Weeknote 3rd March – Readiness

A heron, perched on the ridge of a roof
This bastard’s got an eye on my goldfish.

It’s been quite a week.

On Tuesday I had to present a mid-quarter OKRs update to the Which? leadership team. It was a very different meeting to the type I’m used to from the civil service, as a) everyone had read the slides beforehand and b) it wasn’t a discussion about the numbers per se (and my failings as a human being for letting it get that way), but about culture and how we could better enable teams to focus and succeed. I was hugely glad I’d done all the preparation for the meeting I feared, but I was delighted with the much more useful and important conversation. We talked lots about long-term planning, and how we make space for strategic discovery (or ‘obvious’ improvements that somehow never happen) alongside the day-to-day. Apparently I did OK, too, so that’s nice.

On Thursday, in among team checkins, I spent a grand total of 2.5h with our CEO – of which 1.5 was just the pair of us. We talked about all sorts, including how we might come up with ways to instrument our digital products to help us measure ‘trust’. I got to wheel out Larry Macherrone’s trust formula, of course. I think we inspired each other in equal measure – although I’m worried about what I may have accidentally voluntered myself into making happen because I got enthusiastic. And at the end of the day, loads of the product folk went to the pub – which was just lovely.

We’ve had an absolute ton of candidates for our Delivery Manager/Agile Coach role – and I’ve had to learn all the new recruitment processes around that (although I remain very grateful to a colleague for taking on the bulk of the sift). I think I’ve also identified a GSuite setting that will make everyone’s lives easier when it comes to recruitment workflow…but let’s see if that can be turned on in practice.

I keep having lovely chats with our head of PMO as well, who seems eminently sensible and pragmatic. We’re talking about how to improve the agility of traditional projects, but also how to build the planning skills and governance around agile working – not to constrain teams, but to empower and protect them. An unexpected but fabulous alliance.

The other big event was that I took Wednesday off from the day job, recalibrated my brain, and went to help an old government friend think about their product teams and organisational forces. Loads of good discussion about what makes good product management/managers, irrespective of the working context. I also helped with moderating a few of their staff’s capability assessments, which was fascinating. The work may be so different, but you can still spot the people trying to do the right thing the right way a mile off – even if it’s just early potential.

One of the other strange discoveries from that day was that my mic-drop work on the government product capability framework is still alive. Not only are people trying to continue the work to get it adopted formally, some people are already using the documents I created as the “target state”. I was genuinely quite touched. I now find myself in contact with senior people in CDDO on the subject. Even though I’m no longer part of government.

The upshot of this is that, contrary to last week’s glum worries about whether government needed a break from me, there are folks that actively want me to carry on taking up space there – so I’m going to do that. Well, as much as I can alongside the day-job and while not being paid for it, of course. Strange to find out that a personal-passion project, which GDS wasn’t that fussed about and I dashed out in my last few days, may turn out to be the most important thing I did while I worked there.

As a result of all this, I ended the week with an inbox that was something of an absolute car-crash. I’m still trying to recover some sense of sanity from it all – none of my cleverly-constructed filters can save me now.

On Friday morning I also closed a window with about 40-odd tabs when I needed to reboot the mac, and then (while looking at said inbox) let the tab group scroll off my browser history before I could do “restore all”. Erk. Hopefully anything critical will come back with decent warning, rather than as a nasty surprise. But I suspect I am starting to get enough of a sense of the bigger problems that I now know which documents I’ve seen – and I could probably get them back if needed.

I’ve also started to spot some underlying trends with the products – things I’ve noticed are broken and where we’ve possibly been misreading signals in the user feedback, but also areas I think are likely to be strategically important which I’m not sure others have yet fully seen. And, as ever, I’m trying to get more specific and empirical about “better” – because we’ve only got the capacity to work on some of our ideas, which means ensuring we’ve got the insight needed to choose between a whole bunch of things that are individually half-decent opportunities.

Miscellaneous work-ish bits

  • Really enjoyed joining my first “Product Coaches in the Aether” remote meetup on Monday (thanks Randy!) where I got to see some familiar faces like Adrian and Christopher and Spencer…but also a whole host of new folks, some of whom I have only seen as name going through my feed over the last few years – a litany of friends-of-friends. I didn’t say tons, but really enjoyed hearing about the problems they were going through, and the wisdom they had to overcome some of them.
  • Anais back at DBT published a blogpost about the service owner role, which I found a bit of a hard read – as I was definitely around for some of the roller-coaster phase she mentions. With the right people in those roles, I think there can be hugely successful enabling partnership between service owner and product manager – where the service owner worries about the business context and enabling change, alongside the product person thinking about what to be built to get the right outcomes in ways users will love. I’ve had lots of great Service Owner relationships where we were a really strong partnership working together. They’ve sometimes been the person who can see political landscape I can’t; I’ve sometimes been critical in helping change policy mindsets to gently embrace fallibility. But there is a deep and powerful gravity well around it becoming an “account director” role, where product teams do just become a delivery function for a solution that’s already been decided, and business context is hoarded to leave folks delivering what the business wants as feature teams. If I was to rewrite *that* framework, I’d put in some very strong guardrails against it. But, in the meantime, I wish everyone well.
  • Loved this satirical take on the downsizing going on in certain areas of the industry at the moment, again thanks to Randy. Please keep on going to the final paragraph – we’ve all been there.
  • Pivotal Labs’ practices – an internal staff manual, republished to the outside world, now the inside doesn’t really exist (I think via Stephen). Some workshop formats you’ll know, detailed instruction manuals for those you don’t. But a great toolkit to delve into – it’s going to stay in the bookmarks bar for a good while.
  • Caught up with Chris who I know from “Product in the Aether” lean coffee events, for a good chat about the pros and cons of different industries. I’ve left government, Chris is settling into it. We talked a lot about finding and celebrating the people who are allowed to be uncertain, and helping spread the stories of success that come from it.

Real Life

Piano’s been going really well. Had a lesson where Seb looked over some fingering I’d come up with on Howard Skempton’s “Well, well, Cornelius” and basically said “yeah, that’s fine”. Apparently the Schumann piece is miles better than last week – which I couldn’t hear personally, but I’ll take it.

Managed to make it out for a run this morning. Currently averaging once per month, thanks to the new work regime, rather than the intended 1-2 per week and the occasional 10k. Clearly it’s going to take a while to get back to the sub-24-minute 5k runs, but at least I’ve started doing something again. And I was still a fair bit quicker than the depressing run I had on 3rd Feb. I should probably bit the bullet and start getting up early enough on Saturday that I can make it to Parkrun. Sigh.

It looks like my favourite filter module ‘Three Sisters’ is going to be in stock again soon. I don’t need another one, but I do use the one I’ve got on almost everything, If you are a modular person you should totally sign up for the waiting list. Not cheap, but worth every penny.

Oh, and I got paid, so we have cracked and finally ordered a new ‘Emma’ mattress. We laid on lots of different variants, but there was one which just kept making me nearly fall asleep because it was so comfortable. Sadly got to wait 4-6 weeks for it to turn up, and so every night will now be like “The Princess and the Pea”.

Given the recent vast influx of wine to the house, I decided I could probably afford to pass on 2022 Rhone in-bond.

Have been thoroughly enjoying discovering ‘Pye Corner Audio‘ and the whole “hauntology’ music scene, but through them I discovered the wonderful work that Andy Bell (guitarist of Ride) has been up to in the electronica space – through collaborations and also his own work as ‘GLOK’. The latter has inspired me and guitarist-friend Pete to start doing something similar of our own, which is rather lovely.

Nature Corner

Where I live in Wanstead is based around the ornamental waters of an old palladian mansion (whose portico inspired The White House, and much else) so we get a lot of bird life. It’s always rather special to have the local herons come by – even if they’re just after the contents of your pond. One was perched on top of the neighbour’s roof for nearly half an hour. They’re so curiously alien – you can see the dinosaur lurking – but also very beautiful and elegant. Picture at the top of this post.

And of course, you’re all waiting for the latest in “suggestive Amaryllis” photos, aren’t you?

An amaryllis bud, just starting to open, with a few dark red petals showing.

Have a good week, all!

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