Fortnightnote – 31st December – Verygood-byes

First up – apologies for using a portrait-format photo to start this post. There’s a much nicer version sitting on GDS’s slack, taken using the GDS phone, but when I dived in to retrieve it at about 6pm this evening I found out I Definitely No Longer Work For Government.

In a lot of ways I approve of this effective and automated JML process – but I’m a bit sad because the other picture was soooo much better, and more “the moment”. (Maybe Nick or Steve can email it to me so I can retrospectively fix my lack of editorial planning.)

Anyway, that’s the headline. I’ve left GDS. And government – for now.

The last week of Proper Work was really rather lovely and touching. Many folks were starting to ebb away towards Christmas, of course, but that made the moments people made for me all the more precious. Some folks logged on while on holiday – or even came in to the office while on holiday – specifically to see me. For a slightly abstract job, with slightly abstract metrics, they were very tangible ways to know I’d made a difference. Thank you all.

The Tuesday afternoon before Christmas held a lovely lunch with my fellow Heads of Profession. One of the DDs had remarked in passing “other people doing these roles elsewhere seem to slip back into individual work, but somehow you’ve all remained a team” and I genuinely think we remained greater than the sum of our parts throughout. We always tried to model being a multidisciplinary team ourselves – so that we didn’t send out contradictory messages between professions or get caught up in projecting hierarchies as normal – and I think that led to a lot of our own cohesion. I feel bad to be leaving such a lovely and wise group, but I hope the organisation treasures them and finds a way to inspire all that potential – individually and together.

Thursday was our last community session of the year, and my last at GDS. I was talked out of doing an end-of-year pubquiz and instead there was a general “final Q&A with Tom” session, chaired by Martin Lugton. I have always tended to be a bit wary of such things because I worry it just becomes “very senior people talking about stuff that isn’t relatable to the people Making Actual Stuff Happen, and perhaps patting each other on the back”, so I put up a bit of a fight on this. It turned out that Martin’s plan was because loads of lovely people wanted to use the session as a bit of a “goodbye and thanks” session – across both the Heads of Profession and the Product Community. In hindsight, doh! (So much for slinking back into the shadows like Mary Poppins.)

I was given a very lovely and generous present of a Teenage Engineering PO-24 drum machine – which is in the picture above. It’s based around samples of “office sounds” – floppy disk drives, mouse clicks, dot-matrix printers etc, so really pushes my Matthew Herbert microhouse buttons. I’ve had loads of fun playing with it over Christmas, even though I’ve been nowhere near the studio to record any of what I’ve created.

I was sent a Kudoboard (of course) where folks had TRULY EXCELLED THEMSELVES on cat+synths gifs – bravo all! Martin L crafted the loveliest message that somehow contained more Carly Rae Jepsen song titles than I thought could be possible – I doff my cap to you, sir! But folks kept using words like kindness, wisdom, energy, invaluable. So, as far as qual data is concerned, I think I made a difference over the last year.

Quant-wise: I ran over 20 community sessions, getting the attendance up from [the one where I was the only attendee, for the first ten minutes] to about 20 regularly. Not quite 50% of the product people, but it’s getting close to some of the other more vibrant communities. Not bad for 11 months work. I ran about 100 individual coaching sessions. I created a curriculum for two learning days. I created our draft learning plan for product managers. I revised our recruitment processes, restructured and formalised how we held all our artefacts, and was part of bringing nearly 15 people into the organisation.

But also – most importantly – over the last year I made (or rediscovered) some lovely friends.

At the end of Thursday a small group of us pre-Christmas stragglers made it along to the pub and spent a good few hours setting the world to rights. We came up with plans, I hopefully inspired a few people, and then we spent loads of the rest of the evening swapping music tips. I’ve not yet found quite where those tips ended up on my phone, but I know I wrote some down. Steve and Tim, you might need to tell me again in the comments!

Thank you all, you’re lovely, and I wish you all the best. You know where I am if you need to chat!

The cross-government, highly incomplete, mic-drop

I’m not going to re-tell the story here, but I spent a lot of my last week – and a few of the days between Christmas and New Year – trying to finish off a straw-man version of the new Product Management career framework. I’ve had this turning over in my head for months, and compared thoughts with countless others, but never quite managed to find the time side-of-desk to capture all those ideas in one place until now.

It’s going to be a flawed document, and some might say I’ve been a bit too purist or ambitious (because we never had the time to discuss any specifics), but I really hope it’s a way to keep moving the discussion forwards.

Anyway, here’s the blogpost summarising the work. Please do get involved!

Roadmapping – it keeps evolving

Need to add this to the roadmap heuristics post, but as part of trying to keep a particular community session moving I was chatting to Janna Bastow (of Prodpad) and James Higgott (of NHS England) about now/next/later roadmaps – and Janna touched on something really important. I’m UTTERLY going to have to paraphrase, because the discussion is now in The Email Account I Can’t Access but she said something like:

Well of course we don’t know exactly how long the “later” things are going to take, but we’ve discussed them as a team, have a sense of ball-park, and they’ve been validated for both business and user value.

I suspect that’s not how many people use the “Later” aspects of their roadmaps in practice. It’s more of a place to dump rough ideas and stakeholder debt. I tend to have quite good instincts for this, and am quietly picking up evidence as I go, because I’ve been doing this kind of work for a very long time. But that doesn’t necessarily help those around me who are newer to the role. They just see someone putting an idea in “Later”, occasionally asking a few poky questions, and then moving on. I should have been much more explicit about my thinking processes, and where I’m imagining validation needs to happen.

So the key takeaway is: don’t be lazy about what makes it into “Later”.

Everything Else

Watched a lot of films

  • Next Goal Wins – just a lovely bit of simple Taika Waititi heartwarming. A huge hug in cinematic form.
  • Squaring the Circle – a documentary about album-cover design agency Hipgnosis, who created classic artwork for Pink Floyd, 10cc, Peter Gabriel, Led Zeppelin etc. Genuinely charming. Unlike the doc about the Marc Bolan covers album – shudder.
  • Asteroid City – I absolutely loved this, despite my former self. I remember quite liking ‘Royal Tenenbaums’, but I suspect this is mainly because I had a huge crush on Gwyneth Paltrow after ‘Shakespeare in Love’. After that it was all downhill – and I absolutely vehemently detested “The Life Aquatic”, with online audit trail. But the kids really liked his “Fantastic Mr Fox” animation, and about a decade later the Peter Greenaway fan in me fell for the visual structure in his follow-up animation “Life of Dogs”. I softened a bit to “Moonrise Kingdom”, a bit more for “Grand Budapest Hotel” and was sold by the time of “The French Dispatch”. And so, to “Asteroid City”. It’s the most utterly wonderful bit of not-taking-himself-seriously, but rinsing every bit out of his style. Hearty recommend.
  • Polite Society – this is a total delight. Flawed, but utterly worth watching. It’s from the same person that created “We are Lady Parts”. It’s got all the surreal magical-realism of “Spaced”, with spectacular set pieces and majestic suspensions of disbelief. The tragedy is that if it had been from Edgar Wright I’m sure we’d have heard tons about it…but it’s not by a white man.
  • Tetris – a load more fun than you’d expect. Taron Egerton is trying to find out whether he has or hasn’t got the rights to sell the game to Nintendo, and in the process comes up against the corruption of late-stage soviet communism, and how the likes of Robert Maxwell were so cosy with it. Turns unexpectedly into something of an action thriller near the end. Well worth a watch.
  • Wonka – wanton silliness from the folks behind “Paddington 2”, with songs from Neil Hannon and a soundtrack by Joby Talbot. So, in a lot of ways, it’s a “Casanova”-era Divine Comedy album writ large. An absolute ton of delightful fun, with tons of comedy veterans fleshing it out – Matthew Baynton, Rich Fulcher, Paterson ‘numberwang’ Joseph, Matt Lucas actually acting rather than being Matt Lucas.
  • Bottoms – unexpected recommendation within ‘my group’ of bafta voting, but also from the daughter, but a totally super-duper parody of teen movies, with the silliest ending ever. Two high-school lesbians create a ‘fight club’ in order to get off with cheerleaders. It’s utterly ridiculous, but also totally brilliant. It ticks all the Edgar Wright boxes that ‘Polite Society’ does, but even more spectacular mockery of the genre. Out of all the films, this is the one you’re probably least likely to try – but it’s utterly brilliant – and so that’s why it gets the trailer link…

Christmas was great – a new expander for one of my favourite modules, a wonderful Hooksmith Press picture of Wanstead’s famous turaco bob, the DVD version of Peter Gabriel’s new album i/o with all the surround mixes, Spiderverse2 in UHD (for private sobs), tons of fabulous books, and even a hat crocheted by my daughter. And I gave even more delight, fingers crossed.

I hope you also had a wonderful time with family and friends.

At some stage I might write about plans for next year, but mainly I’m just looking forward to a new start…and another clear week off to rest, think and create.

2 thoughts on “Fortnightnote – 31st December – Verygood-byes

  1. Steve

    I think my recommendation was Anthony Naples and probably Lee Gamble too. I may also have mentioned Ernst Reijseger, but I definitely a bunch of UK garage, hip-hop and The Streets.

  2. Pingback: Week notes: 1-7 January 2024 | Neil Williams

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