in Weeknotes

Weeknotes #196 — Red lines

I felt a little bit off-colour last weekend. It was like I had a mild hangover, despite not having had anything to drink. Two colleagues were flying in from Johannesburg for the week; I planned to spend every day working with them in our London office, so I thought it was prudent to take a COVID-19 test. Two tests on Sunday came back negative as did another one on Monday morning. But a fourth test on Monday evening resulted in the dreaded double red lines.

I could only apologise to my colleagues that I had spent the day and evening with. Perhaps if it was a regular week, I would have stayed at home just in case. But I was excited to see them, was looking forward to a team night out and figured that it was just some other random lurgy that was going around.

It is almost a year since I knowingly got infected for the first time. I guess this is just how life is going to be now? This time around the effects were a little worse than before, although it was still relatively mild. I was never poorly enough take any time off work, but I did need a lot of sleep and didn’t feel up to any exercise. On Wednesday night I developed a mild fever but it was gone within 24 hours. Thankfully, none of my family have developed any symptoms despite sharing the house with me. Government guidance is to stay at home for five days.

This was a week in which I:

  • Spent Thursday with the Engineering management team in a strategy meeting. I was the only person attending remotely, with everyone else in a meeting room in our London office. A few of us had put together a broad outline of the meeting a few days before which we largely kept to. We dived into thoughts on leadership before moving onto strategy, bringing in a guest from the CEO office to go through the work that has been done at his level. Our plan is to have a quarterly session starting next year to look at things top-down instead of bottom-up. I’ve always liked Richard Rumelt’s Good Strategy/Bad Strategy which has this definition:

The kernel of a strategy contains three elements:
1. A diagnosis that defines or explains the nature of the challenge. A good diagnosis simplifies the often overwhelming complexity of reality by identifying certain aspects of the situation as critical.
2. A guiding policy for dealing with the challenge. This is an overall approach chosen to cope with or overcome the obstacles identified in the diagnosis.
3. A set of coherent actions that are designed to carry out the guiding policy. These are steps that are coordinated with one another to work together in accomplishing the guiding policy.

  • He also talks about how to detect a bad strategy:

To detect a bad strategy, look for one or more of its four major hallmarks:
– Fluff. Fluff is a form of gibberish masquerading as strategic concepts or arguments. It uses “Sunday” words (words that are inflated and unnecessarily abstruse) and apparently esoteric concepts to create the illusion of high-level thinking.
– Failure to face the challenge. Bad strategy fails to recognize or define the challenge. When you cannot define the challenge, you cannot evaluate a strategy or improve it.
– Mistaking goals for strategy. Many bad strategies are just statements of desire rather than plans for overcoming obstacles.
– Bad strategic objectives. A strategic objective is set by a leader as a means to an end. Strategic objectives are “bad” when they fail to address critical issues or when they are impracticable.

  • Presented three items at our quarterly Architecture Governance Authority meeting and got the go ahead on all three. Two of the items are applications we want to enable on our Microsoft 365 tenant and the third was for a Password Manager which I plan to roll out early next year.
  • Set up our new ‘work location broadcasting tool’ which we plan to pilot over the next few weeks before making a decision on rolling it our across our organisation. It’s so simple to use, and plugs a gap in the way that the Microsoft suite works today. I also reviewed a draft agreement for our pilot which we need to finalise next week.
  • Took part in a retrospective, looking specifically at the way in which my immediate team works. It has been very useful to reflect on how we go about things. We started this process a couple of weeks ago and still have one more session to go.
  • Met with our Enterprise Architect for our bi-monthly catch-up and discussed an issue that I raised a few weeks ago.
  • Attended an Architecture feedback session, reviewing a number of architecture decisions that were made at the highest forums in the past few weeks.
  • Reviewed our options for setting up an internal blog that is accessible by the rest of the organisation. We have been looking at SharePoint for a couple of weeks but the feeling I get is that it just isn’t built to run a blog-style content management system without extensive customisation. We’ve decided to pilot using Viva Engage (previously known as Yammer), despite the very mention of it making us itch based on our experiences from years ago. There seems to be a very broad user base at our firm and it comes with a lot of blog-like features out of the box. We’ll experiment and review how it goes.
  • Joined a series of very insightful meetings with our heads of Finance and Risk, as well as staff in Compliance, to talk through our thinking about our digital initiatives and get their input.
  • Met with our cross-functional digital product team to talk through a presentation they have put together to gain support and buy-in for their work. We drifted into topics such as ways of working; it was useful to be reminded of the gap between how we work in technology versus the rest of the organisation. I have some follow up meetings and discussions planned off the back of this.
  • Attended our Information Risk Steering Group and gave updates on a couple of initiatives that I am running.
  • Met with our People and Culture, and Marketing and Communications teams to discuss a planned service provider change for employee discounts.
  • Joined our weekly project meeting for closing down one of our regional offices.
  • Had an unexpected view of a suburban area of Beijing through a one-on-one meeting with a colleague. Our office was closed due to a detected COVID-19 case, so he took the opportunity to show me around where he lives. It reminded me of a typical street in Queens or Brooklyn in New York City.
  • Attended a division-wide town hall meeting and won a recognition award with a small cash prize.
  • Couldn’t find a simple solution to get a timer to display on a Teams Room screen alongside all of the participant video feeds. I’d be interested if anyone has solved this.
  • Enjoyed a Learning Hour cybersecurity presentation from a colleague.
  • Loved seeing my colleagues from Johannesburg, albeit briefly. We had a brilliant night out with most of our department at the Singer Tavern followed by darts at Flight Club across the road.

  • Completed and circulated drafts of our school’s Pay Policy as well as the five (yes, FIVE) UK GDPR-related policies to the Governing Board, ahead of our meeting next week.
  • Reviewed most of the materials ahead of the Full Governing Board meeting.
  • Read through the materials ahead of our headteacher assessment and interview day.
  • Decided to change my approach to concert-going to one where I buy my own ticket and broadcast my plans to my musically-minded friends. I didn’t get to see the wonderful Kathryn Joseph on Tuesday night as I was ill. The friends I was going with decided not to go either and I couldn’t find anyone to take my three tickets.
  • Missed the cycling club’s AGM as I wasn’t well. I’ve not been able to participate as much as I would have liked to, especially in the second part of the year.
  • Was sent a replacement TICKR heart rate monitor by the lovely people at Wahoo after mine gave up after 11 months. I think there is a design flaw as it is the second that has died on me. The main unit is fine, but the poppers that hold the straps on always seem to get corroded.

  • Turned off my mind by continuing to watch some episodes of Grange Hill on BritBox. I’m now late on in series two and have started to make notes on some of the more ridiculous aspects of the show.
  • Switched off crossposting from this blog to Twitter. There’s a toxic person at the helm and I’ve decided to stop creating posts on there. I’ve recently set up a Mastodon account and the service has the feeling of Twitter circa 2009, in a good way. Years ago I deleted my Facebook and Instagram accounts; I plan to keep my Twitter account in place, partly so that I don’t break parts of the web and partly so that I can use to find accounts of people I previously followed on ‘the bird site’.

Next week: Assessing prospective headteachers, meeting with the Full Governing Board, getting back to the office and taking a day off to spend with my wife.

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