Monthnotes #84 — Milestones

Hectic. The past month has been busy and stressful, but also one that has made me stop and reflect. At the end of September, the IT infrastructure programme that I have been running for just over three years hit its final deadline. We cancelled the SLAs with our previous infrastructure supplier in both São Paulo and Beijing, and we are now running our own stack in the five cities that we operate. We have changed literally everything. When we started out I had no idea how we would approach the seemingly impossible work, let alone get to the finish. But we did it.

For the first time since March, I finally started missing being in an office. Not necessarily being in my regular office in London, but in our São Paulo and Beijing offices as we cut over to the new infrastructure. Partially, it was the early mornings and late nights. The physical work was carried out by local contractors, and multiple times over the past couple of weeks I have had to be up and at my laptop by 4am to coincide with their time on-site in Beijing, sometimes rolling into a long afternoon with the equivalent team in São Paulo. But mostly, I missed being present in those offices for the little things. When you’re making a major IT change it’s great to be in and amongst the staff, spotting where they are having trouble using the new equipment or giving hints and direction as to how to get the best out of the tools. At one point we were about to pull the plug on the old infrastructure and then found that three people were in the office still using it, something that would have been obvious to us if we were there.

The programme is still a long way from being done, but our ‘minimum viable office’ is now up and running everywhere and gives us a solid foundation to build upon. The metaphor I keep returning to is that the restaurant looks great and we’re serving fine meals, but there is a lot of work to be done behind the scenes in the kitchen. Nothing is on fire, and the sprinkler system isn’t drowning us, so we have time to catch our breath, take stock and decide what our next priorities are.

Over the past month, I:

  • Found myself at home alone, with everyone back at school.
  • Participated in a lot of school governor events: Full Governing Board and Finance Committee meetings, safeguarding and exclusions training courses, and a Herts for Learning Chairs’ Briefing.
  • Was elected as Vice-Chair again for the coming year. It’s a pleasure and an honour to serve in this role, but we do somehow need to get a solid succession plan in place.
  • Resumed our monthly IT Steering Committee. We are trying to pivot away from status updates and into more of a forward-looking strategic debate, but it hasn’t found its feet yet. I’ll keep trying.
  • Asked a member of my team to step up and take on a leadership role for our strategic data programme. I need to try and get my head up and look across our whole portfolio, which means the team taking on a bit more of the project and programme management. It felt like a weight off to be a participant in the steering committee meeting that I usually chair.
  • Delighted in seeing our São Paulo office be the first to move to a cloud-based Teams telephony platform. Given how prevalent Teams is in our day-to-day work, it is the natural place to put the ‘office’ phone lines, and they will now be available wherever our staff run the app.
  • Set up an informal, optional meeting twice a week for my peers and our CIO to check in with each other. A management team ‘water cooler’ where we can connect. It seems good so far, but we’ll need a few weeks to really understand if it is something that will stick.
  • Wrestled with our global support model, and specifically how we will cover one of our offices in a totally different time zone. We’re too small to justify having an ‘IT person’ either on-site or available every day, but having someone who just dips in and out is unlikely to work.
  • Sat through a vendor meeting where they just spoke at us for over an hour, not once asking for what we are looking for or seeking to understand our business. A complete masterclass in how not to do it, and an hour of my life that I will never get back.
  • Became a Salesforce Ranger, joining the ranks of literally thousands of people that have achieved this over the past month in our wider organisation.

  • Finished reading the annotated book of John Steinbeck’s diary that he kept as he wrote The Grapes of Wrath.
  • I also listened to the audiobook of If I Could Tell You Just One Thing by Richard Reed, a founder of Innocent Drinks. He sourced the material for the book by asking lots of famous people for one piece of advice that they would like to pass on. Someone on Goodreads has posted an excellent review which summarises it well; in the chapter where he is asking Margaret Atwood for her words of advice she shreds the concept of the book by asking for more specifics on who the advice is for, and makes an excellent case as to why this matters.
  • After finishing the rather dry Platform Revolution I’ve been making my way through the much more enjoyable The Business of Platforms. The latter book has plenty of great examples of the success and failure of platform businesses, and is a very approachable take on the subject.
  • Got my bike back from our local bike shop and got back on the turbo trainer again. Running and cycling seem to utilise completely different leg muscles, so although I have maintained fitness I have still found my first few rides quite difficult. I’m going to try and maintain both running and cycling as winter draws in.
  • Saw our house extension finally get completed with new patio doors, an outdoor render and some outdoor motion-activated lights being installed. It’s all taken much longer than we had expected, but it’s great that we’re finally done.
  • Watched The World’s Toughest Race with the family across a few evenings. I had expected something as entertaining as the wonderful Race Across The World, but I found the whole thing strangely unsatisfying, and I can’t quite put my finger on why. Too much Bear Grylls, too little emotional attachment between the viewer and the teams, and far too many participants to keep track of. In the last episode we started seeing teams that hadn’t been mentioned in any of the previous programmes. Bizarre.

Next week: With deadlines behind us, fighting the desire to relax with the reality of the work that still needs to be organised and delivered this year. (I feel like I need a holiday, but I also don’t want to waste any days I have on just being at home.) Keeping up-to-date with governor work, and continuing to recruit for the one key remaining management role in our team.

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