Weeknote 19th November – Keeping Going, Somehow

John Crace, being interviewed by Jessica Elgot at Wanstead Library

Hello. Another late night weeknote. A sensible person who cared about their brand would have these ready to go on Friday lunchtime or Monday morning…but I do really write these for myself as a way to reflect. And also for a very old friend with an RSS reader who lives just outside Malibu (waves).

This week has been much better than last, thanks the very welcome return of a few more working braincells and a slightly lightening mood.

On the former I’d been continually feeling like I’d got way too many tabs open in my brain, with only limited ability to make coherent progress. I was definitely still getting useful stuff to happen, but it was quite reactive and slightly random. And therefore quite hard to feel a sense of accomplishment. But on Wednesday I caught myself writing a Slack message saying “so here are the current list of open issues, and what I think we need to do about each of them”. It was a wonderful moment of “oh, I can see the whole again, like I used to be able to”.

On the latter – I’ve heard on the grapevine from therapist friends that they think the current variant is making people feel a bit lower. So if you’ve picked it up and are finding it hard to get going again, take a small amount of comfort that it’s more likely to be the bug than you. Hang on in there – and if I’m someone you want to compare notes with, you know where I am. It’s nice to be feeling a bit more optimistic once more, and it’ll happen to you too.

Randy Silver, just getting going.

On Thursday, we had the delightful Randy Silver come in to GDS to give a talk as part of our monthly “Show&Tell/Speaker Series”. Two teams gave lovely talks at the start. Firstly there was a chat about the recent utterly epic ‘Design System Day’ – and how to make events like that go well. Then there was a very moving talk about lived experience of neurodiversity and disability, from one of our own staff. A tough act to follow, but Randy did brilliantly. Inspiring, funny, and practical – hopefully for everyone, not just Product managers. You can read a little about what he said in this LinkedIn Post about it – from where I stole the photo above.

We’ve finished the first complete round of interviews using the new processes I brought in, which feels great. I’ve spent a lot of time talking to recruitment and HR colleagues about how to make this process as simple and fair as possible, but also tighten up some loose ends – everything from how we ask questions to how we store files. Some of this has been an extension of work I did at DIT, but other bits have been going back even deeper. Like, “what is a job description actually for”.

I’ve also been writing a lot of interview scripts, and tweaking the script documents and sift sheets to make them a bit more usable “in the thick of it”. I’m hoping I’ll be able to share a little of that once it’s been road-tested.

It’s still a longer process than I’d like, but it’s tricky when sometimes you’re robustly assessing “do candidates pass the bar” and at other times “how much breadth do they have”. As I finally get time to start looking at updating the government Product Manager DDaT framework again, in the back of my mind I have the notion that ideally I’d like to be able to hire using just that. I can still see the value of the civil service behaviours list, but I think I can make the two align in a more useful way if I squint. Let’s see. But hey, I’ve also got a lot of people across governement to chat to about this. And my brain’s still getting to the point where it can handle this sort of 12-dimensional chess.

Learning Day plans are coming together. We’re doing an experiment with creating a separate strand for our Grade 6 Product Leads/Heads – more news on that if it becomes a thing. I also spent some time with Phil and Justin from “Talking Roadmaps” chatting about the best way to make their session with APM/PM/SPMs go well. Oddly the trickiest part of it all looks like it’s going to be to do with Mural permissions. I’ll post about that once we’ve come up with a cunning plan!

It’s also the day where we are hoping to launch our MVP learning offer – something that reduces the friction for Associate to Senior PMs in knowing what courses would be useful for building the skills needed to settle into their roles, as well as progressing to the next stage. This will build on loads of great work from Jonathan Forman, and hopefully embed it a little more. We’re also trying to be more strategic about how we use the central learning budget to get a bigger bang for our buck, and let staff/line managers concentrate more on the day job – rather than beauracracy. Of course, as a product person, the biggest part of that document is going to be about “and how we make the plan better”, but hopefully it’ll still sound like a step forward.

Next week I’m co-hosting a discussion table at the Government Transformation Summit. I’d originally been asked to sit in on a chat about Government Efficiency, which I’ve got a good few opinions on, but as they tweaked the various attendees I found myself being asked if I’d mind joining a chat about “joined up services”, which was higher up my list of preferred topics – so I’m happy about that. My fellow hosts have got a nice broad range of perspectives, so we should get some nice discussion going. If you’re going, there are four 30 minute sessions you can join us for. I suspect between the hosts we could fill the time ourselves if we had to, but fingers crossed we will have some really good questions and viewpoints being shared by other attendees – and might help inspire people to keep doing the right thing. (I’m also hugely looking forward to seeing a pile of old friends in the margins – Liz, it’s been too long!)

I’m looking forward to week 3 of teaching Mind the Product’s “Product Leadership” course. The group are starting to gel more, as always happens. Cris Valerio was wonderful as a co-trainer for the first two weeks, and we’re going to carry on chatting long after this. For the last two weeks I’m joined by Dharmesh Raithatha – which will be fab.

Sadly I didn’t get to chat to the new coaching client because of delays getting contracts sorted. You know that thing where you dig out the flatbed scanner, install the drivers to get it working again, finally create a digital version of the signed document…then forget to attach it to the email and nobody notices for a few days? Yeah, that. But it’ll happen soon.

What’s been happening in Real Life?

Vicky and I got to see John Crace chatting about his new book at a Wanstead Tap/Newham Bookshop event (photo at the top). He was very very funny, but also talked very poignantly about the toll that writing a daily politics sketch – given the turbulent last few years – have taken on his mental health. He definitely ended on an optimistic note though, and I felt quite inspired given my own slightly rubbish few weeks.

Got to see Penguin CafĂ© playing live at the Union Chapel, with lovely percussionist friend Steve. So many truly beautiful moments – “Galahad” in particular. Some tears were shed.

Baby Queen on stage

On Wednesday I made it along to the Forum to see my ‘artist of 2022’ playing live again. Sadly Daisy couldn’t make it down from Norwich to join me, due to commitments with a play she’s producing/in, but I wasn’t going to miss this for anything. Bella was on truly excellent form, and clearly having the time of her life. I dialed Daisy in by phone for “Dover Beach” and the encores, and it was lovely to have her almost-there. A lovely new layer of memories.

I was so pleased that her new album “Quarter-life Crisis” debuted in the charts at Number 5 as well. It’s a great record.

Finally managed to feel well enough to get out for a run today too. Could feel myself becoming more sluggish and I wasn’t liking turning back into a potato. Just under 6K, just over 31 minutes, which isn’t bad after five weeks away and A Disease.

What else?

  • Good piano lesson that was more talking about the nature of emotion in music than hamming through any particular piece
  • We’ve been decorating the spare room – that corpse-green wall colour turns out to have been a terrible idea, and it’s feeling a lot warmer now
  • Some lovely long evening chats with Vicky over dinner
  • Didn’t go and see “The Witches” when offered a spare ticket as I was just too tired after everything else
  • Ordered the Christmas tree!

Right, that’s enough for now. Bedtime. I hope you all have a lovely week. All probably-one of you.

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