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.
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.
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.
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.
Robin Ince at the Wanstead Tap
An early start for heading up to Manchester on Friday – ugh.