Workweek 03×03: Chase the Bubbles

Comings and Goings

This week has been a weird, short one. I skirted round the bank holiday and took Thursday off instead of Tuesday, but Tuesday afternoon was spent at the park on a company picnic. It’s been a while since we did something like this, so props to Emma for getting it organised and to everyone else for chipping in, and being so much fun. We even had some bubbles you could crawl inside (in theory) thanks to Luke.


insert bubble sort joke here haha

We’ve also got a bit of chop and change happening this week. New starter Joel joined us Tuesday morning to support on user support things, and in the afternoon I told everyone that Lawrence, one of our developers, will be moving on to new pastures at the end of the month. So a little revolution going on.

Overall, personal relationships aside, I think it’s something that’s beneficial to any company, and especially a company our size which is small enough to be insular, but big enough to be complicated. A good mix of general enthusiasm from fresh minds is always invigorating, and a new person is always a really good test of how all the processes and documentation you’ve brought in over the last year stand up against someone with no idea of the background.

So the theme this week has mostly been “team”, and it feels like about time too. The atmosphere has been good, with photos and videos being shared, pub trips planned, and some good work getting done (as a result?) It’s been such a short, stubby week that it’s hard to draw much else out really, but here’s a quick run down of what else I’ve done (writing it up may throw something out there), and how I’m doing against my goals for this series so far, which were:

  1. Get shared direction for the company
  2. Feel like head of the dev team
  3. Something about “craft” for my job/life?

Small goals, then…


someone get this dog out of the metaphorical way

I had a few things on my list to tidy or get on with generally, which bubbled through the week, and met on Tuesday with Stefan and Luke to work things out from a management perspective, which was useful now that we’re all back from holiday. Tuesday and Wednesday (embarrassingly, I forget what/when) I was clamping down and tidying up what’s left on our update to our Australian site.

A smallish but annoying and fairly fundamental thing has hit us in the side, and we’ve had to chase a different route. In retrospect, and after an email, this was probably the route we should have taken in the first place, but I’m not beating myself up – I’m not sure if it was my decision in the first place, and there’s certainly an opportunity to re-establish the route while getting some better structure in place around it, so all good. Just annoying that it came up right at the end of the work – I feel like I could have predicted it better, but was probably blinded by “Busy Optimism”.

Busy Optimism is responsible for a lot of IT problems in the world, and I do so hate to blight myself with it. Hoping things will turn out OK because you don’t have time to do it properly is … just a Really Bad Idea. Reallllly.

Anyway, the team are under a bit of pressure as a result, and with various holidays flying about still, there’s not much room to manoeuvre – my role at this point on it is more project admin than head of tech, and so I’ve been on communications and Jira issue closing to try to maintain clarity between everyone on what’s left.

Also helped out a bit with clearing up some sticky points in our report generation system. Managed to get a few minutes to investigate more thoroughly, confirming what other people have conjectured, and suggested a few routes forwards. Hopefully that gives us enough info to line the work up in future sprints fairly promptly and we can put this particular niggle to bed.


someone ain’t in bed, but that’s cool

Thursday I was totally off.

On Friday I had a decent day. Trello and Wunderlist made way for good old-fashioned post-its to get myself focused, and I spent the morning getting some text together for a bid. I’m not a big fan of bid-writing, but actually found I can knock some decent sentences together quickly, jot down some rough work streams and stick some arbitrary numbers on them pretty well. Maybe I should re-considermy relationship with bids and tenders? But then, this was an easy one and someone else is submitting it.

The afternoon was spent in Product Owner land for [Hive Pixie], and I had a nice time taking the actions from previous discussions, and deciding what our three IMMEDIATE strands of work for the product are. In my mind now, I have this structure that breaks thoughts down but connects them together:

  1. High level strategy: We want to do “THIS”. This is pretty vague but important.
  2. Three areas of focus, each with one Aim. This is slightly less vague, but forces some decisions.
  3. Each focus area can have one or two Objectives. I see these as realistic goals that you can set a timeline on, and work towards. In Jira-speak, each Objective could be an Epic. Personally, I set the timeline first (e.g. “in the next 6 months…”) for all objectives.
  4. Each Objective then has any number of actual tasks within it, in a priority order – these become tasks or stories which can be defined, prototyped, tried out, released, etc.

My structure didn’t quite work out this time though – the Objectives and the Focus Areas sort of merged into one. I only realised at the end of the day, after setting them up in Jira, and naming them after scotch whiskies. I might re-factor them next week – they’re probably fine for getting on with stuff, but a bit of me wants to find out of my extra structure can bring extra value or not.

I also got to tidy up our Trello board for the project to make it all pretty colours, and go through some of the older tasks in Jira to close them off. Alex has been doing the same on other projects, and it feels like there’s some good momentum to get ourselves a bit leaner here.

(For reference, the whiskies were Linkwood, Octomore, and Dufftown.)


5pm on Friday

So +1 for company direction, which this feels like a major piece of. Sadly I didn’t get round to doing the same with the dev team focuses, despite Writing It On A Post-It. I’ll carry the shame of that into next week…

Right, got a bunch of other stuff to write, so I’m going to publish this and get it into the new @webofweeknotes feed. Peace.

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Workweek 03×02: Killing momentums

Workweek 03×02: Killing momentums

A busy week, moving fast. Not ha time to write up notes, so I’m pulling this from memories. Fortunately the gods have smiled, the family is away, I have some time to think. Step one was to write everything in my notebook. Pen = flow. The tide of recollection, strung together with inky arrows.

Halfway through the week, I was feeling apprehensive about this bit. Theme of the week, though, turns out to be RITUAL. Habit. I don’t know where the line is between that and culture, but I know practice is an ally. The internet gives us so many ideas. Practicing a single idea, developing a concept, turning it into What You Do. That’s the hard bit. Everyone wants to sell you a new ritual these days.

This week, my #weeknotes are my ritual, although I only found this out yesterday (Thursday). I’ve been doing this long enough, often enough. I can do a whole week from scratch because of this – I just have to have two things on me: the confidence to get on with it, and the apathy to not get it perfect. Or vice versa. Either way, it’s a trend that keeps popping up this week. Habitual practice to ensure Progress in the face of Chaos.

The other trend running through the week is Australia. The whole country has changed where its invisible lines are, and all the abstract symbols that refer to each set of lines along with it. We’re in the middle of adjusting our abstract semiotics to match theirs, which is sort of what computers are great at, but is never easy for the human mind. Abstract representations of abstract representations, cutting through time and space. It’s enough to make you go mad.

That and I had a whole bunch of other trips to make. So I had my invisible project management outfit on from Monday morning and organised tasks into boxes and people into tasks, before setting off for my first trip.

Laura and James from HACT came down to chat about our vision for [Hive Pixie]. We’d met once before and chatted via phone, but it was the first time they’d visited our humble office. Home turf. Comfortable chat. I’m struck how important a bit of a regular shake-up is – [Hive Pixie] needed it, and right now it’s got a fresh set of heads, eyes and minds on it. Sometimes momentum on a project can be good. Here, I think the momentum was a bit of a weight. How can you tell “good” momentum from “bad” momentum? Or when do you make the decision to let things keep going as they are, and when do you decide to wipe the slate clean?

I think, as with a lot of things, there’s a good “gut instinct” here. People aren’t happy, ideas have been thrown about, solutions have been suggested, even tried out. But if there’s no real sense of satisfaction from all of that? Then something’s wrong. The momentum needs killing. This is usually pretty obvious if you’re paying attention. it’s just a confidence thing, that decision to kill the momentum. People have invested money, time and reputation – it’s a hard plug to pull. An awkward conversation: “that thing we’re doing, it’s just not working”. But it needs doing.

Fresh starts. In miniature.

Wednesday was spent in our meeting room. Another fairly fresh pair (for me, at least) visiting this time, Phil and Stuart from Brighton Uni about a social care bid. Another good session, and maybe I am getting the hang of this… whatever it is. Transmitting. Using this weird set of thoughts and processes and pipes and cultures that we employ at OCSI, to connect and translate what other people want to do into what we want to do. Business development as a medium. Networking not to connect people. but ideas.

Then more forward thinking, only from a technical perspective this time. I’ve been wanting to run a development team check-in for a while. Holidays have made it hard, but we managed it – I really didn’t want to cancel it among the ongoing Australian work, because momentum. And personal aim number two to keep me on track – feeling like head of a tech team.

The meeting felt a bit ad-hoc – I hadn’t had much time to prepare myself or anyone else. But again managed to draw on our tools and frameworks over the last year – brainstorm, post-its, dot voting, check. We had an hour or so, and didn’t go into too much detail, but I think it probably worked better because of that, and it’s probably OK to define a meeting that ends at a high-level – so long as you have a plan to turn it into low-level somehow afterwards. We got some team goals for the next 9 months ahead in place, and I’m looking forward to giving some weight to this, and working out what can be done and how to get it done.

The day ended with a meeting of a different kind. It was hard to get structure to it for various reasons, so I suppose the positive side was more around understanding the position of the person I was talking to. Sometimes the agenda goes a different way altogether, and you have to change your expectations on the fly. Ah well. Sometimes you can share your own thought structures. Other times, you just have to keep them to yourself.

By Thursday we were all starting to feel the burn a bit, so to speak. A few issues had come up on the path of the Australian work, and while we had been trying our hardest to circumnavigate them, it certainly wasn’t coming together as much as we’d hoped, especially with a few key people away on holiday. A fairly lean team went through tasks for the next two weeks, and we did our best despite the ups and downs of the work outside the room. This was a really good example of our Ritual playing out. We’d been busy, we were scattered, but we still managed to set contexts in advance, line up potential work to look at, and get some good discussion out. I think the reality will play out slightly differently, but we can only plan as best we can, and run on hope. To be honest, the team have done a fantastic job over the last two weeks. The bar was set really high. I made sure I said that out loud.

In among the grind and bug fixing, I had a lovely Annual Review with Hon Mond, one of our developers. He has a great sense of stoic efficiency about him. We also always go out for coffee for Annual Reviews, so good to get out of that damned meeting room for once. We’ve been through a lot of structure for ARs, and this time round I felt like it was something internal – not a guide to follow of a set of rules, but a script I could improvise around as I wanted to. The note in my notebook, underlined, says: WE HAVE LEARNT SO MUCH.

I ended up staying late, looking at some server issues with Hon Mond and Lawrence, back down in the grimy SQL machine. I’m surprised “improve our debugging” didn’t get more votes at the dev meeting, but maybe it’s something I can push through via other avenues. I dashed off, trying to calm my blood flow as I half-jogged to a tai chi lesson. I haven’t been for years and was excited about seeing my old teacher again. Then a seagull shat on me. I stopped to clean myself up, arrived five minutes late. Nobody there. I sat by myself for 10 minutes, listening to nothing. It was lovely.

On Friday the office was quiet – only five of us in. There was plenty going on, but it felt like the calm before the storm – we have a bank holiday next week, and both a new person starting and a company picnic on the Tuesday. I wanted to tidy up a lot of things from earlier in the week, but ended up spending the morning with Australia. I killed the momentum, made the decision not to send it into the real world yet. The universe wasn’t right. it’s good to take pressure off people if you can. it meant I had to jump between project tracking and SQL hacking again, which is something I find pretty tiring, but there you go.

At lunch, got some news which will play out over the next few weeks. Found some awesome old magazines for £1 each:

Managed to round up the week quite neatly after that though, with lots of filing and emails and aborted WordPress efforts and user setup. Onwards and onwards…

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Workweek 03×01: Craft Vader

Workweek 03×01

Back from holiday. A tent that survived the wind, and dinosaurs that didn’t survive a planetary collision. Flying a kite over an ice age forest. Board games until midnight. A miniature steam train to a nuclear power station. All just memories now.

So much to tidy up before you go away. But returning, something of a blank slate, a chance to pick and choose.

Monday.

Back to headquarters, the weekly catchup takes on new heights when you’ve been away for a while – a reflection not on what you’ve been doing, but on how things have been when you leave a hole. Culture is what happens when you leave the room. We have a great culture, I think. How do you know though, if it’s what happens when you’re not there? Instinct? Or metrics? There’s a lot of talk of measurable success these days. But instinct still counts for what’s important.

No time to delve in too deeply though – I’m on a morning train to Worthing to catch up with a few people there. After so much physical travelling on holiday, it’s weird to get back to my ‘usual’ environment. Maybe a fresh train trip is in my blood at the moment. I’m hitting series 3 of these weeknotes, and the more I think about it, the more I want to run them as a travel journal instead of just as a work diary. I don’t need to list everything I see and do, just the interesting bits, the tourist parts, the things that make me think, that I want to remember. A scrapbook of insights yanked from navigating the workday tides. A soulful documentary, curated from the surprises that stream, steadily and naturally, from the fact that I work.

This will be series 3. A road trip. And I feel like I’m not even out the door yet, just planning the destination. One series, six episodes, a month and a half, end of September. Where will I be at the end of that?

Fortunately this isn’t an audience-grabbing blockbuster. I don’t need cliffhangers or celebrities (I think?) – I can lay out some script now, to try and stick to. Here’s what would be great to have happen by series end:

  1. We have direction for the company. Will this be feasible? Will it have buy-in from everyone? Will it be clear enough to be referenced and used practically? It’s something I’ve been trying to improve for over a year now – the last major attempt was last September, so the time feels right to address it properly again.
  2. I feel like the Head of the Tech Team again. My role has wandered since the start of the year and this has lost focus a bit. The team do an excellent job, but this is something I feel like is my forte, and where my experience lies. I can take on a mentoring role here, and feed directly in to what’s important to the company. I would like to spend more time back here again.
  3. I feel more… I’m not sure. Happier? Relaxed? Confident? There’s a way of life here, a Tao that I can’t describe yet. I’m not unhappy. I’m not super stressed. I just feel like I could be better at tying everything together a bit – whether that’s better ways of organising things, or better ways of coping with it, I’m not quite sure. I want to take my lead from great craftsmen – excellent techne, focused attention, calm performance, pride. Maybe “craft” is the right word here. And ideally, I’d like that to permeate into the rest of the company too.

There are other things I’d love, of course. Details, ambitions, projects, etc. But the above three feel like they underpin a lot of those. And they’re the things which affect me as a person. So I’m perhaps more likely to pay attention to them.

Anyway, here’s my stop.

I have a certain love for reception desks. The welcome that is so symbolic for everything else. The swift coming and going of meetings and handshakes and smiles. The security measures keeping track of personal signatures like a revolving for four celebrities. Like a train station concourse, or a temporary party.

Strange, calm anxiety after my meeting. I think it comes from it going quite well, and I’m still not used to just being able to talk about things on my own – like my expectations of myself are catching up with me. Less pressure due to the excuse of coming back from holiday? Or just… Am I getting used to just “saying stuff”? Is this what people mean by “imposter syndrome”? Anyway, it’s good to talk to people. This is the fun side of the hard work – actually making a difference and helping people to do what they want to do.

Wednesday.

Full on project takeover mode, with flow diagrams and everything. Everyone is in the thick of updating our Australian work to use new administrative geographies brought in recently. Everyone is also in and out on holiday. There’s lots of activity and it’s a great team effort, so my main role is to make sure everything is being caught up front, and everyone knows what’s going on. Kind of the counterbalance to Alex as scrum master – a mini, on the ground project admin on hand to answer questions and keep the direction focused. The challenge is to do it without getting too sucked into the detail, and without going mad because everything else is happening. Same as usual then. Remind me I said that halfway through tomorrow.

I don’t really know how people do anything without flow diagrams though. Lines run my life. It’s frustrating how bad computers are at drawing lines, generally, given that we now live in a networked age.

I get to see some technical work that Lawrence has been doing in his personal time. I’m a bit afraid I find across a bit harsh – I’ve grown to see “research” from a business perspective, and sometimes I get scared by new things, I totally admit. It’s true though, sometimes the river runs too quickly and houses are unnecessarily swept away without thinking about the people in them. Happens all the time in the tech world.

But I’m reminded that there are good ways to foster progress and take new things and give them a better life, like moving the fire from kindling to the logs. We have a city building things here, with infrastructure that focuses on excellence of all sorts – technical, but also business value, shared communications, etc. Innovation is about that route to join up things to infrastructures, to allow a seed to grow up in the forest. That’s a good thing to try to do. Same aim. Just not as harsh.

I take a good, solid lunch break. This is part of the “craftsmanship” thing I’m aiming for. Browsing through the remaining emails from holiday though, I realise I still need this sense of craft when it comes to balancing projects, and relating to clients. There are not enough hours in the day.

Thursday.

A morning itinerary session. We continue to punch holes between everyone’s holidays, so today is the most opportune time to gather our collective conscious for the road ahead over the next two weeks. There’s an ambience to our sprint planning planning meeting (meta-planning? Context setting?) that I find comfortable and refreshing – if it’s allowed to happen. Today feels like drums beating at the city gates though, with external pressures bringing themselves into the room like uncomfortable guests.

Everyone talks about agendas and aims for meetings. What if ambience was a thing? Something about the culture of a particular meeting?

One thing I’ve struggled with over the last few years is technology – hugely ironically, as Head of Technology. I find it difficult to get the balance right between things being developed in a decentralised, ad hoc kind of way, and setting some sort of overall agenda that helps direct this. It seems everyone thinks they know how to do “tech”. Build it, release it, things will be better. But I don’t see the world that way any more. It feels like what we need isn’t a tech strategy, but an innovation strategy – something that addresses how development is fostered, but then also framed and integrated. In theory I could spend the rest of my life on that. Maybe I need to find others to discuss this with?

I have to change path after that. I have some American development work to attend to now that I’m back from afar. It’s just me on it, so it feels like a strange trip to a place I’ve visited before, but that is off the beaten path for us now.

I create a new git repo, plan out some tasks, read up on specs, and assemble code from across the years. It’s surprising, but it comes together quickly and I have a nice new code layer on top of our existing database, running in my local VM. Good to know I still have it…

Friday.

Yawwwwwwn, missed out on two hours sleep last night. I’ll feel it later.

I’ve got a travelling companion today, as #son1 needs to be parentally supervised, and hey, he loves coming into work for some reason. (The A1 paper, I think.)

He seems happy to get in our morning catch up across most of the team to see what’s needed on our Australian work. We’ve got a fairly hard deadline and there are some risks and difficulties still around which I’m not very keen on. But three of us get stuck in, and we have a decent plan by 11 o’clock. #son1 is drawing a volcano.

Then a welcome change of scene and pace to have a 1:1 with Kim, which is always good. I’m reminded how far our (her, really) marketing work has come in the last year, and it’s pretty amazing (and a bit scary, when you’re not so used to knowing the subject matter as line manager).

#son1 is playing with bubbles when I get out. We go for lunch, and part ways when mum turns up.

In the afternoon, I return to my American work from the day before. It’s a bit of a slog this time – setting up new database tables, importing data, configuring my code – but the results are instantly accessible and so I’m satisfied with the progress.

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Workweek 02×07: Bonus Stream of Consciousness

Workweek 02×07: Bonus Stream of Consciousness

I had an idea to do this as a bonus season finale as I’m over my original plan of 6 episodes a series, and I was thinking in a Buffy-style dream-sequence approach. It didn’t work out like that. I’ll save that for Series 3.

This week. Separate the wheat from the chaff. Things I have to do. Things I should do. Things I like doing. Things I don’t need to do/shouldn’t be doing. I’ve got a busy head on me these week as I plummet into annual leave time. I’m off for the next two weeks, and already relishing the chance to reset my brain.

What are the big questions I have about what I should be doing?

1: External links? Competition, collaboration, community?

2: How relaxed should I be?

3: Balance? Maybe Work [tm] divides into…

  • planning
  • puzzle solving
  • producing
  • personal (email, etc)

I’ll leave these here as draft notes. Blog like no-one’s reading.

Monday

My aims this week are mostly focused on going away cleanly. I’ll admit it, I really hate the run up to going on holiday. So much pressure to leave things handed over and not blocked in annual leave purgatory.

1:1s with Lawrence and Alex.

Chat to HACT, nice lot, plus Flo rocks.

Look at documenting my VM setup and accidentally turn it into starting a fresh VM, which fails to work.

Wednesday

There are interviews in the office. I try to make some progress on my VM set up in the background, and tidy up last sprint / prep for next sprint for tomorrow.

Had first “official” retro in a while, and not a technical one this time. Alex taking on the reins of running the meeting, and trying his hardest to stay out of the discussion – this is hard, and kind of feels like it would be great for anyone to be able to facilitate a retro, so we can all take it in turns. But that’s even harder, so.

Had a good, if too-brief chat between Flo as user support and me/Stefan as POs on how to improve how we line things up before the sprint – it’s probably a long overdue chat, but always worth having. Lots of chat on expectations which is probably a codeword for “shared understanding”? Anyway, it was good that we all coincidentally decided we wanted to talk about the same thing. One to pick up when I’m back from holiday.

Thursday: become the joker.

Sprint went well. I think it helps having a retro beforehand for “clusters” of people to just get in the same mindset.

Struck by the difference between client requests and our own internal processes. As a data – handling team, a core of what we do is moving data between systems. This means we have to map data from structure A to structure B a lot – or interpret between data structures.

Data structures are both objectively and subjectively better or worse. De-duplication is *usually* better as a rule. Scalability is always a bugger.

The challenge as a company handing out data is to put effective decoupling between these systems, so that each side of the equation can do what it needs to do best. This is the whole point of APIs. There is minimal unnecessary risk spread across the system as a whole.

You know that bit in films where the bad guy falls off a tower, but manages to grab the good guy and threatens to take them both down? That’s basically how I see data systems, and what you’re always trying to avoid. It’s called “end scene coupling” (no it’s not), and the risk is that a defect in one side (the guy about to plummet 50 floors) causes a massive upset on the other side.

In Batman, (spoiler) Batman falls off the top of a belfry tower as he battles the Joker. The joker offers to help him up, but a moment of tension reveals – gasp! – it’s a fake hand!

Now I’m not saying at should all be psychopathic criminals, but the Joker’s little joke there is actually a great example of decoupling – maybe he could have used the hand if he wanted to. But his soul wasn’t defined by it. The hand was an intermediary between joker and batman. A proxy layer. Disposable risk.

How can we achieve this disposable proxy risk layer as an organisation? How can we do things our way (because we’re pretty good at what we do, and we’ll want to improve it) while at the same time doing things the way an external party want it?

And really, the data schema style introduction was just a ploy. Really, the same question is true of any process – an agile team “interfacing” with another team, me as an individual “interfacing” with existing company processes and cultures. Internal-interface-external.

I have a chance to play with this when I get back from holiday. Run a project as a black box. Work out the comms architecture to sit alongside it. Avoid coupling, momentum.

Had a late call with our American clients, and while I always find conference calls the worst way to do database design, feels like there’s a good way forwards. Looking forward to picking this one up and giving it some proper attention when I get back too.

Friday: end of term.

Worked from home as feel a cold coming on. Typical.

Mostly tidying. Writing up. Making sure everything is handed over smoothly. Some tech chat.

Now it’s 9.30pm and I’ve just sorted out some Skype refunds, and hit Inbox Zero. Holiday time.

*drops mic*

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Workweek 02×06: Colon Architecture

The humble colon runs the modern world.

Mood: Tired, like I haven’t stopped. Not stopped dancing. Like I’m trying to cut through the trees, see the wood hiding in my head. Batting moths away, one by one.

This week: A chance to stop and reflect and reassert on a couple of fronts, including the big one – the company, and what we’re all here for. / The challenge: Either manage all the moths flying around, or ignore them until the cloud lifts.

Once upon a time I dreamed I was a developer, re-factoring here and there. Soon I awoke, and there I was, a Director. Now I do not know if I was then a Director dreaming I was a developer, or if now I am a developer dreaming I am a Director.

Monday:

Weekly catchup feels relaxed. I didn’t manage to get team snacks today, but didn’t feel like I needed to. I think people can manage without.

I have a rummage through the company general inbox. Mostly chaff and old newsletters. I take one small move to more freedom by closing an old colleague’s GitHub account, and pass an enquiry onto interested parties. Little steps.

A chat with Luke to look at our R&D efforts over the last few years. Scrape bits of memory from the wall of my brain, try to remember which project was which. Spin it and weave it into a thread. Scribble notes down on my pad to help myself along. Cross-compare brains and spreadsheets dotted around the room. Everyone’s looking for narrative. Information is multi-dimensional, but transmission is a single, linear stream.

Alex has come up with a plan to make sprint planning better! Great to see him bearing fruit (not literally yet?), I think some scrum master mentoring from Luke has really helped give him confidence/permission to take this and run with it. I feed back a bit, but mostly to note that everyone’s on holiday coming up, but we chat a bit about it on Slack.

We’re off to see our partners HACT on Wednesday about directions for Version 2 of [Hive Pixie] which I’m semi-Product-Owner for (on our side of the partnership), so stop for a prep chat with Stefan and Flo, who are coming up too. We all air our thoughts, and are roughly in the same headspace I think.

A sense of disentangling – between past and future. A new version should be the opportunity to gather passion and excitement. I think maybe our Continual Improvement Agile Thing [TM] blinds us to that sometimes – doing stuff becomes a habit, and reasserting the drive for something new, something of value, becomes mundane. Both Wednesday and Thursday this week are a chance to get excited again. But will others get that too? I venture into ‘excited’ territory tentatively, not over pushing it, dropping it in to shake things up when I think it’s needed.

I also write up lots of post it notes. They get written into a Google doc and organised in lists, as the bones for a summary doc. They don’t look very exciting or passionate, I must admit. Maybe I should add that in a bit more.

A note on to-do’s. This week I’m continuing to use Trello, I think, with Wunderlist in the background. Can’t work out if Trello is more useful, or if it’s just the move to a new way of organising things that helps. The latter would explain why I’ve used so many different methods over the months – perhaps working out how to organise stuff helps think about what I’m organising…

Text message: “Feel all blown around this week, like a leaf.”

Wednesday:

I’ve got a date in London with HACT, and some of their new staff. However the other two I’m supposed to go up with are all kinds of I’ll – the huge lightning storm seems to have cleared out the flying ants, but brought the plague with it. End times.

I’m feeling perky though, some how. I tidy up and send over some notes ahead of the meeting, chat through a potential client request and sales points with various people, and go for the train.

Equipment note – I’m trying out my new Bluetooth keyboard, and resting it with my phone perching on top, on a book on my lap on the train just about works. I can get some emails done, and while it probably isn’t much faster than the onscreen keyboard, it definitely feels nicer to use – I do like typing with real keys. Is key lag a feature of Bluetooth keyboards generally, or my fairly cheap one? I should try out some other combinations if this feels like it’s going in the right direction….

So despite it being only myself representing OCSI in a room of 6, it’s a good session and feels very relaxed. I’ve really enjoyed having more product direction and strategy discussions over the last year, and a bit of me would love to have a lot more time to do it ‘properly’.

This time round, I really notice how sharp and structured some of our own company thinking has become. On the other hand though, it does make it harder to have discussions without that structure and sharpness – it’s easy to get a bit controlling, and/or frustrated when not everyone is on the same page. I have to remind myself that a lot of that thinking has come about through a fair amount of training, practice, and experimentation – and that you can’t just force that into a meeting if others aren’t prepared for it. Just like ‘being agile’ requires certain management of expectations around where agile processes interact with ‘other’ processes, so each organisation inherently has its own culture, its own identity and approach. The challenge for us/me is to a) translate other people’s thought processes into something compatible with ours, and b) really demonstrate why we do what we do, and the value that comes from it, to inspire people to experiment in the same way.

(Some of that sounds slightly self-important. It’s not intended to say we know best, but more reflect that we’re a team developing our own distinct ways of doing things, and to acknowledge that this sense of developing a joint philosophy is something really important to us.)

On the way home, I write up my notes and thoughts as a draft email to update people. Then I rewrite it, and decide to put it into Confluence in the morning instead.

Trains: Decidedly OK.

Thursday:

A similar tale – we have a Board meeting planned for most of the day to look at where we are, as a company, after the 7+ months of running without a CEO. But again illness abounds, and we’re restricted to a lot more virtual presence and a lot less brain power than would be good. So we curtail to an abbreviated, more regular agenda, and finish at lunch.

This gives me a bit more time, so I end up archiving the two draft emails I wrote the day before, and writing up a proper report in Confluence instead. In fact, I want to structure this whole project a bit better, so I take some time to tidy up the wiki space, make it Into a more useful dashboard, and write a blog update to keep everyone informed.

It’s a good exercise to think through what a Project Dashboard needs – or what I want from it. Here’s the layout I settle on:

  • Main panel
    • Link to main product site
    • Product overview – elevator pitch intro
    • Link to Product aims and strategy pages
    • Link to Product process and how-to pages
    • Recent blog posts
  • Side panel
    • Recently updated Jira issues (last 2 weeks)
    • Recently updated Confluence pages (last 10)
    • Recent product release notes

Thinking this through requires me to think about what the information architecture for communicating the project to the team is. It makes me think about what pieces of information are most important, and to whom. It becomes a map to introduce the project, to get on with it, and to structure both high and low level thoughts around what’s needed next.

In fact, I’ve written up the meeting notes about 3 times now, but it feels useful. A conversation is, in itself, ‘messy’ and chaotic, which is fine. Writing up notes is a filtration process, but there is often still no architecture there – in the analogy of planning a building, listing all of the small maintenance tasks needed doesn’t tell you anything about who’s doing each, what the context of each is, or what’s important. A building has foundations, infrastructure (pipes, cables, etc), furniture, fire exits. Each exists for a different reason and has different needs (regulatory, functional, time loops, etc).

So setting out the IA for a project to be worked on is similar – strategy is a foundation for everything to build on. Processes are a sort of infrastructure. What you release is just an event, a moment in time which emerges from everything else.

The next day I write an email an discuss this (hello Ash!), and come up with the phrase “communication architecture”, rather than information architecture. I love this phrase. I bet someone has invented it already.

Pastry: Chocolate almond croissant.

Friday:

An end of week catchup day. Catch up with Hon Mond in my efforts to check in more with the team I’m responsible for. Have a good thought about asking what help people need from an aging senior developer (ie me) which seems to flip my responsibilities on their head. In line with “management as support”, I should be finding ways to make it easier for me to help, not (necessarily) always putting structures in place to tell people what to do.

Then I look through some draft database design to integrate data with a partner more efficiently. Need to really sit down and plan this stream of work out in a bit more depth next week.

Then I catch up with Flo on what happened on Wednesday and plan a phone call on Monday. Feels productive.

Then co-Product Owner Stefan is away on Monday, so we shift our upcoming-sprint session and go through some plans. Really finding it very useful to get context in place sooner rather than later.

OK: Done.

Technically, this weeknote is the last in the series of 6. I made it, hooray! Technically, there’s now a break until the next series, but I have one more week and then I’m away for a bit. So next week might be something. Or it might not be. We’ll see.

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