Weeknote – 18th Feb – Burgeoning (but also bolstering)

For various reasons, a slightly shorter and bleaker weeknote than usual. But in the meantime, behold my comedy amaryllis!

Nope, I’ve got no reason why it’s developed a bend, either. Or the slight ‘asparagus’ vibes on the stem.

Work-related bits

Lots of stuff going on at work, and although it’s still pretty overwhelming I do think I’m starting to make progress. I’ve got a ton of things I could get involved in, but sometimes I have to let things play their course.

Had some great chats with our business planning people about better use of OKRs as a mindset and process rather than an artefact…and also the difference between business KRs and product KRs.

I also spent a lovely half hour with the person that runs our PMO, who seems utterly decent, but it’s taken six weeks to meet because diaries. We talked a lot about traditional and agile project/product management being a spectrum, and the binary division being sometimes unhelpful. (I’ve worked on some flawlessly executed projects that it turned out no users wanted; I’ve also seen some brilliantly reactive “waterfall” projects; and I’ve seen too many user researchers being accidentally used as business analysts.) We also talked a little about how one downside of agile practices is that it’s far too easy to accidentally start a workstream, and particularly one that’s bigger than you think or doesn’t have enough context or governance around it. My own take is that project initiation in the agile world ought to be taken just as seriously as in the PRINCE2 setup…and rarely is. (Too often I’ve seen teams getting critical emails or slide-decks about five weeks into their work, when they’re already committed to an approach. Or a big business-change assumption turns out to have been ‘obvious’.)

Both of those discussions feel like a chance to really move the governance on our work forward. And, as ever in the new workplace, everyone remains pretty damn lovely.

The teams are all settling into their new OKRs, and as we walk them more in practice I’m getting wiser too. Some of my balancing metrics may be more important than I first thought – even if it’s slightly by accident.

Had a good chat about one new project where we talked about the constraints of the alpha phase through the lens of “a hierarchy of terrible outcomes” – top of which was “we run out of time and are in the same position next year”, but also included “we spend so long agonising about the best solution we should have just chosen the most expensive one anyway”.

I also enjoyed a chat about how we might make some of the slightly-ineffable work behind some of our SEO work a bit more tangible. Nobody on the outside knows how Google’s algorithms work, of course, but it was good being able to turn some of it into hypotheses about what might happen. “Doing [this thing], which people ranking above us are seen to do, could increase our traffic by x%, which might mean y% extra traffic and z% more subscriptions/happier members” is easier to reason with than “best practice. Framing the bet means we can make decisions; not framing it at all means it’s easy to ignore.

I’m starting to look further forward too, for which I feel a bit guilty. The teams have only just fully settled on this quarter’s OKRs (although the direction of travel has been largely consistent), but next week I’m going to have to ask teams to a) report on how they’re doing so far, b) think about plans for the next quarter.

Of course there are actually two layers to the latter. Firstly, what are the engineering side of the team planning to deliver as fully-working code. But also, what experiments are we planning to run in the next quarter to work out what we should build in the quarter after…and to decide if it’s more important than fixing some expensive bits of tech-debt. We’re not quite ready for the “test a hundred ideas this quarter, properly build the top three next quarter”, but I think we’ll start to get there.

Also starting to think about how we handle unplanned work. There’s an entirely reasonable current-affairs-based initiative that’s landed on my desk, but I think it’s too big for side-of-desk for any of the squads…so collectively we have to decide if it’s worth “breaking the sprint” (well, quarter) to adapt to this, if we can wait until the next quarter, or which squad’s KRs matter least.

Miscellany:

  • Been doing a lot of thinking about data and consent and a roadmap to better personalisation/recommendations, but only have questions at this stage.
  • Had a few “I hear you’re thinking the same thing that I’m thinking” DMs – which may be collective delusion, of course.
  • Spent some time with our finance folks talking about ROI on our work. They seem much more than traditional finance people – and we talked about modelling some interesting tradeoffs.
  • Great 5h workshop organised by one of our lead PMs about improving member experience, with some incredibly compelling user insight. As ever, I spotted a better way to tell the story. Can’t remember if I had any ideas of my own.
  • Took part in a really good, well-designed, workshop with selected fellow ELT folk about our 2030 vision. Cited the insight from the workshop above. Also did quite a lot of thinking about Which?’s role in an increasingly “as a service” based world. I may have been quite dystopian in places, and I’m hoping none of the related ideas will ever be needed in practice.

Real Life

Let’s get the trivia out of the way first:

  • Piano’s going pretty well at the moment. I’m getting much more focused, and making a bit more progress on underlying problems. And perhaps starting to build my mental muscles for remembering longer-term musical development.
  • That lovely Roland TR8-S remains enormous fun. I love that you can write a bunch of loops one night, and then come back to perform them better another night. It’s wonderfully improvisational.
  • Met an old school friend for dinner mid-week and we set the world to rights
  • OMG after just over two years my ISA’s finally breaking even again! Still hasn’t recouped any of the lost interest that some unwise fiscal choices/Ukraine may have wreaked, but at least I’m not resenting the lost money (and the people that were involved in losing it) any more.
  • Garden’s starting to kick into life again, which is lovely in some places…and terrifying in others.

Former-colleague Talke shared a fascinating podcast from the FT about remote working and return-to-office. I shared the guest from PwC’s concern about how AI is likely to start chipping away at “early learning jobs” where junior staff can start to pick up principles and ways of working…but I’m not sure their solution of pair-working with senior colleagues is scaleable. I’m also not sure that wider industry has trained managers to be this kind of teacher and coach, nor worked out how to enforce it rather than allowing command-and-control(-and-rot) remain the default. Management remains widely not-quite-good-enough, and now we’re adding new touchy-feely layers to it. I’m not sure this is going to universally end well. Anyway, the podcast is worth a listen. I also liked the episode about managers as shit-fixers, and how most management is additive (creating new processes and friction) rather than about removing friction that’s no longer pulling its weight. An unexpected “subscribe”, and generally nice and short too!

Loved this mural that Kate Leto found on her travels around London last week:

Mural says "I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in darkness, the astonishing light of your own being".

(Deep breath)

And yes, this weekend Vicky and I headed down to Brighton to go and look at a partly-empty and very cold house where two very warm and larger-than-life people used to live.

We retrieved some family heirlooms, and did a few other essential tasks that needed to be ticked off, but mainly realised the enormity. Of the now, but also the future where we’ll be the people leaving the empty house.

I was the driver and lifter-of-heavy-things or lifter-of-sad-things. Really glad we did it together, but…blimey. It was big. And I’ve decided I’m not quite ready to go back to work after all that – no matter how many episodes of Ted Lasso we’ve managed to comfort-binge on Sunday. So hopefully things will be back to normal by Tuesday.

Make the most of people around you, and stay a team through thick and thin, folks! (In our case, at least there’s comfort in playing Blokus together, with a glass of Marsala on the side.)

Dining table with a blokus game board and countless scattered unplayed pieces.
I won, but only just.

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