Workweek 04×05: On Choosing Lives and Organisational Filter-bubbles

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It’s Friday, I’m tired and it’s been a weird week. What have I done and what have I learnt?

The week started at 8pm on Sunday, really. #son2, excited and tired in the grey zone between bathtime and bedtime, cracked his bonce and gave us a bloody scare, literally. 999, late night drives, knocked down hospitals – it’s just how parents roll. A free ambulance service will always blows my mind.

Which all meant Monday was mostly cancelled in order to make the return to hospital. I had two interviews for our new en developer role lined up, which Luke boldly and graciously took on by himself. It also meant I had to leave the team to crack on with the work on custom data for Australia, which I had dearly hoped to have been supporting on.

Oh well, such is Iife. So this week was Wednesday (3 interviews), Thursday (Sprint planning) and Friday (Manchester for a Hive Pixie user group).

On interviews and the ability to choose lives

I think this is possibly the fourth time I’ve been through the entire process and round of interviewing, from writing the ad, filtering CVs, chatting to people and making a decision. It would be interesting to look back at earlier efforts (the last time was over 2 years ago) – I felt a lot more confident this time.

Subtle changes. For the job ad, I aimed for something broader than just “techie wanted”. In particular, I wanted to think about:

1) team fit, and communication in particular. I really value clear comms, and structures processes these days – a person can be a brilliant coder, but that’s not as important as a brilliant team.

2) avoiding tech “culture”, and I’m not entirely sure if that means anything beyond simply checking my self to avoid any subconscious biases. Everyone knows you should avoid using terms like “rockstar”, “ninja” and whatnot. (And if you don’t, here’s a great survey from 2011). But I’m curious (paranoid?) about other similar, yet unidentified language biases – gender biases in particular, as I would love to see more female coders*, but potentially other biases too.

So the application hopefully moved more towards a reflection of both company values and my personal values, as well as the technical needs of the company – but I’m no longer convinced that pure coding knowledge is the primary skill I’m looking for…

I was a bit apprehensive at first, as we weren’t overrun with applications – maybe I’d been too specific, or expected too much, or our tech stack wasn’t trendy enough, or everyone had already got jobs… But, fortunately, Kim pulled out some stats for previous adverts, and we were certainly no worse than previous rounds. Minor panic sort of over.

Fortunately (or through karma), the CVs were a good mix – probably better than previous rounds, anecdotally. We invited 7 and interviewed 5, and the final choice came down to between 3 people. I think that’s the first time that’s happened, and it’s horrible to have to turn people down. But it gave me faith in our hiring process as a Thing.

For the record, of the X applicants, Y were female (with 1 more which wasn’t clear). I also had another enquiry by email from a female developer, who decided not to apply.

The interviews were, on the whole, really good too – I think everyone was interesting, which is perhaps a good thing to judge your selection by. There were some great chats, a range of backgrounds, and I just really enjoyed hearing about people’s life stories. We always start with introductions and a (friendly) “why are you here?” question that gets people explaining their history and their current aims in life. Through 1:1s and Annual Reviews, I’ve really learnt (I think) to push people forward and guide them a bit, so there was a instinctual urge to do this with all the strangers I was suddenly sat in the same room as.

So yeah, each interview is a story, a life of its own, intermingled with other lives. It’s weird choosing one life to suddenly collide with. But there you go. That’s HR, innit?

* IMHO, there are aspects of the coding profession which are fairly lacking generally – a focus on “coding” (rather than design, resilience, communication, etc) for a start. From experience, many females have an aptitude for not just the logic of choice, but thinking through broader contexts. For some reason though, they’re far less likely to pick this up as a challenge though.

On the gap between raw users and the filter-bubble of organisational ritual

Got up at 5.30 am because it was user group day for Hive Pixie and so I got to go to Manchester because I is Product Owner (semi – on OCSI’s side of the partnership at least). This was exciting and a bit scary because we hadn’t run one before for this product (except for a different set of users a few weeks back, which I had to miss) and there’s always a good chance that people just want to groan and grumble at you.

From my experience with the XY user group last year though (and users generally), it helps to go into these things with a healthy mix of humility, direction, and inspiration. And a big notepad. So all fine.

Had a good chat with the taxi driver before getting dropped off at the lovely Great Places HQ. Introduced myself, did some listening, wrote everything down, and put in with some questions and rambled on about the difficulties of data a bit.

What struck me, and why I’m so glad I went, is the getting feedback direct from users is so rich – so visceral, almost.

What do I mean? Usually I’m fairly “protected” back in the office. I do software stuff and project admin stuff and write up stories and make sure we get input from our partners and our user support agents. That link to users via the last two is essential to understanding priorities. But, I know now, it’s also inherently only partial – a glass, darkly.

Back at the office, the feedback from users is always filtered through the processes and culture that we’ve established, and the inherent restrictions of both our tools and our written language. User support can tell me a user is annoyed, sure, but it’s still just a report. Partners can tell me something’s an important development, but I’ll still prioiritise it according to a rational comparative process.

Company process, and the environment, is a filter bubble. This is probably fine – it removes a lot of overhead and standardises work to make it easier, but it’s not everything, and it’s definitely not a replacement for the Real World.

The richness of user groups is the raw data. There are facial gestures and tones of voice which imply so much but can never be transcribed. There are short stories which aren’t unique except in the fact that a user has chosen to draw on them at that very moment, revealing – subtly – their mindset and all the connotations they attach to a conversation about what you’ve made.

I don’t know if there’s a way to capture that, and to translate it into “spec” – or maybe stories are the best way to do that, but our storytelling skills are too weak, or we get too caught up in formal definitions of “User Stories [TM]”. Maybe I’m finally just deriving the user stories paradigm from scratch. Dear God.

Anyway, like interviews, I really enjoyed it. It got me excited, because I know what’s possible, I love finding something to help people, and (hopefully) I’m in a position to do it.

On the go elsewhere

  • I worked on some of the company aims and strategy ahead of next week, felt productive.
  • I caught up with Alex for a 1:1.
  • I did some dev work, but mostly failed unit tests and peer-coding to debug sql.
  • I started some text for our handbook for guidance on remote and alone working.

On film

Bonus Haiku

A line of trees

Embroiled in the mist

Off to meet strangers

Workweek 04×04: On (Semi-)Mental Labour, 1-to-1s, and Pumpkins

It’s Friday. What was I mainly up to this week, how did I do it, and what did I learn on the way?

I had two days off in the middle of this week, so Monday, Thursday and Friday were hectic yet productive. On Monday I thought it was Friday and on Thursday I thought it was Monday.

On physical being, mental labour, and nurturing the miniscule arts

One thing I’ve been doing outside of work for the last two weeks is some exercises, after seeing a physio a fortnight ago. I’m apparently at that stage of life (says the physio) – kids and all that midlife crisis stuff – where I sit down and stress de rigueur and everything stops being bendy.

I’d noticed a general tiredness over the last few years (those 6am starts knock me out for the whole day) so it’s been really good to have someone basically force physical movement on me. It’s not been much, but I do feel more active – just the way I move around the office, really. But a little bit of added physical motion does seem to do a few wonders for the brain too. Engagement with mental work seems to be linked with an ability to use the body as a whole.

The history of mental work seems odder and odder, sometimes. We want “productivity” so we virtualise work, put the manual labour under the control of robots and algorithms, and yet still convince ourselves that staring at a screen non- stop for 8+ hours is the best way to Get Things Done. From experience, the art of mental working – the miniscule, daily art that goes into every single thing we think of – is clearly elevated if it is allowed to flourish: a growth which requires a sort of nurturing, just like a plant. The physical body must match the mind, as if we can employ our limbs as extensions of our neural pathways. And the chance to rest and recuperate must be built in, like going for a walk after a heavy meal.

I’m not saying I do any of this. On the contrary, I’ve noticed the discrepancy more as I’ve gone back to heavier coding, and writing up notes. I feel the drudge of banging out word after word, and find it grimly amusing when I know I should take a break, but the lure of keystrokes-per-hour binds me to some invisible treadmill. It all seems so foreign at times.

On the passion and process of 1-to-1s

I finally caught up with a couple of the team on Thursday and Friday, with some long overdue 1-to-1s. I’m not sure why they didn’t happen for a few months – I suspect a heady cocktail of holidays, workload, meetings, fresh plans and other important things. However this post on checking people’s flow state got me re-energised. (Louise Cato’s post on Experiments in 1-2-1’s is also very relevant here.)

As it happened, I didn’t manage to bring in an assessment of “flow” in the end. But it was good to catch up. And I think I do mean it like that – over the years I’ve played with how I do 1:1s, with various things to check in on (actions from last time, annual aims, logging what’s been happening for reference, etc.) and semi-structured formats for writing up notes.

But I think I was letting the process overshadow the “friendly catchup” aspect, and I suspect I stopped enjoying it, and started turning it into me assessing myself instead of me supporting others. Writing stuff up is useful, important and all that, but also a huge pain in the arse when you’re either busy (like, always) or you don’t have a good reason for writing down what you’re writing down.

So I’m still sticking to a skeleton structure, but it’s a bit more lightweight than before. I want to spend more time chatting, listening, offering support – not writing everything down so I can look back on it in a year’s time. I’ve told myself that scant notes are “good enough”. And whereas before I would list “actions done, actions not done, actions partially done, new actions, recent work, other notes…”, now it’s as close to this as I get:

  • Aims for next time / future
  • Actions
  • Notes

The first two of these should be enough to jog my memory at the next 1-to-1, I’m e conjunction with annual aims. The last is useful when it gets to annual review time. So far, this lighter structure fits better – fits my style at least. I don’t know if other people find things different though? Maybe I don’t need to?

On the radar

On account of histories

Other things that happened this week:

  • I went through the CVs for the latest job application round, A good, diverse mix and some good applicants.
  • I introduced Obi and Emma to the latest chats about our USA work, which felt good to bring other people in and lift it out of my head.
  • I went along to a local meeting and sat through a chat on the local neighbourhood plan, which reminded me just how much what we do can affect people’s every day life and the spaces outside of their front doors. I should write about this one day soon.
  • I had a chat about our underlying technology and what it could be useful for in its own right.
  • I made a decision to re-factor something, which may have taken a day, but I think it will save time later and definitely save lots of time later on. And more importantly, it will save confusion – which is especially important as I know I’m not around much next week to help out.
  • I made some unit tests, and fixed some code as a result. I am so enamoured with unit testing now.
  • I fixed a few bugs and issues with the websites, which was nice to get back to doing.
  • We had a Cava Carve-off using pumpkins from Joel’s allotment.

On film

 

Workweek 04×03: In between movement

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Week tip:

Use single-letter keywords in your Firefox bookmarks to bring up common pages quickly. Eg ctrl-t, s, enter to bring up sprint board.

Series check-in

  • Tech direction – can we get some?
    • Feeling good on this, if something like a bit guilty for relaxing on other duties. But the push is helped by a need to deliver lots over the next few months – the big challenge for me here, I think, is to “sell” useful tech changes internally, but having “case studies” and small wins to draw on is really useful.
  • Storm Box – can this project be given closure?
    • It’s looking a lot better than a week ago, and realistic timescales and specifications are a lot more abundant. The challenge here is to find the time to review progress, keep ourselves centred and on track. Bringing the rest of the team in on this will (hopefully) do wonders.
  • Explore the ‘Craft’ of what I do – what exactly do I mean by this?
    • Some random thoughts on this:
      • On Monday I was pretty stressed, with lots of upcoming conversations and too many threads. By Wednesday I’d got through a lot of it and felt a lot happier, even satisfied.
      • There’s a lot to be said for boldness in conversation.
      • I’ve changed the purpose of the pocket watch – now it gets set to what level of calmness I’d like to achieve, not
      • Really, the first question is: what am I trying to craft? A codebase, a tech team, a product, a company – all with various hats.

Late Note

I’m really aware I’m writing these weeknotes up at 10pm on a Tuesday the week after, which is not to say that I’ve been bad, but it does highlight… something? Either that life is mad busy, and I haven’t been able to organise my thoughts as I go, or I’m not feeling the weeknotes pull this week. Or a bit of both, probably related.

This means readers probably won’t get the most out of them? But more importantly, it means I’m not getting what want out of them, if it feels like a chore. I need buy-in. Yesterday, as my reminder to publish kept sneaking up on screen, I was even considering stopping for more than my usual planned week. Like I just need to create something else – get back to some blogging or something.

Writing up the below has highlighted a conflict in my weeknotes – a conflict between wanting to think things through, and wanting to explain things. These have slightly different audiences and loci – one deals with feelings, the other is more pragmatic. One is “this made me feel X”, the other is “I did X by doing Y because Z”.

I sort of want to get back to the latter, with its focus on efficiency and helpfulness. it makes it easier to be more open, and often useful reflection comes out of it at the end of the day.

Maybe I’ll factor that in next week. Or this week, as it is.

Monday

Feels like a lot of hard pushing going on. More effort than we’re used to, but feels like we’re pushing in the right places. Work management is all about knowing the right questions to ask. Usually it’s a lot easier to do that with people from more than one perspective.

Train ran late. Cleared through some old emails.

Planned out remaining work on UYD with Alex and Hon Mond.

Server played up a bit. Switched off some old sites.

OND planning with Stefan, Kim, Alex, Emma.

Git branches, pushing things into testing.

Crazy sky.

Dug into various misbehaving reports and VMs.

Pre-sprint planning – getting flexible code lined up in the form of fixing our unit tests.

Wednesday

Early start, rain, trains to London, but coffee, and a space to catch up. I really need to figure out how to get space for electronic comms. Such a “separate” thing. Got some thoughts on how to move on with this, something about user stories for myself.

Met with Chris and Anthony from a similar organisation* who contacted us a few months ago, interesting discussion and test of my ability to rapidly draw together other people’s thoughts, and discuss potential. [ooh, I feel all entrepreneurial. A statsy, product-ownery entrepreneur.] Made a semi-conscious decision to a) not wear a shirt, and b) arrive late. Too much on, something’s got to give, and I need to be me?

Went for a walk through London. I do like doing this. I mean, I sort of hate London and want to get away from its crazy crowds and grey slabs. But I love the foreignness of it all, the chaos of the lines and its desperate want to “be” something. It’s amazing in its organised, creative pitifulness. I took photos and smelled smells.

Chatted to Mike, our chairman, about a potentially controversial project, which was really good. I need to block out some time to structure thoughts on it, which feels annoying because it’s extra work, but also worth doing and exciting because it’s the first time we’ve thought about what we do in this way.

Visited the House of St Barnabas for the first (professional) time – I’d been here before for a posh whisky tasting evening, but it’s quite a different place when you’re sober.

In between movement, I offered as much remote feedback and guidance to the team as I could. I was impressed that my aging laptop lasted the journey up, and that the 3G-wifi dongle lasted the whole day non-stop. Win for tech, there. But strange doing everything remotely. I felt like a disembodied voice, speaking out of the walls.

* Still haven’t resolved how much to link to other people – not because I don’t want to advertise them because usually they’re great, but because I’m info-paranoid on the net, and I think these notes would be very different if I sent them to all the people I’d been talking about.

That is a good burndown chart, monochrome wall.

Thursday

Early start with #son1’s tooth falling out.

Sprint planning – there’s a lot of efficiency in our meetings at the moment. Maybe bringing in Alex has helped, certainly the pre-sprint planning on Monday is great, and perhaps a broader view on focuses. Might be interesting to look through previous sprint reports to see if they have more focus. We were done by 11am instead of midday, but we also have loads on over the next few months, so there was a push to get on with it.

(More generally, I have been thinking that it would be lovely to restrict any and all meetings to no more than ONE HOUR.)

My focus at the moment is really on making sure delivery happens as much as possible. This, for me, means reducing our overheads and distractions as much as physically possible. So we have some work lined up finally to fix up our unit tests – this is primarily my thing so far, but I know Hon Mond is interested too. If we can test code early and fast, then we reduce unknown risks as much as possible. Maybe agility is all about just avoiding “validation lag”.

Caught up with Gregor (sysadmin) and Obi (researcher) on our large database migration – this is going really well (and I haven’t done much on it at all, except track progress). We should make the big switch on Monday, so checked and alerted others on our plans. 1 Epic of 3 for this work closed!

Did some git trawling to check where and how our code has diverged – not too bad, all said. Tempting to resolve it earlier rather than later, but not one for just yet.

Alex deployed our latest large feature release to project Chip Fork. (I was thinking of linking to the news announce here, but again – should these notes focus more on personal feelings, or have an open explanatory aim instead? CONFLICT, duh duh uhhh.) Great work from him, he’s really taken this one by the horns. The work itself has been going on for over 6 months (on and off), so closing this Epic felt like a strangely big deal. We don’t celebrate enough.

Dug into Javascript to put in some code which used to work – not my forte, but I learnt fast and can jump around between my IDE and my browser debugger like a pro now. Made good progress, updated Flo (user support) on it, and looking forward to getting back to it tomorrow.

Finished with a chat with our American clients – I’ve finally got out of a bit of a rut with taking this on myself, and have promised (to them and me) to get Obi involved in this along with Emma (senior researcher), to keep things moving better than it has been. We’ll catch up on it in a month, but looking at a good final delivery in January or February. Felt more positive than I was expecting.

Friday

A productive day to cap off a productive, if intensive week. Never boring.

Today’s fun was seeing our (auto-generated) reports getting picked up on the Cornish local press for some awkward 2011 census data. Sometimes it feels like we’re so heads down in data pipelines and text editors that we forget how far the real world reach of our work is.

Finished off the Javascript I was looking at on Thursday, not as bad as I’d feared – seems I haven’t lost my front-end development skills just yet. And it’s a simple feature that should add a whole bunch of value, which is pretty satisfying.

Spent some time debugging an issue Obi was having. Some of Ash’s old documentation, with my rekindled Javascript head, made it pretty quick to narrow down. Good chance to discuss process a little with Obi too.

Wanted to really get my work on unit tests into place ahead of upcoming work, so took Hon Mond through the code I’d written 4 months ago – I think I took a little while to make sense.

Good reminder that just giving people some time and space to air and structure their thoughts is valuable in itself – code reviews and 1:1s and retros should all factor in “um, urrr” time I think.

Spent a while trying to figure out the best way to test the tests I’d fixed 4 months ago – tricky to isolate them, and the main codebase has moved on since I wrote them, so there are multiple, multiple versions going around in git. I’ve also switched VM and PHP version since the original changes, to add to the confusion.

Still, bite-sized chunks make it a lot easier to pick through, and I was reminded that code review is great not just to force you to understand what you’ve done, but also for information sharing. I need to write up some more howto’s in Confluence next week…

So now I’m running two branches – one to bring together the current set of changes, and one to bring that together with the latest codebase. It’s a bit hacky, but it makes sense and I can explain it. It’s also nothing as insane as the longer term git catchup that Alex was working on…

Very Christmassy…

Til next time…

Workweek 04×02: [Impressive database SQL geekery omitted]

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Previously on Weeknotes…

Here’s a quick reminder of what I’m aiming to focus on this series (see last time):

  1. Tech direction – can we get some?
  2. Storm Box – can this project be given closure?
  3. Explore the ‘Craft’ of what I do – what exactly do I mean by this?

Progress and reflections

Overall, this week has seen me in developer mode a lot more – partially out of necessity as (between annual leave and staff moving on) we’re down on dev skills, and partly deliberately as the need to deliver stuff before Christmas has gained weight. I’m secretly looking forward to doing more coding over the next few months, and the challenge here will be to keep what we make light and flexible, but (or so) also speedy and on track against some tight deadlines. Bring it.

Storm Box has definitely made some progress, but we’ll see how it goes early next week. Getting some agreements in place – who, what when – is the most important step now. There’s still some organisation work to be done, but it feels like we’re moving towards an endpoint. “It’ll be done by Christmas” could actually be 90% plausible.

I’m noticing “craft” in different aspects of what I do, and switching to more coding is actually a chance to apply that in a familiar but slightly-forgotten area. Keeping code agile is a “crafting” process, just as much as making it work is.

Questions

  • How is unit testing a metaphor for reviewing work and providing feedback? How can it support learning?
  • How can I format my weeknotes better? I’m using a bit of indenting this week to try drawing out some lessons and reflections from particular aspects of work, but I don’t think it works in RSS readers. I’m still struggling a bit with formatting, maybe I need to change my note-taking workflow. How does everyone else keep track of their #weeknotes?


All about PE class. Thanks for the reminder, primary school!

Monday

Sit-down. Luke did some hand-drawn pie charts for a finance overview. We also have a ghost called Gary in the office now.

Sent an important email to move Storm Box along a bit. In my head, I suspect project management is all about timing and pace – nothing too early, but nothing left too late. Everything is revealed bit by bit, in a manner that people can take in and understand.

Went through the EXPLAIN statement in SQL with Alex. (No, auto-correct, not EX-PAIN. But might as well be.)

Traditionally, as the team grew, we tried to be fairly flexible and develop broad skills across the team as a whole (for contingency and efficiency, natch). Over time, as the team developed and the senior developers (me and Luke) had to step out a bit to take on management duties, I think the team settled into their strengths a bit.

Now we’ve shrunk back a bit, the dynamic is different again. I’m thinking through how we can maintain flexibility, but basically bring in training-as-needed at the same time.

Luke took me and Stefan through his work on putting together a Budget for the year ahead. Impressive.

After lunch, Luke, Stefan and I joined forces again to undertake Stage 2 of deciding company strategy for the year ahead. The initial brainstorming session was useful, and we all arrived with some good thoughts on what we thought was important.

This format for making group decisions seems to work quite well:

  1. Brainstorm, and cluster ideas into similar themes
  2. If you can, take a break, and start again, but limit the suggestions under each theme to 1 or 2 per person
  3. Dot vote on the available suggestions
  4. Use the dot voting as a discussion starter, not a final decision – don’t be afraid to add extra dot votes, or move things around to make sense
  5. Pull out the 1 or 2 (maximum) top suggestions in each theme, and sanity check – would these be a good set of things if you were to publish them? Holisticism is good.
  6. Set time to think about each identified suggestion separately, to start looking at more concrete aims and measurable things.

At the end of the day, I probably did some emails and coding.

Wednesday

I was feeling pretty manic in the morning. I always have various strands of working ticking along, but today it felt like they were all on the move at the same time. I felt like I needed to clear things out a bit, for personal sanity plus project health, which basically either means closing things off, or handing them over (or postponing them, but I’m not sure this helps much in the grand scheme of things).

I spent some time with Stefan going through the Storm Box work, and figuring out the best course of action on each part. This led on to checking workload against our other work leading up to Christmas, which was a useful discussion. Our aims are ambitious, but mostly doable if we’re careful and we have the right hands to the right pumps.

I learnt a good chunk about teamwork in the process, and we decided that I’d do less client management and more delivery – this feels sensible given the diminished dev team currently, and the upcoming new hire. I’m very appreciative of others taking on what I was doing, as I know everyone else has lots on, and am trying not to doubt the decision to “step out”. Just need to focus on Getting Things Done as much as possible now.

This meant I felt happier picking up some more code tasks too. I got some Javascript working fairly quickly, and spent some good time hacking unit tests to run on some data processing. It’s good to get back to helping the dev team again.

Thursday

Oh dear, I have a feeling these weeknotes will start to get more technical now, so I’ll try to avoid turning into #geeknotes. Still, we’re a tech-heavy company, so there. These days, managing technical processes is probably more important than the technical details and designs themselves, so perhaps I’ll concentrate on that.

In the morning though, Kim took Stefan and me through a quarterly marketing catchup. This was a great session, looking at how things have gone since we put some finger-in-the-air plans together last year, and working out what to do next year. We even cross-referenced our company strategy for the first time (albeit in a very sketchy way) and the budget work that Luke has done, so it really did feel like Something Was Happening. Spooky.

One of the things I think we’ve developed and are pretty good at now is our two-week sprint cycle. Everyone seems to ‘get’ how it works and what it means, even if it has rough edges and some tough decisions.

But a fortnightly view does mean it’s easy to lose sight of longer term threads, I think. Some things lend themselves naturally to longer term feedback loops, like yearly strategies. Others need more explicit coaxing – annual reviews should go through monthly notes, for instance, or work and reports from a year ago should be dug up, just to see how much has changed.

Otherwise, it’s easy to assume the status quo is how it’s always been.

Tech wise, two things are in play. Obi and Gregor are moving a giant database from one server to another, which means moving everything else out of the way in order to wipe it. So I sanity-checked on this. There’s a time limit on this, so with a bit of luck the pain will be short and sharp and done by some time next week.

The other tech arm is development on a major new feature. Alex has been charging on with this, so my main work here was to carry on getting it tested in a flexible way. I was pretty pleased with how this went, and bringing the “test it small” mindset helped identify a few issues already, which is nice. Looking forward to carrying this on over the next few days. Again, this may well be ready soon, so it could be all go next week…

Friday

Developer day! I donned the cybergloves and hit up the git and immersed myself into some “proper” development for the first time today.

Well, testing, anyway. I carried on with my unit tests for the new data processes in the morning, and [impressive database SQL geekery omitted] which says good because now we can make changes and run them in a few seconds, rather than a few minutes, or way off in the future when everyone’s forgotten their history.

This aspect of innovation and change (not just software development) has got really important to me over the years. The more you can block out stuff and focus on one thing, the more you can get that one thing right.

Maybe this is a part of what Craft is? The clarity of mind, the lack of distraction, the jumping from high level to low level without blinking an eyelid because everything is setup, and simple.

Simplify, then add Lightness.” Make it doable, then make it easy. So easy you don’t have to think about it.

I also had a great session with Kim and Alex to introduce them to our outstanding work for the year, and ask for their help. This was an awesome (yet short) session, for two main reasons.

One, I think it’s the first time in a long time that I’ve actually explicitly asked others to do task management. Or it feels like it. At this level. (Which, admittedly, isn’t massively high level, relatively.) it highlighted the split between planning and doing for me, which is daft because I like planning things because it makes easier for me to do them, and everything I’ve seen up to now indicates that’s the same for others too.

Two, it was great to see Kim and Alex pick it up and jump in – not a surprise, in a way, but… I don’t know, a mixture of guilt at handing it on, relief, and joy that people get to do something they like doing. Sometimes you think a situation is dire and people will be depressed about it. Then you realise people are happy to help – it’s their lives too, I guess.

Work wise, that was sort of it – I made some more dev tidies and tests, and managed got branches while Alex, Kim and Emma swarmed like bees over their new project management challenge. I met Dan for lunch who worked with us a year ago which was really good and now we have an agreement to do plans.

I had beer and went through old voicemails and sent some emails I’d been meaning to send all week. I left half an hour early to pick up #son1 from a disco. I’m still on the train there.

Workweek 04×01: The One With No Particular Theme

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…and when Bagpuss woke up, all his friends woke up too. Stre-e-etch. The mouse organ clicks into action, kicking out rebellious neurons determined to upset bark-faced professors. Except – only the toad one and the raggedy doll know – the wooden bird is a tulpa, dreamed from the collective subsconscious of the distracted mice. They mock only themselves.

Recapping for anyone other than me (flashback, wibbly-woo-wibbly-woo), I decided back at the start of series 2 to limit each series to 6 episodes, taking a 1 week break in between to recharge and refresh. 6 weeks as an epoch – a 6 week sprint, perhaps – seems about the right to set some medium term aims, try to get something done, and reflect on progress. Also, I’d just missed a week for the first time, so there.

So I had last week off writing – no notes, no pressure. It felt good, although the fragments of plated work didn’t mean less hecticness.

What happened while I was gone?

  • I had a day off, all to myself, first time in ages. It was good.
  • We started discussing company strategy for the year ahead. Notes on difficulty:
    • It’s hard to pick focus and while brainstorming is an important step, there’s a risk of a “wishlist” approach that achieves nothing.
    • It’s hard to agree a structure to the debate / decision-making if everyone had different experience – it’s helpful to have one person run it, and an external party may have more experience and impartiality, but at the same time it’s important to try these things out for oneself.
    • It’s hard to decide between three people, and there’s a risk of design-death-by-commitee, but that’s where things like voting come in. We use it in retrospectives and team strategy, and it’s a useful and transparent way to quickly air and identify priorities, and move the discussion on
      • (Transparency is highlighted because it shows that everyone understands it and is on the same ruleset.)
  • We had our first joint monthly lookahead between Luke, Stefan, Kim and myself, and we sent notes round the team and the board on what we’d done in September and what was happening in October. It’s of different use to different people, and having done similar things previously, I still think it could be done better somehow? It’ll also be interesting to see if we can maintain the rhythm in the monthly joint meetings here – getting 4 people in a room once a month is difficult.
  • I ran a 1-to-1 for Luke finally, after many months (years?) – I decided to run this one slightly differently and be much more listening and passive than I would be with less senior people. I think it worked well.
  • External things happened which made me think a lot – and, crucially, subtly differently – about where we are as a company. It’s hard to explain this so I won’t, but I’m sure it’ll ripple into future weeks. Still, it’s good to know that there is still magic in the old universe.

Where am I now?

Honestly? Fluttering between relaxed and fragmented. I was struggling to get some stuff done that I wanted to, and that’s got a bit harder now that we’re down another developer. It feels like there’s one plate too many to keep spinning. Some things are going well, but some things need some progress and closure fast, certainly before Christmas.

Series aims

Series 4. Time to set myself some future.

Admission time – I’m also writing this up on the Monday after my original notes, and a lot has changed since then. Technically, these aims have had the benefit of an extra week’s reflection (which is good! I’ma gonna try to do this inside the rest week next time).

  1. Something about tech direction. There are a lot of movements here at the moment – new developer joining, a tech team Roadmap that needs kindling, a requirement to make our tools faster, more reliable, and more secure. I need to kick all this off, get plans in place for December onwards. I need some serious thought time on this, stat.
  2. Have a finish line for our Storm Box project (codename), which has been going on for far too long and… Needs some dedicated project management. Writing this now, I wonder how Weeknotes can perhaps help with this, as a tool in itself. There are various aspects here with such I’m slightly out of my comfort zone(s), so this requires not just time in the work itself, but time to simply have the energy to do it properly.
  3. My thoughts on craft are continuing to evolve. It’s a time line between the craft of “job” and the craft of “life”, I suppose. I’m inspired by various “Zen and the art of…” books, but at the same time I know their context isn’t necessarily my context, so it’s not totally applicable. I have one guiding sentence to start me off, and the rest is perhaps better left as exploration rather than anything with predefined aims. That sentence? “Look for sharp edges, dissatisfaction, things that stick out and contend against the nature of the universe.” It’s not succinct, or particularly wise, but it’s what I wrote a week ago and it was my state of mind at the time. It’s a good a starting point as any because I wrote it. Buy-in.

Collaboration wanted

I put this section in because I’d mentioned it previously to @stamanfar (whose nick still makes me hum Staralfur every time I see it) and didn’t want to take it out quite so quickly 😉

My previous attempt identified story point estimation as something I’d be interested in discussing with others, but no take up. That’s cool, it’s good to just think about what would be useful to get advice on.

This week, I’m listing Brighton/Sussex Weeknoters as my pie-in-the-sky shout-out in case anyone else in the local area is interested in doing the same – or already doing it. Come on Seaford, I know that train home is actually full of avid diarists hammering there day out into a small screen. Not just reading Facebook at all.

So if you’re based around Brighton/Sussex and are, or like the idea of, putting your life out there on the line (the on-line) then give me a shout via a comment, or Twitter (@6loss) – maybe we can get a scene or a zine going or something?

Things I’ve learned

Big, vague project specs are a killer all round. Obvs.

Buy in for agile isn’t obvious if you’re not used to it. I feel like I can put it across succinctly to people that are inclined, but not argue for it where they’re not. Feature lists are still attractive over real world outcomes because people attach to them as a creative endeavour, and can be “ticked off” much easier than real-world outcomes and value. Self-esteem is tied to delivering things, not change. How do we interface with that?

Things I am curious about

I’m really struggling to do 2 or 3 things at the moment, despite them being lined up to do for weeks. Why is this? Probably too many unseen, important things? Can weeknotes help me to identify stuff I’m dropping, and do something other than drop them?

Dan’s post on publicness, fast writing, getting taken the wrong way, etc got me thinking again. Is the value of Weeknotes about reflecting, asking questions, or forcing yourself to explain stuff? I write for me, but also an ‘external’ me. Um, What? i mean, like, hmm, is it possible the “weeknotes scene” is starting to take over from what I actually get out of the practice? When I wrote How Weeknotes can Save Your Life, it was all about me-me-me, not us-us-us. A bit of me likes the privacy of it still. (Note to self: Ramble more and make notes more unreadable.)

ie. I like writing things because it forces me to elucidate the murky brainthinks. I like publishing things because it forces me to be even clearer – but at the end of the day, I’m still writing a letter to myself. It just needs to be public to jump that line between the internal self and the external self.

 

OK, here are brief bullets on what I actually did last week…

 

Monday

  • Good news from HMRC
  • Catch up with HACT
  • Chat with Mike Brophy
  • AUS project planning
  • Sprint planning

 

Wednesday

Urrrrgh. Mental working as a tired parent is not good for the soul. Also #son2 is now 3? He does love fire engines though.

  • Javascript to get this mapping working – I can see me having to get into JS again over the next few months, but that’s cool
  • Storm Box planning – caught up with Joel in user support, and chatted to the client
  • Saw Joel’s work and tried to help move his needs along – a lot of our daily stuff is “in progress”, and helped me realise that we’ve hammered out our “entry points” quite well, but they’re also fairly lofty and non-transparent. Must remember to follow this up later.
  • Wrote up some notes from Monday.

Home for #son2’s birthday pizza!

 

Thursday

  • Sprint planning! Nice and quick, less people, but also a really “spritely” Backlog that knows what it wants.
  • MT catch up where we are exploring how to do stuff but making some good progress. Step by step.
  • Lunch, read a bit more of the Island of the Day Before. Getting into it.
  • Code review on some mapping, get it up in testing server for signoff. Emails.
  • Start organising Christmas. New Slack channel from one of the team – #xmax17, favourite typo of the week
  • Storm Box project admin, where I am columbo.

 

Friday

  • Dug through Storm Box contracts more, put together a list of work, contacted people
  • Helped Alex out with getting weighting data together
  • Looked at my development environment VM – and it’s working!