Weeknote 28th April – Expansion and Contraction

A cat stretched out asleep, very long, on my lap in bed.
Finn shows the way forward.

A big week, all things considered. But also one that’s led me to think that a few things need to change.

The Day Job

It’s been a very busy week in the office. I’ve formally joined the Project Board for our new Data Strategy, so I’m now a pig rather than a chicken. I’m discovering a whole bunch of loose ends – documents people thought I’d seen, or thought someone else was checking with me. So an absolute ton of new paperwork to take on – and at least one uncomfortable surprise in there so far. There’s a lot to sort out pretty quickly. But we’ll get there. There are also some bits of the work done so far which are a huge relief – things that clever folk have already thought through, or lashed together using free accounts of the SaaS we’ll be using, so some of my biggest worries are thankfully unfounded.

We’re about to enter two layers of “Proof of Concept” with our chosen platforms, which means having to be really clear about what we’re trying to actually prove. Layers of technical feasibility, business value, culture change, and basic ‘ability to deliver something tangible’ are all vying with each other inside my head. Most often at about 4am. When I’m lightly wishing I’d had more time to read more of the stuff I’ve been sent – because the diary hasn’t yet adapted to all the new meetings I’ve got to crowbar in.

We’re probably going to be able to recruite a new Lead Product Manager to look after this too, and I was very proud of myself to have written a new job description for the role. It’s much closer to the LPM roles I’m used to back in government – a big emphasis on deep stakeholder engagement and partnership, creating longer-term plans, and thinking about strategic risks and priorities across a range of journeys. I shared it joyously with my People Business Partner – only to be told “this is the wrong template, Tom”.

Sadly it got worse after that, because it turns out that the new template is actually based on a completely different mental model – so I had a ton of rewriting and rethinking to do on top of everything else. Sigh.

However I had a really good session between the product managers and our analytics colleagues, where we’ve all started to think through useful proxies for retention – the latter being too hard to measure in the timescales needed for teams to experiment quickly. It’s looking quite promising, and the PMs are continuing the chat without me next week (because I’m double-booked).

I’ve had quite a lot of you-have-half-an-hour-to-shape-a-thing sessions this week too. Even the odd fifteen-minutes-to-shape-a-thing. A lot of context switching. But it’s made me realise a few important things:

  • I’ve been running at contractor short-term-gig pace for nearly four months now, with only one day off for holiday and another off sick.
  • There’s more people wanting me involved in their stuff than I have mental capacity for. It’s flattering, but the problem is demand, not supply.
  • I can’t keep up with the admin, as a result.
  • I’ve not been able to take any time for my own development really.
  • I’m running on fumes.
  • All of my self-maintenance practices have fallen by the wayside as a result.

So this weekend I decided I was going to be resolute about looking after myself. Which also meant stepping away from the family today to stare into the abyss of my inbox and browser tab count.

It took most of the day, but I’m now over 400 emails better off, and have about sixty fewer browser tabs open. I have only one to-do list. And only about 30 worrying emails yet to open. The LPM job description is also rewritten through the new lens (yay!), so hopefully we’ll be advertising for that straight after the bank holiday.

I’ve shared quite a few of my favourite classic blog posts with people this week, so I might as well put them here too.

Elsewhere in Producting

A conference panel discussion, with Tom on the right-hand side.
The fancy top-floor cafe/bar at Waterstone’s Piccadilly. Which here somehow looks like a church hall in Luton. Photo courtesy of Rico Surridge.

So the big thing was that I was part of a panel discussion as part of Mind the Product’s “Leadership Forum” strand, talking with Debbie Widjaja and Sally Crimes about working with/influencing senior leaders. It was one of those great panels where we were all slightly in awe of what each other had done, and so it was a really supportive and collaborative discussion. We talked about all sorts of things, expertly shepherded by Randy Silver. This included the all-too-common gap between corporate and product strategy, so I got to mention dad’s tale from the early 80s where he was asked to write the IT Strategy for his organisation, to which he said “OK, can you tell me the business strategy?” “You don’t need to worry about that,” his leaders said, “just write one anyway.” This disconnect is not a new problem.

Lots of people said that they’d found it useful, and I’d said practical things. My own CPTO was in the audience and seemed pretty pleased with how it had gone. The adrenalin crash afterwards was pretty epic, though.

Any second now, I get to hit the free wine…

What else?

  • Steve Messer has retrieved a link to the excellent Cross-government Product Learning list googlesheet and a few other resources many other Product folk would benefit from browsing. (Via Jukesie)
  • I’m back reading too many books at once. Added Donna Lichaw to the pile. And Bob Mortimer.
  • I’m considering getting a coach of my own, to help support me in rebuilding some of my good practices. I love the peer support of sessions like Product in the Aether, but there are some topics I don’t feel I want to share that publicly. Or would just be Plain Boring. I’ll pay my own good money to bore someone else, on purpose.
  • I’ve cleared some half-days for my own reading and development, and booked most of a week off in June. I’m looking forward to that.

Real Life

I’m trying to get more exercise again after the knee injury a few weeks ago. I can now get down a flight of stairs roughly like a normal human being, thankfully, but it’s going to be a few more weeks before I’m ready to go running. Instead I’m contriving excuses to walk up to the high street.

My posture’s gone downhill as a result of being exhausted, and I’d stopped doing anywhere near as much meditation. So, in the interests of efficiency, I’ve been combining lying on a foam cylinder and listening to Headspace. My back and neck are slowly improving. Although sometimes it’s hard to truly get the meditation bit to work as Finn keeps wanting to help.

This was after fifteen minutes of being meowed at, and nuzzled, and having my hair chewed. The rascal.

Mum came to stay this weekend, and had a great time at the Tate’s Sargent and Fashion exhibition. I’m definitely going to have to pop along to that. In fact, I just need to get out a bit more generally – there’s not a lot of culture booked in at the moment.

I’m probably also finally giving up on Asics as my lounging trainers, which is a tragedy. There aren’t many other brands that work as well when you’ve got really narrow feet like me – but they’ve got had this design trend over the last few seasons which means my big toe always cuts through the top of the shoe within about 8 weeks. I don’t know why they make them out of a fabric that’s so feeble, but they don’t appear to be going back. Pah.

Music Corner

Piano’s going well. Quite philosophical, but well. A combination of Grieg and Debussy looms for the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, I’ve had to take a break from Taylor Swift. The album was growing on me hugely, but it’s just soooooo sad. So I’ve headed in opposite directions for contrast:

The new Justice album Hyperdrama is just as wonderfully pompously a slice of French EDM as you’d hope, and their songwriting’s continuing to get even better.

Meanwhile, I’m also loving Kelly Moran’s layered piano work on “Moves in the Field”. She uses a disklavier to capture one performance, and then plays additional layers live over the top. It’s really rather beautiful.

That’ll do for this week. Have a good one.

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