Weeknotes #78–79 — Light and shade

A fortnight of light and shade. My downbeat, frustrated mood from a couple of weeks back carried on to the following week and I just couldn’t shake it. Work weighed me down, I seemed feel miserable and couldn’t find much joy in anything. But for no obvious reason, everything felt so light and breezy during this past week. I am not sure which one of the two ‘modes of being’ is more accurate — should I be stressing about my many impending deadlines or should I be assuming that it will all just work out ok?

The only thing I can think of that contributes to my mood is that I struggle with the weeks where I am in back-to-back meetings for a number of days in a row, feeling that my time is not my own. The pressure and frustration seems to crank up with each meeting. To combat this, on Monday mornings I now religiously block out whatever free time I have that week with some ‘keep free’ appointments, minimising the number of late-breaking meetings that go into the diary.

A couple of weeks in which I…

  • Saw our team start and finish a rollout of new laptops to all of our staff in China. It was an incredible job, taking staff through the Autopilot/Intune processes and then giving them the ‘white glove’ setup treatment despite language and time zone barriers. An incredible achievement to get it done in just over a week.
  • Was grateful that our Beijing office allowed external contractors to enter once again. We’ve now got our new-spec monitors on each of the desks, and the local contractor has carried out a server room audit for us.
  • Also managed to complete the server room audit in our São Paulo office. It’s now back with us to check that we understand the findings, and to plan the deployment of our new equipment.
  • Made a decision to go with a local vendor for a new telephone system in São Paulo. The implementation cost difference between the local solution and an alternative is too good to pass up. The beauty of it all being cloud-based is that if things don’t work out, we can easily change it.
  • Completed a review of our proposed new telephone system in Beijing. Of the five countries on our rollout, no two telephony setups are the same from a technology perspective, and the Beijing one is in some ways the most complex. We’re not quite there yet in terms of signing off on the work but I am hoping we can get it done early in the coming week.
  • Road tested a training course that we plan to roll out to most of our staff. Half of it is on functionality within Microsoft Teams and SharePoint Online, and the remainder is on how we intend to use the tools in our specific setting. I’m very impressed by the trainer and am hopeful it will give people what they need for the upcoming data migration project that we plan to involve them in.
  • Relieved some pressure on myself by moving a couple of our upcoming Steering Committee meetings around. Sometimes I forget about the amount of control I have over events.
  • Attended a few more town-hall style work events. We have a brilliant colleague who gave everyone a brief masterclass on how to present yourself well on videoconferences. Updates from the revenue-generating side of the business were also very good; the idea to do them has come as a result of the pandemic but we should have started them years ago.
  • Spent time thinking about the structure of the team, and looking at the key roles that we will be hiring for over the coming weeks.
  • Heard the sad news that a colleague I worked with briefly many years ago had passed away.
  • Attended our final school Governing Board meeting of the year. The pandemic has made it feel like the end of term has come around even more quickly than usual.
  • Continued with the bike training, although I am incorporating a few more rest days into the schedule now. Abandoned my planned weekend turbo rides in favour of a run with my wife, a bike ride to Savill Garden with my 13-year-old son and a ride home on my own, all in the same day. I ended up with that lovely feeling of being a bit physically broken at the end of it, hoovering up food and looking forward to climbing into bed. It was really interesting to see on Strava the difference in ‘effort’ (and presumably therefore, benefits) between time on the turbo and time out on the road.

  • Saw our youngest boy turn 11 the day after he left primary school. It’s a strange feeling to know that they have both left primary school behind them now and we’ll soon be a house full of GCSEs and A-Levels before we know it. It was such a shame that the end of term was curtailed for him — yes, no SATS, but also no residential trip or social events. I hope he has enough fun experiences in his life ahead of him to make up for it.

  • Watched the Dacorum Sports Network awards for local schools. Our youngest son and his friends won a few different categories and it was lovely to see their football coach, one of the dads from school, get recognised for his contribution. Sadly the Zoom call was set up in such a way that it let people draw on the presentation; I am guessing that parents wandered off during the call and their young children ended up doodling on what they were watching.
  • Delivered a couple of special presents for friends, via James Buckley and Jody Watley.
  • Have been loving the return of the F1 to the TV. It’s so lovely to have the qualifying and the race to look forward to. I’m part of a random ‘F1 Geeks’ WhatsApp group and someone has added a friend to the channel who used to be a senior member of an F1 team. It’s been amazing to get their take on a whole bunch of different things.
  • Met up with friends on a couple of different occasions for a socially-distanced chat. I’m still pretty terrified of catching the bug, and it feels like it takes a lot of mental strength to get together right now. I definitely have FOGO, and think I am an outlier amongst my social groups.
  • Finished reading John Steinbeck’s The Long Valley. Definitely not my favourite of his books so far, and the short story collection format almost felt like a step backwards, with the clear exception of The Red Pony.
  • Continued reading Michael Lopp’s Managing Humans. I started years ago and put the book down for some reason. There are a lot of tips and advice to take in, but some of it seems to be sticking. Reading books in an alternating fiction/non-fiction way seems to be a good balance for now.

Next week: Another Steering Committee meeting, planning our next steps in Sao Paulo and Beijing in order to beat our deadline, and the first week of the school holidays.

Weeknotes #77 — Worn out

A really tough week where I felt completely drained right from the start, and this time it didn’t improve as the days went on. My emotions were sapped. Partially it felt like I had caught some kind of bug but I also wondered whether I had just been overdoing it with all of the bike training and was just generally worn out. I had a completely exercise-free day on Friday and felt much better for it afterwards. I had so many meetings that it wasn’t until Wednesday afternoon that I felt that my time was my own again.

A week in which I…

  • Took part in a technical workshop for our new phone system setup in New York. It’s good to finally get this one properly underway and to have some next actions written down.
  • Met with our on-the-ground IT partner in Dubai to review a long list of changes and ‘snagging’ items that we need to tackle.
  • Kicked off the rollout of new laptops to staff in our Beijing office. This is our final site for our rollout, and we’re doing it one year after finishing London, our first site.
  • Received a last minute proposal for a telephony solution in São Paulo that looks too good to be true, so I’m doing all of the things I can to make sure it that it isn’t the case before we dive in.
  • Took part in a number of preliminary discussions with different departments in London on their upcoming move of documents (‘unstructured data’) into a new platform.
  • Reviewed the materials for a new training course on the unstructured data project that we plan to roll out to our London team.
  • Had a catch-up with our key IT partner in London. We hadn’t spoken in a while and it was good to get aligned again.
  • Admired our CTO as he took part in a Computerworld panel discussion on data centre modernisation.
  • Agreed to move some of our key meetings to the afternoons so that our New York team members can participate. I’m really looking forward to them becoming a more integrated part of what we do.
  • Basked in a little bit of internal glory as our team were given an award at the Group-wide IT awards event. I’ve loved working in this team for the past few years and we’ve really achieved some great things to make a big difference to the organisation.
  • Found the ‘build’ phase of TrainerRoad really challenging, although I do realise that this is probably the point. I’m almost halfway through this phase and have a low-intensity ‘recovery week’ next week to look forward to before it ramps up again.- Spent some time at the weekend doing minutes again. I really need to try and work out how to get these done during the week.
  • Attended a National Governance Association webinar on what school governing boards need to start thinking about and doing ahead of the autumn term.
  • Called Virgin Media to start a new Sky Sports subscription ahead of the F1 season. Managed to negotiate an 18-month contract at a reduced rate with a new ‘V6’ TV box thrown in for free. It’s always better to phone them up. Activating the box was a little bit painful; I had to diagnose that my Pi-Hole was preventing it from reaching a URL that seemed to only be known to the Virgin Media DNS servers. I put the box to good use over the weekend through enjoying the Austrian Grand Prix; it’s so great to have the racing back again.
  • Enjoyed my amazing prize for winning our team quiz night last week. My family and I have made light work of this over the past few days!

  • Finished reading Biko by Donald Woods. I’d had it on my bookshelf for a long time and was drawn to it as the Black Lives Matter protests got some momentum. A big chunk of the book is taken up with what happened at the inquest into Biko’s death, which seemed less important when reading it 42 years after it was published. The old, racist, South African government is now consigned to museums and memory. What I did find interesting was his philosophy of Black Consciousness:

Biko saw white racism in South Africa as the totality of the white power structure. He argued that under apartheid, white people not only participated in the oppression of black people but were also the main voices in opposition to that oppression. He thus argued that in dominating both the apartheid system and the anti-apartheid movement, white people totally controlled the political arena, leaving black people marginalised. He believed white people were able to dominate the anti-apartheid movement because of their access to resources, education, and privilege. He nevertheless thought that white South Africans were poorly suited to this role because they had not personally experienced the oppression that their black counterparts faced.

  • For my sanity and emotional wellbeing I need to intersperse some fiction into my reading. I’m continuing the journey through Steinbeck’s works that I started last year by picking up The Long Valley.

Next week: Trying to focus on those things that will make or break us in terms of hitting our agreed deadlines.

Weeknotes #76 — Unlearned

A really busy week that got more enjoyable and less stressful as it wore on. I seemed to get less tired towards Friday, probably rejuvenated by the falling temperatures from the soaring highs in the middle of the week.

A week in which I…

  • Only remembered that I was due to start the week with an 8:30am meeting when a Teams notification popped up on my phone and I was just out of the shower. I joined the Teams call very carefully, making sure video was turned off. Getting dressed and picking my moment to brush my teeth were a bit of a struggle but my colleagues were sympathetic to me. I felt like I was on the back foot all day after that. I then overslept on Tuesday and could only manage half of my scheduled turbo trainer session, but this bonus period in bed seemed to do me some good.
  • Started to think that the week was against me when we had a couple of micro power blips at home. It turns out that the Pi-hole running as a Docker image on my NAS drive doesn’t auto-restart if the NAS ungracefully shuts down. Whatever cumulative speed-saving the Pi-hole had bought us from sucking away all of the Internet adverts and trackers evaporated in the course of the morning while I diagnosed the problem. I’ve now got the secondary router DNS pointing at something internal, so another power outage won’t take down the whole house.
  • Reviewed and agreed on next steps on some key aspects of our network security architecture.
  • Attended a kick-off of the project to move our New York office over to Teams telephony. We’ve bought the our licences and can’t wait to put them to good use.
  • Was asked to give a brief whole company update on a critical project that I am running. I had a couple of days to prepare. I like to think that one day I will be the ‘slide deck full of nothing but amusing photos or phrases no longer than three words’ guy, but I’m not there yet. I tried my best to make a dry subject a little more engaging, and from the feedback I got I think it went well. (I’m assuming that if it was terrible, nobody would have said anything. At least, not where I could have heard them.)
  • Ran the steering committee meeting for the same project. Things have started to drift a little from our original plan, partially due to our underestimation of the duration of work with a key vendor and partially because we’ve uncovered a lot of complexity that we hadn’t realised was there. We have two months to get the first phase of the work completed which is now looking increasingly difficult.
  • Found that a lot of my 1:1s didn’t focus on the work very much. I think this is ok — I get the feeling that people really do need to heave a big sigh and let off some steam right now.
  • Tweaked my already complex email filters a little bit so I can get to be even more efficient. I’m finally resigned to never ever reaching Inbox Zero again, but I do need to make it easy on myself to not miss anything critical.
  • Attended our first quarterly review with our backup vendor. It was a great start and covered all of the key things as well as giving me some food for thought about the needs of our sites outside of London. We need to re-validate our RPO and RTO against the architecture that we have in place.
  • Took delivery of a new sofa bed for our new family room. We ordered it about six months ago and it got lost/delayed in the pandemic. Finally we can start to make a bit more use of the space.
  • Enjoyed yet another Tuesday evening of F1 2019 with my friends. A decent showing, with a race win and some good placings. I’m also getting much better at calling it quits at a reasonable time so I don’t get to bed too late.
  • Spent an evening online taking part in a quiz which a couple of our team had organised. Even after another long day of video meetings, it was lovely to let our hair down and be a bit silly with everyone. One of my colleagues and I ended up going down to a tie break which I won — I’m not sure what the prize is yet but hopefully it is something we can share.
  • Really enjoyed Album Club #112 even though the host’s choice was an album I already own. It was lovely to have an excuse to sit back, relax, turn the volume up and luxuriate in the beautiful songs.
  • Finished the latest Learned League in the relegation zone. I had the least number of correct answers in the whole league, so I feel lucky that I wasn’t in last place. In the previous league I had spent some time at the top of the table before finishing in the upper half, so I am not sure what went wrong. Maybe this extended period of lockdown is making me less smart.
  • Had a lovely weekend walk with Mat and his dog. We always have so much to talk about, and we rarely take the time out to spend with each other. It’s been over 30 years since we met and given we only live a few doors away we really need to try and see each other more when we can.
  • Saw my parents for the first time in almost half a year, for a barbecue in their back garden. My eldest boy and I rode over there on our bikes, which was his longest ride yet at around 33 miles. He did fantastically well. There were no hugs and kisses at my parents’ house, but it really brought home to me how difficult social distancing is, particularly when sudden downpours forced us indoors on multiple occasions. The boys loved playing with their new table-tennis table and it was fun to do something that felt a little bit normal once more.

Next week: Hoping I can keep my Friday mood all through the coming week. We’re definitely entering an exceptionally busy period at work with three or four major projects all needing to be completed by August/September. I hope we can rise to the challenge.

Weeknotes #75 — Taking on water

An ever-exhausting week, like bailing out a flooding boat where at some point on or around Friday I dropped the bucket and sank. The final few video calls of the week were like an out-of-body experience as Friday evening crept over me. I could feel my mouth moving but I was barely stringing a sentence together.

I cannot shake the feeling that I have less hours for everything than I ever had, despite having cut out almost three hours of daily commuting from my schedule. The weekends don’t feel like an opportunity to recharge, probably because my surroundings are the same, and I really want to get on with the list of various domestic jobs so that I feel like I’m making a contribution.

A week in which I…

  • Was home alone with my 13-year-old for most of it, with both my wife and our 10-year-old being back at their respective schools. He worked in the morning, we met up for lunch and then he’s been socialising with his friends on Xbox for most of the afternoon.
  • Marvelled as LeanKit continued to pay dividends for the time I’ve spent in setting it up. Our all-team meeting on Monday morning was driven completely by walking through the cards on the board.
  • Kept trying to move forward with so many big projects that I’m running in parallel. Of the five cities that we look after, there is only one where we don’t have a major active project on the go that I’m directly accountable for. The team are working really well, with a few short check-ins leading to a lot of work being done that is completely in-line with what we need, and people are picking things up without being asked. Still, I have to keep going through the list and asking myself whether there is anything I can do to move each one forward; I get to the end and then start again from the top.
  • Couldn’t believe that after 20 years in IT, I approached some business training sessions under the mistaken belief that we would be able to have a brief run-through and then skip off into the sunset with everyone being confident and competent in knowing what they had to do. The sessions were on the legal and compliance aspects of Microsoft 365, and I can now see that they are the start of a very long conversation.
  • Agreed a lightweight process with my peers and the CIO for launching new initiatives in the department. Not much science, but enough of a check-in to make sure we are all committing to something before we start it.
  • Took a big sigh when we found out that significant parts of our Beijing project has to be put on hold again due to rising COVID-19 numbers. There are still some tasks we can get on with such as purchasing equipment, but the in-office work is paused. We have to just sit and wait until we’re allowed to proceed again.
  • Was excited to attend a few new events organised at work which bring everyone together in our part of the company. Instead of running them as moderated webinar-style events, they were deliberately much more of an ‘everyone join as equals’ affair and it actually worked really well, despite having just shy of 200 people join. It seems that people have got savvy with the tools after so much remote work during lockdown! The content was very good and it felt like the organisation carried a new level of motivation away with them. I really hope that these events continue when more of us are together in the same place again.
  • Continued the fourth week of our ‘Random Coffees’ initiative. People seem to love it and the feedback has been overwhelming. We now have 70 people signed up for a randomly-paired chat with a colleague each week. My catch-up was with our Head of Risk and it was great to speak to him again after all these weeks. Hearing stories of people in lockdown at home with very young children, or with them going through what should be critical exams that they had been working towards, makes me realise once again how lucky I am that we fall somewhere in the middle.
  • Learned about how Salesforce fits into our business workflow, through a talk given by one of our team members.
  • Should start thinking about personal goals again, to feed the HR system. I don’t know anyone who loves, or even enjoys, this process. When I get some time to think I really want to work out how I can nudge the system towards OKRs instead of individual goals.
  • Had to spend time at the weekend writing up minutes for one of my steering committees. During the hectic week it never feels like the next most important thing to do, so I end up saving it for the weekend. I need to get out of this habit.
  • Reviewed the revised risk assessment for the re-opening of school. I continue to be awed by our amazing staff, who have put an incredible effort in to get everything working. Having seen the impact on my 10-year-old, I’m in no doubt that opening up school to more children is the right thing to do, even though it means that the ones who were previously back get less days in.
  • Spent some time with colleagues talking about Black Lives Matter and what their experiences and viewpoints are. I am very fortunate to work with such a diverse range of people, many of whom have had such a different experience to me. I wonder how long it will be before boards are asked to report on pay gaps from an ethnicity perspective in the same way that they have had to do between women and men?
  • Started reading Donald Woods’ Biko. I’ve had a second-hand copy of the book for ages, and now seemed a good a moment as any to get started. It was published just a couple of years after I was born and it is amazing to look at the transformation that has happened in South Africa during that time.
  • Started work on a presentation on Ride 999, which took place just over five years ago. I want to turn it into a short talk that I can give in our weekly team meeting at work. There are so many photos and so many memories; it’s going to be all about the editing.
  • Glowed with pride on Tuesday when a ramp test showed that my FTP had made a decent jump. Great news in that the training has been paying off, but bad news in that future rides will be tougher. The rest of the week was fine until I got to Saturday, where I just couldn’t handle the terrifyingly-named Spanish Needle -3. My legs flooded, my heart rate jumped through the roof, and I couldn’t go on. I made up for it by attempting (and also aborting) another ride before going out on the road for the first time since December, with my son.

  • Had a couple of house upgrades with blinds being installed in the new rooms, and a modern NAS drive to replace my almost out-of-support model.

Next week: Dreading the hectic week ahead. Another project steering committee to prepare for and host, rolling out laptops in China, kicking off our telephony project in New York, Album Club, an office quiz night, a presentation to everyone in our part of the company across six cities, and trying to keep all of the wheels on a myriad of wagons.

Weeknotes #74 — Monthnotes

The weeks have turned into a month. It’s hard to believe that it’s almost been a quarter of a year since I went into the office. Life is so different now. The country seems to have moved into a weird phase where nobody seems to quite know what they should and shouldn’t be doing. I’m still keeping myself at home as much as I can — I have taken the car out for two short drives in three months, and haven’t been inside a single shop in that time — but my wife has gone back to work at her school and our youngest boy just finished his first week back. TV, newspapers and social media are filled with images of people in groups, whether out socialising or at the many Black Lives Matter protests, which seems to normalise being together again. The whole ridiculous Dominic Cummings affair seemed to be the turning point. I am guessing that a combination of the government messaging falling apart in order to save him, plus the length of time that people have been told to stay at home, has meant that the pressure in the system is now being let out. It’s sometimes difficult to remember that there’s still a pandemic out there, with infections and deaths still occurring. I’ve bought some face masks in order to give me some protection when I do go out, and also to do my bit in trying to normalise wearing them. I hope we don’t see a resurgence of coronavirus cases in a couple of weeks’ time, but I get the feeling that people are resigned to it.

Work has been very intense over the past month. The adjustment to everyone working from home meant that our technology rollouts in São Paulo and Beijing have been delayed and are now taking place in parallel, with us driving the work remotely instead of being there in person. Added to that we have picked up more urgent projects to complete. I spend so much of my week in meetings that I find myself ‘defensive-diarying’ each Monday morning, blocking out any free time in the coming week so people think twice before adding more meetings in. I think it’s always been like this, but I used to give myself focus time by staying late in the office until seven, eight or sometimes even ten o’clock in order to get stuff done. We all get together as a family for dinner at six-thirty now, so that time has gone. I love being able to eat with the family every day, but I do struggle to carve out that time for ‘deep work’.

I spent a good couple of weeks getting our portfolio of work in order. We have around 140 ‘projects’, of which we are executing around 25 or so — which is probably too many. The more I use LeanKit the more I love it; the tool seems to let me do 90% of the things I need to in terms of ‘seeing’ and working with our entire portfolio. We now have our day-to-day tasks on one board, the portfolio on another, risks in a matrix in a different board and one more to manage a pipeline of internal talks that we hold each Wednesday. Having got things in order, I’ve been turning my attention back to executing on the things we need to deliver. We have some very hard deadlines coming up, and it’s going to be tough to meet them with everything being implemented in time.

This past week we had a department meeting where our whole team were given the opportunity to reflect on the best and worst things of the past three months. It was interesting to hear everybody talk about things they don’t normally get the opportunity to say. Despite being short of time, which I expect I will continue to feel until my time on this planet is up, I feel extremely lucky in so many ways. We’re all well. We have a wonderful house and we each have space to work and focus away from the rest of the family, and can come together when we want to. I have a job that, for now at least, is not at immediate risk of going away. I can do my job completely from home. I don’t feel as though we don’t deserve to be happy right now, but I also appreciate that there is a lot of luck and circumstance involved in where we find ourselves. We have friends who have been furloughed, others who are going through a redundancy process and one old friend who has been given a horrible medical diagnosis. We really can’t take anything for granted.

I need to get back into the habit of writing these weeknotes, and blog posts, more regularly. I love getting things down but somehow I usually find myself at the end of a Sunday night, with everyone else already up in bed, and the start of the next week is just around the corner. I’ve ready many types of weeknotes, but Ton Zijlstra’s look like the gold standard — a short, sharp summary of what’s been going on and a few highlights to look back on.

Some highlights from the past month:

  • Tuesday night has very firmly become gaming night with a few of my close friends from school. F1 2019 is the game of choice right now and it’s brilliant; even if you crash out of the game early on it’s still fun to watch everyone else compete. I’ve not talked to my friends so often in years, and it has been lovely to reconnect.
  • I’ve never been so fit in my life. Since we locked down in mid-March I’ve been on the turbo trainer or out for a run almost every day. Last month I hit the milestone of having ridden 10,000 miles on my bike and have clocked up 1,025 miles this year alone, all of which have been indoors. It’s how I start every day, and would probably be the biggest thing that I would miss if I had to go back to the office on a regular basis.

  • I’ve not found much time to contribute much as a school governor outside of our scheduled meetings. How I managed to do this while also travelling into London I have no idea, as the time available for it seems to have evaporated. Our headteacher and everyone involved in working or volunteering for the school have been doing an incredible job through the pandemic — it is a thankless task at the best of times — and must be incredibly difficult to juggle the needs and health of everyone concerned, particularly when the country has such a poor government. I have so much admiration for the work they continue to do.
  • I’m determined to finish the jobs around the house that I’ve been putting off for years — completing the scanning of all of our old paperwork, and digitising our DVDs with a cheap optical drive so that we can watch them again. If I don’t do these things now while I am at home all the time, I’ll never do them. Good progress is being made on both fronts.
  • Watched lots of films with the family. We have a good ‘round robin’ system in place with everyone getting a choice. Everyone looks forward to it, particularly when we get one of the many takeaways we’ve been enjoying, on the premise that we’re keeping local businesses going.
  • Worked on closing down my company now that I am a permanent employee again. These things seem to take ages to do, no matter how simple the setup is.
  • Had my second lockdown haircut. There really is no limit to my wife’s talents.

  • Spent a lot of time exploring Bandcamp and finding some wonderful new artists to listen to. I’m much more trigger-happy in buying digital downloads and vinyl than I have been in the past, given how difficult it was for artists to make money even prior to gigs drying up as part of the lockdown.

Next week: Hoping to be back into a writing routine again.

Weeknotes #73 — Language matters

A short working week where all of the meetings were compressed into four days. I’ve been hearing a lot of people on podcasts talking about how exhausting it is to be on video calls all day, and I’ve really been feeling it this week. It’s interesting trying to work out why it seems more draining than usual given that I used to spend hours on video calls before lockdown; I can’t quite put my finger on it, although there are many theories starting to emerge. I managed to attend a couple of video meetups in the early evening, which were both very insightful but added to the length of the video day.

We had Friday off for the delayed early May bank holiday that was paired up with the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Neighbours in our street were planning to have picnics and other celebrations in their front gardens which I initially approached with my typical cynicism. Maybe I’ve just been worn down over recent years, but for me, thoughts of VE Day were wrapped up with this mythology of how brilliant and exceptional we are as a nation. I remember my grandad telling me how he felt terrible to have medals for fighting and didn’t want them; he kept them hidden away and not once got them out to show me. The European Union was partly a response to not wanting to continue the horrendous events that went before. I felt that people who celebrated events such like VE Day the loudest were actually the extreme Brexity types who are the closest to the fascists that were defeated at the time. But as the week wore on, I came to realise that there is a very big difference between Victory in Europe versus Victory over Europe. Language matters. The celebration is actually about the liberation of many countries from fascism and not how one country beat another.

Inspired by Ton Zijlstra, I started to once again keep a ‘day log’ of notes throughout the week. Without knowing it as such, I had kept one for the first couple of years of working independently but somewhere along the way I stopped the habit. As usual, the best way to go about doing something like this is to just dive in. At the moment my notes about the day are mixed up with more detailed meeting notes which may not be the best approach, but it does mean that there is minimal friction for note-taking.

A week in which I…

  • Agreed a strategy for the remnants of our old corporate network beyond the end of the contract in a few months time. Lots of work to make this happen.
  • Started to review quotes for the bill of materials for our Beijing office. We’re still waiting for one more before moving forward with the purchasing.
  • Agreed to go forward with a telephony migration project in New York, and met a supplier who may be able to help us in São Paulo.
  • Reviewed a whole host of domain names that we once used and need to take responsibility for. Lining up a conversation with our Marketing team on domain squatting and typosquatting.
  • Had videoconferences with supplier teams who are in the office in both Beijing and New York. Talking to the Beijing team felt joyous, like going back in time to when people could all gather together, but speaking with people in the New York office just raised my heart rate.
  • Said goodbye to a senior member of our team who is leaving to take up a fantastic new role within the company. It’s sad for us, but great for her. There are big shoes to fill.
  • Continued to do battle with my email. I feel like like I’m at the at the end of a conveyor belt on a building site with only a tin cup and an hour a day to move the dirt hitting me.
  • Met with a vendor about a budgeting tool that they offer to their clients. I’ve been through a similar process before and am very skeptical, as it was hours of effort for data that we couldn’t really compare with other organisations. But at the very least, it will be useful to say that we have actually done some kind of benchmarking.
  • Got incredible quick feedback from our school’s financial consultant on our proposed budget. The support we are getting is excellent.
  • Got on the turbo trainer every day. I completed my programme on TrainerRoad and started another. I’ve not been running for a while now as I’m not keen on navigating around everyone else who is outside of the house.
  • Tried my hand at some DIY, trying to fix our recently-relocated patio doors which are incredibly hard to close. A phone call to my dad and a little bit of YouTube helped. The doors are ever so slightly easier to close now, but we’ll need the builders to have a proper look at it when they are able to return.
  • Attended an Agnostic Agile meetup on how to Inspect and Adapt Your Career with Jeff Gothelf. The content was really good, and reminded me of John Stepper’s Working Out Loud in terms of doing favours for your network and giving things away for free.

  • Participated in an OKR workshop run by Peter Kappus for ‘friends of the WB-40 podcast’. A really interesting session which helped focus my mind for a bit on this topic. I am sure that they will play a role in our future, and need to try to find some time to develop these for our team.
  • Marvelled at my wife’s baking skills. A three-hour online class led to ciabatta, grissini and focaccia, all of which taste amazing. On Sunday my son and I tried to follow along while the same chef made cinnamon rolls but it was waaaay to fast and advanced for us, so we’ve ended up with some giant edible ‘cinnamon splodges’.
All taste as good as they look!

All taste as good as they look!

  • Sadly finished watching Outnumbered. The jumps between seasons and one-off specials were really jarring when all of a sudden the children have sprouted a few years and a few more inches. The whole show was really well written and always made us laugh.
  • Picked a family movie for our latest ‘round robin’ film session. I had fond memories of watching Maverick (1994) with my brothers and thought that it would be a good family choice, but it hasn’t aged well.
  • Managed to pick up the guitar a few times. I’ve tried various apps but none of them seemed to stick. I resorted to picking up my old copy of The Beatles Complete and found that I could kind-of, sort-of, bumble my way through the chords to McCartney’s Another Day, despite me thinking in the past that it was impossibly hard. I love the song so there’s a big incentive to keep at it.

Next week: Not one but two steering committee meetings to prepare for. Choosing a vendor to work with in Beijing, getting the phone project moved on in New York and reviewing quotes for work in the office in São Paulo.

Weeknotes #71–72 — Hurry up, we’re dreaming

So that was April. It’s hard to believe that I’ve not been in the office for seven weeks now; it’s gone by so fast. I know I’m not the only one wondering how I could have been more productive over the past couple of months. I have to remind myself that the time available to me is the same as it ever was, but I just fill it differently. My morning commute has been replaced with daily exercise, and my frequent late evenings in the office have been substituted for a hard stop around 6:30pm for a family dinner and time with our children. Things are different now. I have to keep reminding myself that I am actually living the dream. Aside from being able to socialise in person, attend events, and be able to occasionally meet up with the team in the office, working from home and exercising regularly is actually how I would like it to be.

A couple of weeks in which I…

  • Continued to be grateful for the days where I had only one or two meetings, and was able to get on with some focused work. This was helped a little by South Africa having a couple of public holidays, meaning that half of our team were out of the office. It’s our turn in the UK during May.
  • Found myself working late for a few evenings, just in order to keep on top of the workload. I’ve been pretty terrible with email for a while now and am trying to get back on top of things, but focusing on my known priorities is still the only route to success that I can see.
  • For the first time in a very long time, got the minutes written up and published for the two Steering Commitees that I run, much closer to when the meeting happened to when the next meeting was due to take place. I’m going to try very hard to keep this discipline, as it is vastly better in so many ways. One of the Committees currently takes place every two weeks so there is little choice but to get the notes out quickly, so that we are ready to start the cycle again.
  • Took a couple of senior business staff through how I am thinking about project portfolio prioritisation using Cost of Delay Divided by Duration, also known as _Weighted Shortest Job First_1. I’ve not received any push-back so far from anyone in the team that I have taken through this approach, and we are attempting to apply it to the 80-or-so projects in our backlog.
  • Reached out to our IT partners in São Paulo and Beijing with the knowledge that we are unlikely to be there in person ourselves any time soon. Getting our infrastructure programme completed remotely will be challenging, but it is doable.
  • Attended the first quarterly business review with one of our videoconferencing vendors, an interesting time to meet given the massively increased demand on their service. They corrected my understanding of their licencing model and we will need to make a decision on what we do when it is time to renew.
  • Took part in a number of internal presentations. The organisation is still going above and beyond in an attempt to ensure that our staff keep connected, and we are focused on the value that we are delivering to our clients. In our own team, I was dazzled by the communication skills of my colleagues as they took people through detailed infrastructure concepts on hardware, software, firmware, drivers and our global wide area networks.
  • Reviewed proposals for new telephony systems across a number of our sites, and weighed up the pros and cons of minimising vendors versus technical simplicity and speed of implementation.
  • Chaired the school Finance Committee meeting with governors and our Headteacher. It’s been said thousands of times how challenging the lockdown has been for everyone, but the school continues to respond to the challenge brilliantly. I am so humbled to be able to work with the team and contribute even just a little bit to the excellent work that they do.
  • Ran a 2k as part of a challenge for my son’s running club. I actually tried running it twice, as my first attempt didn’t take into account just how far 2k is — going off like the clappers was a route to failure. I’ve been retreating from running a little as staying in feels safer than being outside, breathing in the exhaled breath from other runners and cyclists.
  • Came to the end of my first month-long TrainerRoad programme and am looking forward to starting the next one.
  • Heard that an old colleague from 20 years ago had tragically lost both of his parents to COVID-19 in the space of a couple of weeks. I cannot begin to imagine how he and his family must feel. I dropped him a note to say he was in my thoughts.
  • Watched a few films and TV programmes with the family. The Wedding Singer (1998) was still hilarious but rude, Aladdin (2019) was enjoyable but a bit throwaway, and Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018) had the best action sequences I’ve seen for a long time. We’ve also continued to laugh our way through Outnumbered and Deep Space 9.
  • Loved that Tuesday nights seem to have turned into regular gaming nights with my friends. There are now five of us regularly playing Xbox racing games online and it is fun to hang out, do something together and talk nonsense for a bit.
  • Enjoyed another remote Album Club, this time listening to M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. The music was great but we have definitely lost so much by not being there together in the same room. It’s my turn next at the end of May and I’m currently choosing between about 15 albums.

Next week: More turbo training, a four-day work week trying to focus and cram as much in as possible, an evening online training course on keeping an agile career, and watching the Remainiacs vs Bunker live stream.

  1. Some very useful resources on this topic are the book Lean Enterprise: How High Performance Organizations Innovate at Scale by Jez Humble, Joanne Molesky and Barry O’Reily, and the Black Swan Farming website from Joshua J. Arnold

Weeknotes #69–70 — It all blends into one

A couple of weeks in which I…

  • Enjoyed life as a permanent employee, with my first paid Easter holiday for some time. As a contractor over the past few years I have generally worked through public holidays, but this time I only had a few hours of work to catch up on. Although the long weekend was over quickly, and I wasn’t sure what I’d done with the time, it was a welcome break.
  • Had a meeting with HR to talk about my personal development goals. I’m not yet used to other people taking an interest in me in this way again. The company has been incredible so far, particularly with showing empathy and genuine concern for staff wellbeing during this very difficult time. It’s such a great place to work.
  • Took receipt of the new laptops for our Sao Paulo office and coordinated their setup remotely. Once again, Microsoft’s Autopilot and Intune worked wonders. We now have staff from four out of our five offices up and running with their new computers and we’re working on getting the remainder done as soon as possible.
  • Rebooted the work to get our Beijing office set up with our new IT stack. We had a video call with a potential vendor in China and I am in the process of lining up similar meetings for this week.
  • Ran our monthly IT Steering Committee. We’re in a bit of a holding pattern at the moment and this was reflected by the meeting being the shortest one yet.
  • Set up and ran our first Steering Committee meeting for a new project to organise and manage our ‘unstructured data’ in London. It was great to have the right people in the room, agree what their roles and responsibilities were and to get them to make some key decisions. This project is going to keep me busy over the next few months.
  • Took part in pilot training sessions for Microsoft Teams. It’s great when you go into training thinking you are an expert user, knowing everything there is to know, and you actually pick up lots of tips and tricks. We’re looking to roll out the training to all of our staff and it was good to give some feedback before we do.
  • Felt as though I am still spending way too much of my work day in meetings. I know I’m not the only one to feel this way, but I have the data to back it up. Apparently I’m the 8th biggest user of Teams in the whole company of 50,000 people, with 188 hours of meetings over the past 90 days! It’s a little bit energy-sapping, and does leave me wanting to avoid social video calls over the weekend as they can feel too much like work.
  • Had an hour with a couple of colleagues talking about GTD. I don’t know anyone who follows the methodology to the letter, but it’s a good guide for how to keep focused and productive. There’s no one magic bullet to solve all of the personal productivity problems, but the fact you keep trying to improve is probably half the battle.
  • Drove a car for the first time in a month, in order to pick up a ‘click and collect’ order from the supermarket. I’ve seen pictures of people keeping their distance and heard stories from my wife, but it was still shocking to see a queue to the store stretching all around the car park with people spread out two meters apart from each other. I was grateful not to have to interact with anything except my shopping and the plastic crates that they wheeled out to my car.

  • Took delivery of a couple of boxes of alcohol-free beer from Big Drop and Brewdog. The Brewdog beers have all been incredible, particularly their coffee stout. So much flavour. It’s lovely to have a variety in the house again.
  • Enjoyed the fruits of my 10 year-old’s labour after he signed up to a weekly cooking class. The lessons are via Zoom at the moment and he cooks alongside lots of his friends. So far I’ve enjoyed some incredible chocolate easter cakes as well as cheesy soda bread. Everyone wins!
  • Played some Xbox racing games — Trackmania Turbo (a bargain at around £6.50 in the Xbox store, with hours of split-screen multiplayer fun) with my boys and Forza Motorsport 6 with my mates. My friends and I seem to have fallen into having Tuesday nights scheduled as gaming nights, and I’m feeling like a teenager again. Inspired by the Virtual Chinese Grand Prix at the weekend, we’re planning on playing F1 2019 ourselves.
  • Watched more TV and films with my family than I have done in a very long time. I introduced them to the wonder of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, although I don’t think they were quite as taken by them as I am. We all enjoyed watching The English Game on Netflix about the start of professional football in the late 1800s, as well as the Race Across The World. It’s been really lovely to have a couple of shows that we can share and enjoy together. Recommendations for similar programmes would be welcome!
  • After getting a puncture on my turbo trainer — something that I thought would be a near-impossibility — I have dropped my old cyclocross rubber for a ‘proper’ turbo tyre. The difference it has made to the riding is incredible, with hardly any noise and what feels like much less resistance. Since switching over I’ve upped my FTP setting from 122 to 170 and am still not sure I’ve got it right. I’ll keep tweaking.

  • Felt as though now may be the time to try and learn the guitar. I bought a relatively cheap acoustic from Tanglewood and have started to play a few chords. I think that the key is going to be having the guitar in easy reach to be able to pick up and practice a little bit each day, so I’ll have to think about where best in the house to put it.

Next week: Continuing to push on with all the projects, in all of the countries.

Weeknotes #68 — New job

A week in which I…

  • Felt like I luxuriated at work for the first couple of days of the week. With only a couple of meetings each day I could stretch out and get some focused work done. I managed to get a project definition document moved from draft to ‘version 1.0’ and caught up a little with my gigantic email backlog. Sadly the meetings crept back in as the week progressed. I’ve come to dread that ‘eighth videoconference of the day’ feeling.
  • Along with my family, felt as though we had settled into some new routines. The angst of being together all day every day has passed, and everyone seems to be getting on much better. We’re all having dinner together every day, and finishing off with a family game of UNO or a movie. I’m still struggling with finishing my work day much earlier than I otherwise would, but I’m sure I’ll get there.
  • Celebrated my eldest son’s 13th birthday. The years are short; from baby to teenager has gone by in a flash.
  • Started a permanent role with my client, putting on hold my short career as a contractor. I absolutely love working there and it’s great to properly join the team. My main role is going to be organising how we source, prioritise and deliver change work for our business in five major financial centres. It’s going to be strange — in a nice way — to get back into the mindset that I can take the Easter weekend off and I will still get paid.
  • Kicked off my time as a ‘permanent’ employee by taking the team through a slide deck on how we look at prioritisation using ‘cost of delay divided by duration’ (also known as ‘weighted shortest job first’ or ‘WSJF’). I had good feedback on the material and people have already started using the language in our discussions. I’ve adopted a simple model that I found in this presentation by Kim Harbott, as shown below. I’ve added some guidance on what constitutes a short, medium or long piece of work. My next problem is what orders of magnitude the ‘cost of delay’ side of the matrix should take. I’d be interested if anyone has any good examples of this.
Prioritisation matrix

Prioritisation matrix

  • Closed off a mini-project to get our Beijing staff working while they are out of the office and in lockdown. In the absence of having ordered our proper end-state laptops, we had some of our employees purchase consumer devices from JD.com. Our team were able to walk them through the process of upgrading from Windows 10 Home China edition to Windows 10 Enterprise, extracting the hardware hash so that we could register the laptops as ‘ours’, and then taking them through the Autopilot/Intune build process. The choices we made a couple of years ago are really paying off in just the way that we envisaged.
  • Attended a ‘town hall’ meeting with the rest of the International team. It was excellent to get a business update and understand how the company has been helping our clients, particularly given how troubled the economic waters are.
  • Had a wonderful end to the week where our COO and his daughter broadcast a gig to all of us from his living room using Teams Live Events. It sounded amazing, and was lovely to be a part of something with the rest of the staff around the world as we headed into the weekend.
  • Continued to exercise every day, although my legs have started to complain. I’m planning to take advantage of it being a little rainy on Monday to have a rest day before getting back to it. I just need to make sure that my food consumption also has a bit of a rest.
  • Couldn’t get enough of video calls during the the day, so joined both the Remainiacs vs The Bunker and Smoke Fairies live sessions. None of the live events I’ve attended have been entirely successful, but it felt important to be there and support them. Everyone’s trying!

  • Had a beautiful spring family walk on Saturday across the fields and woods behind our house. We are so lucky to have this on our doorstep and I will never take it for granted.

Next week: Trying to fight my diary to get more space to work. And my first paid day off in a quite a few years.

Weeknotes #66–67 — Lockdown

A couple of weeks in which I…

  • Spent one anxious day in the office before an email arrived from the Group CEO to say that everyone in the company, globally, should work from home for the foreseeable future. I felt like crying. I knew that I had been extremely uptight at having to travel to work, but felt that I couldn’t unilaterally decide not to go in while we still expected others in the team to be there. I could almost hear the hiss of the pressure being released in my brain during the first day we were at home.
  • Had a daily family debate about whether the children should go to school. I felt another massive wave of relief when the decision was made to close the schools and we could keep them safe at home. I’m sad for my youngest, who is finishing off his final year of primary school, but no amount of celebrating is worth the risk to all of us. It’s been strange to try and get them set up, focused and working while I’m spending most of my days in video meetings. They’re into a rhythm where they make a start around the same time that I do, get their work done by lunchtime, and spend their afternoons with their friends playing games on the Internet. Like most of my time as a parent, I am always full of self-doubt as to whether I’m doing it right.
  • Continued to worry about my wife as she made the journey into school while the three of us stayed at home. I felt so fortunate when they said that they didn’t need her to be there for the next couple of weeks, which takes us up to the Easter holidays.
  • Found that I had less time to myself, as my family now come looking for me at the end of the working day to join them for dinner. It’s amazing that we have this time together, but it has made me realise how much of my job I squeezed into the daily commutes and a few nights a week of being back home a couple of hours later.
  • Counted my blessings for everything I have right now. We’re all healthy. I’m working in a job that I can do from home, without coming into contact with anyone else in person. We have a house which we have recently expanded so that we have space to stretch out while we are all spending so much time under one roof. We live on the edge of town, with farmland and open spaces right behind us to escape into. I hope to never take these things for granted.
  • Thought about what the world will look like out of the other side of this crisis. Poorer, slower, with less privacy, new social conventions and powerful governments. The rate at which the whole world has come to a juddering halt has been staggering. This chart from The Economist showing new jobless claims in the US shocked me, and is an illustration of how crazy things are.

  • Spent the first week of work at home fielding a lot of support issues, lending a hand to our Helpdesk team as our staff got used to the new setup. I seemed to fall further and further behind with my regular work as the days went on, but getting people up and running had to take priority. It’s going to take me a week or two to get properly back on track. We’ve delayed the formal close-out of the main programme work in our final two cities by a few months and will need to see how we get on.
  • Inspired by the suggestion of a friend who works at Google, and Matt Ballantine’s now regular Global Canteen meetups, I set up an internal Microsoft Teams channel called The Water Cooler, where our staff can have some informal and fun interaction. It’s been great — it separates out the non-work chat and gives everybody a space to keep connected. This Friday we decided to all wear hats to our daily team meeting, and after posting some photos we saw everyone joining in across the organisation.

  • Noticed how many interactions with colleagues, vendors and everyone else starts off with a sincere ‘how are you?’ So far the crisis has brought some humanity and mindfulness into situations where previously we were all in a great big hurry.
  • Tried to get my head around LTE wireless routers as a backup solution in case we lost our wired ISP connections in our offices. There are some really interesting products out there.
  • Continued our investigation into automation software, getting demos of a couple of products that we’re considering trying out. Use of these tools is a ‘pull’ from our colleagues outside of IT and we need to make sure that we can help meet the business need, but we don’t yet have much knowledge internally to give considered opinions. We’re going to time-box an investigation and trial of one of them and see how quickly we can get some tangible value from it.
  • Took a new colleague through how we are using LeanKit. I am still in love with this product. Our team is still far from being an amazingly-optimised productivity machine, but LeanKit gives us so much and we’d be lost without it. It’s a solid base to build on. Our new colleague ‘got it’ instantly and has been happily using the advanced features from the get-go.
  • Took part in two virtual school governor meetings, both using Microsoft Teams. Everyone seemed to get the hang of the technology and we had a couple of great meetings — much more efficient than when we meet in person, despite having a lot of additional items to talk about. The people still going to their jobs every day are my heroes right now, including the school staff. I’m in awe of how they have kept focused and kept going during all of this.
  • Have taken advantage of not having a commute by replacing it with exercise. It’s like the Christmas period all over again, with a run or turbo trainer session every day. I still haven’t made it out on my bike on the road this year and don’t plan to change this anytime soon; risking an accident and hospital visit doesn’t seem like a great idea right now.
Strava’s view of my fitness over the past six months

Strava’s view of my fitness over the past six months

  • Haven’t been able to look at a TV show or film without noticing how close everyone stands to each other, or how much handshaking goes on. After finishing season 9 of Curb Your Enthusiasm my wife and I were looking for something to give us a giggle, and Impractical Jokers has filled the void. I’m properly laughing out loud every night.
  • Have been watching lots of films with the family. We even managed to finally spend a whole afternoon watching Ben Hur (1959) over the weekend. We now have a round-robin system in place so that everyone gets to choose. I’m currently pondering whether the wonderful Top Hat (1935) or Swing Time (1936) would go down well; I suspect not, but it’s worth a try.

Next week: We suddenly have our first teenager in the house.

Weeknotes #64–65 — Pandemic

A week in which I…

  • Like everyone else, entered the waking nightmare of the coronavirus spreading all over the globe. If I’m being honest, it’s been tough to cope with even though as yet I don’t personally know anyone with a diagnosis. Even if I decide to ignore the news updates and do something more mentally healthy, I then find myself running or contributing to meetings where it is the number one topic. We were already running daily discussions to try and help those from our Beijing office who have been in lockdown for weeks, and now that continuity planning has spread everywhere. You go to sleep, wake up and then realise that it hasn’t all been a dream. Days are spent watching The Guardian’s Liveblog and the Coronavirus Worldometer, waiting for the UK to report its daily infection and death totals at 2pm. It’s a hideous double-whammy of being concerned about how we could all be contributing to the demise of loved ones whilst knowing that if activity seizes up, we could be in for an economic shock that puts the 2008 financial crisis in the shade. When the first crash happened a week ago I immediately turned to FT’s Alphaville blog, somewhere that I used to hang out all those years ago. My timing was excellent as I found that they had restarted their ‘Markets Live’ chat on Telegram. The Telegram feed is an excellent resource to follow what’s happening in the broad financial world in real time.
  • Went to see Marika Hackman play at the Kentish Town Forum. I’d bought tickets last year and had been looking forward to the gig for ages. She didn’t disappoint, and the friends I had brought along who were less familiar with her work thought she was great too. As we left, glowing, I realised that part of my enjoyment had been that I hadn’t thought about the coronavirus for a couple of hours. We’ll all need some distractions over the coming weeks and months, albeit from home. How quickly will gigs move online?

  • Wrestled with friends and colleagues that think that the UK government is doing a good job and we should just trust what they say. But these are the same awful, lying, incompetent and criminal clowns that were in government two weeks ago. I would like to think that if they were doing a good job I would be able to swallow my pride and say it. But a policy where we all get and share the virus because we would then develop ‘herd immunity’ and we are forced to lose loved ones, I can’t get behind. People didn’t stop getting all of the hideous viral diseases in history because we developed immunity. This article is the best thing I’ve read as a riposte to the government position.
  • Had so many discussions about what to do in response. My client still has staff going to the office and I’m not prepared to start working from home full time until that’s the expectation for everyone in our team. We’ve moved to ‘split working’ for the coming week where there is one team in one week, and another the next, but given the rate of spread of the disease I can’t see this lasting for too long. (UPDATE: It lasted for one day, and we’ll all now be working from home.) The programme I have been running for my client for the past few years has delivered a technology platform that allows staff to work from anywhere. However, I need to temper my enthusiasm for home working for everyone with the understanding that:
    • Not everyone would be happy to work from home — being a geek it’s fine for me, but for others being at home alone and trying to get their IT to work, no matter how good it is, may be a very daunting prospect.
    • Not everyone can work from home. Not everything is completely digital. What do you do about those that still need access to the office?
    • Not everyone has a great home working environment that lets them be productive.
    • There is a mental health tax associated with being at home and not socialising, which could also have serious long-term impacts on people.
  • My concern doesn’t really lie with my family or I getting the disease myself, more that we are contributing to the overall spread of the thing in society. I was meant to have my friends over on Saturday night but cancelled, much to their surprise. I weighed this up and didn’t think it was the right thing to do. I do feel like I’m living a hypocritical life at the moment, as I write this from the train heading into London for a day at the office. We replaced an evening together in person with an evening of them beating me at Forza on the Xbox. Something tells me that will be the first of many evenings spent virtually with friends.
  • Discussed with my children whether they should go to school or not. Yes, it’s up to my wife and I from a legal perspective but it doesn’t sit well with me, particularly with my eldest son who is about to become a teenager. How much control over his life should he have? I can’t dismiss his fears of being irrational, particularly when he tells me he worries about spreading it as opposed to getting it. We’ll take it day by day. As I write this, #Covid19Walkout is trending on Twitter, encouraging pupils to stay home.
  • Managed to get some work done in between all of the coronavirus drama, but still not all of it was planned. I gave a little bit of help to a colleague who was managing the process of a mobile phone refresh, arranging for some additional staffing to help with migrating people from their old iPhones to new ones.
  • Ran our monthly steering committee, where I presented a view of the size and shape of the project portfolio. It was great that the committee could see it and grasp the problem of trying to do too many things at once. The next step is to work out what the priorities are that we will commit to.
  • Celebrated my wife’s birthday with dinner at a local Turkish restaurant. It’s not the typical place we would go; our boys, like me when I was a child, aren’t exactly adventurous. Somehow I ended up offering them a small cash incentive for everything that they tried that they had never tasted before, and it was enough to get them diving in. It ended up being a lovely evening with everyone having been part of the food experience.

  • Finished a couple of graphic novels — Hostage by Guy DeLisle and They Called Us Enemy by George Takei. Both were very good, but I preferred the style of the DeLisle book. At one point the hostage of the title starts dreaming of ‘normal’ things he could be doing if he was at home, and this image stuck with me: I’d generally like to be doing that too!

Next week: The great working from home marathon begins.

Weeknotes #63 — Running in the family

A week in which I…

  • Had to work with the team to cover the gaps left by the sudden departure of a key technical colleague.
  • Saw the team land a number of significant changes, resolving some long-outstanding issues we have had with our new platform in London, and paving the way to turn off even more SLAs with our previous vendor. Feedback so far has been very positive. I am hoping the changes have bought us capacity to deal with some bigger items that we have in the backlog.
  • Felt the weight of expectation from a wide range of business stakeholders, each of whom have ‘top priority’ work that we need to get done. Next week is going to be tough as we need to make tangible progress on all of them.
  • Visited school for our Headteacher’s mid-year appraisal. It’s a real privilege and pleasure to be involved, and it was a good chance to catch up with her and our Chair of Governors.
  • Had my social life affected by the coronavirus, twice. First with Album Club being cancelled due to the host’s son having just got back from a skiing trip to Italy. A planned meet-up with my brothers and their families was curtailed when one of them was informed that a staff member at my niece’s school has tested positive. Something tells me this is going to be the new normal.
  • Competed in the Berkhamsted 5-mile Fun Run, along with my 12-year-old son. We both had a great race, with him finishing seventh and me a little further back in 21st. I don’t think I could have gone much faster than that so I’m pretty pleased with it. The event is lovely as there are so many faces from around the town, and it’s great to see them all as they start and cross the finish line.

  • Visited Cliveden with my one brother and his family that so far remain unaffected by the coronavirus. It was lovely to go on a cold, brisk winter walk through the grounds and to spend time with them. Hopefully the others will be able to join us again soon.
  • Took the children and their friends swimming in Aylesbury, giving me an excuse to visit Deco Audio to stock up on some beautifully-cleaned vinyl. From Billie Holliday to Robert Cray to the soundtrack to Little Shop Of Horrors, they all sound great.
  • Gave up on Stewart Lee’s March of the Lemmings: Brexit in Print and Performance 2016–2019. I love Lee’s standup, and once went to a three-hour marathon of him performing at the Royal Festival Hall. But his Observer columns felt like a slog, particularly with the massive amount of footnote navigation you need to do in this book (it feel as though at least half of the work is footnotes written from a present-day perspective). I ended up skipping this part of the book and moved onto a transcript of his standup routine, but without the comic timing and intonation I found this to be equally tough. It feels good to have given up; life is too short to stick with a book you’re not enjoying.
  • Finished the second season of Succession. My wife have quickly munched our way through both seasons over the past month or so and can’t wait for the next one. Great characters, intriguing plot and so many laugh-out-loud moments.

Next week: Head down at work, my wife’s birthday, and going to see Marika Hackman in concert. Assuming that the coronavirus doesn’t put a wrecking ball through all of the plans.

Weeknotes #62 — Beyond

Flying over London on my way to Heathrow

Flying over London on my way to Heathrow

A week in which I…

  • No, we, successfully completed our New York end-user infrastructure rollout. Half of our deployment team had to leave last week, so I ended up having to sit one-to-one with half of the office to take them through how to set up and use their new kit. It was great to be out in the field again. Everyone seems very pleased and we’ve had a few notes thanking us for the work that has gone into the new platform.
  • Ran a couple of training courses for the New York office, giving everyone a proper introduction to Microsoft Teams as well as showing them the real-time collaboration and versioning features of Office 365. In the past we’ve suffered from deploying technology within the organisation and not giving staff enough knowledge on how to use it. I didn’t go into too much depth in the couple of hours I had available, but hopefully it was enough to make the team realise the possibilities that are open to them.
  • Spent the day on my own in the office on Monday while everyone was off for Presidents’ Day. Although I was all alone, getting out of my hotel room felt a lot healthier than just sitting there, and I got to play some loud music and greedily use all of the new network just for myself.
  • Worked very late on Tuesday as a vendor got our new wireless access points installed into the ceiling voids, and connected back to the server room. I spent time the next day wandering around the length and breadth of the office on a Teams video call to check coverage is good, and it’s superb.
CAT6 cable, a patch panel and a long pole — ready for anything!

CAT6 cable, a patch panel and a long pole — ready for anything!

  • Was grateful to not get caught in the second storm in as many weeks in the UK. Our neighbour’s front garden wall didn’t fare so well; apparently my children woke up in the middle of the night because of the noise and one of them had reported hearing a bang.
Thank you, Dennis

Thank you, Dennis

  • Discovered Beyond Meat. New York has a massive variety of restaurants for an aspiring vegan. Eighteen years after having last been there I had the fortune to dine again at the Candle Cafe, a wonderful cosy and homely vegan restaurant. I was intrigued by the ‘Beyond Burger’ they had on the menu, but went for something different. A few days later I saw the same on the menu at MTHR Vegan, a small fast food joint tucked out of the way on 49th Street. After one bite I had to go back to the menu to check that I had ordered the right thing; despite the name of the place I wasn’t convinced that I’d bitten into something that had once been wandering around. It was incredibly tasty. Kebabs made from the same stuff at Beyond Sushi were also excellent. It seems that Beyond Meat has only reached the UK very recently, so we’ll have to make a special trip to Tesco to eat some more at home. It’s like Quorn, but super tasty. I’m sure the amount of processing doesn’t make it very healthy, but it’s nice to be able to reach for the junk food occasionally without the guilt of eating animals.
Beyond Burger and fries from MTHR Vegan

Beyond Burger and fries from MTHR Vegan

Beyond Meat kebabs from Beyond Sushi

Beyond Meat kebabs from Beyond Sushi

  • Managed a few runs in Central Park. The full circuit makes a great course at around 7 miles, with just enough hills to be a bit of a challenge. At the weekend I treated myself to my first new pair of trainers in ten years, and could immediately feel the difference. I don’t want to go faster, but I do want to try to avoid injury as I have a history of knee pain.
Central Park reservoir

Central Park reservoir

  • Drove my eldest son up to Nottingham to compete in the National Cross Country Championships. The awful weather in the week leading up to the event meant that the car park was closed and the routes leading there had gigantic traffic jams. After over an hour in a queue I managed to watch the boys race through the muddiest course I’ve ever seen before getting a little cleaned up and heading for home again. At least it wasn’t raining!
  • Finally finished reading Cultural Amnesia by Clive James, literally two years after I started it. The book is organised into chapters or essays on a variety of historical figures, which the author uses as a jumping off point to explore a particular set of thoughts. Sometimes those thoughts they veer way off course before coming back around again. It’s never boring, but I found it extremely challenging and hard-going, and don’t mind admitting this text is probably at the limit of my intellectual capacity. I have no idea where he found the time to read so much , and what perseverance he must have had to learn French and German by picking up classic texts in those languages. Amazing.
  • Have been completely obsessed by all things Smoke Fairies, ten years after the first time, trying to catch up with the music I missed out on after Blood Speaks. Their new album, Darkness Brings The Wonders Home, is simply stunning, with big guitar riffs and wonderful vocal harmonies throughout.

Next week: Back in London again, turning my attention to all of the things I have had to put aside while I focused on New York. Attention turns to São Paulo now. Plus an Album Club.

Weeknotes #60–61 — Storms

Somewhere over the Atlantic

Somewhere over the Atlantic

An incredibly eventful fortnight in which I…

  • Had a very busy week in London, getting ready to head to New York for the configuration and rollout of my client’s new IT stack.
  • Made a good connection with the account manager at my client’s laptop supplier. The devices have been brilliant and the support we have been getting has been very welcome.
  • Started to think about how we can respond to staff impacted by the coronavirus. It would be simple and easy to just delay our IT rollout in China, but much better if we can somehow work around the problem, bringing the new IT equipment to where people are to enable them to work more easily.
  • Was impacted by the Microsoft Teams outage for a few hours, along with the rest of my colleagues and bazillions of other companies around the world. It failed for a shocking reason, but it was refreshing to see a large company like Microsoft admit what it was. My client is so heavily-dependent on Teams that it caused a few problems, but a great feature of cloud software is that you don’t need to do the running around yourself to fix it — the best people for the job will work on it and let you know when it’s sorted.
  • Debated what a good post-incident root cause analysis (RCA) looks like. The write-ups from Monzo set the gold standard for me. Attaining this level of quality is probably unachievable, but it is great to have something to aim for.
  • Revamped our daily team ‘standup’ meeting. We’re trying out LightningTalks on Wednesdays. Eventually I hope that these can be shared with a wider audience but while we get them off the ground it seems right to keep it within the team. On Fridays we are running a ‘wins’ session as described in Christina Wodtke’s Radical Focus:

“In the Friday wins session, teams all demo whatever they can. Engineers show bits of code they’ve got working and designers show mockups and maps. But beyond that, every team should share something. Sales can talk about who they’ve closed, Customer Service can talk about customers they’ve rescued, Business Development shares deals. This have several benefits. One, you start to feel like you are part of a pretty special winning team. Two, the team starts looking forward to having something to share. They seek wins. And lastly, the company starts to appreciate what each discipline is going through and understands what everyone does all day.”

  • The wins session has been amazing right from the start, for all of the reasons above, plus the fact that everyone gets to speak. I wish we had started this years ago.
  • Was sent flowers by a colleague in South Africa. I had joked the week before when we met on a video call that he never wrote, phoned or sent flowers to me anymore, so he took it upon himself to rectify it. I don’t remember ever having been sent flowers before!

  • Felt proud to be part of the team that enabled a couple of excellent office-wide collaboration sessions to take place in London. My client’s CFO is one of only 70 women who have scaled all of the Seven Summits, something she has completed in less than a decade, and it was incredibly inspiring to hear her talk about how she did it. A couple of days later the space was used to discuss client strategy, and it was amazing how everyone had an opportunity to get involved. A wise person once said to me that if you find something difficult or challenging, do more of it, so I put my hand up to give feedback from my group to the rest of the office and I am glad I did.

  • Spent a lot of time at the weekend preparing for our school governor Finance Committee meeting. I felt I was well briefed to chair it, and we got through everything we needed to. Unfortunately I couldn’t make our full governing board meeting due to being out of the country, but I tried to read as much as I could for that one as well.
  • Went out with my old pal Mat to see the Smoke Fairies play at the beautiful Hoxton Hall in London. I first heard them in 2010 when Through Low Light And Trees came out and saw them live a couple of years later when they launched Blood Speaks. After that I lost touch and their eponymous album in 2014 passed me by. In January they released a new record, Darkness Brings The Wonders Home. It is incredible —possibly the best thing they’ve done — and we both can’t stop playing it. Live, they seem to have become much better, more confident players than I remember from all those years ago. The gig had the hairs on my arms standing on end from the first song. We’ve booked in to see them again when they play The Lafayette in October and I can’t wait.
Photo by Mat Harden

Photo by Mat Harden

Photo by Mat Harden

Photo by Mat Harden

  • Had a weekend of socialising, with a lovely dinner at Mat’s house for his birthday on Friday and then attending my first ever bar mitzvah on Saturday night. The bar mitzvah was amazing, with a big emphasis on getting everyone up to dance at regular intervals — including before any of the wonderful food was served. The dancing was helped along by a very vocal DJ and two dancers up on stage facing the crowd leading the moves. There was a lot of bringing everyone together in circles and dancing around the boy at the centre of it all as well as his family, and you couldn’t help but get swept along by the joy of it. The highlight of the evening for me were the speeches — a hilarious Stewart Lee-style delivery from the dad, an amazing poem by the boy’s younger brother and sister, and a final one from the boy himself. Everyone had a brilliant evening and went home smiling.

  • Watched as Storm Ciara put paid to my travel to New York on Sunday. In retrospect, with Storm Dennis now hitting and pulling down a massive chunk of wall between our and our neighbour’s front garden, it could have been worse. Virgin cancelled the plane and put me on a later Delta flight, which itself was then cancelled. A couple of calls to the travel agent got me set to go on Monday instead, compressing an already busy week into an even smaller number of days. What was bad for us going west seemed to be great for those going east — a couple of flights broke the records for subsonic transatlantic flight, with a Boston to London plane making the journey in 4h48m!
  • Once again had the privilege of enjoying one of Virgin Atlantic’s new planes. I spent the entire journey working, but had the wonderful tail camera on to see what was happening outside, and loved the view under the plane as we landed at JFK.

  • Enjoyed getting stuck into the rollout of another site. Seeing the office go live on our SD-WAN network console gave me a feeling of accomplishment, and watching our staff start to enjoy their new kit both inside and outside of the office was fantastic. Once again I was glad to have such great members of the team on site as they worked through the various challenges; IT infrastructure work does seem to involve much more improvisation than I am used to with software projects. Due to the storm delays and staff being out we still have a lot more to get done than I had hoped, so a lot of my week next week will be taken up with the one-by-one ‘white glove’ user process.
  • Loved introducing New York to one of my South African colleagues, who had never been to the USA before. I lived here for a twelve months almost two decades ago, but it feels like yesterday. We managed to cover a lot of ground in the evenings and on Saturday — Grand Central Station, the Chrysler and Empire State buildings, the Strand Bookstore, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the World Trade Center. It didn’t help that on Saturday the temperature was a bone-aching -8C with a frosty wind to boot, which must have been shocking for my colleague who came from her Southern Hemisphere summer. There was ice everywhere, and we even found a fountain in Bryant Park that looked like it was straight out of Tom and Jerry’s Mice Follies cartoon.

  • Had some lovely meals out and about in NYC. It has been great to spend time with colleagues without having to rush off to the next meeting, I am very grateful for the opportunity. I hadn’t been to the lovely vegan Candle Cafe since I visited with my friend Marc 18 years ago and it was great to find it in rude health.

  • Ran a few times in Central Park. When my knees don’t hurt, I really enjoy running, and love the fact that I can just put my trainers in my suitcase and run anywhere I happen to be.

Next week: Getting the New York user rollout finished, trying to shape the same in São Paulo, and attempting to turn the various pieces of work that the team are picking up into something that looks like a project portfolio.

Weeknotes #59 — Moving

A week in which I…

  • Did very little other than client work, with quite a few late evenings in London.
  • Helped my client move into their new office space. It is beautiful, and people seem to really appreciate the new space and facilities. The technology we have put in through the programme I have been running has allowed staff to get up and move around the office for ‘activity-based working’, and this is further enabled by the different types of space in the office. There are sitting desks, standing desks, single-person soundproof pods, two-person meeting rooms, collaboration desks, and a large communal space with plenty of technology such as a Surface Hub and a big presentation screen. The office is now completely Wi-Fi enabled and all of our desk screens use USB-C, so staff can pick up their laptops and headsets, and plug in with one cable wherever they need to.
  • Held my head in my hands as the keyboards, mice and dongles that were meant to be at each desk became separated from each other during the move. The Microsoft Wireless Desktop 900 model doesn’t allow you to re-pair the devices with different dongles so we ended up with lots of devices that we need to try and match together. It was like trying to pair up socks for people with three feet after having spread the washing across multiple launderettes. One of the team looked like a hurried Rick Wakeman at his 1970s peak as he ‘played’ each keyboard in an attempt to match them dongle by dongle. Sadly, we now have a cupboard full of wireless junk until somebody gets some more time to try pairing them up again. We’ll now be (a) labelling the three elements of each device and (b) looking at buying a different model in the future, one that can be re-paired if it gets separated from its partners.

  • Marvelled that the keyboard and mouse issue was the biggest problem we had. There had been so much IT work in the background to make the move a success that we breathed a sigh of relief when things went well. The first week in the new space went by in a flash and everyone felt like they had been working there for a very long time after just a few days.
  • Closed out on a couple of snagging items for the Dubai office. The technology there is now completely independent from our previous vendor, and run by us, paving the way for them to decommission all of the old equipment over the next couple of weeks.
  • Tried to delegate as much as I could so that I can continue to focus on the bigger aspects of the main programme. We still have many small projects in the sites where we have already gone live so pulling people in to help is going to be key to getting it all done.
  • Confirmed our rollout schedule for the New York office, and booked up my travel.
  • Watched as lots of people in the team were out sick on various days. There seems to be something (or some things) going around at the moment. I felt like I was catching a bug as the end of the week approached and it stuck with me throughout the weekend. Hopefully it will go before it gets any worse.
  • Spent quite a few hours getting up-to-date with some of my school governor work, ahead of a Finance Committee meeting on Monday evening. It reminded me that to do it justice it really takes one or two days every week, particularly if your want to do more than the bare minimum. I’ve been struggling to prioritise it over the past year or so with so much going on at work, and it felt good to get a few things out of the way.
  • Watched Catch Me If You Can with the family. I’d missed the film when it first came out nearly 20 years ago (!) and it really holds up. Amazing story, even more so that it really happened.
  • Caught up with the first two episodes of Star Trek: Picard. My boys and I think it’s brilliant already. It’s a bit shocking to see how much Patrick Stewart has aged in 18 years when they seem to have gone by in a flash.

Next week: More chasing of vendors for quotes, deliveries and installations, with focus shifting to Brazil. A school governor meeting. And seeing the Smoke Fairies with a friend.

Weeknotes #58 — Young Voices

A week in which I…

  • Got hit with a complete office networking outage first thing on Monday morning. I was so grateful that it happened just before 9AM, when most of the team were there, than an hour or two beforehand. It didn’t take long to resolve. We still have much to do to improve the resiliency of what we’ve built.
  • Locked in the dates for the end-user rollout in New York next month, and booked up travel for the team that will be going there. We still have a few key things to complete, but we’re now at the stage where we will be able to improvise if necessary. I’m very excited about getting another of my client’s sites online.
  • Agreed in principle the support model for my client’s sites in the Americas. The details need to be ratified, but I’m optimistic as we seemed to reach a general consensus very quickly.
  • Spent Thursday and Friday evening at the office as we completed the migration from our old infrastructure in Dubai. Yet another change that took far longer than it should have. I’m not sure if the world of infrastructure is always like this, with more improvisation during a change than the sort of detailed testing beforehand you would have in a software release. I suspect that we have much to improve. The unexpected late nights meant that I nearly missed my youngest boy’s performance as part of Young Voices at the O2, and sadly missed Album Club. I woke up very early on Sunday to check in with the office and was so relieved when they reported that all was well.
  • Really enjoyed the Young Voices concert, and was so pleased that my son and all of his classmates had a great time. The school works so hard to make Year 6 a memory factory with lots of rich experiences; I’m sure he’ll look back on his time there with a lot of fondness in the years to come.

  • Tried to find yet another angle for getting a Microsoft Teams telephony project up and running across my client’s remaining sites. For some reason it seems very difficult to get much traction with any vendor we’ve been speaking to. I had a good new lead on a company we could work with and I’ll be following that up next week.
  • Got things moving again with the vendors in São Paulo, ready to start ordering the bulk of the equipment we need next week.
  • Added the coronavirus to our programme risk log. I remember how locked down things got when SARS appeared in 2002–03, and then swine flu in 2009–10, with people needing to stay at home for incubation after coming back from business trips. Like everyone, I am hoping it will pass without much of an impact on people around the world. It may well curtail any plans we had to travel to China for the final part of our programme in the first half of this year.
  • Enjoyed a ‘welcome home’ celebration in my client’s refurbished offices. Move in day is Monday and the whole team needs to be in early to pre-empt any connectivity and other IT issues that people may have. There has been a lot of change in a short space of time, with server room moves, wireless access point deployment, desk migrations and implementation of a completely new audio/visual system in the meeting rooms, so I am sure there will be a few glitches. I have my fingers crossed for everyone as they have worked so hard to get it ready on time.
  • Watched as the ‘digging things out’ stage of our home extension came to an end, moving into foundation-laying and building things up.
  • Kept up my fitness regime, jogging with my wife on Saturday morning, refereeing my youngest son’s football match on Sunday and also jumping on the turbo trainer. I may be getting fitter, but all the calories and then some are getting replaced by all the snacking I seem to do.
  • Finished reading Radical Focus by Christina Wodtke after hearing the WB-40 podcast on OKRs. The book is so much more accessible and practical than John Doerr’s book on the same topic. Like a lot of new techniques, a little consulting and coaching would go a long way and I might approach my client to look at this for the IT team at least.
  • Watched Star Trek: Nemesis with the boys. It was so much better than I was expecting, and is probably my favourite film of the four Next Generation movies. From what I have read, it suffered from being released in 2002 alongside the latest Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and James Bond films and got lost as a result. The story is great and the effects are excellent, even 18 years on.
  • Rewatched The Sixth Sense with my eldest boy. He’s been on at us to watch a horror film for a long time and I don’t think it is a good idea, so this seemed like a good compromise. The film holds up well but he wasn’t overly impressed. “It’s not really horror, Dad — more romantic gore.” I’m not sure that’s a genre, but I know what he means.

Next week: Early start in the new office, getting my bearings with not having a regular desk every day. Pushing to dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s for New York, resolving any snagging issues in Dubai, trying to make quick progress with the equipment orders for Sao Paulo and watching the news closely on the coronavirus epidemic. Plus prep for the next round of school governor meetings.

Weeknotes #57 — Furrowed glabella

A week in which I…

  • Kept driving forward on our focused list of tasks for each city in our IT programme. Orders were placed, network capacity was upgraded, and detailed plans were made for the work we need to finish before the end of the month to meet a hard deadline.
  • Saw the team solve the key problem that caused us so much trouble when we made infrastructure changes last weekend. Never underestimate the power of ‘turn it off and on again’.
  • Facilitated a new architecture proposal from the CTO which will see us use the same building blocks, but configured differently, as a pattern for our future country rollouts. Hopefully this will lead to an infrastructure which is much more simple and easy-to-maintain. This change in direction comes at a critical juncture, as we are trying to close out on the contract to configure the equipment, but in this case it makes sense to absorb the cost of a couple of days’ delay for the potential payback it will bring.
  • Welcomed back the last key team member from their Christmas and summer holiday break.
  • Attended a Town Hall meeting about our move into a revamped office in the same building later this month. As part of the efficient use of space, the organisation will be moving from desk pedestals to personal lockers for storage, so they ran a Dump The Junk Day to clear out anything no longer required, including an amnesty on stationery and IT equipment.
  • Continued to focus on chasing vendors across the globe for quotes, reports, proposals and orders, as well as holding some introductory meetings. My client’s small footprint in each city means that I am often doing the chasing, which feels very different to being pursued by pushy vendors. Perhaps we need to do a better job of selling the organisation as a whole, which is in twenty countries with tens of thousands of staff. I had a couple of early morning meetings with companies in China, and need to get used to these as we turn our attention towards Beijing in the first half of this year.
  • Was let down by a vendor putting in our Internet circuits into our next office on our rollout schedule. It’s a critical keystone to our whole setup, albeit not quite yet on the critical path. While we wait, our colleagues in-country managed to deploy all of our new desktop equipment — monitors, wireless keyboards and mice — and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
  • Agreed to start looking at business demand for end-user applications, such as business process automation. This will ramp up as a focus for the team as we complete the global IT infrastructure deployment. It is going to be a challenge to balance spending the right amount of time on this without compromising the timeline of the core infrastructure delivery.
  • Ran the first Steering Committee meeting of the year. In line with the point above, we have tried to re-brand this as the IT Steering Committee which looks at all demand, not just that of the core Infrastructure rollout. I managed to get the slide deck down from the usual 41 slides to a more palatable 11. I am used to producing packs with lots of appendices, so that if there are difficult or controversial questions on the facts in the meeting, they can be resolved there and then. However, experience over the past couple of years with this particular committee, and the fact that we now have all of the data available to us everywhere through Office 365, shows that this really isn’t necessary.
  • Had a meeting to dig into a production issue I discovered on the evening of New Year’s Day. My focus was less on the issue itself (which had a straightforward fix) and more on the monitoring, alerting, and how we managed the incident to a conclusion in the early hours. We avoided an outage, but we have a long way to go before we are able to say that the processes are working like a well-oiled machine.
  • Worked from home on Tuesday as we commenced our next home improvement project, a small extension to give us more living space downstairs. It should only take 8-12 weeks. So far, the builders seem really lovely and are being very considerate, particularly with keeping things tidy, although there is still so much stuff everywhere. The amount of earth taken from digging out a metre or two of our garden is incredible, and filled our entire front lawn as it waited for the grabber lorry.
  • Met up with a prospective school governor. They would be an excellent addition to the team, and hopefully at some point in the near future they will decide that they want to join us. Part of being a governor is a constant quest for new members of the board. My experience of watching people over the past seven years as a governor is that it takes an average of nine months from joining to feeling like you are adding value to the board, having the confidence to speak up, ask questions and challenge effectively.
  • Took receipt of a new pair of glasses. To keep things simple, I bought the same frames as my last two pairs. This meant that (a) I didn’t need to go trying on specs in any shops and (b) I could just order them online with confidence that I knew what I was buying. My prescription had a significant change as I’m now having to sport varifocal lenses. So far so good — there has definitely been a big reduction in the amount of ‘bringing the words right up to my face and peering over the top of my glasses’ which made me feel ancient over the past few months.
  • Finished reading Dolly Alderton’s Everything I Know About Love. I bought a copy for my wife for Christmas, then saw it come up as a 99p Kindle Daily Deal and thought it would be fun to read the same book for once. I really enjoyed it; it’s very well-written, and a good balance of introspection, humour and poignancy. My twentysomething years are way behind me, and the chapters on the existential crisis of turning 30 described in the book really hit me when I reached 40. It was fun to have a book that could be so easily picked up, and I must have ploughed through half of it on my phone.
  • Started, and quickly abandoned, a biography of John Lennon. I don’t mind a conspiracy theory backed up by facts, but when they are so easily disprovable so early on it felt like a waste of time.
  • Somehow found time to watch the first three Next Generation movies with the boys. Generations was better than I remembered from the cinema and First Contact was pretty great, but Insurrection just felt like a long, big budget episode of the TV series. I don’t hold out much hope for Nemesis, but it will be good prep before Picard starts to air on Amazon later this week. It’s amazing how dated the movies look compared to recent sci-fi films (and even TV series), and I have to keep reminding myself that they were made two decades ago — it’s like watching something made in 1970 in 1990.
  • Didn’t make it out for Sunday’s Harp Hilly Hundred due to the freezing conditions. I came off a bike on black ice a few years ago and landing in the middle of the road both hurt and scared me silly, so anytime the temperature drops close to zero I won’t ride. A friend of mine took a tumble on ice right at the end, along with a few others; I’m glad to say he’s fine. I felt pleased to have stayed in for a go on the turbo trainer instead.
  • I’ve been making my way through Matt Forde’s Political Party Podcast, starting from episode one. There’s a lot of material to get through and it’s fascinating listening. He started the podcast a couple of years prior to the 2015 UK general election, and it’s interesting to them now with the benefit of hindsight. Cameron versus Clegg versus Miliband seems like very recent history, but when I listen I realise just how much time has passed since those relatively innocent days. Brexit is part of the discussion but it isn’t the main narrative, and it will be interesting to hear it come more to the foreground as the episodes go on.
  • Didn’t make much time for music, although I have been enjoying The Big Moon’s new album. I love this song:

Next week: Another big go-live, an attempt to lock down the detailed plans for our next site rollout and getting the orders underway for the one after that. Watching my not-so-little one at Young Voices at the O2, and an Album Club.

Weeknotes #56 — All good things…

A week in which I…

  • Had almost every waking moment completely dominated by work. Every night I found myself heading home, seeing my boys and my wife for a little bit before reopening the laptop and carrying on until midnight. It was a race just to get back to ‘net zero’ every day. It was lovely to have most of the team back in the office, but I really could have done with being in ‘everyone’s out of the office for Christmas’ mode for another week. Having said that, by the end of this week everyone will be back, which means that I can hand back some of the additional work that I agreed to take care of over this period. It was also lovely to be genuinely grateful to see the team members back at work; they are a lovely bunch and a lot of fun to work with.
  • Once again relearnt the lesson that things in IT are always more complicated than you expect. I think the fact that the code I wrote for my final year project at university compiled and worked first time was unfortunate in the long term, as it lulled me into a false sense of security which still lives with me now. Having now spent nearly two decades managing IT projects and implementations, I have learned to include plenty of contingency in my plans so that we have time to work around problems, but I still feel bad when my optimism is sometimes crushed as it meets the gargantuan weight of reality. A two-hour infrastructure change scheduled for Thursday night in an office in the Middle East ended up being a multi-day event, taking up all of Friday and Saturday, capped off by a 3:30am start on Sunday to make sure people were able to work when they got in that day. Back to bed for a few hours sleep, and then some clean-up the rest of Sunday morning. I felt so grateful to my wife for stepping in to take over the football run on Sunday while I was stuck ‘at work’. A big chunk of the start of the coming week will be to assess what our next steps are to complete the work we had to de-scope during the weekend, before an immovable deadline hits at the end of the month.
  • Spent lots of time talking to a smorgasbord of vendors across five cities, juggling agendas and action items so that we kept momentum on all fronts. Everything from initial introductory chats with Beijing in the early morning through to monitoring desktop equipment rollouts in New York and chasing up delivery dates for kit we have ordered for Dubai.
  • Ventured into meetings to discuss technical topics that I don’t understand very well such as Cisco ISE and VMWare VMotion. I’m proud of my ability to search the Internet for things, but from the short time I spent looking I’ve not been able to find good introductory resources on these that are pitched at the right level for me. Either they are so rudimentary to be next to useless, or they leap deep into the pool so quickly that they are quickly unintelligible.
  • Marvelled at the science behind a really well-executed Wi-Fi survey, and took pleasure in being in the hands of an expert in his field as he took us through it. Learned about RX-SOP, which forces wireless access points to reject connections from devices below a certain RSSI threshold. This stops those devices from getting stuck on particular APs even though the device may have moved some distance away and be closer to a neighbouring AP. It’s an advanced feature and is one tool in the toolbox for establishing a great Wi-Fi network.
  • Purchased a couple of additional licences for LeanKit due to our expanding team. This has become an invaluable tool for us in keeping track of all of our shared work. Its beauty is its simplicity. We have a long, long way to go to find our optimal way of working but after six months I couldn’t imagine being without it.
  • Had an iPhone repaired in ‘while you wait’ lunch-break fashion, by iSmash at Bank station, in one of the smallest shops I have ever seen. My youngest boy was over the moon when I gave him my old iPhone for Christmas but I felt sad that I’d chipped the screen and that after a couple of years the battery was on the way out. They did a brilliant job of replacing the glass and the battery, and had it back to me in less than an hour.
  • Finished watching the final episode of the final season of Star Trek: The Next Generation with the boys. All Good Things… was a fitting ending, and genuinely made me well up in the final scene. Half of the reason for being so emotional was probably that over the past few years the three of us have journeyed through through the entire Original Series and Next Generation episodes and now it’s all over. Yes, there is Deep Space 9, Voyager and Enterprise, but these are uncharted territories for me as I never caught them the first time around. We’re going to have to choose between watching the TNG movies, the sadly un-restored Deep Space 9 or the new series Picard which is due to come out soon.
  • Smiled when the boys came up with the idea of turning our lovely new kitchen table into a table tennis arena. They’ve invested in bats and balls and even had their friends around for a tournament. As much as we don’t want our new table to get damaged, when they are telling me that they are so happy to be doing something that doesn’t involve screens, how can you resist?
  • Was impressed and proud of my eldest son’s Chiltern League cross country run, although sadly I couldn’t be there to see it. He had a fall during the run but kept going. It looked incredibly tough — it amazes me that the children are happy to put themselves through the torment of running through water hazards in January. I am sure I would have long since given up when I was his age.
  • Managed to do a little bit of governor work for an hour or two. It’s not much, but it’s a start.
  • Wondered how everyone keeps up with their reading. I’m working my way through Stratechery posts that date back to the middle of last year, and have no hope of catching up with the NGA newsletters I have missed. Does having time to read The Economist mean that you’re a person of leisure and have already made it in life?
  • Saw my fitness slide after not getting on my bike at all this week. I’m hoping to get back in the saddle for at least one turbo session before the Harp Hilly Hundred next weekend.

Next week: More of the same, plus the first programme Steering Committee meeting of the year, and work starting on our next home improvement project.

Weeknotes #55 — Forty-three

A week in which I…

  • Worked from home for the whole week. With people out of the office and barely any meetings to speak of, I managed to get my email backlog down by about two-thirds, and caught up on a number of important items that I had missed. I questioned whether chunking through emails was the best use of my time, but there were so many items that revealed themselves and needed to be actioned that my conclusion was a definite ‘yes’. I managed to get lots done, but there is still so much to do and I didn’t get close to completing all the tasks I wanted to. It is going to be an extremely busy first quarter.
  • Was able to get my head down and work on things continuously without interruptions or meetings, which was lovely. Quite a few people started to come back from their holidays on Thursday but due to it being the traditional summer holiday in South Africa, we won’t be back up to a full compliment until the middle of the month.
  • Worked for the first time ever on New Year’s Day. A lovely, quiet day’s work ended up turning into a very late night when I found an issue with one of our critical infrastructure systems that evening. After working through it with the support teams we managed to resolve it around 3am, so that people could come back to work and be up and running, oblivious to anything being wrong in the first place.
  • Felt no guilt at all for indulging myself with all the Christmas food. I’ve now had three years with no alcohol, and managed to either run or ride my bike every day of the Christmas period. I’ve probably not been this fit since I was getting ready for Ride 999 and it feels great. At the primary school where I am a governor, their philosophy is to focus on getting children in a place where they have their basic needs met before they focus on teaching and learning. In a similar way, I’m finding that if I focus on keeping myself fit, everything else is easier — I’m more alert, feel happier and have more energy to get things done. Sadly my daily routine will come to an end as I start to commute again from Monday, but hopefully my fitness will stay with me.

  • Turned 43. An age where you stop being able to instantly recall how old you are and have to do a little mental arithmetic to check. We spent the evening with some very good friends a few doors down from us, eating and seeing in the New Year with the kids. My friend hasn’t been well over Christmas and had to cancel all of his planned family events, so it was good to see him doing a little better.

  • Signed up to the BFI Player and then cancelled it again. Even though it is only £4.99 a month and is an organisation worthy of support, I will never make use of it enough to justify the subscription. Of all the things I prioritise in my life, watching movies isn’t one of them, although I would like it to be. Perhaps becoming a movie buff is something I can do when I eventually retire.
  • Was awestruck by how amazing the Chernobyl TV series is. I think you would be hard-pressed to find a better drama. My wife and I watched it over a few evenings and were entranced as the story unravelled. I was nine years old when the disaster happened and I remember the news reports on the fallout cloud that was spreading across Europe, and the questions as to whether the food supply was safe in the UK. The screenplay is so well put-together; it shows you enough of what went on without ever being gratuitous, and the acting is completely first-rate. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
  • Continued with preparation for our house extension which starts later this month. Cleared cobwebs from our garden shed that Miss Havisham would have been proud of, and made a couple of major trips to the recycling centre. A few more hours left and we’ll be ready to go.
  • Bought a lovely kitchen table to replace the almost 20-year old workhorse we bought when we lived in New York. My wife had been on the lookout for a bargain on eBay and pounced when the right one came up. We hired a ‘man with a van’ to collect it for us; all seemed to be going well until his assistant dropped it onto one of its corners as they unloaded it at our house. Despite the resulting dent, it looks great and it’s so nice to be able to stretch ourselves out. We’re hoping it will inspire us to have more people over for lunch or dinner this year, something we’ve really fallen out of the habit of.
  • Refereed my youngest son’s football match. Something clicked for me in this match where I started to share the accountability with the linesmen and didn’t feel as much pressure to monitor everything that was going on, which worked really well. I am one of the least football-minded parents in the team and find refereeing a challenge, which is one of the reasons I do it and enjoy it. The other is that it’s a great job to have on a cold winter’s day as opposed to just standing around and watching! At the same time as the match was in progress, my eldest boy was running to ninth position at the Hertfordshire County Cross-Country Championships and we are so pleased to see him do well.
  • Set up a monthly $25 deposit to the microfinance lender Kiva, inspired by Ton Zijlstra’s blog post on how he gives Kiva Cards as client Christmas gifts. I’ve made a couple of deposits and loans in the past, and even given cards as gifts to friends, but I ended up with just a few dollars left in my account and stopped thinking about it. I’m looking forward to watching my micro lending portfolio grow and to see some of the projects that the money helps bring to fruition.

Next week: The proper start to 2020 at work. Writing up minutes from last year’s final steering committee meeting and planning the focus of the next one. Getting a baseline plan in place for Q1 that we can share with the team and a the wider audience, and trying to deal with the puzzle of team members needing to be in multiple countries at once. And trying to pick up and give some focus to my school governor backlog.

Weeknotes #54 — Christmas

A week in which I…

  • Mainly did Christmas. We travelled up to Ross-on-Wye on Christmas Eve to stay with my wife’s parents for a couple of days. It was lovely to be there with them. The awful rainy weather cleared up on Christmas Day and let us get out for a run and an after-dinner walk. It all felt very chilled out, with the boys taking themselves upstairs for an early bedtime on Christmas Eve, a not-too-unreasonably early start to Christmas Day and plenty of family games of Scrabble and Ticket To Ride.
  • Watched Uncle Buck for the first time in years, with the family, when it was shown on TV on Christmas Day. I love John Candy so much. I recently came across a new biography of his life and have started reading it as a treat.
  • Missed out on the first (annual?) carol-singing with the neighbours in our road due to our eldest boy suddenly being sick just before we went out. I had to ditch our plans in favour of an emergency trip to the supermarket for a boat-load of household cleaning products. It sounds like there are a lot of norovirus-type things going around and I’m glad he was only poorly for a short time. The videos and photos of the carol-singing looked great. Maybe we’ll join everyone next year?
  • Managed to exercise every day of the holiday, mainly on the turbo trainer but also out for a couple of runs. My wife and I have only run together a couple of times before, when we were on holiday in August, but it was great to go out together on Christmas Day. Hopefully we can do a bit more of it next year.
  • Went on a family trip to see Star Wars Episode IX at the 3D IMAX cinema in Hemel Hempstead. We’ve made a habit of going there every year as a Christmas treat; for an action movie I think it’s worth the extra expense to get the full experience. I felt a bit meh about the film. When we saw Rogue One in the same cinema I literally punched the air with joy at the climax of the film, but I felt nowhere near as joyous this time. I’ve never been a hardcore Star Wars fan so I spent the first few minutes searching my brain for who is who, as there are so many characters. I think the self-contained episodes have been better over the past few years. I can’t imagine that there will be no more when there is so much money to be made from the franchise, so it may continue to be a Christmas tradition for us.
  • Really enjoyed watching the BBC’s new take on A Christmas Carol. I read the novel a couple of years ago and although this version was quite different it stayed true to the essence of the story. The drama was even darker than the original book but the embellishments didn’t feel out of place, just brought up-to-date a little. The Muppet Christmas Carol remains my favourite, though — who can resist the One More Sleep ‘til Christmas song?

Next week: Back to work! Planning to work at home this week. I will try to make some good progress while most of the rest of the team are still off. Writing up meeting minutes, getting on top of email and planning out the next few months are all on the agenda. And turning 43.