A 2018/2019 round-up

An image taken from the year-long 'Blatchington Pond' project

I just posted a fuller version of this post on my main blog but thought I’d keep track of the professional parts over here in my weeknotes blog too. Apologies if you read this twice and get confused, but thanks for stalking me.

[Written in] These dying days of 2018. Another year of memories, stacked up like scrolls. Not a particular time for reflection, among the scrapings of wrapping paper, other than I have a few days – hours even – to stop doing anything, and the self-assessment comes naturally.

Looking back

The year has been busy – time of life maybe, but also unsustainable and unsatisfying in dappled patches. Parts have been productive and eye-opening, but more to set the stage for the show ahead, rather than anything in their own right.

In a slightly random order, I…

  • Pushed through on some big deadlines at work, to different levels of celebration
  • Iterated through another year of setting strategy and supporting my team, enjoying both aspects – see my ongoing weeknotes
  • Ran a session at UKGovCamp in January on distribution of data skills, then failed miserably to do anything concrete about it 🙁
  • Gave out a fair number of small Dalai Lama books under the new Taopunk Paper Goat umbrella (and in fact a whole new website), and discovered a lovely stream of reciprocity
  • Gave a talk at Sussex University’s Humanities Lab’s event on Democratising Big Data, on “Trust and Ethics in the Data Supply Chain” (slides here)
  • Gave a talk at #son1’s primary school [on census and geographic data], which was hilarious, and probably scarier than giving a talk to academics… (slides here)
  • Ran my phone and digital watch off solar power only for 7 months, and started a blog about it
  • Took a lot of photos of Blatchington Pond as part of a year-long series, which now need some follow-up action (along with a few other longer-term photo projects)
  • Started running Linux on my new personal laptop again, which still carries a strange sense of pride after all these years

Looking Forward

I have some vague plans for the year ahead, although because I’m turning 40, they’re probably less vague than most of my plans. I’m expecting things to evolve a bit, but I’m still thinking and talking this through a bit. I feel very ‘involved’ in what happens around me, and also hate to leave people in difficult positions, so I tend to approach change with a fair amount of “diplomacy”. Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot over the last few months on how to give up less-valued responsibilities, to do things I care about more. Hopefully this will bear fruit in the next six months.

Going into January, I’m also highly aware of that annual festive build-up of books, magazines, and general good-reads in my RSS feeds from the year. There’s a lot of material that I’d like to re-focus some attention on right now, and I’m at a point where that depth of engagement seems very timely.

(Broadly speaking – tao, tech, democracy and climate change are of high interest right now.)

In general, I think the solar power exercise mentioned above has been of huge impact. I’m much more aware of ‘casual’ and ‘disposable’ use of energy (both mine and my battery’s) on smartphones. I’ve come round even more to the idea that the convenience of smartphones is really just a way to cram more stuff badly, into less time and space. The whole setup – that we should do everything through a bad interface – just feels so unsustainable now.

So alongside getting into content into more depth again (like my Uni days), I want to get back into my interfaces in more ‘depth’ again. I love keyboards – there I’ve said it. There’s a mechanical feedback there which makes me feel part of the machine, and I miss that in touch-screens. I feel so separated.

(Personal goals skipped – you can see them in the original post though.)

Here are my professional goals this year:

  • Find a way to be ruthless about email
  • Spend personal time at work to relax and read
  • Spend more time thinking and observing – strategy and support
  • Clear up cruft in processes
  • Be more open internally about my own work and the team’s work
  • Be calmer about asking for things and negotiating change
  • Bring together the people that should talk more

Let’s see how it goes. Come on 2019, I’m feeling good about this one!

Weeknotes TEN:1

IT’S 2019eeeeeeeeeeeeeen. I’m feeling so old that the numbers of a year don’t mean anything to me any more, and could easily be replaced with random-character codes, like airports. Welcome to the year EIGTBD.

It was only a two-day week. My aims were:

  • Come back to work feeling relaxed and focused, not diving straight back into the thick of things.
  • Pick up reviewing tech (team) strategy from where I’d left off.

Reviewing our tech (team) strategy

I started by getting my head back into things. I wrote up the white cards from our dev session at the end of last year, which had our proposed quarterly focuses scribbled carefully on them. This was the first ‘proper’ dev meet I’ve run in a while, which came out of chats with the developers. It’s too easy to get sucked into sprint work and deliverables, and forget to (or – more realistically – avoid) making time for technology as a whole. Which runs the very real risk of leaving us blindsided.

Tech notes from last year on lots of cards
Deliberately dark and fuzzy, because, ummmm, GDPR?

I really like cards for this process – even more than post-its. Cards don’t bend and curl, or pretend to be sticky then fall off the wall, or inversely get stuck in the wrong place. Cards force you to get a table or a floor and look down from above. Their nature inherently inspires that helicopter view that you need when trying to make out clusters and correlations. With cards, I survey everything. I become as God?

I wrote up a summary set of notes and passed this round the meeting attendees to check accuracy, before sending round the whole team.

But I was still dissatisfied – there were a bunch of suggestions and changes here – all good, all fairly focused – but how did they compare against my intended Roadmap, and my identified objectives? CUE MATRIX SPREADSHEET.

Note 1*: Strategy is all about navigation, through SPACE and TIME. That’s why we talk about “Roadmaps” so much, but really any OS map will do. Except for business strategy, SPACE is the “what”, and time is (still) the “when”. Both are important to get a single, coherent route through the problem-space ahead of you.

  1. SPACE. Where does the work fit in against overall aims and objectives? Does it map to somewhere important or necessary? If not, is the work extraneous, or is the strategy lacking something important?

  2. TIME. Where does the work for in against timescales? Is it late, early, or on time? If it’s on time, that’s probably a good sign that everyone’s in the right place at the right time. If it’s late or early, is this because something has changed externally requiring a shift in time, or should the work be clamped down (if late) or delayed (if early)?

* Technically, the only note.

So my spreadsheet tried to compare our proposed and roadmapped focuses against objectives. But which objectives? I had so many – or at least, enough to make the spreadsheet HORIZONTALLY UNWIELDY. Which is basically structural death.

Confused, I resorted to thinking via Blog Post. I want to use this approach more this year, as I’m generally doing more thinking out loud, and maybe inspired by Steph Gray’s post on blogging too. I think a lot of what I do is still fairly obscure, so I’m going to try just spitting more stuff out there, and if anyone gets something from it, great. #OPENBYDEFAULT

The post didn’t get finished, not yet. Maybe longer-term blogposts are a thing?

Feeling relaxed and focused

Getting everyone back into work at the same time feels like the end of ‘Inception’ when everyone wakes up and finds themselves in a strange place, and everyone’s trying to remember where and who they were at the start of the film. The first few days back are a good time to adjust slowly. We kicked our sprint planning meeting back to the afternoon so that we could spend the morning re-orienting ourselves. The prep work done last year for lining up tasks in the meeting worked well though.

Tip to self: Always leave something in an unfinished, yet easy to pick up state when going away, to help make re-entry easier.

Looking at the calendar ahead, next week could be busy, so it’s important to keep that in mind as the plans for the immediate future are set up. I didn’t give myself anything too onerous in the sprint, and will be on more of a support and PO role than a dev one.

So far, pretty good. But then, it’s easy to say that after only 2 days…

15 Tips for Running a UKGovCamp Session

UKGovCamp logo

With only 2 weeks to go until UKGovCamp 2019, I thought I’d carry on in the spirit of open work and open thought by writing up my own approach to getting ready for the day.

As it’s an unconference, and therefore participant-driven, and as so much amazing work goes into organising it, I like to get some plans together to bring some sort of idea along, even if it’s vague to start with.

Full disclaimer. I’m really not confident at public speaking to say the least (although usually enjoy it once it’s done), but over the years I’ve attended, UKGC has been a real opportunity to push myself, and is often my only real annual chance to stand up and blabber in front of 200+ people. The 15 tips below reflect the prep work I’ve gradually evolved as my confidence and familiarity with the event has grown.

And of course, it’s still changing. Further tips very welcome, of course.

  1. Ahead of time (usually just after the Christmas booze has just run out), think of a vague idea that interests you – maybe something you’re working on, been working on, or would like to work on.

  2. Turn it into a question, eg “what can we do to improve X?

  3. Turn into a provocative or catchy question, like “X is rubbish. What would X look like in a John Woo film?”. This is your title. “If John Woo did agile procurement.”

  4. Come up with 3 or 4 questions you have about the idea – ones that you are generally curious about. Keep these at the back of your mind, they will help guide things if you need to move the session on or get it back on track at all.

  5. Decide 1 or 2 things you would really like to get out of a discussion – this might be something you want to do as a result, or something you want to write up, or some sort of networking after the day, for example. Again, this is useful for pushing things forward if needed.

  6. Pitch. On the morning, stand up, get in line, and pitch. Personally, this is the scariest bit. Do it anyway. Be succinct and clear about your idea, using your provocative title, above.

  7. Run your session – get there on time (ie. before more than 3 other people) so you can get a good position, so that attendees know that it’s you hosting it, and so they and you have a chance to swap introductions and ideas while things are still quiet in the room.

  8. Set the scene. Use your provocative title and rough questions and outcomes as a way to introduce the session. It’s OK to be less provocative and a bit more boring at this stage.

  9. Don’t worry if things go in a different direction to what you had planned or expected – so long as people (including yourself) are finding it interesting, then there’s value to the discussion.

  10. Also don’t worry if conversation seems to get stuck or lose its way – you can refer back to your questions and ideal outcomes to get you back on track.

  11. Only take notes for things that are vital to you – it’s better to stay “in the conversation” and write notes up after, or use the “official” govcamp notes. You can always ask the note-taker to specifically jot something down, rather than write it yourself.

  12. Keep track of time, as it’s helpful to then…

  13. Attempt to draw things to a close by summarising what you’ve (personally) learnt, and what any next steps might be. And be sure to thank everyone for coming along.

  14. Chat to anyone that wants to chat afterwards, or get contact details if you really have to rush off. Remember, spin-off/corridor conversations are also just as valuable (and encouraged) as heading off to attend another session.

  15. Take a big breath and let it sink in before moving on.

Hope that’s useful to someone one there. Look forward to seeing everyone on the 19th!