’t lots of detail or huge practical exercises to try. What it did do was confirm that I am on the right path – as far as I can tell. There was enough advice in the book that made sense, and fitted with I already do. Up until now, without a particular mentor (but some management training courtesy of Martin Johnson), I feel like I’ve been running off instinct and personal values (or “making it up”).

So that’s a nice boost. There’s also some really good advice on structure and cultural strategy in the final chapter, and I’d love for others in the company to read it. I’ve suggested it, but I still struggle to hook people into the things I find interesting. Maybe it’s just their loss. Maybe I’m not persuasive enough?

Here are my takeaways from the last chapter anyway:

p. 192 looks at what kind of teams a structure-light setup works well in – namely, task-oriented, small and homogenous, lots of communication, and low skill specialisation. That’s basically my team, and it’s fascinating to think which bits have been consciously guided vs unconsciously guided, vs by accident. (And yes, the point on homogeneity has very important implications for diversity, values and process.)

Quotes on the interplay between failure and structure, which reassures me that it’s not “One Right Answer” but all about context and learning:

  • “there comes a time for adding structure, and that time is usually when things are falling”
  • “… failure is the best place to investigate and identify where your structure needs to change.”
  • “Using failure to guide evolution lets you apply structure at the right level.”

And something I really want to remember from p. 183: “If you want a team that feels comfortable taking risks and making mistakes, one of the core requirements is a sense of belonging and safety.” I think this ties in with my own sense that I don’t know anything and nor should I. Isn’t it better to find out quickly, rather than assume slowly?

There are also some good thoughts on creating culture, but I want to come back to them separately, one day.

2. The endless cycle between actions and values

Apparently this week is one of the most depressing weeks of the year, but I don’t know. I’ve been feeling pretty good this week – I’ve got a bit of mojo on as various plans develop and emerge. I’ve started using Daylio on my phone as a mood tracker recently, and last week’s chart is reassuring:

Screenshot of a line chart of daily moods, generally pretty good moods too.

My wife described me as “sort of arrogant” some time ago. I think she was being kind? I’m not sure if/where arrogance blurs with confidence, and at the and time I’m not sure I’d describe myself as either 🙂 But perhaps there’s something else, something that treads that fine line.

Personally, I try to be neither arrogant nor overly-confident. I find it’s easier and more effective to concentrate on practical things, and the adjectives come out by themselves – Do, don’t Be. The things I try to do (or avoid) are pretty simple really. Something like:

  1. Don’t panic
  2. Don’t jump to conclusions quickly
  3. Do think things through based on previous experience

Or, even simpler: assess a situation, then think about what will happen.

3. Walk the work, re-walk to work it out

Craigmod’s newsletter* on walking, lines, and re-walking tied in with my re-visiting of my tech strategy at the moment, in particular:

Rewalking grounds the walker, allows the walker more noticing.

There is a joy of exploration when walking – that you simply cannot get to the endpoint quickly, that slowing progress down is key. You observe change, you enter into a much richer world, full of feedback and ideas-that-move-even-slower. The landscape adjusts, but in a way you can think of and reflect on. Walking is thought-movement.

Is strategic planning and review like this? “Making a strategy document” is not a case of just writing a bunch of words. How long do you need to create such a thing? How much time should you spend “re-walking” your original plan, and comparing it to what has really happened, and is continuing to happen now?

I’ve ended up making copies of my original documents, and going through the process of re-writing it, as if the “Final” version from September was nothing but an unkempt draft, a scratchpad. The themes are still there, but this re-writing is my own re-walking. An opportunity to think faster than the words are changing.

* Worth a subscribe if you like walking. And Japan.

4. Thursday day notes

  • Calendar Tetris. Lots of team meetings to think through upcoming work, which is great. But it takes a while to then organise – knowing who’s involved in each is essential, as is shared calendars. Maybe I need to give Jeni Tennison‘s new calendar tool a go. Should I be worried about her hacking my calendar though?
  • I deliberately added 15 minutes to these meetings with a specific agenda time to write up notes. I can’t remember who suggested this originally either. 🤔 (Extra Monday note: This didn’t work.)
  • Hence Discovery tag” is my new motto to stop people thinking about detail at the wrong time. But I’ll stop saying it, because mottoes get annoying really quickly.
  • Writing up meeting notes is one of those things that gets easier with practice.
  • We started our new sprint naming scheme. Sprint Zubat hands over to Sprint Ab Fab, to kick off our favourite TV shows. Sprint 141, can you believe that shizzle?

A gif from Absolutely Fabulous, in which, um, Patsy is pretending to have nipple tassles?

Note to self: Totally do an Ab Fab weeknotes gif special.

We were also visited by Luke’s two daughters, who brought us an extra yummy gingerbread house.

Photo of a Gingerbread house that is sadly now in tattered, half-eaten pieces.

And I changed my Slack icon to the face of Totoro, which led to a rather disturbing Totoro murder conspiracy article (spoiiiiler alert) and this photo of some Brighton street art.

Photo of street art in Brighton showing the cat bus from the film Totoro.

And surely there’s no better way of ending a weeknote than with a cat bus picture.

Also published on Medium.