Weeknotes 07×02: So much going on that one title can never suffice, but at least Skateboards

Before the week

What am I looking forward to this week?

  • Nothing in particular, maybe just the chance to wrap up some long outstanding work, having a bit of a clear out, and meeting up with James on Wednesday
  • Getting our IMD poster framed

What am I not looking forward to this week?

  • Reviving our Australian project – things are busy, and I really hate trying to re-prioritise things
    ** (Actually turned into a very rewarding meeting)
  • Picking up on some potentially awkward conversations
    ** (Actually just shrunk the scope and turned out very useful)
  • Jumping about like a headless chicken
    ** (Yeah this happened. So much.)

What am I not sure about?

  • How much time in between meetings I’ll have, and how best to spend it
  • How the dev team get on self-organising a bit more formally, but looking forward to finding out either way

Expected theme

  • Jumping about like a headless chicken, trying to decide what to do next, cluck cluck cluck

Chicken : me, Cat : life
Chicken : me, Cat : life

(After the week)

Actual theme

  • Lots of good stuff, but too much of it. More jumping about like a multi-headed chicken than a headless one.

Ideal chicken me, Tortoise = Something very wise?
Ideal chicken : me, Tortoise : Something very wise?

What surprised me?

  • Someone else bringing Monday morning treats in!
  • Making a suggestion during a meeting that got back to the heart of the relationship with the client, and the empathy and relief that went with it.

Monday

Skateboarder in a little, as #son1 was cycling to school. Felt nice, even if I had no more than 5 minutes’ board time. Good way to start the day.

How I see myself getting to work
How I see myself getting to work

Sit-down, company catch-up. Dev stand-up. Lovely that someone else brought in Monday pastries too, so lots of cars in the office to get us going.

Planning out our next server migration with Gregor (sysadmin and professional [toads] player), which feels like never-ending work. I know it needs doing, but I swing rapidly between being glad we’re doing it, and depressed because it’s trudge work that’s not particular interesting, and needs careful handholding to keep smooth.

Phone call that I wasn’t hugely looking forward to as the project has been dragging for years. However, it turned into a surprisingly pleasing meeting, surprising to myself for pushing for slightly harder, clearer deadlines, and also for suggesting a route that feels like it could fundamentally change the relationship with the client. It wasn’t a suggestion I was planning on making, but there is a certain empathy, even via voice calls, that taps into clients at a personal level. It’s why OCSI is such a great place, I think – we will work with our clients to get them the best of their position too. It feels like a good move in this case as well, for now at least.

Rest for lunch.

Sorted out Jira issues from the migration planning.

Pre-sprint-planning-planning meeting, which needs a better name. OMG epics are so useful – clicked through my top 4 or 5 epics in Jira to see what work was left, and dragged it into the next sprint. Bish bash bosh.

During the day, got some nice feedback on the 3-month planning/clarity I was [looking at last week], so glad it’s not just me feeling the benefits. Must remember to carry on with this despite other people feeling pleased about it, I’m a terror for stopping at that.

Me actually going to work
Me actually going to work

Tuesday

Reviewed the dev team’s planning work – such a difference to the last set of work. It’s amazing how much can be learned quickly, given the right feedback. Shared Google doc to collect thoughts and notes – effectively collaborative, or peer-based, writing, which raised a few questions and changed a few thoughts on the way.

The main issues were some detail on tech architecture, and the Naming of Things. Managed to get a clear path on the former,and raised the second later on. Naming things is one of Those under-appreciated aspects, or rather, I’m learning to appreciate it more and more. Finding a term of art that makes sense to end users, wider team, and developers – all in different worlds – is hard. A term needs to both draw on and cut through the confusion of the existing system, and everyone’s previous contexts somehow.

The team going to the pub
The team going to the pub

Wrote up notes from yesterday’s meeting and sent off.

Catch up with MT on staff illness.

Got a frame for the poster, one step closer. Will bring a nail in tomorrow.

Had a good 1-1 with John, great to see him becoming part of the team, and the culture, and put me a bit more at rest. It really does take 6 months or more (the best part of a year) to get used to a new workplace.

Tidied up some git and dev setup work for an issue in the sprint, nice to round it off.

Wednesday

Took a nail and some screws in to hang the picture up. Will bring a drill in tomorrow.

Had a chat with Luke about availability for development time, vs other “functions”. Trying to get the hang of raising discussions (or lining up chat time) for “concerns” sooner rather than later – I often see things as the Big Picture (“OMG, do we need another dev or what? What’s our year’s strategy for dev skills?” etc) when actually a 15-minute chat with one simple question/answer will do the job. If you know what the question is.

Maybe this is a core skill of the Dot Joiners in the world – when someone has a concern, get in a quick, focused conversation time to keep things moving in the right direction.

Think I chatted to John about some Javascript. It’s starting to feel like a good pairing – he’s good at digging into code and has good suggestions. I understand the bespoke framework and legacy timeline. The main challenge is just managing our joint frustrations with dealing with complex code that is neither of ours’. Casual, open swearing is not to be under-estimated.

Also had a talk with Joel on use of Google Analytics. Definitely starting to feel more like a consultant in my role today…

Early finish. Met up with James and chatted about Brexit and remote working (separate strands, maybe?) Finally gave him a copy of The Rough Guide to Blogging which I’d picked up in a second-hand shop months ago, and a photo-essay on the Burry Man from Cafe Royal Books.

Wait I'll come over and help you
Wait I’ll come over and help you

Thursday

Forget the rest of the day, brought in a drill and finally got the lovely Local Authority IMD poster by OpenDataManchester up on the wall.

NO WAY WE GOT ART

Sprint planning in the morning, made slightly odd by half of the dev team not being there. Tried to block in some time for my own planning ahead around lunch, but some fallout dev work after the morning session + lunch meant I didn’t get much time to do this. Fortunately, a check through my Jira Epics showed things were gradually progressing across the fronts I’m focusing on, and so not too much needed.

Had a handy chat with Stefan on team skills – I’ve been developing a tech skills framework, and he’s looking at researcher frameworks, so now seemed like a good time. It was mostly a chance to catch up with each other – the (my?) longer term aim is to see if we can integrate our efforts so that we get a more universal approach to career development. It seems weird that we don’t have this in place already. As I go through it though, the harder I get that it is.

Currently I’m basing the tech skills framework on my own experience + the needs of the company. It’s not designed to be a “final” framework at all, but I do wonder just how subjective it is. Still, the main test is – do people understand it, think it’s fair, and can plan their lives around it?

Go, skills framework baby, go!
Go, skills framework baby, go!

Did some dev work in the afternoon to tidy up our. git branches. Went to the pub after work. Opted to do rounds of half-pints, which I’m opting to call “Micro-Rounds” to make them sounds trendy. They’re more sociable, and you get to drink a greater variety of ales, so win-win-win all round (apart from the headache). Also discovered we definitely should not be logo designers.

Friday

I think I’d overdone it by this point – absolutely shattered by Friday morning. My extrovert-meeting metric (which doesn’t exist yet) failed to alert me to the amount of conversations I’d been having. Writing this up on Sunday, after a fairly trudgey weekend filled with video games and kids’ party cake, I can look back and say “Yeah, that was a hell of a long week.” I was pretty zonked by Thursday morning, TBH. Chatting + lugging buggies and bikes around is a lot more knackering than it looks.

So not a very productive Friday half-day. Had a chat with Kim on GDPR, had the usual realisation of how much there is to do, but feeling on top of it, and spurred on to really block some damn time out for this now.

I think I tidied up some work on passwords as well, which felt good to get done finally. But it feels like months ago right now.

So there was the week. Now I am pooped.

Yes it is so much time to stop
Yes it is so much time to stop

Kultcher

Reading

Goodreads me

Pondwatch

  • Still definitely 4 moorhen chicks. The wife says she saw a fifth, but it’s been elusive for me so far. There are some amazing blue irises coming out, alongside the bluebells. Time to head up to the woods and check out the annual bluebell carpets.
  • The 89-year old man that looks after the pond had a bonfire, the humming ashes of which I returned to on Tuesday. We chatted, I showed him the photo I’d taken of him, and we saw a rat run past. Need to look up what water rats look like.

Weeknotes 07×01: Post-its rule my world

What am I looking forward to this week?

  • First meeting with Fabrice to discuss what tech lead mentoring could look like
  • Our first Tech Team Roadmap Review meeting, we’ve achieved a lot in 6 months, I think?

What am I not looking forward to this week?

  • Having conversations about work without a clear plan of capacity. There’s a lot coming up and I’m not sure if it’s too much.

What am I not sure about?

  • An Internal analysis session that’s planned, which could go either way and be either really useful, or really messy and drawn-out.
  • GDPR work which I need to get on with. I feel like it could be interesting, but isn’t because I “have” to do it…

What’s the expected theme?

Not doing as much dev work as I could, but getting useful stuff done instead.

Now that it’s finished, what was the actual theme

Loads of time on Planning and Strategy, which was in-depth, and felt good. Success and sunshine.

What surprised me?

  • How many post-its you can fit on one board if you really try
  • How much I really like the Pebble smart watch I got for Christmas. Lost the link to my phone for a day, and it felt weird being having to go to my phone for notifications. Also started using my watch for walking and sleeping data, which is another story.
  • How little I’ve picked up and called out certain things I’m not happy with.
  • That my gut instinct can lead to some useful insights at the end of a risky, exploratory, ‘creative’ process.

Space for links.

“The act of writing, forces the author to think through all the details and steps required to share the lesson. It avoids what happens in business all the time which is “I just know” or “experience” and brings along the team and other job functions on thinking.

Monday

Company sit down: First time that nearly all of the company have been in together (12 of 13), felt nice, like a feeling of pride in building something that supported this team. Shame not to be able to do a team lunch.

Tech team planning stand-up, which turned into me talking a lot. There was a job to catch Alex and Gregor up with what happened last week, which I think comes best from one person (?) but is a different exercise to a round of status updates. Summarising is a bit of an art, everyone should practice it, but how? What exercises and guidance would be useful? Should I add “summarising” to my new Capabilities Framework?

Also it felt like the team is working working together well currently, even if it was me saying lots. Feels fairly nicely focused and balanced at the moment, like all that that strategy, feedback, and support in the background traces a line through to the work detail. It’s a shame I can’t prove that, it’s a big part of what I think I bring to the team, but a lot of it feels invisible, or subtle.

Spent a lot of the day on some database setup, which was only interesting because I got to dig out some code I wrote years ago and use it again in anger, like dusting off an old motorbike, and firing it up to ride round the block.

Met up with Fabrice to discuss some tech lead mentorship. Coming out of Christmas, and some ukgovcamp chat, I’ve been taking the mentorship stuff more seriously. Over the last 6 months, I think I’ve started to move away from trying to take everything on myself, and the idea of mentoring (me mentoring others, others mentoring me) is a part of that confidence of “opening up”. For some in-built reason, I find it quite scary giving people career advice, or asking for support. So today’s chat (which wasn’t at all scary), and offering recently on Twitter to help out junior developers, feel like some big milestones, like I’m stepping into a new chapter in life. No longer just a doer.

Talked through some fresh feedback from our Australian client, after we delivered an update in January. Turned into a recap of outstanding work and timescales which are forever shifting. Feel like I’m eternally trying to lock this down, and it’s mentally tiring to keep trying to get some structure and clarity on what’s left. Still, managed to identify some key work, time frames and questions, using nothing but good old post-its and a big piece of paper. I guess the most important first step of anything complex (the same is true with Roadmap, code design, etc) is to find “chunks” of the right size. Chunks that are “just clear enough”, clear enough to be given time, and to be understood as something concrete.

Got a theory that managers should practice this “chunking” activity until they can (and do) do it in their sleep.

Broke up the train journey to get stuff for the guinea pigs. I’d forgotten how refreshing it is to walk for 20 minutes in a low, warm sun after work.

Brucie and Noodles

Tuesday

The first half of the morning was taken up with a management team look at the 3 months ahead of, which turned into the next 6 months. I was responsible for arranging the meeting as in my gut I know we have a lot on over the next few months, and experience says that everything gets really stressful when there’s no planning on it at all. But I haven’t had much time to be particularly organised, so a bit of a moment of “oh shit, I should probably lead on this” as I got in this morning.

The two thoughts which carried me through were:

  1. The main aim of the meeting is to actively air what’s in everyone’s heads anyway. Personally I’m infinitely more relaxed once I’ve written stuff down, so I hope the same is true of other people. Getting any sort of structured timeline wasn’t a particular goal, but highlighting the amount of work, and looming crunch points, was the first step.

  2. This was, in some sense, a personal effort on behalf of the wider team. I don’t know if it’s because I have to organise a larger section of people, or if I’m just more wont to push for some organisation because I know others that want it, but there’s a sense of duty, to stop ourselves getting frustrated later, as a team. It doesn’t matter how much you pay people, or what incentives you give them to be happy – setting out clear goals and priorities is the one major thing you can do to help people do their job, and by extension, enjoy what they’re doing.

So it’s weird, and sometimes uncomfortable, to force people to list their 6-month to-do lists like this. There’s a risk of it being too chaotic, or of getting depressed because it seems like too much when it’s opened up, or getting into arguments about deadlines and what should take precedence. As one person commented, it felt like a frenetic process, as hundreds of post-its got hammered out and stuck up. And a bit of me wished I had a neater, more structured approach to it. But the calmer part of me knows that it’s an inherent part of capturing the frenetic chaos that is going to happen anyway, and that it’s ok to be the one to force it into the open, right now, instead of being an unseen elephant in the office.

The next job on it is to make it a practical tool. I’d also post a photo here if there wasn’t sensitive info on it. Oh go on then.

So much post-its

Today we:

  • Brain dumped onto post-its
  • Arranged post-its along a rough 6-month timeline on the Big Green Board
  • Identified the things we definitely had in our heads – what were the important things keeping us awake?
  • Identified the things we could potentially push back
  • Identified the things which were actually being pushed back already

Tomorrow, I’m aiming to order these, so we can see 1) the “easy” must-do, are-doing stuff, 2) the “at risk” must-do, but pushing-back stuff, 3) the lower-priority stuff, and 4) the “omg” stuff we’ve not even considered yet. Then we can work out what to do with it. It’s all slightly backwards, but sort of ties in with my own sense of reactive planning…

After that, started on our new information security policy for GDPR day, and filled in a short feedback form for Alex to turn into a retro on client involvement.

Wednesday

Catch up with Gregor (Sysadmin) on infrastructure planning and GDPR stuff. Also had a nice chat about kids – Gregor’s tales are basically the tales I’ll be telling in a few years. Ran through actions quickly with the help of last month’s notes, and the Jira Kanban board I set up a month or two back – now I can set up tasks, tag them with a ‘sysadmin’ label, and generally the whole process for ordering and tracking this aspect feels a lot cleaner now.

First OCSI Read Club! John and I sat on the sofa in the cafe downstairs and ate lunch while reading our own books. It’s something I did once upon a time, by accident, and recently wanted to give it a go. No pressure to chat, or read the same book, just a space to get away from things and read. Reading is awesome. Be suspicious of people who don’t read.

Club for Staff Who Read Good

6 month Tech Team Roadmap review in the afternoon, which is the one thing I most proud of getting in the calendar finally. 6-months seems a good time to review long-term progress. This is what I want to lead on – everything else is just checking what’s going on really. I didn’t have a set structure, but sent out the main aims/sections via email in he morning, and a brief survey to set the scene beforehand. Cue lots of post-its and dot-voting – by the end, alongside the 3-month planning post-its, I felt like I could probably get commission from 3M.

On the whole, I was pleased with how the session went – pretty much everyone on the team contributed, and by specifically asking for everyone’s “pain points”, it felt like a sensible way to address major gripes that we have. There was deliberately no expectation of setting next priorities, but it evolved so that I can propose the next Roadmap pretty easily, with good buy-in and evidence from the team. Bosh.

Alongside the notes of the outcomes, I also wrote up my notes of how the session was run. Maybe I should post these on GitHub, rather than just keep them as internal notes?

Thursday

Woke up, disturbed early by #son2, realising that I use post-its notes as an extension of my mind – I think with my hands. It explains a lot: why I love pen and paper, why so might abstract concept can be modeled as physical objects, why I wave my palms in the air when I talk, why I hate phone screen keyboards and their vague non-commitment to reality. Even why, perhaps, I have an obsession with “craft” as a desire to “sculpt” something, tangible or otherwise.

And why not everyone maybe gets flustered, chaotic post-its heavy approaches. Not everyone is a builder, not in the same way.

What a day though. Kim ran a great session in the morning for the management team on company strategy – it’s funny how a single question can lead to a much higher level discussion. We had a lot of ideas coming up, and the discussion was civilised, structured and thought through.

I tend to be a bit ‘punk’ in these situations sometimes – that is, I know what I want to do, and can get a bit argumentative or defensive if others have a different opinion. It’s not a great attribute though, and goes against the taoist idea of “do not contend”. After a long day yesterday, I’d promised myself to relax a bit, and so I worried less about being “right” in this session, and was a bit happier to sit back and listen. It’s a hard skill, not sticking your oar in. I should practice it more.

The session was interrupted 5 minutes from the end by being told one of the team was locked in the toilet – the only diabetic member of staff, natch, which meant we had a hit more urgency to get them out. Cue locksmith, fire brigade and, ultimately, big yellow battering ram.

BLAMMO

Tech planning session for some upcoming development. We/I/we decided to bring 4 of the devs in on this – rather than just me, or just one other person leading on it. The original aim was to open up planning experience to some others who are interested in developing their skills. In practice, this happened (with some guidance to help split the planning work up), but we also got a chance to discuss something together, and iron out gaps in our shared understanding. “Everyone understands, but in their own way”, I think I said. I wonder if that ironing out process will help in a few weeks.

Spent some good time shuffling the post-its on the Big Green Board. I do like working in 3D. Tactile cognition loops. Tangible abstracts.

Ended with Prosecco – celebrating some important sales, project kick-off, project closure, and freeing employees from lavatories prisons.

Friday

Half day, worked from home. Lousy sleep so good to have a bit of a gentler catch-up – I’m really noticing the need for downtime after longer days, maybe since noting down the idea of measuring it previously. Finished putting the next 6 months into a Google Sheet, which was a great exercise. It’s a lot clearer to see what’s at risk, what needs more emphasis, or what could possibly be re-considered or re-factored. My brain is thanking me for it, and hopefully I can translate it into tasks to help the team out as we go.

Wrote up some 1-1 notes, replied to emails, did some user support checks, etc.

Done.

Culcher

Reading

Catch me on Goodreads

  • Finished Spirits of Place, my review here
  • Started Italo Calvino’s The Distance of the Moon – went on a bit of a binge at Waterstones, including this little £1 quick read.

Watching

Pondwatch

  • 4 moorhen chicks have turned up on the duck pond outside the house, and the 2 turtles have been sunning themselves on the island. The moorhen parents seem to have their work cut out gathering food while chasing away pigeons and rats.

Weeknotes 06×06: Should we assess our anticipation and dread?

So that was series 6, which started near the beginning of February. What just happened?

  • 06×01: The two hard things in management are priorities and scheduking.
  • 06×02: Micro-prioritisation is surely possible
  • 06×03: Empathy and legacy
  • 06×04: Delegation vs delivery
  • 06×05: Unorthodox procedures

How was it?

I’ve got a short, 3-day week coming up, and I’m off after Easter, so that’s basically February and March for me.

Right now, I feel like I’ve been productive and pushed a lot on a lot of fronts – possibly too many. Some of that is my own fault and drive, some of it is because we always seem to be busy as a company, and some of it is entirely external factors (hello GDPR).

Looking back further, to a couple of series ago, I was exploring the idea of “craft”, and the notion that if you’re going to something, then you should absorb yourself in it, understand it, do it as wellas you can, and really develop it as a practice – as something you practice.

you knit

I haven’t written about that this series, but I do feel like I set something in motion back then. Like I’m able to define my role better now, and understand what I want to get from it, so that I can assess whether what I’m doing is pushing my boundaries, and hitting my targets.

In fact, this week I ended up going back to basics and listing my own current, personal core aims in a Google Sheet when things started getting a bit too much. I described this to the wife as putting clothes away. It’s great having lots of clothes to wear, in the same way that it’s (probably) nice to have lots of work to do. The core aims are the clothes drawers – I might still have the same amount of work to do, but by sorting it into aims, everything just “feels” tidier, and more manageable.

What happened this week, and what did I learn?

Monday: Most of the office were out at the annual User Group. Had a half day, where I was keeping an eye on our support inbox, and nothing too crazy.

i understand your frustration

Tuesday: A GDPR session run by Brighton Chamber of Commerce in the morning, reminded me that GDPR a) makes sense, b) MAKE NO SENSE and that WE’RE ALL DOOMED. Data is complicated. What the GDPR itself wants is fairly straightforward. What it’s defending against is a nightmare. Codes to take on codes for other codes. I know too much about computer security, I think.

In the afternoon, I had a useful session on Javascript with John, which was mostly a case of describing the last 4 years, topped by some initial next steps. Starting to feel more confident on this front, although code will feature heavily over the next year.

Wednesday: Had to work from home, which meant I got lots done. I used the momentum from the GDPR session the day before to get back into the work and do some good planning. We had a follow-on meeting for some recent shapefile-related work to decide what else needed to happen next. I had to pick up #son1, so bit of a truncated day.

Outside of work, I had my first random contact via Twitter, asking about software career development, after I posted that I’m free for questions after 20 years of making it up as I go along. It was slightly odd and scary, doing the “sudden mentor” thing, and me realise both how little I know about working today, as well as how much I’ve learnt. I may need to talk to a mentor about how to mentor people 😉

Thursday: Was my main day in the office, and the only real day that everyone else was in together, which meant lots of meetings. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but I am pretty wary of chopping and changing subject a lot – it’s realllly tiring. The opposite extreme to having a day to myself coding (which is tiring, for different reasons, and doesn’t geenrally happen.) It would be great to keep track of how many different meetings, or topics, I have in one day, and move to limit it when it’s getting too many. I know how much it takes out of me.

All the discussions were good though. I may be able to re-prioritise some work I’d put a lot of pressure on. I’ve got a rough path forwards on next stages for our server setup. I drafted a negotiative mail about invoices and got some feedback.

Friday: I was really tired after a long day the day before, and an early start. However, had a 1-1 with Alex, a GDPR plan sessionw with Kim, and in between managed to send a useful email, and publish the responses to an internal survey I’d sent round months ago on our social value. So that felt good. I’m really bad at publishing things like that – they seem “forgivable” so aren’t high priority, but I’m also fairly afraid that … that what?

I’ve never been great at finishing-completing. I like to go back and make changes, so a “final” publication gets pushed back. I’m my own worst critic, which is stupid – partly because then things get posted late. And partly because I’m not focusing on what other people think is important.

Coffee finisher-completer

Pressure metrics

Maybe one of the things we’re really bad at is understanding the emotional attachment we have to particular bits of our work. We (as managers, in general, across the world) are great at ranking tasks in a backlog, checking with others for deadlines, assigning business value, etc, etc, etc. But we don’t stop to think about which bits of work we’re looking forward to, and which bits we’re dreading.

Which means we have to deal with something amazing one moment, and then (literally) ten minutes later, we’re on the other side of the planet, in terms of both subject matter and mood. And that’s a) tiring and b) difficult. ANd the best thing Iv’e done all week, this week, is to remind myself that I’m human. A human, with limits. You can’t jump across five different things and not have them take their toll on you.

Maybe by predicting and understanding – or “estimating”, as we’d say in software dev terms – what work we have coming up, we can achieve something better, something more finely crafted. We could…

  • schedule our work to make mood swings less erratic
  • make sure that we do high-attention work when we’re freshest, eg in the morningm or when we’re more likely to be alone
  • be more open, and let others know what state we’re in – either informally (chatting) or formally (calendar notes?)
  • plan to fit our expected work to our environment better
  • factor in better rest and relaxation time after “heavy” work

What would an assessment of work enthusiasm look like? If I was tagging it, it might be a 5-rank categorisation, something like: YAY | alriiiight | meh | ick | GROOO – in best to worst order, of course.

so many emos

Maybe this is something for next series, but I’ll look around and ask around – maybe people have done this already, but in a way that’s not excruciatingly “sensitive” and cringey. Or maybe it’s all just overthinking it, just as a distraction from the actual GROOO work. Don’t know, will think it over a bit.

Anyway, I don’t think I’m going to weeknote for the next 2 weeks, so enjoy yourselves, and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.

Reading

Also very useful: Louise Cato’s list of democracy and civilisation books.

And finally, here’s my ongoing list of found inspirations.

Weeknotes 06×05: Two successes and Split universes and Product clarities

This week’s weeknotes go over a couple of things that have been a bit of a challenge, but that I’m pleased about the outcome with. The first touches on the challenges of coding and tech team management. The second looks at the joys of raising things honestly at a management level. I’m not sure if they’ve of any use, but maybe it’ll inspire some questions, and serve to connect with others in similar situations.

The week started out with a bang. I was pretty tired by Monday morning after a few good, but really long days off. At work though, we were up against it, as a dev team. With our user group coming up in a week, we needed to bring a new feature together, which involved the usual complexities which make technical projects so challenging, yet also satisfying:

  • working out solutions to complex, inter-related puzzles
  • implementing it in a technology we’re not necessarily very experienced in
  • understanding someone else’s code
  • bringing everything together across different members of the team
  • setting up, understanding and debugging code flows with three services talking to each other
  • liaising with the user/support team to get spec and documentation materials written, in between them getting ready for the user group
  • liaising with product owner – or deputy, in our case – to answer product questions that arise, in between them getting ready for the user group

By Monday we knew what we had to do, code wise, and what our challenges were. But we weren’t sure what our solution was – . John had had a good idea, and I wanted to help out, either directly with code, or indirectly by clearing some space for him. With John or on Tuesday, and me in a Board meeting on Wednesday morning, we’d have to be very smart indeed about keeping each other up to date, and swapping code and notes back and forth.

(To be clear, this is not a good situation to be in. (Previous weeknotes were a precursor to this)[https://weeknot.es/weeknotes-06×04-get-things-done-or-get-things-delegated-f11b8c55327b] though, so we weren’t completely unprepared.)

In fact, there was no way we could be that smart – nobody is that good, unless they’ve somehow been working together without speaking to each other for years already. I’ve known John about 3 months. Neither of us know the code in front of us, or the real answer ahead of us.

So, a decision. At this point, I made the call to split up, hedge our bets, and work on two solutions at the same time.

Dev team be all like

our dev team be like

This is not what I’d usually do. Usually I’d work this stuff out up front, get a plan in place, then leave people to get on with it. But necessity needs creativity, and plans are fine if you unbeaten the risks involved. We were fairly in the dark here, and there wasn’t even a certainty that either route world work. Sometimes you just have to have a little bit of faith.

For the next few days, we existed in this odd parallel universe setup, two branches coexisting peacefully in git, harsh on the knowledge that we’d only end up using one, but comforted by the truth that we could not, at least, fail to learn some things. Very rapidly.

I backed up the dual universe approach carefully, though. Where there’s risk of failure, there’s risk of people being very disappointed. Some things I made sure also happened as part of the decision:

  • Everyone in the whole team knew what was happening, which made it easier to set expectations and excuse myself from other work.
  • I excused myself from other work to concentrate on my own code. The importance of the user group made this easy.
  • I pushed on getting a “harsh context” in place which sounds worse than it reads. I know that developers – especially me – are prone to thinking that the immediate puzzle to hand is the only one, and that a fix is just round the corner. A “harsh context” aims to remove these two common delusions. In this case, we:
  1. Got together a good set of test cases (which ideally we would already have had), in a Google Sheet for rapid transparency. This would act as our yardstick of progress, not what got reported back by developers’ own intuition.

  2. Set clear times to review progress and make a decision. Actually, we’d already made a call that we would be done by Thursday 2pm at latest (to help prepare comms), and so we had an outline to work to. The actual deliverables changed slightly, but the important thing was that everyone had a time-stick to poke others with.

The planning is everything, hrrrrrrggggrrrr

plan 9 from outer SPAAAAACE

Alex and Hon Mond brought the test plan together, and set up the demo environment.
In the end, John hit some issues that came up too late to make the final cut. I went down a couple of rabbit holes, and it’s not the tidiest result, but it works. We have a demoable release, and we know what works and what doesn’t so we can line up follow-on work easily. The team have done really well, and I think I’m pretty sure I made the right decision. Success One, I reckon.

In between everything else, there was a company Board meeting, and various strategy charts.

Success Two: On Thursday afternoon, I sat down with Luke and Kim to chat about the future of the Hive Pixie product, (which I manage from our side in conjunction with our partner. That’s plot, that is) at a management level. I’ve been struggling to keep work lined up and prioritised recently, and wanted a bit more clarity about how much time we can put into it.

As per last week’s notes, it’s something I’m a bit emotional about, having put a lot of time into identifying a Roadmap and getting buy-in from our partner. And pushing past the emotion, it was a really good, and slightly unexpected chat, that made me realise how tricky it is to run a product by yourself, as a part time job.

It’s tricky to open up all the rationalising that goes into a Roadmap, and to tie it into a narrative that not only makes sense, but that pulls people in as well. It’s tricky to formalise the passion, gut instinct and people’s reactions that you see first-hand at user groups. It’s tricky to keep on selling a focused, long term viewpoint over and over. And it’s tricky to keep on top of that and write it all down while you’re on 5 other jobs the same week.

Alright, stop that para there

weep-achu

(Which is also why a good product owner is an amazing person.)

Anyway, this isn’t success. This is bordering on unreserved ranting. The success came from the measured feedback from the chat, which I could instantly pick up on when working from home the next morning. Feedback I could turn into some templates, some structure, and a process for filing it all in. I have a lot of the dots, I just need to be better at showing my joining up. Here’s the note I made:

Does the process with the most structure win? Structure is clarity, clarity is certainty, certainty is engaging.

(And yeah, one day I’ll open it all up to the wide world. Everyone loves a product process template, right?)

I’ve made a start in this, but am eager to carry on. Just need to find the time. Is it sad to want to do this in your own leisure time?

More generally, working the half day from home on Friday was brilliant. My inbox is half the size it was. Still had a productive buzz the following Monday.

Here I come, inbox zerooooooooooooooo

Samurai Jack

Sorry, no time for links today. Til next week…

Weeknotes 06×04: Get things done, or get things delegated?

Wednesday. Writing my weeknotes both late and early, because I didn’t get round to writing anythig last week, and because I’m away the weekend coming up.

Main Wotsits from Last Week

I may be my own worst enemy when it comes to expecting change. I’ve pushed a couple of times to get people to think through some product design for upcoming features, rather than just launch into building something. This is generally good, and results in a meeting to bring thoughts together, hooray.

But sometimes – sometimes – I do think it would be just easier to ‘pretend’ to get on with it, and then raise all the same questions at the start of the work, and wait for them to get answered. Sometimes the “feeling of productivity” ushered in by a ticket being “In progress” is much more motivational than all the books and articles I’ve read and not really explained to anyone.

I think I’m on the right path though, by forcing discussion up front, and there have been a lot of benefits which go semi-unnoticed. But I should probably stop expecting other people to see things the way I do just because I’m managed to get them in the same room.

I think I got a bit annoyed at the start of the week as work for the product I’m responsible for seemed to get pushed back again. Things do get done on it, but I really feel like I have to fight for it, despite people apparently thinking it’s important to keep the product going. As above, I can’t decide whether it’s better to push for more time up front, or sneak in some time myself and get on with it. I’ll give it another month and see how it goes.

Otherwise it was snow time, except we didn’t have that much snow 🙁 We did have a power outage instead, which fairly fatally took down a server, which we then had to restore elsewhere to get some deliveries together. Ah well.

What I Learned This Week

Learning vs Delivery

I’m wondering about the dynamics of delegation, individual learning, and the inherent tension between letting people make mistakes, vs getting stuff done.

We’ve been working on a new feature the last few weeks, which has gone OK. However, I’ve stepped away from managing the process as I’ve done with previous work. It’s decently complicated, and there’s a bit of a deadline on it, but it’s not down to the day so there’s a bit of leeway. So it’s a good candidate to let someone else try out task management, tech spec, and people organisation – as a team, this is something we’re still improving on, and I’m keen to encourage others to dive in.

Which is great, but at some point – and as person responsible for delivering tech builds – I do need to work out my involvement. And so far, I’ve been fairly hands off. It’s only really this week, when we’re supposing to be releasing the work, where I’ve taken more of an interest, and started being more directive on the work. Yes, you could read that as “slightly taking over” – and I’m aware it’s like that, but I don’t want it to be too much of that, if you know what I mean.

So… a part of me thinks it’s gone well, and the team have gained in experience, and all’s fine. But a part of me feels like I could have done it differently, and better. What would I have aimed to have done differently over the last few weeks?

  1. Somehow be more open with people from the start about levels of support? As with a lot of things, perhaps expectations is the biggy. Sometimes it’s good to throw people in at the deep end, but not usually. Sometimes it’s good to hold people’s hand as they go through a process for the first time, but not usually. Getting the expectations around support and review are pretty vital, I think. Being up front about what skills a person should expect to focus on may help, and perhaps setting some timelines and mini-review meetings – like more focused 1-1s – would be a good idea. Safety nets, not stabilisers.

  2. Be clearer to other people that this is “experimental” work – that things may not go as smoothly as other work, but that there are other aims here.

  3. Decide who is taking on the responsibility, and follow-up with them afterwards – and it’s not too late for me to do this. Currently we have retros and 1-1s as feedback loops, but I can see the value of a mini-retro with the right people to go back and look at the process.

Keep Calm and Carry On

This week has seen a few people jumping into a large bid, which is of high importance. However, I’ve deliberately opted to stay out of the crowd on this, despite it’s importance. Partly, because too many cooks spoil the broth, and I’d just be one more person for others to organise. And partly (mostly) because I think it’s helpful to have someone concentrate on anythng else that needs doing. So I’m resisting all temptation to stick my oars in, and just getting on with other stuff.

All part of my “stop doing more shit” push.

What happened ths week?

Monday: Monthly management meeting, introduced a few points that need discussing, and lined up some meetings for the weeks ahead. Code reviews. Admin to renew some Google stuff.

Tuesday: Half day. Checked in on how development is going, which led to the “Learning vs Delivery” thoughts above. Carried on tidying up some IT and Sysadmin tasks in Jira, which is something I seem to have fallen into tidying up, but it feels good. I’ve started running off a few different dashboards in Jira – the main purpose of these is not to oversee work, but to act as conversation aids when I meet different people, I’ve decided.

Wednesday: More code, then Kim’s Annual Review, followed by a transatlantic chat to catch up on next steps with our US client to deliver data. The US work has started to really come together now, and it’s been great working with Obi and Emma, who I otherwise don’t do too much with.

Thursday: Keeping tabs on the ongoing development work, which is at that dangerous endgame point. Off on Friday, so main aim was to get some clarity about what’s left, so that other people know what’s going on. I’ll find out on Monday if that worked, or not.

But in future, I think I might try an on/off approach to work planning. I think I should probably get a 50-50 balance to getting things done, vs supporting others and letting them learn.

Friday: Had the day off. Went to Eastbourne and saw some chickens.

Misc

Reading: (Lucifer, by Mike Carey)[https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lucifer-Book-One-Mike-Carey/dp/1401240267?SubscriptionId=AKIAILSHYYTFIVPWUY6Q&tag=duc08-21&linkCode=xm2&camp=2025&creative=165953&creativeASIN=1401240267], and re-reading Foucault’s (Fearless Speech)[https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/257781.Fearless_Speech] which I should blog about separately, as it relates a lot to both 1-1s and Weeknotes.