Kinda-weeknote 27th August – killer heirloom

It’s the Sunday of the August bank holiday, so of course I’m writing this while waiting for a barbecue to heat up, drinking a glass of rough-ish red, and wishing I was no longer wearing shorts. Hope yours is going as well.

It’s the slight end-of-an-era-beginning-of-a-new-one in music-land this week. I finally had to admit defeat on trying to rescue my very very old 88-note piano-style master keyboard, which had stopped sending MIDI notes despite various proddings. My writing approach rather depends on being able to make more than one sound at once – and only having the Prophet as an input device wasn’t really working – lovely-sounding as it is. So the mid-90s SL880 has been whipped out, to be replaced by an inherited early-90s Ensoniq synth that’s built like a tank and is somehow still going. That’s it, in the photo above.

Now, while it’s not up there with “the ‘Penny Lane’ piano” as a musical treasure, it’s a fairly noteworthy piece of hardware if you’re a video games person, as it’s the very actual instrument used on the theme for the Rare arcade classic ‘Killer Instinct’. You can hear it playing the lead line here:

Weirdly this changeover is part of a general feeling of renewal and revitalisation that’s going on. There’s a ton of stuff I’ve been turning over for a while, and I’m finally making real progress. It feels like I’ve actually got a lot more brain cells available – particularly compared to last autumn which was just rubbish. I had relatives and godparents dying, kids heading off to university, and a very rapid cadence of changes at work, etc etc. The studio – originally intended as a place to get away from it all – still had memories of being “the place where I did Brexit” or “led that difficult prioritisation round” or… well, everything really. And I just think I’d never really come to terms with all the fallout from lockdown – I was too busy holding it together for everyone else. I just felt a bit – numb.

My January of alleged-music-writing didn’t really work out because of loads of this. I was trying to have ideas in the same rooms as those tricky things had happened, when I wasn’t actually sure I even wanted to think about them. I didn’t want to write music about all that, but there wasn’t mental space for much that was new either. I certainly didn’t want to embed those difficult memories in my little sanctuary even more deeply, let alone be labouring over layered vocals ready for uploading to Soundcloud. (Obviously there are 23-year-olds who write amazing albums under far worse circumstances, and with far less fancy gear…but they may not have to also turn on Professional Highly-paid Jazzhands every day.)

BUT, it’s rather lovely that there’s a whole bunch of stuff that’s fallen into place recently. A load of stuff is making a lot more sense and I’ve been slightly more at ease. I feel I’m not carrying quite so much stuff around with me in the same way – like it’s some burden that’s a part of me. I think I’m ready to start writing again, and about things that I wouldn’t mind singing about or living with long-term. I can genuinely see things a little more clearly – I’m noticing stuff more. Even small details like the designs of the faceplates of bits of synth, or the colours in a particular book cover. I’m able to concentrate a bit more. I’m holding onto thoughts for longer.

[BBQ update: there’s a slug slowly crawling across the patio, directly along the route between my chair and the food. This is adding an air of jeopardy every time I turn the sausages.]

This also means I’m planning on changing how I use the blog. I’d ended up trying to wrap massive articles into individual weeknotes, and then somehow ended up doing neither. The massive articles would get stuck in ‘perfect is enemy of done’. Any bits short enough to get finished would then get lost in the middle of a weeknote. So expect lots more half-thoughts and work in progress. Stuff around roadmaps, governance, creativity, planning, empowering teams – plus a smattering modular synthesisers and highly produced pop, of course. But a lot less waiting for perfection and having all the answers.

I’m using social media a lot less too, which is proving quite good for the brain. Catherine Price’s book “How to Break up with your Phone” is full of delightful recipes for disrupting the dopamine habits. Plus I’m reading more fiction and less Improving Work Books. In particular I’ve been devouring Ursula Le Guin’s “Earthsea” trilogy – having only read the first book when I was younger. What a romp they are – but with a lot of depth too. I keep finding it’s accidentally past midnight, rather than losing interest in Techniques after four pages. Hopefully I’ll continue to break the distraction habit.

I’m going to be teaching for MtP a little bit more, which is great. I had some rather heart-warming feedback from the last Product Leadership course – we genuinely made a difference to the attendees. Foundations looms in about a fortnight, then an in-person Communications & Alignment session the day before the main conference. And another Leadership in November. Which should all be very rewarding.

At work I’ve been involved in some good coaching chats – but am also starting to hear about things that I suggested in previous weeks finally paying off. I made it into Steve’s blog as having been lightly useful, even if I couldn’t remember why at first. This is very welcome, given that the bulk of the day-job is currently about the important-but-dull world of “better recruitment artefacts”. There was a good community session on Team Health Metrics, in an OKR style, where people got to try creating them as groupwork. Loads of people who’d never met each other got to chat and compare notes, which was wonderful. When you hear the words “our projects have more in common than we realised” that’s a moment to hang on to. Similarly there was a lovely gathering of the Heads of Product where they spent most of the time chatting to each other. It’s reassuring to see that some of these things are becoming a little bit more self-sustaining – even if the community’s taking quite a lot more energy and enthusiasm than I’d like. We’ll get there though.

[BBQ update 2: the slug is getting closer. If I don’t make it, please send my best to the family. And can I have “Approximate Mood Swing No. 2” by Art of Noise played at my funeral please?]

I’ve also been taking the collective “Heads of Profession” through an OKR-setting cycle in a series of workshops. These got postponed from last week because I realised that there was a conceptual issue I needed to think through. Anything I came up with as a prototype just wasn’t making sense. Essentially it’s because the *collective* Professions have certain shared things they need to achieve, and we’ve got some shared tasks we need to do to collectively achieve that. However, because each profession is such a different shape, scale and level of maturity we have hugely differing tasks for how to adopt any shared patterns or data. Or timescales on which things would be realised. there were basically several one-to-many joins buried in the middle of what I was trying to summarise in our OKRs, breaking everything. To extend Teresa Torres’ “you’re not comparing apples and oranges, you’re comparing apples and fruit”, we’re comparing apples, oranges, pips and the promise of a series of orchards.

But having the realisation that we were creating a set of interlocking plans, all running at different paces, but with some shared core enablers, has enabled us to make quite a lot of progress in terms of how we talk about our goals. It’s also made clear the breadth of the organisational friction and BAU that make our individual progress so tricky. However, we’re getting much better at sharing knowledge and processes as a result of this clarity. For example I had a long chat on Friday morning about the semantics of Job Descriptions vs Objectives…so nobody else had to. Kara, our head of profession for design, went off in search of some data we need. And so on…

It’s still not the strategy work I was promised the job would involve, but I guess it’s valuable in the meantime.

I had a wonderful and…extensive…night out with Randy Silver on Wednesday, planning a talk he might give for us, and putting the world to rights. Anything that started like this couldn’t be bad:

[BBQ update 3: phew. Food is cooked. I’m heading indoors now to eat. Will pick this up later. Unless it’s an incredible house-eating slug.]

[Update 4: It wasn’t, but watching more “Good Omens 2” with Daisy was far more tempting than resuming this.]

That’s enough wittering on about work.

I had a stupid splurge on bandcamp the other day. Bought a lot more Cate Brooks, which is proving to be lovely working music – Maritime in particular – although so far nothing’s quite as lovely as the album ‘Easel Studies’ that I wrote about last time. Caterina Barbieri’s Myuthafoo is quite spiky and cerebral, but still fun. And I’m loving the deep streak of Imogen Heap lurking under the surface of Caroline Polachek’s “Desire, I want to turn into you“. I kept thinking “what is it this reminds me of?” on every listen. “It’s not PCMusic. Or Jack Antonoff.” In hindsight, as ever, defaulting to male influences was a foolish lazy move.

The running’s ticking along nicely. 11.5km in 1’05” yesterday. A 25-minute parkrun last weekend. And the first time out on the bike in months – 28km in just over an hour, which I’m very pleased with. Trying not to think about the 40-mile sportive that’s coming up.

I also bought some eye-watering tickets to see Cabaret in January on the back of the ensuing bit of news, and that’s before I found out Jake Shears is going to be playing the Emcee. I really can’t wait:

I’ve also bought two sets of tickets to see Baby Queen in November. Initially I got a pair for London, and then I realised Daisy will be in Norwich at the time, so I bought two there as well. So if anyone fancies accompanying me to a gig in Kentish Town where I will embarrasingly know far too many of the words and occasionally be a little tearful, do please shout!

Next week I’m looking forward to catching up properly over a pint with Will Myddleton, having a nice remote chat with Stephen Culligan, and perhaps learning some ELO string parts for this gig in late October. Plus piano lessons restart quite soon…eek.

So let’s leave it there, but with a small farewell to a friend that’s seen me through over 25 years. Hopefully I’ll swap some capacitors and you’ll be back? Won’t you???

Weeknote – 6th August 2023 – taking steps

I’m on holiday, so it’s going to be a shorter-than-usual blogpost today. We’re up in Northumberland, in a rather lovely house with an amazing internet connection, a beautiful view over the Tyne Valley (barring some mysterious smoke that hints at the UK’s largest chipboard factory) and a lot of history on our doorstep.

It’s been a really busy week, on the back of a weekend of cold so horrible it also knocked me out of work on Monday.

Tuesday afternoon brought the final Mind the Product ‘Product Leadership’ session for this cohort. The last of the four weeks is a bit of an anxiety rollercoaster, because after three weeks of Really Dense Content, it’s “and now just ask us about everything else you had on your mind”. Two hours of Lean Coffee, but for a group of people with words like “VP” and “Director” in their job titles. You totally have to bring your A-game. However it was a hugely successful session, with lots of sharing between group members and some practical advice from co-trainer Stephen Culligan and myself. I genuinely felt like we’d given our participants a good mixture of hope, tactics, mindset and motivation at the end of it all. But blimey I needed a BIG glass of wine at 7pm.

I’ve also spent a lot of the rest of this week doing coaching with various teams and team members – often through the medium of roadmap reviews. This is a bit of the job I genuinely love. Helping teams fix their storytelling, realise that slightly wrong things have been clustered together, merging ideas into one outcome or splitting ideas apart to improve clarity, adding focus where they’re trying to do too much at once, and asking (very kindly) “yes, but what does that get us” many, many times.

It’s also been great to bring in the perspective of what it’s like to be at the top of all this, something teams often don’t consider. One of my favourite conversations this week was talking about longer term plans for a particular (highly adept but slightly abstract) team. These are necessarily a bit vague, and there’s some big foundational discovery work to be done – which is set out earlier in the roadmap – but the optics just didn’t feel right. I eventually managed to explain it as “yes, but you are asking [senior leader] to spend several hundred thousand pounds per quarter on your team – and I know you’re all really competent – but at the moment it doesn’t sound like you’re taking that responsibility to them seriously enough, in either how you frame the discovery nor your current assumptions about the potential work that might follow”. This turned out to be quite a useful lens, and it’s to the huge credit of those involved that they rose to that challenge in improving how the look at their plans.

These conversations can often be a bit challenging, particularly for people going through it for the first time – so if you’re doing this type of work with your own teams I do recommend that you remember to check in with team members at the end of the day. Make sure the pros of the experience genuinely outweighted the cons!

Elsewhere I’ve been chipping away at the highly entangled work of improving recruitment processes, the DDaT framework, and L&D plans. I was pleased to finally work through which of the civil service behaviours I think it’s worth interviewing on, and where the DDaT skills are better indicators of suitability for a given role. That stuff has been in my head for ages – but never written down for anyone else to look at. There’s also an epic spreadsheet in progress that’s comparing different options for future versions of our capability framework – but I’m trying to remember the key point from “storytelling with data“, that there’s a messy exploratory spreadsheet where you work it out for yourself, and then there’s the simpler one you use to tell the compelling story. They aren’t the same thing.

I’d hoped to tick off a first pass at some new cross-GDS Job Descriptions before I left, but at 6:30pm on Friday I sadly had to finally admit defeat and prioritise looking at suitcases.

Packing was an exercise in minimalism, at least for me. Very little music gear has come along on the trip. There’s only a few books. No bike.

It was a wrench to leave the modular system at home, but I think it just adds more pressure that I ought to be doing things. The laptop with Ableton Live is here, but my only input devices are a Push 2 and an ageing SM58 microphone. I can create things if I feel the urge (indeed, today I was just mucking around with one of the built-in synths), but it won’t feel like a waste if that’s all that comes of this week musically.

The reason for this stripping-back is to try and make the time to be a bit still, and re-centre myself to remember my own priorities. I need to make a plan for the rest of the year that’s a bit less reactive and has more solid underlying principles – ones which have come from me. No biggy.

Other bits of IRL stuff:

  • Starting to run a tiny bit again, after a few weeks of being too ill. I’m rubbish once more, and keep coughing like mad, but at least I’m going again
  • Nice trip into Hexham today – buying walking boots, accidental books and too much sparkling wine
  • Did a teency bit of visiting Hadrian’s Wall
  • Cate Brooks’ “Easel Studies” remains a delightful album and great to work to. Thanks Hazel Mills for the recommendation
  • Also bought the rest of the back catalogue of “A Winged Victory for the Sullen” as I’ve hugely enjoyed “Invisible Cities”. Fans of Marina Hyde might be amused by their most popular track on Spotify
  • Making good progress on reading “Sense and Sensibility”. To my shame, while I’ve watched a lot of film adaptatioons, I’ve never actually read any Jane Austen. Blimey I’ve been missing out. She can capture in just a few sentences what must have been an excruciating couple of hours of enforced social fun. Soooooo bitchy, which was totally unexpected. The book is also divided into several volumes and the first ends with this Utterly Magnificent Sentence about smiling sweetly through heartbreak:

After sitting with them a few minutes, the Miss Steeles returned to the Park, and Elinor was then at liberty to think and be wretched.

Taylor Swift is good and all that, but…

Weeknote 29th July – a gentle return

Hello again. Yes, it’s another attempt at getting weeknotes going once more. There’s so much going on in my brain at the moment that everything feels far too trivial/early to write up, or is so vast I’m never going to finish it (that blog post about roadmaps). So it’s been a few weeks, accidentally.

The big work-related thing this week was probably going to Marty Cagan’s “Transformed” workshop. I’ve written up my takeaways from that as their own blogpost. Absolutely tons to think about there.

I also ran week three of the Mind the Product “Product Leadership” course, with Stephen Culligan as my co-trainer. Only one more to go, and then we start it all again in November. Oh, which you can sign up for, if you’d like me to help you! (I’m also teaching “Communications and Alignment” virtually on September 6th-7th and in-person in October the day before the MTP conference).

This week I’ve been doing some really fulfilling work with the product teams in one of our directorates, just helping them with the storytelling and value propositions in their roadmaps. It’s been so interesting hearing about the problems they’re trying to solve, and the feature ideas they’ve got, but also fascinating to see how hard it is to not get lost in the team-level detail when telling the story more widely. I’ve been gently asking “and why” repeatedly, and often finding the real reason for doing something is mentioned in an almost throwaway fashion – some enormous piece of value that’s being unlocked or preserved, or a huge risk being mitigated. Often in the tens of millions of pounds. But to the teams that’s just become so normal that they forget to communicate it upwards – so it’s been wonderfully rewarding helping them with that.

My role at GDS was originally supposed to involve creating a shared roadmap and product strategy, but it turns out things aren’t quite set up in a way that makes this particularly easy. I’m hoping that this kind of activity might be a way to start shaping a little more of that – because it’s the sort of thing that gives the other necessary work around L&D/recruitment etc a sense of purpose.

One other thing I’m taking the reins on over the next few weeks is starting to reshape the cross-government Product Management capability framework. There are a few small bugfixes I’ve got going in ASAP for associate product managers, and I’m hoping to publish some draft guidance about how we assess capability levels that span grades (I often refer to this as “‘Expert’ is never ‘done'”) more widely pretty shortly. But the big bit of work is making this framework reflect how the craft of Product Management has evolved since it was first created. There’s very little about experiments, or different types of discovery, or strategic user research, or assumptions testing. Hopefully we can get a draft together by late September that can be sent out for feedback across government, and which can give some teams a little more permission to do the right thing. I’ve got a vast group of contributors, and I’m borrowing from some great prior work done by Jon Foreman and Scott Colfer, so hopefully that timeframe won’t break me.

Real life

With MTP Training in the air, there’s not been a ton of time for other things, but…

Went to see “Dear England” at the National Theatre with Daisy. That’s the set before kickoff in the picture above, but there’s a fabulous gallery on the NT’s own page. Joseph Fiennes was just brilliant as Gareth Southgate, and Gina McKee was as wonderful as ever – playing the psychologist he brings in and then pushes away. I’m not a massive football fan, but I absolutely loved it and bawled my eyes out at various points. Behind the main characters, there’s a wonderful transition journey for Harry Kane, and even Jordan Pickford changes from this wiry ball of aggression into someone much wiser. It’s open for a little longer, and much recommended. It might have too much commercial music in it to ever make it onto NT At Home or NT Live, but let’s see.

‘Barbie’ was bloody brilliant. I can’t wait to see it again. A deeper and richer film than I’d imagined, and while the plot isn’t *vast* there’s a lot to be got from it. This is a movie that can do stupid dog-poo jokes in one moment, then pivot to a vast Wes-Anderson-style formal piece a moment later. And it’s a film that talks about invisible privilege in the patriarchy, through the medium of an allegedly perfect matriarchy. Bravo Greta and Margot!

Music-wise: this week saw the release of the new Georgia and Carly Rae Jepsen albums. Neither was quite as amazing as I’d hoped. Georgia feels like she’s got a bit swamped by the Vampire Weekend bloke’s production, and it just sounds like any other female singer-songwriter rather than distinctively her. CRJ’s is the traditional “and all the other bits” album to accompany the magnificent “The Loneliest Time”. There are some great tracks on “The Loveliest Time” but definitely not quite up with its predecessor.

Of course, I’ve not been posting for a while, so there are also amazing records like Alison Goldfrapp’s “The Love Invention” and Matthew Herbert’s “The Horse” and Jake Shears’ “Last Man Dancing” still in heavy rotation.

And we said goodbye to Sinead O’Connor. Still trying to get my head around that.

I’ve not written a ton of music of my own, but I’m still settling into the piano keys more confidently, and re-learning some old pieces through the lens of my new left-hand technique. I’m also starting to do a bit of DIY modular stuff – bought a Music Thing Turing Machine to make for myself, and the Voltages expander. Hopefully that’ll also help me work out why the one I bought off eBay is playing up? But yes, a lot of remembering how to solder over the next week.

Previous Weeks

I’ve been busy and a bit ill, but a few other highlights:

  • Managed to get under 24 minutes at Parkrun. Never thought that would be a thing.
  • Went to see “Accidental Death of an Anarchist” again – really really good, and it still fills the bigger venue.
  • Likewise “Guys and Dolls” at the Bridge Theatre. Truly spectacular bit of immersive theatre. Can’t wait to go and see it again but stand in the pit this time!


Marty Cagan’s “Transformed” workshop – some key takeaways

So last Monday I spent a fascinating day with about 50 other senior product folk, being taken throught the first version of a new workshop/book “Transformed” from Silicon Valley Product Group. It was the first time Marty Cagan had run this workshop, and there was definitely more to fit in than there was time for – but it was still all really great stuff.

The inspiration for the book seems to have come from a pretty universal mental rollercoaster after attending the “Empowered” workshop. It turns out former-boss Miranda and I were not remotely the only people to get on a video call with Marty afterwards to say “that all sounded great, and we’re a big organisation who are definitely doing ok at becoming more agile and product-centric, but we’re still miles away from that! How and where do we start?”

“Transformed” is not the complete answer, but it’s definitely enough to give hope. And, like so many of these events, being in a room full of other people going through the same new challenges and sharing their own practice gave me enormous heart. I definitely felt like I was no longer alone.

I don’t want to basically blab the whole day, but here are a few notes I’ve made and shared with internal folks at GDS.

The premise

Fundamentally he talks about changing how you build (move to continous delivery), how you solve problems (continuous discovery) and how you decide which problems to solve (product strategy). This needs organisations to make sure they’ve got competencies in product management (NOT product ownership the Scrum role), product design, product engineering, and some other supporting roles. It also means building proper product leadership to enable the teams through coaching, staffing and making sure the right strategic context is in place for teams to be truly empowered (but also have the right guardrails in place). He also talked quite a lot about creating Product culture and principles. The latter part of the day was “and now…how do you assess your current organisation, create a plan for getting where you want to be, and overcome the objections along the way”.

Interestingly he also said it was important to focus on principles, and not fall into a temptation he sees across Europe of turning those principles into a process – which can become an end in itself. He was quite anti telling us any process at all, in fact. So that’s us well and truly told!

For practitioners

(The latter part of this list contains familiar points from “Inspired” or “Empowered”, but they’re still worth repeating)

  • Probably don’t describe where you want to get to as “product-led”. That’s sounding like we know best and we’re here to take over – Marty prefers “the product operating model”
  • Lots of product writing is from the startup perspective, when you have little to lose. Enterprise organisations have lots to lose – be sensitive to this
  • Marty was really explicit about separating out mission and vision, when a lot of literature blurs them together. He used Trainline as an example: their mission was something like “enable people to make greener travel choices”. Their vision was a four-minute video showing the sort of experience they were hoping to create that would get them there. It didn’t get into specific features, but every team member who saw it would know the sort of thing they were headed for to realise that mission
  • Marty’s observed that remote working seems to be OK for delivery, but isn’t working so well for discovery – he thinks teams that get together f2f are more successful
  • Spotify say that 100% predictability means 0% innovation
  • There’s a HBR study that says that only 10-15% of our original ideas have the benefits we expected (i.e. “work”) so discovery to validate them is important
  • Every company has more opportunities and risks than they can fully address – it’s all about choosing. Spreading your teams super-thinly and trying to lightly please everyone is unlikely to have the impact you’d hope for
  • PMs have to show they know the customer, the data and the industry in order to be trusted by the organisation – it would be negligent for leaders to let you have free rein until you can show that. Do you?
  • Empowered software engineers are the most important thing you can get – your job is to give them all the context they need to be empowered.

For leaders

  • You need to change how you deliver software, how you solve problems and how you decide which problems get solved.
    • The first – continuous delivery – is probably easiest because it’s largely within the control of the technology organisation.
    • Changing the “how we solve problems” through continuous discovery is hard, but thinking about “time to money” rather than “time to market” is a good starting point. It’s not just about shipping that idea, but shipping an idea that’s valuable.
    • Creating better evidence-led product strategies, that contain their own work to validate assumptions and become smarter, is harder still.
  • CEO backing is the biggest factor in whether a move to product operating model will succeed
  • Keep coming back to the principles, don’t let process take over – relationships with finance and any PMO will change lots and their work will need to change lots as well, be transparent about that and don’t let process settle in before those changes have happened
  • Remember Steve Jobs’ takedown of John Sculley’s Apple – “the disease was thinking that having a good idea was the hard part, and the rest was just execution”. How will you share the evolution of ideas and the learning that shapes that?
  • You are only as good as your weakest PMs, so remember to keep coaching
  • Don’t tie performance management to OKRs, otherwise nobody will be prepared to work on anything risky or hard
  • He talked about the impact of generative AI, and thinks it will make prototyping – where risks can be managed – easier and faster, but production code will take a lot longer. He’s written an article called “preparing for the future” that goes into this in more depth.
  • This new culture and way of working is a product in itself – start small with pilot teams, learn and iterate, but keep telling the story of what’s working
  • The product operating model is fragile. A new senior manager who doesn’t buy the idea of empowered teams working on problems, and wants to be specific about what they’re going to get, can destroy years-worth of work on culture in just a few months. Finding ways to make this resilient and ensuring the story is easily told is hard. It’s also emergent practice, and the last chapter in the book.

What am I going to do next?

So what are my own next steps?

  • I’m working on a survey of my PM community anyway, and I’m going to ask them about trust, but also how they understand their responsibilities to leadership
  • I’m going to think about other ways to regularly temperature-check “trust” and “empowerment”.
  • I’m also going to ask about whether they feel they truly know the users, data and policy context – triangulation points on the trust and empowerment ideas
  • I’m also going to ask where people are on the missionaries/mercenaries scale and think about leading indicators of teams becoming more like the former
  • I want to delve into the collective responsibilities of trios and how well that’s working
  • I’m going to pick 2-3 teams I think I can helpfully influence them and their leadership without risking delivery, and where there’s going to be a story to tell, and see if we can build trust in this model
  • I might also borrow some of the ideas Which? use to support this – rotating engineers through the discovery part, and rotating who presents at the team checkin
  • I’m going to get myself copies of Anne Duke’s “Thinking in Bets” and Tony Fadell’s “Build” which are both long overdue. I need to reopen my old Steve Blank books and read up on him talking about principles over process.
  • Marty’s kindly shared a few other bits with me that I’ll be thinking about too.

All of which will keep me very busy.

Further reading/social whirl

So that’s my own personal take. There are also other good summary posts on LinkedIn from:

  • Nick Jemetta – ex-Argos, now a Product Coach
  • Paulo Gaudencio – Product Ops lead at Cofidis
  • Tobias Freundenrich – ex-Xing, now also a Product Coach, who knows a couple of people from my Cimex days
  • Marty himself – where you can see a lovely photo of the back of my and Rico’s head, captured beautifully by either Chris Jones or Jonathon Moore.

I got to meet some fabulous other people too – Monica Viggars, some lovely long-suffering folks from MOD that I’ve met before, and the Crisp gang (Mattias Skarin, Marcus Castenfors, Matthias Holmgren, Jan Grape). I’d never heard of Crisp before, but they were product coaches to Spotify! Marcus also co-wrote a book called “Holistic Product Discovery” that looks worth a read.

Nick Jemetta also put me onto Graham Reed who runs an interesting-looking community called “Product Mind“, looking at the mental health of our practitioners. We do a stressful job, and often feel quite isolated or caught between impossible choices, so anything I can do to help people as part of that feels like a good thing.

All in all, a brilliant day. Different from what I expected, but definitely one that opened a new chapter in what I do.

Weeknote 4th June 2023 – Spaces for Stories, and Sparks

This has been an odd and slightly schizophrenic week, both feeling out of my depth and like I’m retreading old ground. Trying to make progress on lots of tasks in parallel, and not really getting to close many of them off.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time working on interview scripts for the new GOV.UK Head of Product role. Devising questions that are going to be the best and fairest way to make choices between the candidates, but also make sure we can get them any feedback they’d need. I’ve also been thinking about the exercise we’re going to get them to do – what we’re trying to prove and evaluate through it. Which is all basically like writing some sort of interactive adventure – we set up the situation as best as we can, and hope the candidates go on the right twists and turns, and there aren’t any holes in the format that we’ve missed.

Of course, some of these bits of thinking come back to talking through the nuance of what the Product Leader’s role really IS in any given context. So it’s been quite helpful as a medium for talking to the GOV.UK leadership about my own thoughts on that, given that they’ve barely had a chance to work with me properly, and to look at where I can support this in the future.

Once the script was agreed I then needed to turn it into something all the panel could use in the sessions. I started trying to recreate some of my old DIT templates from memory in GoogleDocs, and it was only then that I realised “hang on, this artefact is a thing I’m quite good at”. So look forward to a future dedicated blogpost on the usability of interview scripts – bringing together stuff from Saturday evening telly and the rules of the Civil Service Commission.

I’ve been running a series of “listening sessions” to try and help gather ideas for how we might better organise some of our teams in future. They’ve been really useful to people I think, but it’s been quite hard work facilitating sometimes over fifty people at once. I came up with a few interesting approaches to grouping them for dump-and-sort activities:

  • If your birthday is Jan-March group this section, Apr-Jun do this etc (when we had lots in each area)
  • Go and look in calendar at your birthday in this year, and if it’s Monday then do this smaller group of postits, Tuesday or Wednesday this bigger one etc (when the categories were very unevenly populated)

Always up for other ideas to improve my facilitation, so if you know of other good grouping tips please leave them in the comments.

Anyway, I definitely used up pretty much all my fake-extroverting with all that, so was glad to have some other ‘depth tasks’ going on:

  • Digesting a skills survey the collective ‘Heads of Profession’ sent out to Deputy Directors/Grade 6es, trying to find out where we needed to focus our energies in each profession. Some interesting gaps in expectations between different groups emerged. But also some stuff we probably wouldn’t have spotted so quickly for ourselves. As ever, surveys leave you with more questions than you started with, but they’re often better questions.
  • Kicking off some improvements to our product ops
  • Working on a forthcoming FutureLearn course

I also got to hang out at the cross-government Product Heads/Leads gathering, which is such a lovely group of people. Rose W was talking about some learning stuff she was doing in her area, as impressively and passionately as ever. Don’t know quite how she does it. Next time I’ll be boring them with potential improvements to the DDaT capability framework.

And no, I’ve still not made any more progress on the epic blogpost about roadmapping, although I’m using lots of the ideas in it around the office.

There’s been no shortage of “real life” either.

At the start of the week I went to see Sparks live at the Albert Hall, with Mr Everest. Just a wonderful gig, and so utterly, utterly ‘them’. Russell can still hit all the notes, which is incredible. The set was quite wilful – lots of very austere minimalist-inspired ones in the middle, before they returned to The Hits at the end.

We all whooped and hollered as you’d expect, and the encore duly began with “Love Song” – one of the hardest-to-love tracks off the new album. “That’ll show them”, they must have thought. But normality was quickly resumed and we went into the singalongs of “My Baby’s Taking Me Home” and “All That” to end. The former was a remarkable experience, having that many people singing their hearts out to this hypnotic minimalist gem.

I got to see my parents twice this week. They’re down to see the Bridge Theatre’s immersive production of “Guys and Dolls” on Monday, which my sister worked on. She’s also finishing off the costume supervising on “Patriots” right now, so is the busiest woman alive. I had a slightly more relaxed time of it, taking them out for dinner at BAFTA on Thursday, and then visiting Uncle Phil’s fancy flat in Berners Street where they were staying. I now have HUUUGE roof-terrace envy, it must be said.

What else?

  • Lots of piano practice, in new and interesting ways.
  • Bit of vocal practice to old Divine Comedy favourites – Jesus I’m rusty and croaky
  • Not much music written as I’ve been out loads
  • I got a security alert about some really old Wiki software I had running on this server, and decided it was time to clear out a ton of old Perl and PHP. And yes, in the process managed to trash this blog. There may have been quite a bit of trembling bottom lip going on. But thankfully a nice support person managed to work out that I’d deleted php.cgi, put it back, and I’m able to post this again for you now.
  • Running’s continuing to get better, but I suspect I’m about to plateau. I can’t believe I’ve managed to get to the point where I can do a 5K in under 25 minutes, and that my knees aren’t in agony as a result. But I can tell it’s going to be a long time before I come down much further – and I don’t know if I can be bothered to put the effort in.
  • I’ve discovered that I have lost over a stone in the last year – and possibly need to replace a vast number of 36-inch waist 501s with 34-inch waist ones. But this could also be a hubristic tragedy waiting to happen.

Mini-weeknote – 21st May

Robin Ince, in full flight, and 72 tangents in.

Lots of projects ticking along at work, lots of new things kicking off, but few tangible things to talk about at this stage.

  • I’m helping design the interview process for the new Head of Product for GOV.UK. It’s quite a different gig from hiring my own replacement at DIT, but there are definitely some common themes…and I lightly wish I still had access to the interview scripts to steal a few bits and bobs, but hey.
  • Thinking I really really need to finish this massive blogpost about roadmapping, or more specifically, different ways of planning and using the artefacts of those different types of planning – particularly in an area of high uncertainty. Loads of the themes are coming up in other conversations, and I really need to do the Marina Hyde thing of ‘writing it all down so I genuinely know what I think’.
  • Went up to Manchester this week for one of the GDS all-staff events, to run a Learning and Development breakout workshop with my UR partner-in-crime Natalie. Seemed to go pretty well, and we had GDS’s CEO Tom Read in the session, so that’s Quite Handy.
  • While there I also got to have a good chat with two of the Directors and a brief hello with a couple of DDs I don’t normally get to see too often as I’m mainly in London. Something I could do with fixing a bit. I’ve still not been to Bristol – pah.
  • “Heads of Profession” have finally got a set of agreed objectives.
  • I’ve got a LOT of workshops to design/write suddenly. I like doing these, as they’re a bit like designing pieces of interactive theatre – when will the audience move, what will they be thinking/saying/learning. But my own production values can also be a bit of a curse, and I’m trying to make sure I manage the pace; there was a period of doing tons of these back-to-back at DIT which accidentally led to a huge pile of burnout and a slightly ruined holiday.
  • The dynamics of getting a large group of senior *peers* in leadership roles to function like a team rather than individuals, without acting like you’re their boss, remains super-tricky. And really hard to explain to people who’ve not done time “in the trenches”. If anyone has tips? Otherwise I’ll share my own once I’ve made a few mistakes.

Meanwhile, in real life…

Went to see Robin Ince talking about neurodiversity and comedy and a million other things at the Wanstead Tap on Tuesday. That’s him in the header image above. He was launching the updated version of his book “I’m a Joke and So are You” which I know several other people would love. Quite a few unexpected tender moments, and I got very teary when he was talking about “things you blame yourself for that weren’t really your fault”. You can get the vibe in the following:

Piano keeps on improving, but sometimes painfully so. Lots of boring stuff with metronomes doing things at half speed, and trying to build up the strength in my little fingers to the point where they can support the whole weight of my arm reliably because of some fiddly changes in a Bach two-part invention.

Ran over 15km this week – including doing my first ever 10K. Just under 55 minutes, which I was very pleased with.

Hazel Mills’ full EP is out at last, and it’s amazing – been on heavy rotation while I did the gardening today. You can listen to it on Bandcamp – loads of lovely Kate-Bush-meets-Goldfrapp-meets-Hannah-Peel bits in there. “The Embrace” is still the one that melts my heart though. So very, very beautiful.

Also, I got to use the wonderful Ultra-lounge album “Organs in Orbit” during my workshop. Hard recommend if you need a bit of high-quality cheese.

On which note, it’s bedtime!

Mini weeknote – 14th May 2023

Lots of things going on this week, and a few people have said “what happened to your blogposts” so I thought I’d give a few highlights to prove I’m still alive.

The red arrows, flying in formation over trees in Wanstead
We got this, and a pile of helicopters
  • Of course there was a coronation. Normally the flypast goes over the top of our house, but sadly it was very curtailed due to the cloud cover and we didn’t get Spitfires/Nimrods/AWACs/Hurricanes etc. Fab to see/hear the Red Arrows from our bedroom window, as ever.
  • On Tuesday I went to the Mind the Product Leaders event on the top floor of Waterstones Picadilly. It’s still very strange being in large groups of people, and I think we were all flexing our sociability muscles for the first time in ages. One muscle I realised I was massively out of practice at was the one for “counting how many times someone has been past and refilled your glass”. Had totally forgotten that was a thing. Ow. But it was lovely to see Randy Silver, Emily Tate, Jock Busuttil, Rico Surridge etc, to catch up with Randeep Sidhu after a few years, and meet folks like Inez Gallagher for the the first time. Lots to think about from the discussions – the panel were talking about ‘leading in a time of change’. I particularly liked Randeep’s idea of numbering your roadmaps, so people can see the evolution. You can see a picture of the back of my head in the photo for this linked-in post.
  • A lovely drink or two with Robin Pembrooke, formerly a boss’s boss at ITV who’s now helping with some of the GOV.UK strategy. It was odd to reflect on our successes from a decade ago, and also reflect/bemoan the various things we’d completely failed to spot about the context we were working in. I made some amazing friends during those times, and got to do some of the work I was proudest of during my whole career. Although it ended very suddenly for us all, due to corporate shenanigans, I still look back at that time very fondly, and it was nice to compare notes about that.
  • The above “drink or two” may have also been a small factor in the spontaneous purchase of a ticket to Marty Cagan’s brand new “Transformed” workshop in July. It’s going to be during a stupidly busy week, where I’m also running Leadership Training for Mind the Product, but I couldn’t turn it down. Thankfully there’s still some money left in the old outside-IR35 contracting company for those sorts of things, and I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission. I think it’s going to be quite useful in various conversations.
  • The “Heads of Profession” sent out a skills-gaps survey to all our leaders at GDS – getting everyone to share their thoughts on where we might need to help develop staff to hit our goals. I’m hoping everyone is going to be seeing the same problems, but we may also find some misalignment to understand better. This is also going to help us shape staff development conversations and our communities – keeping enough of the learning focused on the areas our people are going to need coming up.
  • In my profession I’ve been painfully wrangling a survey about both community and learning for our individual contributors. The survey I’m happy with, but the tooling isn’t great – and it’s one of the few places I’m actually missing Microsoft Forms.
  • Starting to think about how we might improve our ProductOps in one corner of GDS – just a small place to pilot some slightly better ways of having conversations and the rituals/artefacts that enable it. If this proves as valuable as we hope, maybe others can choose to adopt it as well.
  • We ran a Product Community session responding to some feedback that there wasn’t a clear enough understanding of what other mega-teams were up to – two of the Heads of Product ran through their plans. Would have been nice to have a few more folk turn up, but I don’t think we’re quite at the stage where people feel able to decline other meetings.
  • I also had a first get-together of all the “Grade 6” product leaders, where they got to collaborate on some of the shared problems they’d like to work on together. Some of the issues are (predictably) pretty gnarly for an organisation like ours, but there were a few areas I hope we can make a dent in more quickly. But it was great for them to all finally meet each other – and Nic Winchester’s “what’s the worst/first job you ever had” icebreaker was a fabulous way to start it off. Thanks Nic!
  • A GDS awayday – a chance to meet and speak to a whole range of people at all levels of the organisation. There were a few people who said hello that I didn’t recognise nearer the end of the day, because my aphantasia was slowly frying the visual bits of my brain, so apologies if you were one of the folks to whom I looked slightly stunned when being approached. But great to catch up with various product managers, deputy directors etc. I also got to sit in on a workshop I’m going to be running up in Manchester next Friday.
  • There are non-weeknotey blogposts brewing about a few topics right now.
    • I’m doing a lot of thinking about roadmaps, because I think they’ve become massively misunderstood…but also I think they’re being misused as well. It’s likely to be quite controversial because it’ll get into some creeping worries I have about how people plan, and how they do governance, but hopefully it’ll produce some interesting discussion and I’ll learn some places where I’m wrong. It’s nice to be just thinking about these things at a slightly scholarly level, purely for myself.
    • I’ve also been thinking a lot about the tension between a catholic upbringing and the ‘retro prime directive’. How do we get better at forgiving ourselves for mistakes in our career – when we were making the best decisions we could, given what we had at the time.
    • Maybe the latter will be a better song, because I’m starting to feel a few braincells shifting into gear around getting ‘the album about product management that sounds like it’s about relationships…because product management is about relationships’ going again.

The weekend has involved a surprisingly speedy parkrun, getting in under 25 minutes for the first time ever. I’ve spent a lot of time in the pond fixing stuff; there was a lot of Eurovision; an interesting piano lesson; briefly playing with my second ‘Stages’ module to create newer, weirder modulations; I repaired a large number of quite fancy socks with small holes in the toes; soon there will be a barbecue.

My legs, a glass of wine, and Electronic Sound magazine.

There are a ton of other things that have cropped up over the last few weeks – did I mention meeting Michael Rosen? Going to see Dancing at Lughnasa? Ah, they’ll all come back in due course I’m sure.

Next week:

  • Robin Ince at the Wanstead Tap
  • Interesting 2023
  • An early start for heading up to Manchester on Friday – ugh.
  • Squeezing in some piano practice somehow

But first, BBQ!

Weeknote – 2nd April – no good music came from happy people

A super-short one this week. Still a lot going on at work, but it’s nearly all in that “waiting for the tick/feedback” phase. And weirdly, there’s little to say right now anyway.

Someone once described blogs as (roughly) “your brain, in real time, on the internet”. And normally I use these posts for exploring or explaining how I’m thinking through problems. Working out the structures and themes I’m using, partly in case they’re useful to someone else (like the problem/grade mapping thing I talked about a while back), but mainly to try and make sure they’re coherent to myself.

(Marina Hyde describes writing her columns for The Guardian in the same way. She will start writing around a vague topic, or have a few half-jokes she’s thinking of using, but the words will evolve and take on their own life – and it’s only at the end she can look back and say “oh, so that’s what I thought about [topic x]!”)

But right now I’m actually not agonising about anything. There are some slightly mundane-but-important things I’m cracking on with – writing down lists for others to feed back on, often based on stuff I knew worked from DIT. But I have no existential dreads to share. I’m actually feeling remarkably solid and sure of myself, which is a great place to be. Even if it makes for very boring blogging. Sorry about that.

Even this following bit is going to be remarkably short…


  • Went to see an amazing adaptation of “Accidental Death of an Anarchist” at the Lyric Hammersmith. Daniel Rigby was just incredible as The Maniac, and the adaptation by Tom “Fresh Meat/Plebs/Cowards/Here We Go” Basden is very poignant. It’s only open for another week, but you should go if you remotely can.
  • Discovered that the wonderful Grasscut had sneaked out an album during lockdown called ‘Haunts’ which is just absolutely beautiful. If you ever wondered what happened to all the other people from Brighton indie-folkists Passenger after ‘Wicked Man’s Rest’, it was this. At least when Andrew Phillips isn’t writing the music for the Stanley Tucci on Italy and Marcus O’Dair isn’t lecturing on the music business at Sussex Uni.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, thanks to a passing tweet by Mark O’Neill, I discovered the insane hyperpop gem that is “Daphne and Celeste Save The World”. Made over fifteen years after their first record, it’s like a collaboration between Charli XCX’s producer A.G.Cook and Dave Stewart&Barbara Gaskin. With some Anna Meredith in the mix. Or…a Max Tundra record, which is what it basically is. So many insane textural changes, bits in nearly-complex-time, unexpected chords. It’s 100% not what I expected, and a total weird delight.
  • Not much music’s been written or piano played, but I’ve been having lots of fun poking around with the Prophet 12.
  • I’ve spent a lot of the weekend reassembling the MtP “Product Leadership” course in my head. Pulling together these vast pieces of learning architecture back into a coherent whole is always a challenge, given that I don’t have any visual ways to mentally store it all, thanks to my aphantasia. I have to learn it more like a play, so that we can then improvise around it with the actual participants. But it’s getting there.
  • Next week brings Phaedra, Orbital, and hopefully a mandate at work. But also hot cross buns. Yay!

I’ll leave you with Daphne and Celeste. No really, you should listen to this. It’s definitely not their 2000-era work, I promise.

Weeknowt – 25th March

Karl Hyde of Underworld, human sized and with a huge video screen image of himself just behind him, with the silhouettes of dancing middle-aged people in the foreground
Not exactly ‘a hundred days off’

A curious week, this one. Really busy, and lots of progress, but no major things that have happened or new ways I’m thinking about stuff. Or at least nothing worth sharing yet.

The good news is that, following on from the ‘new jobs are like being a new parent’ analogy of a few posts ago, the end of week five looks like a bit of a turning point. A few things are starting to make a bit more sense, I’m not quite so exhausted by all the newness, and I’m starting to see the hints of good things coming to fruition soon.

I’ve definitely been channeling quite a bit of my former partner in crime, and the wisdom of gigbuddy Victor, when thinking about ways the Heads of Profession can be more of a team, rather than merely a shared job title. There’s so much collective wisdom to draw upon, it would be a shame if we tackled any of our challenges fully alone.

Aside from this, I’m generally turning over ambiguous terms like “roadmap” and “delivery”, and starting to get my brain back into the zone for the next round of Mind the Product’s Product Leadership course in April. I’m taking a slight back seat this time round, because (for some wonderful reasons) I might be taking over from Bea in leading it in the Autumn so they need to get some other trainers up to speed.

I’m also wondering whether weeknotes are the right format for all this. The rhythm of reflection is unbelievably helpful, but I suspect I’m half-finishing thoughts that should really be stand-alone articles.

Due to a few deadlines at work I’ve been slightly neglecting exercise, meditation and a ton of my other self-care routines over the last fortnight. Just one of those “I need the fifteen minutes to prepare x before this particular day starts, so I’ll have that walk later” spirals it’s so easy to fall into. By the end of this week I was definitely feeling the cumulative effect of not looking after myself enough, so for next week I’m planning to be much more strict about being virtuous – and staving off some gloom as a result.

Oh, and I got to meet some lovely people from the US version of GDS. We were given Joe Biden-inscribed boxes of Hersheys Kisses as gifts which was very lovely. Of course, I now have to decide whether to actually eat American Chocolate, which can be a high-risk manouvre.

small blue box of chocolates, with a presidential seal and signature printed on the outside.
As weird perks of the job go…


Underworld at the Royal Albert Hall was just amazing. It was a charity gig, and so they stuck to The Hits. But it has inspired me to finally catch up on their epic lockdown opus Drift. And to perhaps rethink a few of my own approaches to writing music. I really admire the internal rhyming scheme of fairly-recent track “S T A R”.

Each, peach, tinfoil
I spy Danny Boyle
Danny Boyle made my summer
I spy Joe Strummer
Joe Strummer up in heaven
I spy Nye Bevan
Nye Bevan at the top
I spy Iggy Pop
Iggy Pop at the wheel
I spy John Peel
John Peel double decker
I spy Sally Becker
Sally Becker is a star

V and I were in a box, which was just lovely. It was even better when we were in the correct one, so huge retrospective apologies to the residents of Loggia 4 that we couldn’t read our own bloody tickets.

Sadly we didn’t get to catch up with the delightful Kate Collins who runs Teenage Cancer Trust, and we know from early-2000s Children In Need days when we were all mere babbies – the poor thing had an incredibly badly-timed case of Covid!

Anyway, here are some videos I took on the night.

The track’s actually called “Two Months Off”, but hey.

What else?

  • Got to toast Matt Jukes’ entry into his 50s on Wednesday, catch up with a few very lovely people, and meet two new folks I previously only knew from Twitter
  • Vicky’s choir performed Bob Chilcott’s “St John Passion” on Saturday, which was delightful. “Nice tunes and nice chords” are sadly hugely underrated. And I was just blown away by last-minute stand-in tenor Tim Burton who’d not even heard the piece until the night before and yet absolutely smashed the narrator role.
  • Daisy came down to see ‘Phaedra’ at the National yesterday, and I feel we ought to see it too.
  • Drove to UEA and back today to pick up all her stuff. Slightly numb, but largely doing ok.
    • Last piano lesson for nearly a month – but no zen moments to pass on really. Sadly it’s all about me doing the work from here on in…

Weeknote – 18th March – Work in Progress

This was one of those weeks where there was no one specific thing that got ‘finished’. Or even to the next stage of ‘finished enough’. There are quite a few big things in play, and I’m making progress on them all, but it’s been slow going and I started the week feeling pretty low.

Some of that emotional slump wasn’t work-related. Last Sunday the family had gone down to Brighton, to take my stepfather-in-law out to lunch for the first time since V’s mum’s funeral. Because of COVID and other factors, it was my first time visiting the house in nearly four years – and obviously the first time I’d been there without her in it. So yes. Hmmm. It’s therefore definitely been a week tending towards the contemplative.

On a more practical note…

I’ve met three more of the Deputy Directors, and we got to chat about both the “Heads of Profession” model at GDS and how I can help them/the product people in their area. I’m starting to spot a few more patterns on the former now; this means there’s enough to go on that we can start to shape a slightly more scaled engagement model – the individual chats are great, but don’t scale for the matrix of every single DD and HoP.

We’d previously sent out a version of our vision for senior folk to react to, which had elements of ‘a learning prototype’. The core felt pretty good, and nobody’s objected to that – but the surrounding document had a few Big Ideas in it, essentially to find out what people did/didn’t want us to be. We’ve had some good (and occasionally very clear) feedback on that, which has been really useful. It took a while to collate all this into a form I could share with colleagues – but time spent gathering well-written-up context is rarely wasted. The other HoPs have been getting stuck in to an updated draft and it’s coming together really nicely. It’s also been great seeing everyone playing to their strengths – my user research counterpart is already thinking about how best to do that ‘engagement at scale’, for example – rather than me inventing it for myself. We’re really working as a team, which is wonderful.

I also had my first session with the GDS neurodiversity network. They were talking about shaping recruitment processes to reduce the chances these sorts of candidates weren’t disadvantaged. Lots of the things they’ve talked about are ideas I’d put in at DIT anyway – being really clear in adverts about the process, sharing everything you reasonably can in advance (including some of the interview questions), making it as easy as possible for people to know the criteria they’re being judged against. But I also got to hear new things like the ‘six second rule’ – which is how long you should allow for someone to process the question. Tony Richards, who runs the network, has a really good blogpost about their work. We’ve also talked about ‘manual of me’, but that’s a topic for another day.

One of the other things I’m turning over is how we can better share information and feel more united in purpose within the directorate I belong to. I came up with a pretty good ‘hybrid wall walk’ process – but realised it could only support a maximum of 13ish teams in an hour’s session. And we’ve got 20. So there’s the challenge: I don’t want important learning not to be shared across and upwards; I don’t want risks not to be surfaced; I don’t want people not to have the chance to say they’ll collaborate. But I also don’t want to bore people by making it 90 minutes, or even longer. And too often I’ve seen “scrum of scrums” type activities get filled with people talking about how busy they are, and not getting into the things that really matter. So if you have any ideas/links to approaches that have worked, those would be very welcome! I’ll keep reading/researching/experimenting too, and hopefully be able to share some stuff back here in due course.

Three bars of Debussy's "Sarabande" with pencil markings of fingerings on them
It’s all about the middle finger. Particularly during the crescendo.


  • Picked up a stupid injury to the arch of my left foot, so running’s stopped again – pah.
  • Finally got to the bottom of the cryptic cadence of getting paid in the new gig – and sadly a glitch on the timesheet system means I missed one of the critical drumbeats where the weekly/monthly cycles come together. This means it’s going to be a few weeks still before I can do the much-anticipated hitting Rough Trade/Bandcamp in anger. Catching up on the Ladytron back catalogue will have to wait. Thank heavens for overdrafts and credit cards (and yeah, Spotify I suppose) in the meantime!
  • Another incredibly Zen piano lesson. A bit like work, I feel like I’ve got a load of pieces that are ‘nearly there’ but taking ages to come together. There’s a Schubert Impromptu that’s just a slog of learning sooooo many notes; Debussy’s “Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum” that I can get through, but needs a ton of polish; and Debussy’s “Sarabande” which is furthest along, but still not really where I want it. All of them feel like I’m pushing uphill, and not seeing much progress or joy. (Which has also contributed to my general gloom.) But Seb the piano teacher tried to reframe all this – that the piano is never “done”. A given piece is never “done”. You might get it to “good enough to play to other people”. So don’t be practicing too much with that target of completion – just enjoy deeply working on the four bars you’re currently trying to improve, and the bigger picture will look after itself.
  • I’ve been particularly looking at the few bars in the picture above, where I’ve realised that the problems I’ve been having are down to the weight distribution of my hand. Unlike synth playing, to get the best sound out of the piano you have all the weight of your arm carried through your fingers. But I was really struggling on these phrases. And that’s because I’d made the wrong trade-off (but been able to mask it with the sustain pedal, to Seb and myself). I’d been anchoring most of my weight into the thumb and second finger – but actually it needs to be focused on the third finger. This helps you bring the melody out at the start, and then helps your thumb to be all floppy and slide through the semiquavers in the second bar – while your fourth and fifth fingers are freed up to be carrying on with The Tune. I love these types of problem-solving you get in piano pieces. Compared to the clarinet, where there’s only one way to do it, the piano remains far more fascinating.
  • Daisy came home for mother’s day, which was a lovely surprise she and I managed to spring. Har har har.
  • I got hugely frustrated with the studio – all the electronics just felt utterly technical and uninspiring this weekend. Modular experiments that would normally have kicked off new ideas completely failed to. I fell into a bunch of clichés when trying to play synth keyboards. I couldn’t settle to anything. I ended up having a massive tidy to try and reset the space – and also the storage area where bikes and cables and camping gear and stationery and other bits of musical gear are piled up. There are now far fewer piles of “admin things in progress” everywhere and hopefully that’ll mean my brain can settle a little more without feeling oppressed by all the to-dos. And perhaps that’s sorted through some of the rest of my brain too.
  • Nearly finished the book of “Orlando” after seeing the play a few weeks ago. It’s got really quite weird at the end of the 19th Century, particularly when her child arrives, but it’s somehow got me thinking a lot about odd corners/side-effects of my early catholic upbringing. That’s going to be a blog post in its own right – or maybe some songs.
  • Oh, and it’s been twenty years since I first started having piano lessons again. They’ve been “off and on” over the years, but it’s been a hugely rewarding journey to go on.

Next week will bring Underworld, a few social things, and hopefully a lot more progress.