Weeknote #7 — One day at a time

The world of work

It’s been a battle this week. I’m managing a whole programme of work but it’s been a struggle to get beyond dealing with the minutiae of issues on the very first project in the programme. At times it has felt as though nothing will move along unless I drag it forward by the whiskers myself, which has been incredibly frustrating. The work is still fun but I wish it would gather its own momentum. I’ll need to find some time to reflect on why that is and how I can get it firing on all cylinders.

As a team we’ve recently caused ourselves a lot of pain through a series of tiny errors, things we could have double-checked and quickly fixed when we did them but which ended up causing us to lose hours and days later on. (“How does a project get to be a year late? One day at a time.”) We have a large distributed team and aren’t doing enough to communicate with each other as we go, causing us to lose even more time through people having to chase up and find out what is happening. We can do so much better.

Monday got off to a terrible start with snow, delays on the tube, a decision to get off 30 minutes and one stop in to call for an Uber, only to have the car journey last longer than it would have taken me to walk. Missing my programme team meeting meant I had to catch up with people individually and felt like I was on the back foot all day; our daily check-in is so valuable. On the plus side, I had a great chat with my Uber driver who I think is the first person I have ever met from Western Sahara. We covered a lot of bases in 40 minutes.

On Thursday my combination of heavy snowfall, holding an umbrella, thin gloves and a biting wind left me literally nearly in tears by the time I had got to the train station and I took a rare visit to the platform waiting room to get some feeling back into my fingers.

The working week wasn’t all bad. Our big software rollout has been on hold for a couple of months due to a number of critical issues we found in December. We’ve fixed everything we can, have got things in good shape and have now got the go-ahead from our steering committee to continue. We’re flying people in this weekend to get the work done over the next few weeks and it’ll be great to get the end-user delivery underway again. It’s something tangible that we’ll all be able to see.

The internal Technology blog is now up and running. There’s been quite a buzz about it in the team, and although we don’t have much content yet I’ve seen one or two draft posts which should get published next week. I’m not worrying too much about how it gets used right now; the first problem is getting regular content on there and we can then deal with how to tune and hone it.

I spent some time today road-testing roadmapping software. I need to quickly and easily create a top-down plan with all of the key components of my programme that I can use with the programme team as well as our senior stakeholders. I tried ProductPlan (too basic for the money), Aha! (very expensive, probably very capable but also very complex), Roadmunk (the best with lovely output but not customisable enough and no dependencies), and Monday (too bizarre and not what I’m after on the visualisation front). I ended up back exploring Microsoft Project Professional’s timeline view. I haven’t spent much time with this as the earlier versions were too basic and messy-looking, but it seems like it has matured. I now have a basic structure in place and will flesh it out next week.

We had a really interesting discussion with client-facing staff on the technology that they want to have in the room when pitching for business. It got me thinking about how much of a gap there could be between what people think they want and what would actually be successful. The best analogy I have for a client meeting in my own experience is with portfolio/programme/project governance boards. For those meetings I have usually crafted a message and don’t necessarily want lots of flashy data manipulation tools to look at things in real time — it would be too easy to go off down a rabbit hole slicing and dicing information and not cover the things we need to. As soon as you move away from slide decks, PDFs or handouts that can easily exist in the physical world you may end up showing something to someone but not actually ‘giving’ it to them; you turn up, present and then leave. If I was a client I think I would like to walk out of the session with something I can ‘hold’, physically or virtually, that has been created for me. We need to give it more thought and also look at how we can experiment with this in a safe way.

The annual bonus season is coming to a close and as a newly-fledged contractor it’s interesting not to be involved with it for the first time in nearly 20 years. I haven’t missed anything about the ‘performance cycle’ — annual reviews, objective setting, joy or disappointment with the bonus letter — and am glad to have left it behind. A year ago I couldn’t have imagined leaving it all behind. It’s one less thing to spend time thinking about and it’s been good not to have spent hours and hours of my life creating appraisal feedback statements for myself and others.

Finally, we also made efficient use of sophisticated desktop videoconferencing messaging technology:

The world of home

It was a shock to hear about a young man dying in the street in Berkhamsted at the start of the weekend. It’s a cliché, but this kind of thing really doesn’t happen around here. Even more of a shock was finding out later in the week that two 14-year old boys from Watford and a 16 year-old girl from Hemel Hempstead had been arrested and charged with ‘joint enterprise murder’. As soon as we heard about it, my wife and I decided to talk to our children and explained what had happened, just in case they heard it from their friends first and were worried about anything. What a waste of a young life.

In happier news, the children were well-prepared for the snow this week; we saw the long-range forecast and took a trip to our local DIY store to buy a sledge well ahead of when the winter weather blew in. The manager had to get them out of storage for us as they thought winter had peaked in mid-December. All I’ve managed to do so far is fall over in the street on the way home from the office but the boys have promised to drag me out on Saturday morning to plummet down the hills with them.


Mrs D and I have started to have occasional ‘take it in turns’ movie night. It was my turn this week; I picked Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), probably because I’m reading A Kind of Loving and fancied another kitchen-sink drama along similar lines. The film must have been quite a shocking for the times — swearing, people getting shot with air rifles and bedroom scenes with married women — and it was jarring to hear lines such as “Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not” which I’m so familiar with from other contexts. Having said all that, I couldn’t escape from it being more of a historical artefact than a film to get lost in. Good, but nowhere near as good as Room at the Top (1959).

We continue to somehow make our way through Black Mirror and finally came across an episode that put the crying emptiness aside and left us feeling warm and fuzzy at the end. The boys and I finally finished Star Trek TNG Series 2 (22 episodes!) which had the lamest of all finales, using masses of footage of Riker from previous shows.

Only a couple of things to read this week:

  • Recognising when you share things which aren’t framed as a contribution. (Do these weeknotes fall into the categories of ‘purpose-less contributions’ and narcissism? I hope not.)
  • The output of a team of AI researchers whose creation “found two clever strategies for succeeding at Qbert: one is to play a level endlessly, where jumping off a level causes an enemy to follow but you get enough points from killing the enemy that you get another life; and in the other the agent discovers an in-game bug.” (Video) — Via Four short links.

Next week

It’s going to be hectic but I’m really looking forward to it. Our big software rollout recommences, I’ve got plenty to do to move our vendor discussions along and also have a lot of prep for our next programme steering committee meeting a week later. Communication and collaboration is going to be more important than ever and I’ll be doing what I can to keep everyone on the same page.

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