Workweek 02×03: “Ew, Hard Copy”

Bit “floaty” this week – I tend to come in on projects when I’m needed, and project herding has recently become a bit more distributed across the team. I seem to have a slight penchant for planning out work, but I’m not so great at hammering it out at the end. There must be tools and frameworks that do this for me. What would I need to do?

  • Set out clear work streams and packages (maybe like Epics?)
  • Decide who’s checking in for each and, importantly, get and keep but-in on status updates
  • Be able to see a clear list of what’s in progress and what’s left (Kanban-type boards have been good for this in the past)
  • Easily see what’s changed – what’s been added unexpectedly, and what’s at risk or been dropped.
  • Have a robot or scrum master to gently prod people to keep things updated.

In writing that up though, I feel like I have a lot of that. So either it’s something else missing, or I’m just really hard on myself (or both). The Tao Te Ching reminds us that we need to preserve our attention towards the end of a journey – 93% of road accidents happen within 5 miles of home. Designate a special ‘clampdown’ phase for a project to stay on target. Have hard timelines. Set aside as much planning time at the end as at the start.

 

Anyway. Monday we had a quick morning catch up for the week. Loads going on, so I tried resolving my floatiness a bit by checking in with Stefan (Head of Research) about where I might be of help. Decided I could take more charge on project herding (my term) to help lift some of the pressure on him, as he’s delivering a project at the end of the week.

Maybe there’s something there about ‘value’. Maybe I should ask myself things like…

  • Who am I helping?
  • How much am I helping – is this the most effective thing I could do to help?
  • What do they want done by the end of the week?

Spent the morning trying to close off some sprint tasks – there are some fiddly and annoying ones in there this sprint, and I don’t think I was very successful, to be honest. Too many fiddly things going on, too hard to focus, too much decision paralysis. Pick one thing, dammit. Not helped by the fact that I’m out of the office tomorrow. Also not helped by my week planning focusing on other things.

Still, tidied up some code I was looking at on Friday and raised the question of what to do with code maintenance. I do enjoy unit testing, sadly. NO WAIT IT’S NOT SAD IT’S JUST GROWN UP AND AWESOME. Sometimes it’s like tightening up bolts that are a bit loose – sure, it wasn’t technically broken, but now you just feel a lot closer to perfection. OK, a little closer.

A call with our American friends later in the afternoon, and various bits of catchup and preparation with Emma (senior researcher). Trying to untangle all kinds of data thoughts in my head probably isn’t healthy or useful. Wednesday is going to be fun though.

A phone call on my way to the train station, #son1 is being taken to A&E. We’ll see what tonight and tomorrow bring, in that case.

 

Tuesday

#son1 was fine, it turned out. He just didn’t want to move his arm after falling on it. I’ll teach him about the strain on the NHS one of these days and joked about taking my taxi fare to Eastbourne out of his pocket money. I hope he knew it was a joke anyway.

Random background thought as I was probably wandering around the garden centre with #son2. Should we stop thinking of [Incense Chapter] as a product and think of it as a tool instead? Function wise and applicability wise, what does this change? A tool for what? For engaging with communities? For users? For us?

 

Wednesday

I’m now writing this on the Monday after, which makes me think about: a) Why didn’t I add notes on the day? Ah, because I was frantic. b) How good my memory is, or rather, how much writing week notes helps me to refresh and refine my memory. c) How determined I am to write up my week notes.

Monday’s phone call had stressed me out a little – nothing major, but I wanted to make sure I hit Wednesday running and really tick off my target. I’d planned to come in early to talk to P- about some potential work, but Stefan is doing a great job on picking up new projects at the moment, and didn’t need me. So I spent a wee while sorting through emails and clearing the decks, then grabbing a coffee, booting the monitor out the way, and getting down to some serious database design.

Realised I can sort of do a lot of (common) database design in my sleep these days, which is useful as a parent. It’s handy to have some skills to draw on under some pressure – I kept thinking back to the films Hackers and Swordfish for some reason, as I pored over bad PDF print-outs of undocumented, un-relationed database schema, and tried to assemble some meaningful structure from it.

All in all, I fired off a draft spec for discussion with the client at 5 minutes to 2pm, which was handy as I’d planned to leave at 2pm to pick up #son1. However, the amazing missus stepped in and managed to get out of her meeting on time, so I got to have some lunch instead.

After lunch there was a New(wish) Meeting of Minds, where Stefan (Product Owner hat), Flo (User Support), Alex (Apprentice Scrum master) and I (also with PO hat on) got together to think through the issues for discussion in our sprint meeting the next day.

We used to involve the scrum master a bit more for these “pre-meets”, as a sanity check on status of issues and priorities, but stopped over time. Then we started bringing in user support and other stakeholders. I think this was the first time we had both, so I was glad to be able to make it.

The meeting went well – it helped us settle priorities and contexts. In retrospect, it also meant it was a lot easier to run the meeting with Stefan absent, so +1 for preparedness! Feels like we’re learning some good stuff about context still.

In fact, I think we even then came out of the meeting, and did the World’s Fastest Roadmap Plan [tm] as we have so much known work on. Instead of the usual month-by-month post-its grid, we went with a very quick-fly “NOW”, “NEXT”, “FUTURE” axis (no gridlines, this is important) and put up post-its for each project. It took us 5 minutes, but gives us a structure for the next 3 months at least. I can’t work out if we’re good at generating ideas, or slow at implementing them. it worked though.

Bonus midweek link for making it this far: Warren Ellis on blogging for yourself: http://ift.tt/2slpbiR

 

Thursday was a bit of a weird day because the trains were playing silly-buggers thanks to an ASLEF overtime ban, which meant a revised time table and all my routine being way out of whack. Looks like I’m getting the earlier, more expensive train more while it’s all playing out. but aiming to leave a bit earlier, so interesting opportunities there. More next week.

The morning was sprint-meeting, which is when we find out if a) our planning 2 weeks ago was any cop, and b) whether our planning the day before was any cop.

Stefan was taken up on some urgent work for the [English Hermit] delivery he’s heads down on, so I hopefully did a decent job of stepping in and explaining. We’d done a fair bit of work over the last 2 weeks on working out options and possibilities for various projects, so there was a fair bit of continuation which made my role a bit easier. All ran to time, hooray.

I’d also planned to take Thursday afternoon off to pick up #son1 (it’s academia busy time) but again didn’t need to, so had some more time in the afternoon. Caught up with Kim (Marketing) about some admin stuff, and then had a look into some HTTPS related updates, which I’d pushed for and was very pleased, with my cypherpunk head on, to get out there.

 

On Friday I opted to try working from home for the morning – getting more time to do admin and catch up on emails is a Thing I’ve identified before as a Thing I’d like to clear some space for.

Fortunately/unfortunately, the first email I replied to made me realise an error with the HTTPS update I’d made, so spent a few minutes fixing that. Boo, error! Yay, encryption!

Replied to lots of emails. The email stats are looking pretty good.

Then jumped on a later train, and got in to the office about midday. Totally forgot about a call with T- from N- about charities and the data ecosystem, but gave her a late call back, and had an absolutely lovely chat – being able to chat about the broader picture is something I’ve actually really enjoyed as I’ve picked up more public-facing streams. And it was great to chat to someone else who was really passionate about making things better, and pushing the data agenda. Hopefully we’ll get to work together in future, and might even be able to get a blog post out of some of the thoughts one day.

In the afternoon we had a few support issues coming in, which I looked at with Hon Mond (Developer). This highlighted a secondary issue with the changes I’d made – can you tell I’m less involved in dev work these days? Anyway, sat down with Lawrence (Developer) to support me, and did some rather handy scp’ing, vimming, and even some sedding to put a nifty fix in place.

BOOM. Went to the pub.

 

Workweek 02×02: Streets like a sauna

Workweek 02×02: Streets like a sauna
This week the notes are a bit more succinct, with some heavier reflection up top. I like the notion that week notes are a great chance to pick out the threads which have either shone brightly or required more focus this week. Plus shorter notes make continuation more likely.

Things On My Mind

1. Support for R&D has come up as a Thing, which is fine. But it gets me asking two questions – are we “innovative”, and should we be “innovative”? They’re sort of the same question really (perhaps “what is innovation?”) but in the context of what constitutes “Research & Development”, there’s an assumption that our work is somehow new (never done before, anywhere in the world) and then marketable and “successful”.

One of the random memories I take forward from previous jobs was feedback to a sales pitch that the company had put in. “One can be too clever” it went, or along those lines. I think of that a lot when talking to many techies and people keen on having ideas. Ideas are cheap, but implementing them is expensive – not just the cash to put the sustainable market in place, but the cognitive and cultural shift required by users and clients, to shift to that way of thinking. “Obvious” solutions are often the worst, because they’re both subjective and contextless. Too clever.

So should we be innovative and clever? Or should we be focusing on simple stuff – simple product design, simple communication, simple ideas, simple solutions? So far, everything I’ve seen points to the latter being much more useful to people, especially in overly complex, bureaucratic organisations.

But where’s the innovation in that?

2. What do agile and UX look like in a networked organisation, eh? By that, I mean we work with various clients and partners, and how work (sprints, rapid feedback, etc) often requires a bit of explanation, and some time to get used to.

Is buy-in for the processes and the reasons behind them as important as actually demonstrating the value you’re offering? And how can you make that causal link clearer, between how you do something, and why you’re good at something?

3. What’s the strategy for our codebase? Agility is becoming key. Unit tests first, as a safety net for changes – the enemy is complexity. Then what? “Simplify, then add lightness” as says Lotus’ founder Colin Chapman. This feels like something I want to aim for, but how?

Oh yeah – we’re hiring!

Monday

Hot, too hot. Monday morning sit-down to see what’s going on across the team. Phone call with Kim and David on sales stuff for [Mirror Street]. Then up to London to see a man about data visualisation – some interesting conversations kicking off some ideas this week, and most of them involve setting up some kind of community scene; something about that is in my blood? But the trains, oh the trains. 3 hours of air conditioning though, so can’t complain too much.

Tuesday

In for a change, swapped days, kept thinking it was Wednesday. Can’t remember what I did, other than it was hot – probably a bit of dev work.

Had to head off early: incident between toddler and trampoline.

Wednesday

Tired after driving to A&E in Brighton and back in the evening (all ok in the end), but a day of chatting today. Caught up with team members. Chatted to another company about potential for collaboration. Board Meeting in the afternoon, which is always nice. I get to talk to some great people, all told.

Thursday

Day off. Storm. Playground. Garden.

Friday

Bit of a relaxing day, some emails to respond to, some admin, lots of dev time (hooray?). Discussed WordPress integration with Lawrence. Discussed Australian boundaries with Hon Mond. Discussed code reuse with Alex. Fixed up a few more unit tests. In between started putting together a proposal to scrape and supply data.

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Workweek 02×01: Accidental Purdah

Weeknotes 02×01: Accidental Purdah
I don’t think there are many readers on this stream (say hello if you are following this though…) but if there were, and if they were particularly eagle-eyed, they’d have noticed episode 01×07 hasn’t appeared yet. It hasn’t. I’m late. I’m sorry.

But from missed expectations we get an escape from routine. In liberation we get an opportunity to alter the course of history. So here’s an experiment to justify rinsing my mental hands of last week’s weeknotes. You’ll notice that this is a whole new chapter, that we’re on 02×01, not 01×08.

Theory one: Writing up weeknotes is hard – so hard that one day I’ll fail, give up, move on, step out. My own expectations are too high. Busy weeks are the hardest, but more interesting. Habit is easy to kick once the novelty wears off.

In this case, marking the failure will reveal a downward trend. If I start a new “season” each time I fail, then consecutive seasons will get shorter and shorter. 02×01 is the beginning of the end.

Theory two: Failure is part of routine, and accepting it offers a moment of respite, during which we can learn. 6 weeks of consecutive weeknotes is actually pretty good. God rested on the Sabbath. Downtime. Recoup. Regather. Reorient. Old British TV series were all 6 episodes long.

In this case, I’ve had a pause, and another pause should be due in another 6 weeks. The pause is good, but I don’t know what for yet.

So the critical question is: can I make it to 02×06? And, tangentially, what will change this series as it follows on from series 1?

(… and is this something that all weeknoters go through?)

Monday this week was really good. I think this was because I had a few meetings booked in, and then also managed to structure the rest of my time well around this.

Had a good chat on next stages of our Australian project – it’s been a long time happening, and the focus now is to really avoid things dragging on too long, and be clear on what’s needed. Some good, focused discussion is happening on this, and it really feels like the team involved are coordinating well, including the client. Comms – internal an external – really is a massive chunk of successful work. I’m not even sure you can have too much talking any more. Well. You can. But.

Then went through our sprint backlog with Stefan – which has branched out into a slightly longer term view as we’ve only planned up until June properly, and are very much due a refresh on priorities. But got the hang of this now – post-its, big board, channels for projects, and (most importantly) do not be afraid of forcing a priority. This is the hardest thing when you’re balancing multiple projects each with their own pressures. If relative priorities aren’t clear (ie you’re fudging your immediate timeline, and other symbols), then you either need to stay in the room until the post-its have an order, or get in more stakeholders (or people representing them). Hmm, should blog that separately…

In the afternoon, caught up with Kim on what happened with our Neighbourhood Planning project, and what’s left over after our MVP push last week. Concentrated on what questions we need to ask other stakeholders, ie what feedback we would find useful next. Found it very helpful to start putting together a structure to collate answers into – not necessarily a framework for us to fill in, but a good one to setup the knowledge domain, and where gaps in answers might occur.

Then had a chat with some people about data, that I can’t talk about. And then caught up on emails. Went down the beach late evening to take some long exposure shots.

On Tuesday I was off. I took some more long exposure photos on Eastbourne beach, and ate fish and chips on Seaford beach. The Sea is essential to thinking.

On Wednesday it was very warm. Monday had felt so productive that I took a deliberate few minutes out in between the train station and the office, to put in blocks of calendar time to actually focus on work. (Got a separate, private calendar for this gubbins.) Added bonus effect: weeknote write-up just got 60% easier…

After the usual stand-up I caught up with one of the devs, and then tidied up on a small technical question for [Hive Pixie] – no code change needed, but did highlight a missing step of deployment from some work 9 months ago. Funny how one line of code can come back and haunt you, in a phantom moth sort of way, fluttering at the edge of the light of your attention. Also, still amazed at how easy looking at the past is. Git and Jira (and just tracking software generally) are mind-blowing tools, really.

Then had Alex’s Annual Review in the afternoon so prepared for it and went out to a nearby cafe to talk about the last and next years of his life, which is really scary and really fun when you stop and think about it. We put a lot of effort into Annual Reviews – 360-degree feedback, enough time to chat things through properly, monthly followups. It’d be really strange to go somewhere that didn’t. It’s also not something I’ve ever been trained in – thinking again about how difficult and undersupported the move to senior dev can be (or senior anything, but particularly devs).

Thursday was sprint turnover day (already?). Sprint 101 – “the Office” – wrapped up well. The upcoming stories and tasks feel a bit scattered at the moment, like there are a lot of unknowns floated about. How can you model and measure this uncertainty? What are the ‘danger’ symbols for lack of clarity? Can you automate that, or even make it a simple manual task? One to come back to.

Was forced into clearing out some browser tabs at lunch as my computer was crawling – then realised it says another app causing it, ho hum. Still, good to clear out. Gone are the days of your browser crashing and wiping out all your “to read” tabs.

In the afternoon, something a little different – met with Kim, Flo and Stefan to talk about how we could improve our use of metrics in our products. Only an introductory session and I suspect we were all a bit too warm to think properly, but very good direction and discussion, and really been put off for too long… Will be interesting to see what comes out of it next.

Friday, a fairly quiet and slow day. Spent some time catching up on emails, which is something I’m trying to get better at. After years of trying, I still don’t know if the only real improvement is to do more of it (sit down, check email, respond, move on, repeat until dead) or whether Better = Different. I’ve tweaked my folders and labels over the years, but always stayed away from things like Google’s Priority Inbox, and other innovations. I wish there were better ways to manipulate emails. Maybe filters and actions are a missed opportunity here?

Then a bit of a frustrating day at the dev coalface. Picked up a ticket with a tricky bit of code, but couldn’t reproduce the bug so couldn’t get very far. Then spent the afternoon trying to tidy up our unit tests – I have a personal project to improve our automation and continuous use here, and fixing the fails is the first, key step. Tidied up some (mmm, satisfying) but getting some well weird behaviour with others (grrr). Maybe a lunchtime project next week…

Ok, another week, back on track. Off at Legoland [tm] this weekend, so I’ll either be ecstatic or dead on Monday…
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Workweek 01×06: How to Lose at Pokemon

Pokemon cards

 

Well, this weeknotes is a whole week late. But I’m going to publish it anyway. Note to self: important ideas may not need too much attention. You’re not getting paid to write these…

Monday: Bank holiday. Played mini golf.
Tuesday: Day off, played Pokemon with #son1.

Playing Pokemon was am oddly helpful experience. I do love games. But I’ve always loved the challenge of them – why play if you’re not trying, right? But #son1 is 6 years old. And the Pokemon card game is complex – I’m pretty sceptical that all these school kids are collecting them to actually engage in major strategical homunculus warfare…

So playing by the rules is one thing. But my game-player brain was figuring out how all the cards were meant to be played together. I had a pre-built deck of cards, designed by The Company [tm] to be an intro to the game. It worked well. I’d tweaked it a bit. Fair enough.

On the other hand, #son1 had chosen the Pokemon he liked best. It’s fair to say we had to bend the rules a little to let him use some of them. Parents do that a lot, though – it means we get to play some fun games other than Dinosaur Bingo and top trumps.

As my deck took over and started playing by itself (a weirdly intriguing phenomenon in its own right), I realised my deck was wrong. I didn’t need a deck that was designed to win, but one that was designed to lose. But in the most interesting way possible. My role here was not as a competitor, but as a trainer. A punchbag. A blackbox, to be poked and probed by someone having fun. I was the (g)olden snitch.

I went back and re-did a deck. This time it was different, filled with different challenges, and a better variety of effects and obstacles. It felt good to have a new reason to play.

How is this all relevant to my weeknotes? It feels like a lot of what I do as a team lead is not to solve challenges, but to set them – to gather needs and cases from clients, and to see how we can generate ideas from the team to solve these best. And, importantly, in the most interesting way possible.

Wednesday: Catchup with team members, starting to get some 1:1 dates in place, been a while, must do this more. Final strategy thoughts for [Hive Pixie] product. Am I doing fake product and project names in my #weeknotes now? Looks that way.

Thursday: Sprint planning. Different strands vying for priority, but different feel based on different people needing to know / organise work over the next few months. Felt more client-focused, and I wonder if that change comes from a change elsewhere. Sometimes a small stone can cause large ripples – how do we know which stone a ripple came from?

Then chatting to Emma (researcher) on our US data work. And looking at Google analytics.

Friday: #son1 travelled in with me for the morning, as he’s on school holiday. He gets pretty excited about coming in – he claims it’s the big paper we have (note to self – get flip chart at home?) but maybe there’s something fun about hanging out with the adults. He draws a picture of Neko Atsume while I poke the Google Analytics APIs a little more.

In the afternoon, various tidying on content and project admin for [Mirror Street], catchup with one of the developers.

Long week, even though it’s only been three days. Looking forward to some return to routine next week…

Workweek 01×05: Extramuros

Workweek 01×05: Extramuros

Writing up a week later, Monday feels a world away now. Distant sensory whispers, sensitive fingers dragged over corrugated time.

Team sit-down, great to have Gael (finance) there on Mondays, now her work hours have changed. We love Gael 🙂

Then a sort through tasks for an update on our Neighbourhood Planning project, I draw up some screens to crystallise some thoughts, turn into Jira issues, and have a quick check through with Kim (marketing). I do enjoy drawing.

Prep for going away, followed by going away. It’s two nights in Sheffield for the LARIA 2017 conference, and I’ve decided to accompany Kim and Flo (user support) on their travels.

The train takes about 4 hours with a single change, so I get to do a bit of work. The mobile connection is ok for the first half, so I tidy up my Jira tasks a bit and do some thinking on how to tie together our little family of products. But the connection peters out later, and I learn that Google Docs isn’t great offline. So end up reading a book on simplicity and product design, which is very much not wasted time.

Get to Sheffield. Iron shirts. Meet Kim and Flo, get food and beer, crash out watching some Moto GP. Weird to be in a quiet hotel room…

Tuesday is conference day, but we wake to the news of a bomb going off in Manchester and the whole day is surreal and focused and distracted and driven and like we’re all here to just do something not so shit.

Good to get away from the ivory tower of the office though and catch up with the ambience of the real world. I do a lot of thinking about the role of statistics in local governance, and the dissonance between the specialist skills I work with every day, and the perception of science outside, as part of political discourse. It’s still a chasm, not a bridge. Many chasms. I get depressed and enthused in equal measures, like attending UK govcamp when it first started.

After the conference we’re all pretty shattered. After a few beers and some good food at the Great Gatsby pub, I crash back in the hotel room. I’m reading “The City & The City” by China Mieville and it’s good.

Wednesday brings more fallout in the news, and the world seems subtly, softly altered again as I pass through the train stations back to Brighton. Not visibly changed, not even mentally really. Energetically, perhaps, like a lens fitting into place, confirming something subconscious.

I get back and chat with as Stefan (head of research and fellow Product Owner) about our sprint meeting tomorrow. All the developers are away, so we break tradition and postpone the meeting, extending the sprint by a week. But at the same time, we also confirm our general direction for the month ahead – pre-sprint discussion is more key than deciding what to do, I’ve found. The dev team are like a machine and will pick up whatever is queued – it’s when we’re not clear what we need to prioritise that things start getting confused and falling over.

I’ve been looking into a complex user support issue on the train and carry on a bit back at the office, picking code apart like an officer at a forensic scene.

By Thursday I’m confused – I’m not used to working more than three days in a row…

With some more code digging and head banging (not to music, sadly), I resolve the support issue. Hooray, that was oddly tiring…

The afternoon is a Board meeting, which is always good.

It’s also Paul’s penultimate day and most people are out tomorrow, so we use up all the indoor fireworks, and give him some presents to cart painfully to Bristol. The office is starting to feel on the large side…

Phew, made it to Friday and there are only 5 of us in the office. It’s warm. Obi passes his driving test (or was that Thursday?). Gael drops in with some ice lollies.

Taking the chance to write up a few notes on meetings and the conference, and catch up on emails. One day I might even clear my desk. Nothing terribly exciting is happening, and it’s been a long week. At lunch I get ice creams, and a card for Paul – not to say goodbye, but for him to send back to us once he’s settled.

We break early and go for a beer. It’s been a long, strange, fascinating week.

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