Weeknote #21 — Curb your enthusiasm

This week continued the theme of the previous two with wall-to-wall meetings pretty much every day. However, for some reason it actually felt like a ‘glass half full’ week and I was pretty satisfied at the end of it. I’m not sure why it feels different; perhaps because the meetings went well? I felt like I had a clear purpose and direction at almost all of them and that I was moving things in the direction I wanted them to go.

I still can’t lose the feeling of just having too many things going on. This weekend has been tough with childrens’ running, the annual running club social evening, a football tournament, a summer street party, packing for a business trip as well as lots of computer-based admin like doing our monthly household budget. Serendipitously, my wife spotted a note that someone locally is offering ironing services so for the first time ever we decided to try it out. Having six shirts ironed for £5 and getting over an hour back into my weekend feels like a fantastic trade so I’ll definitely be back for more.

I still have lots of unfinished work in my various inboxes that I haven’t been able to get anywhere near to. I’m on a business trip for the next week so I’m hoping that the evenings will give me plenty of opportunity to catch up. Partially I need to try and curb my enthusiasm for new things before I end up with new commitments — over the past few weeks I’ve joined a book club as well as a monthly lunch club. All good fun but they take up time. It’s been a great month for the companies that have issued insurance renewal notices to me, as I’ve had no time to look at them and shop around!

I really enjoyed reading Now The Chips Are Down for the WB40 book club, which covered the BBC Micro’s place in history as a platform, but I was a bit disappointed that only a couple of us read it. It’s been interesting to hear the reactions to the ‘academic’ style of the text — I tend to prefer this to the more colloquial style of The Power of Moments (our previous book) or The Excellence Dividend (which we’re reading now). I’m not sure I’m entirely comfortable with having the main book that I’m reading being dictated by the list we have put together, particularly if not everyone is up for reading the books, but we’ll see how it goes.

We have a big workshop scheduled for Tuesday where we’ll be trying to build a team between a vendor that we have brought on board in London and key staff who are working in Johannesburg. There’s an always a little nervousness before an event like this that it will fall flat on its face but I’m pretty confident that it will go well. I managed to squeeze just enough preparation in over the past week or so to get the right names on the attendee list and an outlined agenda together. Although I still have a few slides to organise for the kick-off, there should be enough time to get them done.

I spent a lot of time in vendor meetings this week, some with those that we are using already for various projects and others that we met for the first time. We’ve covered an overview of IT security and GDPR with a Microsoft slant to it, we have visioned the workplace of the future and the users and technology within it, dived deep into the world of audio-visual, and looked at the best practices of how to move team-based ‘shared drive’ data to the cloud1. Troy Hunt got a mention at one of the security sessions and it was interesting to encounter his name outside of the context of the weekly podcast and regular blog posts that he puts out. If you don’t follow his work, and have even just a passing interest in IT security, then you really should.

Taking a step back from all of the meetings has made me realise just how much change we are potentially introducing into the organisation over the next 12-18 months. The big theme that runs through everything is how much work we will need to do in order to bring everyone along on the journey with us. Training and cultural change are going to be all-important. So far we have rolled out a relatively small desktop change and moved a couple of workloads to the cloud, but we already have a big spread of people ranging from those who struggle with finding their emails to others who are leaping ahead in trying to use as much of the new technology as possible. Thinking about more advanced security technology is interesting in the context of most people not even knowing that email sent over the Internet is completely unencrypted. We can always do more training and support to ease the transition and it will be interesting to see whether we get it right. Will we even know if we have?

One of the most interesting discussions we had was on the psychology and etiquette of meetings. Over the past six months I have got very used to running a daily 30-minute project meeting from my desk via BlueJeans, with 10 or so other project team members videoconferencing in from wherever they happen to be, including offices, homes, cars and walking along the street. I love the comfort of being at my desk and having all of my materials to hand — if I want to show the team a document or a drawing I can just pull it up and share my screen. It can feel a bit strange when there are a number of you in the same office all joining the videoconference from your desks but it is a great leveller in that everyone is getting the same experience. As soon as those of you in the same office move to a conference room and still have other people conferencing in remotely you move to a two-track meeting, with one conversation happening in the room and needing to remember to bring people in. I recalled an article by a company who understands this well and prefers conferencing from the desk even if there are just a few people who are mainly in the same office. My client going ‘remote first’ would be a massive cultural shift. It will be interesting how people are working a year from now.

A small company has so few internal abstractions compared to a large one. Working in a small company is like being much closer to the machine with the engine cover off. Years ago when I ran projects for UBS we were given a budget and could broadly spend it across the globe however we needed to. We didn’t worry too much about the shape of the project changing from a geographical perspective, nor were we concerned about things such as FX rates fluctuating throughout the year. Any one project was so small relative to the whole portfolio that the Finance department dealt with any collective over/underspends and budget changes. A project or programme manager in a smaller company has to worry about all of it. We had a couple of meetings with our Finance team this week that vividly highlighted some difficulties with what we plan to do — the fact that our programme has budget in locations X and Y whereas we want to spend money in locations A and B really matters and it isn’t immediately clear how we can do it effectively. We could be over budget in a location A and under by an equivalent amount in location X, but unless someone is looking at that consolidated view of the budget, owners of both A and X are going to be upset. I’ve still got to unpack the detail of the implications but it may be that the plan changes dramatically in response to this new knowledge.

One of my team asked me in our 1:1 who inspired me as a child and who inspires me now. Right now I would have to say it’s those people who seem to be able to regularly deliver great things, still have time for a family, and that are able to ‘work out loud’. Troy Hunt. Manton Reece. If I could get to be even halfway as productive and impactful as them I would be doing okay. I don’t think I had any ‘inspirations’ as such when I was little, but I definitely had people in my life that meant a lot to me. On Saturday night at our annual running club social I got chatting to one of the other parents who is a primary school teacher. Over the years I’ve thought a lot about a teacher I had at my school in Feltham before we moved away from the area when I was nine. She was friendly, kind and really pushed me to do more with the BBC Micro we had in our classroom, setting me on a path with technology which has shaped the rest of my life. I’ve tried to trace her to say thank you but unfortunately she had a very common name — Miss Brown — and the school have no record of her working there. I took the picture below of her and my classmates on my last day at the school in 1986 (on my recent Christmas present of a Halina 110 ‘flashmatic’ camera), while my dad waited behind me ready to drive us off to a new life in a new town.

I had some interesting conversations with a colleague on the topic of people annoying you. I talked about the ‘Buddhist’2 approach to thinking about this in terms of actually what’s going on is (a) someone had done something and (b) you’ve chosen to get annoyed. I think this helps — it’s certainly helped me in the past — but it isn’t always that straighforward and I know I need to practice this more, particularly at home. We also spoke about the Feedback Model from the amazing Manager Tools podcast; their write-up of the process is well worth a (re)read. Things would be so much better with more feedback, every day.

At home it was strange to have our eldest boy away for a whole week on a residential trip, by far the longest time he’s been away from us. Parenting one is so much easier than parenting two as there are far less arguments, but I’m sure I speak for both my wife and I in saying that we wouldn’t change anything. They are great kids and we are so lucky to have them. Our lounge only took a couple of days to decorate so I managed to get the TV and Xbox wired back up so that the youngest one could get some solo gaming in while his brother was away. It looks great. We also took the opportunity to purge a shedload of books, DVDs and CDs that we were never going to consume again. People of Berkhamsted, your charity shops runneth over with our old media.

School governing saw us come to the end of a long line of meetings which will hopefully result in something very special and worthwhile at the end of it. I have my fingers crossed for the next few weeks.

Next week: Johannesburg, for the first time in nearly a year, to kick off one of the critical streams of our programme. Looking forward to being back with the team.

(I’m writing this on the plane and was hoping to post from here, but it seems that the in-flight Wi-Fi doesn’t want to play with my VPN…so publishing on Monday it is.)

  1. We were thinking that Office 365 Groups is the answer as you get a SharePoint site plus a lot of other tools, but it sounds as though there is a lot more structure and flexibility provided through provisioning a standard SharePoint site on its own. We’ll be digging into this a lot more in the coming weeks. 
  2. I’m not sure it’s actually Buddhist. 

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