Monthly Archives: June 2023

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.