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…

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