Weeknote #17 — Almost Falling Down

A four-day week that felt like a two-day. On Tuesday I felt that I had left half of my brain in the weekend as I repeatedly found myself struggling to remember names of people and things in the various meetings I was in. And I was in a lot of meetings. Most of my week looked something like this:

Despite defragging my calendar as much as possible I was still left with very little clear time to get anything else done. Lots of 30-minute meetings can leave me feeling unproductive at the best of times, but this week felt doubly worse due to people not turning up on time — or at all — to a significant number of them. On Wednesday morning I made it to the office exceptionally early for an urgent meeting that frustratingly couldn’t get going due to key people being missing. By the end of Friday, a day in which I had been stood up for meetings no less than FOUR times, I felt like I might have a Michael Douglas Falling Down moment. Well, almost.

Somehow we still managed to keep moving things forward, although I did feel out of breath at times as I grabbed any available moment to prep for meetings and to get documents written and submitted. Our vendor selection work is now making good progress and we are starting to plan for what we will do when they come on board. The global software platform rollout is due to start in our next city from Monday and we’re very much on track for it, with only two more cities to go after this. There are quite a few challenges looming on the horizon at all levels — hiring, getting our plans in place, integrating what we are doing with other programmes, executing on the work — but it’s interesting, challenging and (mostly) fun. And somehow I managed to wander outside for lunch this week for the first time in a long while.

We’ve started to roll out iPads to our end users because (a) they provide a useful backup for Microsoft Office if there is a local network or other computing outage and (b) they are fabulously brilliant devices. I’ve been using one since the iPad 2 came out and do a lot of my work on them. I’m writing this on one now. I was halfway to the office on Tuesday before I realised I had left mine behind in my house and had a teeny panic about how I was going to manage my day. We are absolutely going to have to run some training sessions so that people can begin to get the most out of them; although they are very intuitive to use there are a few tips and tricks which can be a major boost to productivity, such as running apps side-by-side, taking and syncing handwritten notes in OneNote etc. The Microsoft Office applications on iOS are now so functional that you can do quite a bit without turning to their desktop siblings.

We’ve been test-driving different phone headsets in the office, from basic over-ear devices to ones with accompanying touchscreen panels which interface with the desk phone, the computer and a mobile phone all at the same time. The one I am using has such a strong magnet to attach the headset to the charging dock that the clip has broken off, the end result being that it needs to be docked in just the right place in order to charge it. On Tuesday morning after the long weekend I found it had been knocked off its perch and I then spent the rest of the day (the same day shown above) juggling between charging the headset and making phone calls. Someone else in the office has a model where the cradle comes with a spare battery which you can swap out if the headset runs out of charge, a little delightful detail that gives it the edge over mine.

On Wednesday night our planned 2.5 hours of school governor committee meetings and training turned into nearly 4 hours. We got lots done, including a run-through of how GDPR will impact the school. It seems at this time that a lot of schools like ours are having to have governors step in to become their Data Protection Officer (DPO), which doesn’t sit well with me at all — governors have a strategic role whereas the DPO sits firmly within the operational category. We are extremely lucky to have a knowledgable and willing governor step up to do this for now but it will not be sustainable long-term.

Juggling when our school governor meetings are is a perennial problem. We have a Full Governing Board meeting every half term and then break out into three committees which meet slightly less across the year. All of them take place in the evening as the vast majority of our governors work full time. The Committee meetings are usually held back-to-back on the same day as each other which tends to mean that the first one bumps into the second one and they both slightly overrun. We could split them across different days, but that is then asking people to give up more evenings, particularly the Headteacher or those who sit on more than one committee. There’s no easy answer and I feel we’ll keep wrestling with it forever. The best I feel I can do right now is to try and keep the meetings on point and on time.

Media

I’ve been really enjoying Adrian Newey’s How To Build A Car. It’s a real cut above the other Formula 1-related books that I’ve read this year — readable, honest and geeky. For a long time I’ve always thought that Newey looks like Malcom McDowell’s Alex from A Clockwork Orange so it has been striking that he has mentioned the actor and the film a few times in the book already! Coincidence?

One passage in the Newey’s book gives a great illustration about how hard testing can be, and it made me think back to projects in my career where we have really tried to do testing properly:

On the topic of reading, I asked the WB40 podcast community how they manage their reading queues. I have PDFs, magazines, books and web articles coming out of my ears and have never felt that I’ve been able to prune the backlog enough so that I am always reading the next most relevant or valuable thing. No good strategies came back (besides “serendipity”, which seems to be the default) and the conversation ended up with the community starting a book club. So now I’ll have even more to read.

The FT AlphaChat podcast has a good, well-balanced interview with Jim Millstein which looks back on the financial crisis. Millstein had the extraordinary job title of Chief Restructuring Officer at the US Department of the Treasury and was “responsible for oversight and management of the Department’s largest investments in the financial sector and was the principal architect of AIG’s restructuring and recapitalization” so his insights are worth listening to.

Troy Hunt’s weekly update included a mention of the disclosure by Twitter that they found plain-text passwords being stored in log files. Hunt always offers a well-balanced view and I agree with him that it is understandable how this could happen. Given how many sites store passwords badly in the first place (think of all of those that specify specific character combinations or have draconian limits on the length of the passwords), Twitter are showing that they are actually further up the security maturity scale (in my head) by making a disclosure like this.

I finally got around to watching Monica Lewinsky’s TED talk from a few years back. It’s very moving and illustrates very well the problems with social media and the impact of our online behaviour. There are real people behind the stories and I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be publicly shamed. Even clicking links to gossip and trash websites isn’t victimless; for years I have avoided clicking Daily Mail and Daily Express links as the more clicks they get, the more they can use their click numbers to attract advertising and funding for their hate-filled pages.

Euan Semple’s words that “we’ve all got a volume control on mob rule” come back to me often when I see people being hounded in the media, and Lewinsky’s talk illustrates the point well.

I’m one week away from hosting the next Album Club and it’s getting to be crunch time for picking something. I played PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake in the house a couple of weeks back (one of the most brilliant albums I have ever heard) and it’s been strange to now hear my 11-year old son walking around the house singing the macabre lyrics to The Glorious Land. But what a song.

Next week

Software rollout in South America, more planning workshops, getting my head around hiring, putting vendor contracts in place and tons of prep/catch-up with school governor work.

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