Weeknote – 3rd Feb – Stockpiling

We’ll come back to this embarrassment later, I promise.

It’s been a busy week of collecting things together and trying to work out what to do with them all. And in what order. Problems, ideas, data, projects and – as you can see above – wine.

It’s a slightly weird weekend, and I’m feeling a big listless. It’s just me and the youngest in the house until Monday evening, as Vicky’s off in Norwich for the weekend helping our daughter settle back into university and breathing out after a biiiiiig week chez Dolan.

The day job

I’m starting to get to the point where the pile of things to get my head around at Which? is starting to stabilise, which is something of a relief. I think I’ve now had my last thing-that-sounds-like-another-thing-but-is-actually-completely-different. Most of the nouns in conversations are now things I’ve already heard of. And some of them I even lightly understand.

The mental model of how we work is starting to take shape and feel a bit more solid now. I realised this when I was able to go a bit Lean about the interface between two teams. Yes, there are loads of problems, but in our user adoption the biggest bottleneck is right here – so any work after that is wasted, and any work ahead of it is just creating more disappointed users. I think I’m going to be using theory of constraints a lot, and pressing copies of The Goal or The Phoenix Project into a few people’s hands.

The overall 4-dimensional sankey diagram of how we most effectively make money for the charity is going to take a lot longer to form but it’s nice to see one part feel tangible.

I’ve had another great session about the underlying technology with one of our Engineering managers where they took me through our publishing stack, and how various feeds come together to appear on the page or in the app – be it a review, an article, a supplier price or whatever – and making sure people only get to see what they’re entitled to. There are a few curious choices in there, but you have to remember the prime directive – this would have been the best choice at the time, and we’re all only narrowly escaping creating New Legacy ourselves. There’s some quite big bits of data engineering going on to keep the platform together, which gives us some other good things to build on. It also looks like it’s finally time to get my head around the mental model behind GraphQL, and possibly even Node. Just at the point where I could passably understand Python. (Sob).

I’m also pleased that I’ve started getting my head around some of the underlying business data. How many users we have, conversion rates to members, which content is popular, lifetime value – that sort of thing. I’ve been flying slightly blind when coaching the teams through OKRs and trying to get them to explain value in more business terms – but hopefully I’ll be able to start doing my own triangulation going forward.

One of the things I’m continually having to try and remind people of is that more key results doesn’t always mean more work. Done right, it should mean better and more valuable work. I suspect it’s scar tissue from a slight feature-team or delivery-team past, but hopefully folks will start to understand through our checkins that it’s about helping them focus. Yes, do your original ideas, and it’s great if the big metric goes up (KR1) – but there’s a strategic aspect to that which really matters, so we need to measure that as well (KR2). PS while doing this, please don’t trash another important outcome (KR3).

Key Results should help you choose what to work on, or know if you’ve succeeded – they’re valuable constraints, not extra tasks. If they don’t, they’re probably not right.

(That being said, I’ve doubtless completely misunderstood at least one of them, but we’ll all learn together.)

I’m also starting to look a little bit to the future. There are a lot of initiatives in the air/on slide decks, and they all sound pretty sensible, but I don’t think they can all necessarily be as valuable (to the organisation and users) as each other. I wonder if we need to decide whether properly doing fewer – so that users are genuinely delighted and come in droves – will deliver more for the bottom line than MVP versions of them all. And work out how we choose which children to save. Conversations to have, and lots to learn as a result.

Next week I’ve got three more chats with other members of the Leadership Team – covering finance, content and commercial. The one last week – people – was fascinating and thought-provoking, but she also said “I know a shirt company I think you’d like, I’ll dig them out!”

Early next morning, an email arrives with a few documents we’d discussed, but also: “They’re called Simon Carter”.

I look in the wardrobe at the shirt I’m about to put on.

Yes, it turns out I would like Simon Carter shirts. (But, being fair, only at sale prices)

Extra-curricular activities

On Thursday I went to an interesting CPO Track event in Monzo’s offices, which was billed as “Brian Chesky vs Eric Reis – The Do’s and Don’ts of scaling at pace”. The panel had great folks from Monzo and Paysend, plus lovely Dave Wascha – ex of Zoopla and much else, so I was looking forward to hearing about how to avoid teams treading on each other’s toes etc. It turned out that this wasn’t the essay question the panel had in mind. This was a discussion about how the economic climate has changed, and how product folk are running out of time to start understanding how to deliver business value. As Dave said, so much of our practice and dogma around being user-focused can come across as being just arrogant and oblivious to the fact that we also need to help our organisations make or save money – by delivering more value than we cost. (He also said that he’d been utterly guilty of this himself in the past!)

I was lucky to be sitting between Emily Tate and Robin Zaragosa, and we were all slightly going “yes 1000%” under our breath. Emily rootled around on her phone and dug out a Marty Cagan blog post saying pretty much the same from – I think – 2017. Certainly he says it in this post about Value and Viability from early 2022. I was trying to thread this into the planning and financial aspects of my attempt at the new Product Manager DDaT framework. This wider responsibility is definitely something we’re going to have to step up to as a profession.

So, not what I was expecting, but useful nonetheless. And wonderful to meet so many other great people like Ines and Lyndsey, too. Sadly I couldn’t stay for the networking bit, but I hope everyone had a good time – and I look forward to the next one. And I’m cursing myself for not taking any photos.

Elsewhere, workwise:

So yes, no shortage of things on. Stockpiling projects galore.

Real Life

Very little culture to report this week. Unsurprising as the big family event was the funeral of David – Vicky’s stepdad. He turned out to have had an even more interesting life (and been more of a rogue) than we’d imagined. Much laughter, quite a few tears.

At the wake there was an open mic moment for tributes, and my daughter gave a truly touching tribute from our side of the family…and from the younger generation’s view. Barely a dry eye in the house, and so many family friends (and the other grandchildren) congratulated her on it afterwards. So well done D for telling our story!

It was a late and long day, that ended with a large amount of cheese – just as he’d have wanted.

Anyway, that’s another reason why Vicky is away right now – resetting after all of that. The two of us left in London are enjoying the sudden switch to a largely bacon-based diet, obviously.

[Don’t worry, the wine bit is coming soon.]

Books: Still hugely enjoying Steven Johnson’s “Wonderland”. He’s just been musing on why it took so long for statistics to emerge, and thinks it could only have been spotted once people stopped playing with bones or handmade dice, and regular ‘fair’ dice became normal. Until then, there was simply too much noise to spot it. He’s also talked about chess travelling further and faster than any language, and dead ends in new rules that people tried introducing. Just another wide-ranging and inspiring read from him.

Music: Obviously I’m still processing the enormous blowout last week, but it was also bandcamp Friday, so it felt foolish not to slip a few quid to people.

  • Pre-ordered the new Justice album, but also finally bought ‘Cross’ and the super-joyously-silly Gaspard Augé solo album “Escapades” (“look now I’m over-channeling Alan Parsons Project, now I’m over-channeling Asia, now I’m over-channeling Nick Kershaw”).
  • Cate Brooks has a new album. The preview track is a bit of a long evolving drone, so I’m hoping the rest will reveal itself. But hey, supporting trans modular artists is important.
  • Instrumental of Public Service Broadcasting’s “Inform Educate and Entertain”
  • Bonobo’s “Fragments”. Have listened to this loads on Spotify and it was Just Time. Although “Otomo” doesn’t sound anywhere near as good at domestic volume and without Anna Lapwood on the organ.

Also, that bloody drum machine turns out to have been such a joyous and inspired purchase. I love it. The family love it. So very very playable. I wasn’t expecting that.

So the wine, then…

Now, I know this is going to come as a surprise to some of you who’ve been on a night out with me, but it turns out I’m not drinking wine fast enough.

Every year, the lovely people at The Wine Society send me brochures saying “would you like to buy some Rhone/Burgundy/Claret en primeur”. This basically means “pre-buy it while it’s still in France”, and means you can get wines that are rarer or made by producers who can’t create at the quantities that supermarkets demand. And yes, it’s almost the only way you can get hold of £600/bottle Hermitage, but mainly I use it as a way to get nice local wines at the £5-12/bottle mark which you wouldn’t get elsewhere. If I’m feeling flush, I’ll sometimes look at the £30/bottle mark…but usually chicken out. It’s just a bloody drink, after all.

Anyway, you order this stuff, and then it turns up and sits in the Wine Society’s warehouse – and you have to pay the VAT and Duty (which you’d forgotten about when first ordering, but hey), after which it’s yours. I’ve got quite a lot of boxes downstairs in the cellar, and it’s become a really good source of “special occasion” wine. We’ve not got tons of space, so I’ve also kept some of it stored in the Wine Society’s own warehouse in the meantime – they charge a few quid per case per year, and it’s all properly temperature controlled and everything.

Only a few weeks ago, late at night after a few glasses, I got an email about the forthcoming year’s storage charge and went “wow, I’m not paying that” and immediately ordered everything that was now drinkable to be delivered to me at home. Without really looking to see how much that actually was.

Anyway, on Monday, 96 bottles of wine turned up, and thereby took up quite a large chunk of the kitchen. That’s the photo at the top of this post.

I’ve realised that I’d forgotten that most of it is plonk. Sometimes GOOD plonk, but there’s only a tiny bit that’s destined to be saved for birthdays and suchlike. But it’s all just down there in boxes, being a bit impenetrable other than with “drink by” dates written in sharpie on the label, which you can’t see from the shelf.

So I decided to make sure every box was properly labelled with the dates on every side, as well as how much the damn stuff cost, so I don’t save it forever.

Yes, two of these wines are the same, but from different years. I know, I know…

It was still a bit of a mountain, but it was a usable mountain, and in the hall rather than the kitchen. After which I embarked on some epic clearing, rationalisation and tessalation, and somehow have managed to find space for all those bottles down in the cellar.

I was so taken with how useful I found this labelling, I then went and found the prices and dates for everything else and marked them up on every corner too. So now my wine is much more like a menu – I can choose something for a given date and price point.

Yes, that’s *another* different year of the Clos de Cazaux top-dead-centre.

(It’s worth stressing that I don’t have a wine cellar, I have a cellar that has wine in it. It’s important to keep your vintage port next to the drill bits, and your Vacqueyras next to the baked beans.)

Anyway, it’s now super usable, I won’t need to rely so much on supermarket orders, and I’ve found the whole organising and labelling super-satisfying.

I’m skipping a party because I’m feeling full of cold, so maybe it’s time to open a nice hearty red to warm the cockles, eh?

One thought on “Weeknote – 3rd Feb – Stockpiling

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