The Weeknotes where I Decide My Future

Hullo, my name’s Graham and I’m a tech lead. I’m vaguely on Twitter and other spaces. Oh yeah, I wrote an intro, didn’t I?

Monday, the delivery of news as a dark art. I started the week by telling the team I’m dropping to 3 days a week from September. Even though I’ve thought about it a lot and know it’s the Proper Time and a Good Thing, it was still an oddly and unexpectedly emotional thing to announce out loud. It’s something I’ve been thinking through and gearing up to for a long time, and there are lots of reasons for it, but it still seems strange to say it out loud.

I mumbled through it a bit more than I’d have liked to, and some people weren’t there, and I had to disappear into meetings and dad duties for a few days after. I ended up emailing the people who weren’t there, as I wanted them to hear it from me first. In a separate strand, I’m thinking a bit about remote working – I wonder how more important announcements can be relayed to the whole team better. Synchronicity is important, but so is personal delivery. And I’ve never seen a mass e-mail which works well at all.

(Time passes)

Chatting this decision through with the tech team has been oddly and unexpectedly “good”, in the sense that it’s raised a lot of questions which, I think, are currently being allowed to sit there and “simmer”. There is apparently nothing like a more drastic change to focus minds and open up discussion. In the end, I opted to talk to my team individually rather than as a group – this meant we could focus more on how it affected each individual, and I got a lot richer, more personal feedback and longer discussions that we wouldn’t otherwise have. Group size (and location) is really important for things which have a lot of “effects”, I think.

It’s been a fair relief though, and all the things I’ve been vaguely worried about in my head have now turned into post-it notes that I can actually do something with. I still haven’t read the Anti-fragile book, but get the impression that certain changes, done in the right way, lead to a stronger and more resilient organisation/organism. That doesn’t mean “throw your team in the deep end and they will turn out amazing”. That won’t work. It means that you can introduce certain stresses into the system in a controlled way, and then observe and guide the response of the system accordingly.

A pontoon, with a pair of sandals on

What else happened?

A good session on Thursday between Alex and the product managers (Flo, Stefan and meself), building on top of our revised “3-month/6-month” backlogs structure from a few months ago. We’re recognising the need to have a clearer set of known, working issues at last – not easy when juggling 5 or 6 sites, with code going back 6 years. What are we finding that works for this process so far?

  • Finding the time to get everyone together, ideally in the same room. Initially I suggested I could go through my issues separately, but it was actually useful to see the rationale and decisions on priorities that each Product Manager had.
  • Spending time up front discussing the ideal key focuses over the next 3-6 months. Sometimes this is clear, but often it’s not, and it’s really handy to bounce ideas around the others involved in planning work.
  • Working with epics in Jira – this makes it easier to lump stories together and deal with them in blocks. Sometimes a focus area just doesn’t happen for whatever reason, but we can make a joint decision on all those issues in one swoop.

Rock and roll.

A curled piece of rope.

I’ve continued to meta-meta-plan (pata-plan?), drawing up the agenda and structure for our MT’s strategy planning day next week. I guess you can never tell whether a structure will play out as you want, but I’ve been trying to learn from previous attempts this time, and started out with a recap of what we’ve tried before and why things fail. Things I’m doing differently this time are:

  • Aiming for a draft company strategy, with extra time for it to soak in and for us to reflect on it outside of the group.
  • Setting out a rough sentence structure to end the day with, ie work towards a particular grammatical structure. This borrows a little from the idea to write press releases for new developments first (except without the details), or from the various templates that guide ideas such as “As a X, I can Y, so that Z”. Aiming to write things down forces clarity, or at least that’s the idea.
  • Brought in more facilitative/liberating structures – starting with giving the team more solitary thinking time rather than just wade through group think discussions. I’ve borrowed the 1-2-4 setup for sessions where I think it makes sense, and 1-4 sessions in others, alongside some scales to map out our instinct, and dot votes to identify priorities.

Will it work? Find out next week…

Other things:

  • The photos this week are from a weekend trip to the folks in London. We finally took the kids to see Dad’s sailing club – he’s been sailing all his life, but it’s not a side of him the kids see necessarily. We found the caterpillars of cinnabar moths, and fished with a bit of old rope.
  • Ow, my back. Feeling properly 40 now, as life has manifested in some sort of trapped muscle. My new regime is to stop sitting around on my arse quite so much…
  • A few little things have kept me inspired this week – little snippets of observations from people in meetings and in chatrooms. But I forget what they were. Maybe I should keep track of them somehow – it’s the little things that count most times – a brief, unexpected sentence that tells you more than a whole review session. These are the krill that I live off, some days.
  • I’ve started picking through the feed of weeknotes again, somehow. I thought I might try highlighting other weeknoters who I’m enjoying reading – like the old #followfridays on Twitter. #wickedweeknoters tag? Anyway. Recently I’ve been enjoying the tech thoughts of Ben Lidgey and the amazing notes from Nadja bester who talks of all the things I’m into but don’t write about. Here, at least.

A discarded chair and trolley next to a litter bin

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