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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Workweek 01×04: With added inspiration

[Hang on, how many “episodes” are in a “season series” anyway?]

Bonus day – I spent Saturday at #opentech in London. Might write up thoughts separately, but on the whole, good event to reconnect with politics. Been involved in a lot of personal and company stuff the last year or so, and probably also got into a ‘ukgovcamp bubble’, whatever that is. First went to OpenTech when it started over 10 years ago and great to reflect back to when we were all much younger…

Meta-note: Been at least two weeks without my Android tablet now. (There’s definitely a pixie-esque creature that smashes screens when everyone’s asleep…) Can’t say I miss it, and running off a phone basically covers the same ground – typing is just as annoying on either. Will get the tablet fixed, but nice to know I’m not dependent on it (and one less thing to transport everywhere, and to charge up.)

Anyway, Monday:

10am sit-down. Loads going on. Paul is leaving us. LARIA is coming up. There’s homebrew honey in the office. Biscuit choice: lemon and lime jaffa cakes, and raspberry puffs.

11am catch-up on LI user group. Good look back on what we’ve been up to over the last few months, and I balance my dev hat with my PO/UX beret. Feels like the latter is basically an excuse to sit there and go ‘why? why?’ all meeting sometimes.

Noon, finance and cash flow catch up with Gael and rest of the management team. How everyone (in the world) copes with this stuff is amazing – I’m pretty sure I only get it because we spend our whole lives staring at the Excels. (Kidding! Sometimes we use Word.)

Grab lunch, and then an afternoon general management catch up on things which aren’t covered elsewhere – mostly a chance to just fill in some gaps in knowledge, and raise internal ideas/questions that get lost between all the products and projects. We run the agenda off a post-it and take notes on blank white cards – for some reason I’ve moved towards more disposable note-taking. I think the idea is I can clear the notes quickly and not be bogged down with paper. In reality, my desk is covered in unreadable post-its and cards.

Finally, a quick call to the other end of the day to talk to our American clients. Emma (research) has done an amazing job looking into US health care data coverage, and the next challenge is really to turn the work into a process that works for the company – ie to make it sustainable and not a chore. Need to start putting in some time blocks for this, as I’ve started doing for other important thinking things.

Realise I haven’t taken any photos today, so the ‘photo essay’ idea I had for this week’s notes is out. Here’s a made-up pithy motivational saying from today’s experiences instead:

The most important thing on any agenda is the passion of the people in the room.

Day off on Tuesday, went on a train with #son2. Harvey’s Brewery were malting.

On Wednesday David and Jay from HACT came down. I have a personal mission of doing more UX type stuff, and wanted to run a bit of a user story mapping session. Main ideas were about linking a start with an end – what does your user know, and what do they expect to find out when they get to your site, followed by what do you want them to have achieved/felt by the end of it all? Then it’s just a case of filling the gaps in based on this, right?

That approach seemed to work pretty well – a step-by-step approach framed by context and aims. A couple of points where I felt a break in proceedings might have refreshed our group’s neural pathways, but overall proud of a new way of thinking about solving a problem. In this case, two things really stood out as key questions: 1, what do we do next to be most effective (and why?), and 2, is everyone getting what they want out of the next development phase? By airing aims at the start, we had a good checklist to keep ourselves on course, and it’s good to remember that.

By the time I’d got my haircut and caught up on emails, it was mid afternoon, and I caught up with HACT, one of our partner organisations, more broadly.

Then writing up notes, which I’m really bad at but know is important. Maybe some sort of metric for this to induce a better habit is needed?

Then, most importantly, drinks at the pub! Sprint 100, yay! Paul is heading off to pastures new, boo…

Oh yeah, an inspirational quote for the day…

Getting from A to B isn’t as important as getting from U to X.

I’d earmarked Thursday to solidify some thoughts on the future of Value Insight, a tool for measuring social impact that we develop with HACT. However I spent the morning tidying up notes and plans from the day before, various admin things, some tech discussion with Alex (developer, and on some exciting stuff if it all plays out) and catching up on our Australian project before chatting to our partner over there at lunch.

One of the stranger aspects of the Australian work, I’m noticing, is the slight Other Worldly aspect of it all – day/night, summer/winter and north/west are all different, which is fine practically-speaking, but adds up to a sense that what we’re providing has a sort of “mirror life” of its own, like the way toys come to life when you’re asleep, maybe. Maybe I’m just overthinking it.

Anyway, finally got back to thinking through some VI strategy, and ran through some draft ideas for main aims with Flo (user support). We had some internal aims from September, but 1) it’s interesting to look back and see how well our badly they were defined, and 2) it’s very helpful to start with a fresh sheet and blank mind (rather than continue or evolve old aims), to get a better idea of what’s important right now. Things have changed in the world, of course, and also I find my approach changes and refines itself each time I go through the process. It’s pretty amazing what you learn unintentionally over 6 months.

Here’s my note about what I learned about aims:

  • More broadly, aims can often be too vague, come with some pre-existing notion of whats important, or are actually proxy aims for something larger. Re-thinking from scratch is a useful exercise. Being harsh (“clear”) with yourself takes time, but being vague takes up more time later on.

Left a bit early because birthday. But good excuse for chocolate tart and indoor fireworks, and for buying second-hand books I can’t afford…

Now, who’s going to clean up the mess?

Thursday’s motivation.

If you’re still calling it “your” product, you’re doing it wrong.

My Friday plans didn’t pan out too well, but got some stuff done anyway.

Caught up with Kim ahead of heading up to Sheffield for the LARIA conference on Monday, and then spent some time with her looking at what all our Neighbourhood planning earlier in the week looks like “in reality” – what questions do we know about, how feasible is each idea, etc. We’re putting ideas, notes and questions very swiftly into Trello rather than muck about with Jira too much at this point, but next week, once initial estimates and decisions have been addressed, we’ll write up what we need to properly. I guess we use Jira because it scales better to long term, multi-strand, bigger involved team “culture”, but it’s good to figure out when to start using it, and how to integrate with it.

Plus we got to scribble a bit. Monochrome maps FTW?

Then managed to avoid most of the rain at lunch, got back and helped Alex (developer) out with the insane world of Javascript closures, and asynchronous requests to Google APIs. That took up more time than expected, but the other developers were away today, and always happy to step into get my coding fingers dirty again 😉

Carried on wearing the technical hat in the afternoon, looking at the feasibility of some of the stuff Kim and I had chatted about in the morning. To be finished off next week, but not got too much time before going to Sheffield, and plenty to prepare and pack before jumping on the train.

One last one to finish off.

“Inspiration” has three I’s.

Stay tuned next week for a conference special… And no catchy phrases.

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Workweek 01×03: It’s Sprint 100…

Workweek 01×03: It’s Sprint 100…

[Edit: Apols for weird linebreak formatting on this blog. Something not quite right with trying to auto-publish from Evernote to WordPress…]

Week 3 of Weeknotes and going strong. Odd week this week, as needed to do school pick-up, so ended up working mornings on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

It’s Monday and all go. In on a Monday morning for the first time in a while – starting the week with our usual all-team catch-up, with feed-in from different “departments” – slightly arbitrary categories, but it helps to get people discussing and summarising last week and the week ahead. Good sense of progress going on.

Luke (dev/operations) checks in and his new baby has her first meeting. Discussion on various products, how they overlap, and where they’re going, ahead of product meetings later in the week.

Managed to archive my whole inbox by accidentally typing “Hello Stefan” into the wrong place. Fortunately it was cleared out recently, so trawling through “All mail” wasn’t much more than a few minutes work.

Did some time metric retrospective on our recent Neighbourhood Planning project, but then back off to school.

Was working from home on Tuesday. I’d attended the local Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group meet the evening before, so spent a little while writing up my notes. God experience, too – a lot of newfound respect for the people that are committed to this, it can probably best be described as Jumping Through Difficultly-Shaped Hoops at Speed.

Then carried on some metrics – “time is money” and all that. Switched from trying to look at logged time, to thinking through “ideal time” for an ongoing product, which is perhaps both easier and more productive, in the long run. All time tracking numbers are a lie, I learned, but a range of lies is a good indication of some sort of fuzzy truth.

Wednesday was a talking day. Started with phone call to potential_client along with Kim (comms) and Stefan (research) – our initial conversations with people sometimes turn into a bit of a forum as we each have our own specialities, and bring in people to cover various bases. I wonder if we need to, but it does mean conversations can progress quickly.

Then a quick management catchup with Luke and Stefan to organise a longer catch-up next week. Slightly rare – we’re pretty good at deciding things on the fly these days. Another reminder that group communication is really, really important – feels like fluidity for everyday decision-making is a key aspect of agility. Delegation, trust (and personal relationships), quoracy (and democracy), rules and guidelines (and DAOs?) – all of these are ways to resolve unknown directions as quickly and smoothly as possible, without being dependent on particular structures and hierarchies. Together they become a toolset for fluid decisions.

Rest of the day before leaving at 2 (last school run of the week) say meeting David from HACT to catch up on our Neighbourhood Planning work, and look at next steps. Good level of discussion, again with Luke and Kim in. Productivity in this kind of meeting seems to be about finding the correct balance, or back-and-forth, between enthusiasm and focused practicality. “We could do this!” vs “We should do this.”

Wednesday link: You won’t see Montenegro in the final, sadly.

Thursday, a proper full day. Feeling groggy, hope I’m not going down with something. But a special day, as we kick off our ONE HUNDREDTH SPRINT. Following our A-Z of Brighton Pubs, this one’s named after the North Laine brewery.

At 2 weeks a sprint, that’s just over 4 years of constant, iterated routine (we usually stop for 2 weeks at Christmas). Or around a thousand working days. Our approach to backlogs and stories and “done” and retrospectives and planning meetings has changed gradually over that time, as it should. Looking back though, I’d say the most important part is really about how (and why) you get a “sprint culture” in place. Probably worth a separate post in itself, but the rhythm of a fortnightly cycle feels like a core aspect of the company now – so much gets planned around it because a) everyone knows how it works, and b) pretty much everyone (not everyone) is involved with it at some level.

Anyway, more importantly it also meant cake.

Bit of a scattered day after that – various boring loose ends to tidy up and reminded me that I need to sort out some headphones. Some SQL debugging using SHOW WARNINGS in a Stored Procedure. Estimates for work, and drank three cups of tea in a row. Probably not healthy.

On Friday I started by catching up with Flo (user support) on some outstanding user issues on Value Insight, with my Product Owner hat on. This kicked off a few discussions and ideas which I had some time to return to later on in the day. Also a brief catchup on the Australian project, which is nearing its final stages now.

Did a bit of tidying up of Epics in Jira after that for VI, as I wanted a tidy-up ahead of laying out the next strategic steps. One thing I’m slowly working towards is the use of tools to more effectively link product aims with the “actual work”  being done. This has evolved from post-its and Confluence docs, to – well, something similar, but the current objective is to make the link a lot more explicit and transparent. Rather than use a Confluence page to link to Jira issues (which is ok, but feels “static”), I have a theory that Epics and their related “progress” bars in the Backlog view can be really good feedback to both PO and the team as a whole.

A second aim is to really identify where new work and stories don’t relate to an aim. In theory, in 3 months, we could see exactly how well we’re doing on any particular aim. In theory.

Anyway, caught up with Emma (researcher) on more international work – American data this time – and made some plans for next stages.

Bit of a free afternoon, so returned to Product thoughts again, and tried writing up some possible thoughts on plans and aims – I’m learning that it’s very difficult to get this stuff right first time, especially in a way that gives it a structure and sense of progress that can be absorbed by anyone else. So going through the process at least once helps to refine and refine and refine that structure. Is that agility? Or just multiple drafts? 🙂 I always enjoy mapping things out so a sketch though…

Otherwise a relaxing comedown to the week. Won’t mention the Eurovision videos and the cherry wine pistol.

Have a good weekend, maybe see you all at OpenTech…

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Workweek 01×02: Mayday!

Workweek 01×02: Mayday!

Monday was a bank holiday. Went to the farm to see lambs. 
Tuesday was my usual day off. Gradually forgetting how to do work. Went to the playground.
Back on Wednesday. Starting to think about the next few months ahead as projects get delivered, and the future opens up. Catch up on emails, and what’s been done on the data fixes I put in place on Friday. Then trawled through the couple of Trello boards I have of planned work and deliveries for next few months with Stefan to see what’s on everyone’s plates. 
Chatted to Obi about data fixes. Looks like they’re progressing well after getting unstuck last Friday. Wonder if there’s a better way of mapping our whole days chain, and how to investigate and resolve issues better. 
Some discussion with Kim on what we could do to make signing up for demos more appealing. Marketing is still something I feel .. I’m not sure what. Interested in, but limited experience (A-Level Business Studies counts?). I wonder what effect 20 years of Internet pseudonymming has on your awareness of how you come across. 
Interrupted to pick up #son1, but making up some hours in the evening meant I could hammer through some email inbox. Reminds me of an article in FT this week about Inbox culture, and the potentially dehumanising aspect of a never-ending stream of emails compared to talking to people, and alternative forms of communication.
Dug back through about a year’s worth of “do this” emails – most of them didn’t really need doing in the end (or not directly by me), but actually it got me to do a lot of reflecting and looking back at where things were a year ago, so not wasted time. Sometimes it’s good to see how far you’ve come, like looking back over a hill ridge as you approach the pub – it’s easy to always look forwards, and always worry about what’s left to do, without ever appreciating what you’ve done already.
Thursday actually a normal day, hours-wise. Sent the emails I’d lined up last night (I don’t like sending mails out-of-hours, think it sends a bad culture signal, so I tag drafts to send with a “morning-post” tag and deal with it swiftly in the morning) and updated my email backlog tracker in Google Sheets. I thought I’d use this originally to .. I’m not sure why, actually. At some point though, I added in the colour-coded comparison-to-average inbox figure, which flags up when I’m above average. By sorting things into to-do (or “action”) and to-reply-to (or “response”) folders, I’ve found I get feedback on what sort of email I need to pick up on. Reversing the trend for “action” emails feels good.
Taking a hefty think about “strategy” for the summer months today. Feels like a big word, but at the moment it’s really a case of working out where each of our product lines is at, and working out what conversations/decisions are needed next, and who/when needs to be involved.
Spoke to Ben at Sussex Uni about a possible “automation anxiety” workshop. Made me think about how a lot of the hype and associated fear is about “robots”, but really it’s lack of control that people fear – but that can manifest as being taken over by robots, algorithms, immigrants, politicians, or even members of staff in the same department. At the end of the day, we like to think we own our own destiny. From a stats perspective, I think there’s some interesting issues that tie modelling the world and data into evidence – based policy, algorithms, and science generally. Public trust in science (or scientists) is a fascinating subject. how do you insert links in Evernote for Android?) 
Looking at time reports for recent NI product work. Bringing some bureaucracy to the company and asking people to log time 😉 
Friday back thinking through where we’re going. Lots of looking back to our plans 6-8 months ago, seeing what’s changed, and lots of post it notes covering my desk, which always makes me happy. Also generally still feeling my way as a semi-Product Owner, so making up a lot of diagrams (A “Value Flow” sketch? Which bit of my head thought that up?) and quick write-downs of rules and ideas to help guide me through the process. Good fun. Important stuff. Difficult. 
Spent a good amount of time going through various emails and write-ups, distilling into new documents, and going round the team for various status updates on different bits. 
Finished the week with a bit of personal research time, banging the metal so-to-speak by getting back to a command line and trying out some automated phpunit runs, and bash scripting. Get sidetracked into fixing and neatening tests, and pretty sick of PHP error levels by the end of it. But learned a lot, I think? 
Anyway, bit of a dash though this week, and nowhere near enough photos. Maybe nothing but photos next week…? 

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