Weeknote 12th May – Looking up

Hello again. A shorter weeknote this time round, not least because I last posted on Bank Holiday Monday, and there’s only some much that can happen in six days…

Flagrant Come-hithering

First up, if you’ve not seen elsewhere, I’m hiring for a Lead Product Manager here at Which?, to work on our new Data Strategy. Thank you to everyone who’s shared the role on LinkedIn or in newsletters. I’m genuinely quite touched by the people who’ve passed it on, and (being honest) slightly humbled by some of the people who’ve expressed an interest via back-channels. If you’re wavering/honing, do please crack on with your application, as the sift numbers are already looking lightly daunting!

There’s a bit of “full disclosure” that needs to be included here, which is that I am the *interim* Head of Product at Which?. I suspect I’ll be here for a while still, but also: I wouldn’t be recommending this role if I didn’t think it was an interesting place to do meaningful work. And, who knows, there are worse places to go perm…

More general work stuff

  • Lots of discussion about how to make squad health metrics more valuable. Had to do the important “and this is not about comparing between teams” statement at a big checkin where the first version of the cross-squad metrics were unveiled. Getting in on that particular worry early! One of the nice touches is that we’ve moved from RAG ratings for health into shades of pink…because the BARRY framework is now called BARBIE. It means that there’s less stigma to things needing improvement – every squad is in a different place, with countless factors affecting how they’re doing. Another important “publicly doing leadership” moment was reminding everyone that the metrics aren’t an end in themselves; if you don’t have sensible conversations about how to use your error budget, it’s just pointless data capture.
  • Connected to the new job mentioned above, we’re in an interesting transition between a) “the Project of creating a Data Strategy”, b) the Product work (starting in a few months) that’s all about making the tools exist/work/be valuable for the wider organisation, and c) the messy middle phase we’re in now. My head’s therefore full of Cynefin and Wardley Maps, trying to work out which of our current activities are project tasks in themselves, which are product-style agile working, and which are slightly-vague but very-time-bound bits of work that are about setting the forthcoming new product teams up for empowered success (without prescribing the outputs) by the time they arrive. Trying to create this clarity when both Project and Product practices are looking at me slightly like I’m mad is an interesting place to be…and I wish I had more time to explore it and show my workings to make others smarter. (Plus it might help folks stop me from making stupid mistakes of my own).
  • There’s a big strategy session coming up next week, that came with homework for everyone in the ELT (extended leadership team – all the “Heads of”). Our bosses have sent us a list of links to Interesting Stuff to reflect on in advance of the session. There’s loads in there, but I’m very slightly daunted that one of the links we’ve been sent may have come from this blog. Er, hello, dear very-senior reader!
  • Had a really good chat about simplifying our analytics estate. There’s a not-unreasonable view that “we’ve got too many tools, and should just get rid of some”, but the devil is in the detail – or more specifically the ROI. When we look at the work needed to recreate all the dashboards, it’s pretty unclear whether we’d break even on the migration in year 1, or even 2. And there are opportunity costs – what else could those people be working on that could be creating even more value? And how might we cheaply get more confidence on where any of these lines cross? I love this space betwen product and commercial, and a chance to improve the conversations we have.
  • Had a bit of an ‘argh’ moment when the venue for my forthcoming awayday fell through, but thankfully it looks like Plan B is going to work.

Work Adjacent

Good god. It’s that anniversary again. Series 3 of BBC2 Arts strand ‘The Works’ started transmitting on this weekend back in 1997, and with it my very first paid website went live. I’ve now been doing this “new media” stuff for 27 years. Jeez. Thank you, yet again, to Andrea Miller for taking a chance on me, and Danny O’Brien for being too bloody busy to do it himself.

I’ve also been surprised and delighted just how much people have enjoyed and reshared the blog post I wrote last week about showing the mistaken-but-plausible ideas that product craft has helped us avoid. It’s made me think I should probably write more posts focused on individual issues, rather than these non-specific textural rambles. But then again, I often don’t know the full story myself until later. It’s quite rare that you get that sort of specific Moment of Clarity. Doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try, or perhaps look back and synthesise the patterns more often. Maybe on that mythical day when I have “spare time”?

Real Life

  • Loved the “Imagine” about the Pet Shop Boys. Really wasn’t expecting Chris Lowe to be as funny (and good at bursting bubbles of Tennant pomposity) as he is, nor to come away realising how much of the soundscape was down to him. Utterly changed my perception of how the band works.
  • It also brought back some other moments of BBC resonance: a) The person that commissioned the documentary also used to work on The Works, two desks along from me, all those years ago; b) the *sound* of Alan Yentob walking through the corridors of Television Centre, in suits more expensive than any of us could dream of; c) his incredibly awkward drinks receptions for promising talent, which his COO had made him have, but was the last thing he was interested in – so would just spend his time pouring endless drinks so he didn’t have to talk in any depth. Dear god, the hangovers!
  • The documentary also featured lots of contributions from Miranda Sawyer, who once winked at 22-year-old me from her open-topped sports car in Soho. Oddly, I still remember this brief moment very clearly.
  • To put that moment of youthful promise into perspective, my right knee’s been utterly crap again this week. Went out for a run this morning, and I didn’t know if I was going to make it to the end of the road. Pah. Somehow limped round 5K in the boiling sun, and I’m not telling anyone how long it took./
  • But we have had the Northern Lights, which have been a bit hard to see with the naked eye, but come out very well on an iPhone 14.

It’s also Skylark nesting season on Wanstead Flats, so (thanks to the Merlin app) we get to spot and hear their song – which is just delightful.

Music Corner

Piano’s going well, although Seb the piano teacher’s words “we aren’t going back to those old pieces so you can play them like you used to, we’re going back to them to apply everything we’ve been working on in the last six months” are causing a LOT of friction. Good friction, but it’s really hard not to just settle back into hacking my way through stuff, with all the old bad habits.

Not much time spent in the studio sadly, although I’ve had occasional moments of fun trying to get the big fat lush Prophet 12 to deliberately sound like anything else.

My Threads feed has been full of fallout from Taylor Swift’s paris concerts – and it feels a shame not to repost this amazing picture from Kevin Mazur:

I’ve spent slightly more time on Stubhub looking at the UK shows than is healthy, but have always managed to back away, given the stupid prices. So far.

But the discussion has also led me to discover a little gem from her back catalogue – the Reputation-era video to “Delicate”, which was clearly a bit of a counter to “she can’t dance” and shows that she had put in a TON of work – as you can see in the preview image. But also just shows how truly fabulous she is at physical comedy. If ever she decided not to be a billionaire pop star, there are countless romcoms crying out for her…

Have a good week, all.

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