Weeknote 10th December – (quiet, but in a busy way)

The Music Thing Modular ‘Turing Machine’, finally completed. OR IS IT???

A shorter note this week. I’ve been pretty productive, but there’s less specifically to talk about.

I had a few really good coaching sessions this week, across all levels of the organisation. Everything from product principles and strategic objectives through to the practicalities of making your first prioritisation calls – and that feeling of dread the night before sprint planning: “what if the team say this is all bollocks?”. I got some truly lovely unsolicited feedback from a few folks on how much these sessions have been helping them, or from leaders saying they can see the change I’ve brought about in others, which has been very welcome. This ‘head of profession’ thing can be a bit of an isolated job at times, with a lot coming out and not much going in, so those moments of recognition are doubly appreciated.

We had a community session on roadmapping, following up from our ‘learning day’ activities and the idea that any given roadmap is for a given audience. Seemed to go OK, but a lot of folks are tied up with business planning, so it wasn’t as well attended as I’d have liked. Hoping to form some action learning sets on the back of it all, but need to work out when, given that…lots of folks are tied up with business planning.

I’m still improving our recruitment processes, and that’s meant lots of chats with fellow profession leaders, our Head of Recruitment and also the Deputy Director for People. I also checked in with some former colleagues about changes they’d made after I’d left DIT, to see how some of my ideas evolved a year in. Lots to think about, but it’s all good progress.

I’ve got a bit of interviewing to get through next week, sitting on panels myself, but I’m hoping to try and finally start work on revisiting the cross-government Product Management career framework. It’s really good, but has a few issues:

  • Product management as a practice has moved on since it was created – assumptions testing, continuous discovery etc should be much more commonplace
  • It treats user research as the only way to validate things, rather than data where the cost of being wrong is low
  • It treats user research as only being about usability, that the product person heavily directs, rather than something which can inform strategy when working with very experienced researchers
  • It assumes that financial ownership is only about cash and budgeting, when the biggest cost of a team is the people – and product people could be considering the (estimated) burn rate of their team and ROI when prioritising a lot more than they are
  • It treats strategy as an artefact, rather than a continuous process that also covers longer-term delivery planning

I’ve been thinking and chatting about these improvements for ages, but I still need to bring it together into a coherent form that folks can react to. There’s a big meeting in late January where I can present my thoughts, and maybe even get those changes signed off – but it’s going to be pretty damn brisk if I want to get stakeholders across government bought into it by then, especially with Christmas. We’ll see.

I also managed to lightly rein in the feeling that my brain is in ‘spinning beachball of death’ mode this week, and got a few more tasks done. I’ve always got so many long-term contexts on the go, but Slack (plus slack culture) seems to be much better at distracting me then Teams ever was, and I’ve found it so hard to get into a flow state on anything that – particularly since covid – I’ve almost given up. Much as I’m a fan of GSuite compared to Office365, I also think that having everything in the browser makes it much harder to concentrate. You still have ‘all the other stuff’ open in tabs – whereas in O365 you can at least be only in Word for an hour or so. I’d really been feeling like I was losing the war with the to-do list over the last month, but this week felt loads better; I could enjoy completing things, which led to seeing new asks as something to achieve and help with, rather than being the arrival of Yet Another Thing That Probably Won’t Happen But Will Make Me Feel Guilty. I basically started by setting aside some time at the start of the day for those tasks that will only take five minutes, but never get to…until I’m reminded of them in the middle of trying to do something substantial, shattering concentration. The good feeling of getting those done at the start of the day gave me a confidence to start tackling those bigger things, and start getting faster at them as well. Slightly the opposite of my normal approach to “tackle a big thing first” but it seems to be working. So that’s another bit of covid-brain receding – on both a cerebral and emotional side.

I managed to overcome the procurement hurdles with the new coaching client, which is great. I should be able to finally kick of sessions with them at last this Friday, which is excellent news. It’s a very exciting project, but sadly NDAed up to the gills.

Continuing with the secretive vibtes, there are also some other bits going on that I can’t talk about yet, but look forward to sharing soon.

Non-work corner

On Friday I caught up with Liz Sarginson and a bunch of the old GDS ‘Tech Ops’ folks to celebrate her being cancer-free. A lovely evening of comparing notes with people who are now scattered across government and the UK, but I was a bit exhausted and had to slip away after pint number 4. Particularly as others looked like they’d happily be there all night.

This weekend I also finally had enough brain space and spare time to pick up a DIY-synth project that’s been lurking in dark corners of the dining room. It’s a sort-of-controlled-randomness unit called a ‘Turing Machine’ that’s a key bit of many modular synthesis setups. But you have to make it yourself. Which takes time, which has been in short supply, and soldering skills, which are very rusty. And attention to detail – well yeah, good luck with that after a long day flipping contexts.

I am an absolute bloody idiot.

This was manifested when I finished the first board only to realise that I’d soldered two little edge connectors in the wrong way up. They should be on the underside, not with all the chips and resistors. But because it’s soldered in 16 times, it’s absolutely impossible to get out again. You can’t keep all 16 solder joints molten to pull the whole thing out. So sadly, there was only one possiple approach:

Carnage.

Basically each of the 2×8 headers had to be broken apart and taken out a pin at a time. I’ve got some replacements on order to put in at a later date – I don’t need them until I’ve finished making the expansion units.

Anyway, it’s fully made now – you can see it at the top of this post.

Sadly, and much to the shame of a person who got an ‘A’ in their Electronics O Level, it doesn’t actually work properly yet. A mere detail.

The white noise circuit (used for generating the randomness) doesn’t appear to be generating any noise – so it doesn’t do the thing it’s supposed to just yet. And similarly the looped set of 1s and 0s seem to somehow automatically reset themselves to going round as 000000011111111000000011111111 forever, no matter what starting pattern you put in. So there’s a bit of poking around with an oscilloscope and voltmeter to be done, while looking at circuit diagrams I barely understand, tracking down where something is shorting or I missed fully creating a solder joint.

I did have a brief moment where I was comparing the tradeoff of “the time doing this diagnosis” and “just buying another kit and doing it properly this time now you can solder competently”. The kit even got as far as the shopping cart when I decided that I didn’t have to treat this like another chore or work task. It’s supposed to be a fun hobby where I learn. And I have all of Christmas where I can take my time to do things like that.

Piano’s finished for Christmas. A good lesson to end on. We really got into the depths of just two bars of one of these Schumann pieces, a habit I’m finding it much easier to stick to now. Seb’s really happy with how much better my tone is, and how much more weight I’m putting into the keys, after decades of floaty synth playing. I also got him to look at the puzzling left-hand of the Dario Maranelli piece that opens “Pride and Prejudice”, and I was delighted when he agreed that the fingering I’d worked out was indeed ‘the least shit option’. So that’s a win.

Elswehere in music I’ve been picking away at Electronic Sound magazine’s top 50 albums of the year. There’s some really great work in there – but jesus it’s all a bit bloody bleak. Thank heavens Alison Goldfrapp’s joyous album “The Love Invention” is in there to lift the spirits.

Right, time to open the Marsala and start making a few Christmas plans. Have a good week everyone.

One thought on “Weeknote 10th December – (quiet, but in a busy way)

  1. Pingback: Weeknote 11th Feb – settling in for the medium haul | Leaning Forward

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