Weeknote 15th December 2023 – Moving On

So, we should start with the Big News.

As you can see from the picture above, “Tom’s big cloth bag of Product” (© Jess O’Leary – 2018) is home from GDS Towers, as I’m going to be finishing at the end of next week. I am unlikely to be needing a Jabra, random postits, a pile of index cards, sticky dots, or a vast number of sharpies in {the colours nobody steals from the workshop} in the next few weeks.

On 8th January I start a new job, as Head of Product at Which?

I’m absolutely delighted to be working with Rico Surridge again – after more than a decade since our last project. I’m also going to be reunited with the lovely Stephen McCarthy, one of my favourite design thinkers. Plus I know a few of the team from training sessions I ran for Mind the Product, and they seemed delightful. So yay!

It’s also got a really great mix of commercial and social-good aspects. Yes, of course we want to sell more subscriptions, but that helps fund really important campaigns about the way commerce works in our society – to ensure it’s fair for everyone. I’m also hugely excited to be joining an organisation that has Jonathan Moore of SVPG on the board – I am going to need to bring my best game!

Of course, I’m really sad to be moving on from absolutely tons of lovely people working at GDS and in the public sector generally. Making space for product thinking, and creating amazing product thinkers, has been something I’ve totally loved doing over the last nine years. But the last year at GDS has taught me two things:

  • I need a decent change of scene to recharge my batteries. And I need to do that sooner rather than later.
  • I need to have an active role in developing the strategy and leading the people at any organisation I’m working in.

I’m not saying goodbye to government forever, and can potentially see myself in a permanent leadership role there in the future. But…if there’s a change of government and a whole new raft of things to be done, I need to know I’ve got the energy for that. And my slight burnout after DIT has become a bit more brownout. I’ve been pushing similar rocks up similar hills for just a bit too long. L&D, recruitment, community – they’re all great and important…but for me need to be part of realising something I’ve got a stake in. 50% of my time on that – totally ok. 95% – I’ve discovered that isn’t me.

And yes, it’s very rare for anyone to 100% own anything in an organisation of any size. Lots of decisions need to involve many viewpoints. We are often leading or managing by influence. And yes, there are definitely programmes I’ve improved by stealth. There are loads of people who’ve made huge progress in how they do their work, and I’m really proud of the part our coaching sessions together played in that. I also don’t want to steal their glory – I love letting other people shine. But something about this role hasn’t quite worked for my particular way of being. I tried a bunch of different approaches, like any product person, but on a personal level I never quite hit product-market fit for TomDolanAsAProduct. I’ve pivoted enough times. It’s time to try something else.

So I’m really looking forward to the change, the challenge, the new colleagues…and yes I’ll admit it, a kitchen that has a coffee machine that provides cappucino on demand, made from milk in it that I didn’t bring in myself. The offices are LOVELY and right by Regent’s Park.

But first, a week of wrapping up GDS, then THREE WEEKS OFF.

[Once the dust has settled, I remain totally up for chats with former colleagues of course. You’re top people, and I want to see you continuing to be brilliant.]

What’s left?

Good question. The to-do list is long, and there are some things I care about loads that I’m not going to be able to finish. So it’s about setting things up as well as possible to continue when I’m gone. I’ve always moaned about how few agile projects have a properly-framed context and kickoff, so it’s time to put my money where my mouth is.

This includes:

  • how do we wrap up all the improvements we’ve made to recruitment, to cover all directorates and all job levels?
  • what are we going to do with the career and skills framework for Product Managers, and who needs to be involved?
  • how do we launch the “Introduction to Product Management” course on Futurelearn that we refreshed back in the summer?
  • how does the community sustain itself and know what to talk about, so it doesn’t wither once I’m no longer there willing it into being?

This list is already too long, as I’ve only got 4.5 days left, but hey.

There’s also a nice xmas lunch with my fellow Heads of Profession to fit in. And some leaving drinks that lovely Steve has organised – to recover from. And reminding people I’m still there if they need a chat.

Inbox-taming for the useless

In a team meeting the other day, a fellow head of profession showed off a Gmail plugin they’d been using to help improve their workflow. A sort of macro language. “gda” triggered some particular filter around “emails today”, that sort of thing. It looked really interesting, but for me the revelation was that I’d never truly understood how simple the filtering language for gmail was.

I’ve said before that I don’t really like having everything in the same browser window as it stops me being able to focus, but I also find GMail quite hard to use in a work context. Threading is hard to keep track of. Your inbox rapidly becomes a partially-read infinite-scroll of shame. And because time and context are intertwined, I often find it hard to create a bite-sized chunk to deal with.

But the macros showed me this was possible. Easy, even. And I didn’t need the macro thing. I just needed this Gmail reference page.

newer_than:2d in:inbox in the Gmail search bar will give you just the stuff in your inbox today that you’ve not yet filed. Which you can quickly iterate up to being newer_than:7d in:inbox, and start fighting your way through the backlog. Then you can start looking at newer_than:5d in:aaNextActions (where I file stuff I need to do but needs thinking) or newer_than:5d in:aaConfettiTime (where I file non-urgent things that I need to do but are distractions from flow) and finally start picking off the things you said you were going to do most recently.

And I was so inspired by how effective this was that I’ve created a ton of similar “smart mailbox” views in Apple Mail. Last night I “read” and filed about 1800 emails, and dealt with about 2000 old emails from the inbox that were probably read on the phone and just slightly too high-friction to file at the time.

So do try this approach if your inbox is burning. And let me know how you get on.

Miscellany

I’m making more of a concerted effort to read longform text again. It’s a skill that’s withered as more devices and windows and chat tools and social platforms make it ever-harder to get into any flow or focus state. But I’m about to enter a new job, where I’m going to have to get up to speed on quite complex things. And I’ve got a lot of stuff I want to learn/read about that’s building up – around work, music and being. Or just because it looks like a good story.

Currently I’m devouring Philippa Perry’s “The book you want everyone you love to read”. It’s bloody brilliant. I picked it up in Foyles the other day, with an eye on it being a small present for didn’t-know-who-yet, and was still turning pages five minutes later. There are loads of examples that start of not seeming that relevant to my life, only two pages later I am thinking “BUT THIS IS ME HOW DOES SHE KNOW”. I should have known this would happen, because her Guardian columns follow the same pattern. Hindsight, eh? Anyway, it’s great. If you sometimes feel like your janky corners or lumpy feelings don’t quite fit in this world, buy yourself a copy. And if you do, buy yourself a copy anyway.

Piano is toddling along with depth work on the Schumann pieces. Didn’t think I was making tons of progress until I tried playing Debussy’s “Claire de Lune” for fun, and what I can bring out of it now is a whole new level compared to three months ago. So that’s nice.

There’s been a bit of modular nonsense going on too. Mainly based around a software-emulated version of the “Turing Machine” module that I bollocksed up soldering last week. Poking around in the Disting module and all its menus isn’t as tangible, but it did remind me why I wanted to do the project in the first place.

No new music of note this week, but here’s some current listening:

  • Peter Gabriel – i/o (still)
  • Kylie Minogue – Kylie Christmas (Snow Queen Edition)
  • Free Love – Inside
  • Dubstar – Two (a rediscovery)
  • Anne Dudley – Ancient and Modern (this is an honorary Christmas album at ours)
  • Cate Brooks – Easel Studies
  • EMF – Stigma

Enough writing. Time to start doing.

One thought on “Weeknote 15th December 2023 – Moving On

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

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