Weeknotes #100 — Biorhythms

Another typical week brimming with meetings. Lockdown has been fascinating as a study into mental and emotional wellbeing. Tuesday and Wednesday were very similar in size and shape, but felt completely different. On Tuesday I felt like I was drowning in work, with no agency based on the amount of things in my diary that I couldn’t shift, and not spending enough time helping my boys with their schoolwork. But Wednesday had a serenity about it, despite no significant changes to anything. It made me think of the pseudoscience of the Biorhythms programme that was on the Welcome tape for my Acorn Electron computer; perhaps some days are just extra hard for no good reason.

I feel like I got a lot done this week, but am still struggling to spend my time on the core of what I think I need to do in organising the team around a clear set of priorities, and methods to approach the work.

This was a week in which I:

  • Spent nearly three hours in the evening with our CIO wrestling with the ‘ways of work’ problem. We’re edging closer, but I am still so very wary of creating negative disruption by introducing something half-baked to the team.
  • Participated in four more interviews for our Head of Infrastructure and Operations role. It’s been very good to stick to the same set of questions for each of the candidates, an attempt to judge them on their answers as opposed to the rapport we have with them. It’s such an inexact process. If you know anyone looking for an IT infrastructure leadership role in a small, brilliantly supportive team, please do get in touch!
  • Welcomed the news that a good candidate for an IT support role in Beijing is keen to join us. It will be great to get this function up and running locally, and give a rest to our wonderful colleague in Johannesburg who has been getting up early for months.
  • Reviewed the draft terms of reference for our planned Architecture Governance Authority.
  • Met with the entire Dubai office to talk about our work of mapping our business processes with a view to looking at how we can improve things with technology, as part of a Group-wide programme that has recently kicked off.
  • Caught up with our IT colleagues from the other part of the firm that sits outside Africa to discuss how we will collaborate on this same initiative.
  • Met with our SD-WAN vendor to discuss issues relating to one of our locations.
  • Handed over the project of building out the end-state back-end infrastructure for our New York office to one of my colleagues.
  • Met with the vendor who are partnering with us for the New York deployment. They have allocated a new project manager and technical staff member to the work and so far I am very impressed.
  • Reviewed our Microsoft licencing requirements for the coming year.
  • Fixed our financial forecast spreadsheet so that we are accurately reporting against our budget numbers for 2021.
  • Ran a session with the whole department to start to draft a Team Charter. I am extremely grateful for Stuart’s facilitation of the session for us. The team took to the session with a lot of enthusiasm and I am hoping to complete it next week.
  • Welcomed back our last colleague to return from their Christmas break.
  • Had to work for a few hours at the weekend in order to catch up with the pile of to-dos on my desk and get a few smaller items off of my plate, in the hope that this will help with the feeling of overwhelm next week.
  • Chaired the primary school’s first Finance, Premises and Personnel Committee meeting of the year. It was the first meeting in a while where I felt I had been able to prep quite a few days ahead of time, and it went very smoothly.
  • Started my week with a run, the first time in a while that I’ve donned my trainers. As usual, I ended up spending a lot of the rest of the week walking around like John Wayne as my running muscles aren’t used to the work. I plan to try and run a bit more on the days that I don’t have a scheduled cycle, especially as the weather improves towards spring.
  • Watched a ton of snow fall down in the time it took me to ride for a turbo session. It was wonderful to see the boys playing outside, away from their Xboxes. We eventually had to retrieve them from one of the hills, quite some time after dark, when they were the last ones still skidding down the slopes!

  • Continued my journey through the works of John Steinbeck by starting Cannery Row. I’m grateful that I stopped off to read other texts that covered the end of his 1930s period as it gave good context to the novel. Visiting Monterey and Carmel in 2019 has also helped me to ‘see’ the book in a way I haven’t done before.

  • Read a teeny bit more of the excellent Agile Estimating and Planning by Mike Cohn. I’m struggling to allocate time to finish it; the days are busy with work, I spend time with my family in the evening and it never feels right to finish the evening in bed buried in a textbook. Perhaps I just need to be more disciplined. I’m going to have to put some time aside at the weekend and plough through.

Next week: Detailed planning for a management team strategy session, more interviews and continuing to try and get the new ways of working processes finalised and launched.

Weeknotes #99 — Rare insomnia

I really struggled to stay afloat this week. I had so many meetings and urgent things to move forward with that I didn’t have enough time for the bigger, more important work that I really need to push forward with. Friday came quickly, but I ended it under a pile of tasks and unprocessed emails. I’m feeling exhausted and, unusually for me, I didn’t sleep well this week; one night I lay in bed with a sense of panic that I was late to start the day and when I finally resolved to get up, I found it was just after 2am. Prior to the pandemic I used to have two or three late evenings a week in the office where I bashed through lots of work, but this has been replaced by family time. I’m grateful to be able to eat with my children every day, but with exercise having replaced my morning commute I now have much less dedicated work time than ever.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had many early morning calls with colleagues in Sydney and Beijing.
  • Struggled to make sense of different reports about how well our network is working at one of our sites. We may need to invest in some more capable end-user experience monitoring tools to diagnose things.
  • Appreciated the candour a colleague showed in their feedback to me on how well (or otherwise) some of our regular meetings are working. This is part of the bigger thing that I am trying to prioritise.
  • Solicited feedback from each of our team members on their top 3–5 priorities for the first part of this year, as input into a top-down planning exercise.
  • Had a long-standing mental model of how a part of our infrastructure works challenged by new information. We now need to definitively answer the questions that this has thrown up and make sure that we document it for shared understanding.
  • Caught up with one of our key technology partners/suppliers on a whole raft of items that we are working on together.
  • Rebooted the project to complete the back-end infrastructure work in New York. We now have a little momentum behind us that we need to capitalise on.
  • Agreed a way forward for our backup strategy for our smaller offices.
  • Ran our two Change Approval Board meetings.
  • Reset our budget/forecast tracking spreadsheet for 2021, and reviewed the final numbers for 2020.
  • Attended an ‘all hands’ meeting on the impact of Brexit to our business.
  • Shook the tree on hiring our Head of IT Infrastructure and Operations, and generated a couple of leads to follow up with.
  • Had my first annual appraisal since becoming a full-time employee again.
  • Had two random coffees, one with a colleague in Beijing and another in London, both of whom I had never spoken to before. We now have 80 participants in the scheme and it still seems to be providing a lot of value.
  • Attended a web chat on how to make your school governing board inclusive through inclusive behaviours. The session gave me one or two things to think about that I had never considered before, so it was well worth attending.

  • Changed my habit of a lifetime of lunching at midday so that I can synchronise with the children’s gap in their school day. It’s nice to have a check-in and see how they are getting on.
  • Watched Adventures In Babysitting (1987) with my family. I don’t think I’d seen the film since I was a kid. The storyline is good and there are some brilliant moments (Albert Collins telling everyone that “Nobody leaves this place without singing the blues”), but Like many 80’s films there is some extremely problematic humour.

  • Finished reading John Steinbeck’s Bombs Away: The Story of a Bomber Team. A really strange, interesting work of propaganda that came three years after The Grapes of Wrath. I found it hard to adjust to Steinbeck being so jingoistic and celebratory about the history of US gun ownership and how it contributes to staffing the Air Force with excellent gunners, for example, when a number of his previous works had been about the common, working poor railing against big business and the state. Perhaps the magnitude of events and the need to play a part in a potentially existential crisis overrode everything.
  • Hosted Album Club on Zoom, with my pick for the month being Six by Mansun. From the feedback it seemed as though everyone enjoyed a foray into ‘Brit-prog’ from the late 1990s.

Next week: The last of our global team come back to work after their Christmas break. Time is running out for me to get the main part of my work completed, refocusing everyone with new ways of working that will allow us to ‘stop starting and start finishing’, as lean/agile advocates like to say.

🎙 A new Common Sense episode always goes straight to the top of my listening queue. Dan Carlin is excellent as usual, quoting Eisenhower in that “The middle of the road is all of the usable surface. The extremes, right and left, are in the gutters.”