December is always a challenge. It’s the height of summer in South Africa, and my colleagues there start turning their attention to the end of the school year and summer holidays. In the UK we get thinking about Christmas. Typically I find myself battling two ‘mes’ — one that wants to relax into some time off at the end of a busy year, and another that needs to focus on the groundwork so that the team can hit the ground running in January. Kind of like Superman III but without the physique.
Over the past two weeks I:
- Took a day off to spend with the boys while their school was shut for the day. I introduced them to the concept of the McDonalds breakfast (the best kind), we went for a walk in the woods and then spent the afternoon playing Xbox together. A few weeks ago a colleague said to me that “you spend time with the people you love” and it has been ringing in my ears ever since. It was time well spent.
- Tried to focus on the ‘new ways of work’ that we’ll experiment with as a team next year. Most of the global IT organisation are following the Scaled Agile Framework. Whether we decide to go with those practices, or even Scrum, I am struggling with applying this to a team of our size and what we do. We are around 20 people who at the moment mainly focus on infrastructure implementation and configuration, such as networks, firewalls, Wi-Fi and Microsoft 365. Everything I read about agile points towards self-sufficient software teams of 5–9 people. 20 seems too big, but I don’t see how I can easily break us into two teams, or whether that would even be the ideal setup. I would love to hear from anyone who has had experience with this.
- Asked the team what they want to change for next year. Alignment around common goals, more committed planning and some accountability for pieces of work that have drifted were common themes.
- Finished reading Product Roadmaps Relaunched in a weekend. Of course, the book doesn’t contain all the answers, but it gave me some very useful pointers and general guidance on putting together a roadmap. (Top tips: Don’t use a timeline with ‘task’ durations, and ensure your ‘things’ are outcomes, not outputs.)
- Moved onto reading Agile Estimating and Planning by Mike Cohn. My Amazon receipt tells me that I bought my copy of the book in 2008. I’m about 50 pages in; so far there are no revelations, but Cohn has such an incredibly readable style and some brilliant prose on the reasons why things should be done in a certain way.
- Had another session with Stuart Mann to go through my thinking on all of this so far. I’m so grateful for him giving me the time, as well as some sage advice that at some point you need to stop reading and start doing — nobody ever ran a marathon by reading about it, at some point you have to put on a pair of trainers and start training.
- Continued spending a lot of time with client-facing colleagues to uncover details on what they do, what processes they follow and what their pain points are. If everything goes to plan, this will be the start of a new line of work for the team next year.
- Had a lot of early morning meetings, with year-end sessions scheduled by the IT team in South Africa as well as interviewing for our open position in Beijing.
- Finalised plans for our annual backup restore test, the first one of which will take place next week.
- Attended our online year-end function at work. I’ve recently seen a lot of negative comments from friends who have been put through some well-intended but awful corporate events. Ours was genuinely brilliant. Our communications team delivered a hamper to everyone in the team no matter where they were — even reaching a colleague who was isolating in a hotel in Australia after emigrating there. We all gathered online on Thursday afternoon for a few hours of fun. We had a speech from our CEO, a photo montage of 2020 across our global team, a hilarious video of the brave ones among us who recorded themselves singing Bohemian Rhapsody as well as some comedy online bingo. There’s such a wonderful sense of community and teamwork right across the firm; it’s an incredible place to work and I feel so fortunate to be a part of it.
- Attended our final school Full Governing Board meeting of the year. We’re missing something by not seeing each other in person, but the meetings seem to be more efficient now that they have moved online.
- Enjoyed another couple of Random Coffee sessions with more colleagues that I had never spoken to before. I like Lisa Riemers’ description of people in your life who are (or were?) ‘non-player characters’; it’s great to connect with them.
- Had to get up at 6am for two Sundays in a row in order to fit in my two hours of scheduled bike training, running the line at my youngest son’s football match and watching the Formula One race. By early on Sunday evening both weekends I was completely spent, but it felt good to have not frittered the days away.
- Got the Christmas lights up in the front garden. They are a bit longer than I had planned for, so we now have the entire perimeter of our front lawn illuminated every night.
- Solved the condensation problem in my home office by buying a dehumidifier. I now have a new game of seeing how high I can raise the relative humidity in the room during a turbo trainer session. 🤢
- Once again have more stuff to read, listen to and watch than I can possibly make time for right now. I’ve recently taken delivery of this stunning and seemingly definitive book on Acorn BBC Micro and Electron games as well as the beautiful Mansun boxed set. I’m hoping to put some time aside over Christmas to dig into both of them.
- Made some sideways moves in my adventure through John Steinbeck’s works. I picked up and finished Susan Shillinglaw’s On Reading The Grapes Of Wrath and am now making my way through Kevin M. Bailey’s The Western Flyer, focused around the boat Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts chartered for their trip to the Sea of Cortez. I’m planning on picking up Shillinglaw’s book on Steinbeck’s first marriage before heading back onto his own work again.
Next week: My first meeting-lite week in a while. Planning on using the time to get my thinking finished and written down on changes to our working practices for next year. Plus, drinks for a certain podcast that I follow and our last Album Club of 2020.