Weeknote 11th Feb – settling in for the medium haul

So it seems that a few more folks at Which? have stumbled across the blog. Hello folks! This is the inside of my head, very much as a work-in-progress. I remember an interview with the Guardian’s Marina Hyde where she said that often she would just start writing and didn’t know what she thought about something until she’d finally finished the column. This is a bit like that…only without necessarily me getting to the point where I truly know what I think. All feedback and assumption-correcting welcome!

The Day Job – sitrep

I’ve been slightly reminded of advice that I used to give to new parents: “weeks four to six are the worst, because you’ve run out of energy reserves, still don’t know what you’re doing, and have very limited positive feedback…but hang on because soon it will be coming”. I ended the working week utterly exhausted, and couldn’t stop yawning on Friday evening – but there are definitely a few things that look like they could be heading in the right direction.

This week was possibly a bit of a record for meetings – somewhere north of 30 I think. I’m even starting to get 15-minute sessions squished into the gaps between other things, but I have to remember that often the meetings *are* the work, not a distraction from it. I was also in the office three days this week as well, which felt pretty full-on, what with the Central Line still playing up.

One delightful upside of being in the office was leaving a 1:1 with one of the Lead PMs…only to see this peak-Which? meeting scheduled in the room straight after me.

Display of forthcoming meetings in a meeting room - with the next session being "cordless drill testing" followed by "social media team".
And then we go back to normal at 2pm

I got to spend a bit of time with three more of our Directors this week – Finance, Content, and Commercial. The chats all seemed to go pretty well. I didn’t use the majority of the stuff I’d prepared, but the things we did get to talk about proved really valuable – and that work definitely wasn’t wasted. Apparently I was mentioned favourably at the Board meeting later in the week, so hopefully it’s the beginning of some good working relationships. I even had some of my concerns properly listened to, rather than just brushed aside – which is something it’ll take a while to get used to after certain corners of the Civil Service. In turn, this is also an unexpected responsibility – fret openly at your own peril!

I sat in a lot of very long demos from some suppliers for a data strategy project that’s been in progress since long before I joined. Often I felt like I was just room-meat, but occasionally my outsider’s eye spotted things that folks much closer to the work hadn’t seen. But I’m still smarting from when one of the people presenting said “like when you learned SQL at school”. I suddenly felt very, very old.

I had a great exchange of emails with our data protection team about some of our personalisation ideas which are related to this work, and was hugely impressed at how transparent and enabling they were. I felt smarter as a result, rather than just better at bureaucracy. This – like the responsibility of fretting too loudly – is going to take some getting used to.

It was great to see loads of the squads adopting the updated OKRs in their check-ins, following all the really fruitful and thoughtful discussions over the last fortnight. But even better was that it moved the conversation about “what and why” forward. Teams are showing new types of data to justify these results, and one session even turned into an interesting discussion about whether the team were even being too hard on themselves – because everyone was happy with progress even if one KR was slipping. We’re collectively getting wiser and more open because of these chats, which can only be a good thing.

It’s worth noting that “Check-ins” at Which? work slightly differently to places I’ve been in before. They’re much closer to a business-centric show-and-tell. There’s nearly always a business sponsor for the work who isn’t part of the product group, and they’ll normally be there – alongside a wide range of other interested parties. So I’ve also been trying to help the teams with their storytelling to make sure they show their work in the right way – rather than getting lost in their own detail. I’m encouraging our product managers to take a much more active role in the framing of everything that’s demonstrated/shown – why it’s been included, and what to take away from it.

As a result of this poking-about in slide decks before they’re shown, I was even able to spot where one of our developers was massively underselling the financial impact of a change they’d made – and helped them revel in their achievement just a little more. “Imagine you’re hosting ‘The Price is Right’…” was how one part of my advice started.

At the other end of the spectrum, one sad recent development is that it turns out one of our Delivery Managers got a new job over Christmas, so we’re going to be recruiting shortly. Watch this space for more info.

I’ve had the chance to spend lots more time with my design counterpart, thinking about the future of our work, and talking about our users. We also did a good walk-and-talk down to Warren St to get banh-mi for lunch, and on the way back he showed me the side-view of our office…which you don’t really take in when only looking at the wedding cake front. No wonder I still get lost in it – it goes back from the Marylebone Road for *miles*!

A very very broad office building, which doesn't even fit into the shot.
The damn thing doesn’t even fit into a single shot.

Anyway, lots of progress…I think. And hopefully soon of it will be more automatic, I’ll have worked out which things are genuinely important, and I won’t be quite so shattered by 6pm on a Friday.

Side Hustles

Spent a great morning working with the Product Lead of a fascinating company called Elysia, who are an offshoot of Williams Advanced Engineering that create AI-based systems for monitoring batteries in cars, buses, trucks and more. A truly unique area that blends physics, business, data science and the environment in some very new ways. We did a lot of thinking together, and there’s a ton more to do as they start to scale up their product function and bring more product people into the business. More news on that soon, too.

As I walked down Bond St to our meeting place, I saw this rather unusual sign…that reveals quite A Particular Mindset.

Railings with a sign saying "sothebys staff only. All non-sotheby's bicycles will be removed".
So presumably they do know which bikes *are* Sotheby’s bikes?

I’ve now got a firm date booked in for when I’ll be helping out an old government friend with some skills assessment stuff.

But on Monday I also got my very last payment through from GDS. The end of nearly ten years of government work. We had some poignant fizz as a result.

Drinking Cremant de Loire in front of the telly
Cheers!

Other Nonsense

I’ve spent a vast amount of this weekend moving the blog, and leaningforward.com, to a new hosting provider. A truly tedious exercise, and a ton of time I won’t get back, but I was getting increasingly uneasy about the previous home. Still waiting for email to start working properly, but I’ll get there. I was also surprised that it took less than three hours for blogspam to start piling up, because I’d not enabled the anti-spam plugin. There are some very focused individuals out there!

Sadly all the editorial-based URLs for articles were briefly broken and just became numbers. Pah. Hopefully I fixed that linkrot before everyone gives up trying to find the older posts.

Really enjoyed the full-length audio version of Mylar Melodies’ chat with Tom Whitwell, inventor of the DIY “Turing Machine” controlled-randomness module that I spectacularly failed to get working a few months ago.

Tom’s day-job is not dissimilar to mine, and I found lots of the conversation very resonant.

  • I’m extremely jealous of his year-long sabbatical.
  • I loved the idea from Robin Sloan that code should be more like home cooking, that you can lash some bits together in your own way to solve a particular problem, and it doesn’t have to be a finished product for the outside world. Tom talks about it more as making toys.
  • Lots of people own guitars and nobody asks why they haven’t made albums; it’s ok to own a lot of synthesisers and not have done so.
  • We know a ton of the same people. And I was nudged into backing Matt Webb’s AI-powered rhyming clock kickstarter as a result.

Watched Saltburn, Oppenheimer, Maestro…and something else that’s fallen from my brain. A lot of Carey Mulligan being brilliant, as ever. Slightly sad that Oppenheimer – a film which so spectacularly fails the Bechdel Test – has won so many plaudits, and I even had a dream where Christopher Nolan won the Oscar and just shouted “shame on you all, this should have gone to ‘Barbie'” from the awards stage.

Loved this article, via Vicky Teinaki, of “Every ‘Best Picture’ winner, ranked by how good a Muppets version would be”. (It’s a bit harsh on ‘Shakespeare in Love’ though. Some people…)

Vicky and I had another reason to celebrate this weekend, the details of which can wait for another time, but of course headed up to local favourite bistro Provender to celebrate. Barring the odd unexpected phonecall, it was a lovely evening of ‘just the two of us’ being ‘just the two of us’. We also headed off for some retail therapy to Bluewater today, which was a total blast from the past, as we probably first started going there when we lived in South London about twenty years ago. It was nice to see it pulling through a slightly ‘meh’ patch pre-pandemic, when it looked like many of the original tenants were shutting up. Thankfully we managed to avoid getting sucked into Penhaligon’s, where only delightful financial ruin awaits.

A finished starter on one side of the table, some goats cheese salad in progress on the other.
This was a very nice pigeon-based thing. Which lasted less time than the phonecall.

And finally: I realised belatedly, following on from last week’s post, that the reason I don’t drink the £5-a-bottle wine that’s in the cellar because it’s now “special occasion wine” – and will buy supermarket wine for more instead – is because I chose it. I spent hours wondering which of the possible wines I’d choose, so now it now has back-story, however illogical from an economic viewpoint.

On and up!

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