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.

Weeknotes #53 — They’re behind you!

A week in which I…

  • Saw the team start to drift off on their Christmas holidays, some of them combined with summer holidays if they live in the Southern Hemisphere. Laughed as I heard one of the team was going down to Margate; the South African version looks a little more upmarket than our one here in England.
  • Kept leaving work every day with more on the to-do list than I started, for the second week running. I am looking forward to having some focused time to catch up when I get back to work the week after next, with most of the team still being out.
  • Continued to be very involved in the process of selecting the right kit to run in the new meeting rooms in my client’s London office. It seems that you have to pick a platform to be the centre of your universe and then bolt on other things around it. So, for example, if you mainly use Microsoft Teams then you’ll need to look at purchasing interoperability add-ons for BlueJeans, Zoom, Webex etc. It’s a bit of a gamble as the videoconferencing market is so fluid. Given that my client is focused around Microsoft it makes sense that Teams is the primary platform. It doesn’t look like our dream of simple self-service for every meeting is achievable just yet.
  • Was impressed by a BlueJeans who went out of their way to work with us as quickly as possible. We had someone rush halfway across London to provide some sample kit a few hours after we first spoke. Really impressive customer service. It’s such a joy to work with people who go out of their way to help.
  • Got some key orders over the line such as new laptops for the New York office. Most of the kit is now there, but we couldn’t close out on the networking gear in time so they will have to be ordered as soon as everyone is back in January. I’ll be planning the details of the rollout soon and hopefully we have enough information to make a solid plan. Next year is likely to involve quite a bit more travel.
  • Ran a pilot training session for our new soft phone system. I knew that session would be guided by the participants and we wouldn’t cover half of the things we wanted to; this is exactly how it played out. The participants brought sots of questions, some venting as a pressure-release valve from recent experiences and we also had a senior executive popping in late to telling us that they “only have 20 minutes” — all par for the course. The session was as valuable to me as I hope it was to everyone else, and gave us some good ideas as to how we need to restructure the training before we open it up in January to a wider audience. The consensus is that although we still have a lot of work to do to get the phone system to a level of quality and reliability that we are happy with over the next few months, being able to use the ‘land line’ phones from an app on any mobile device, anywhere you are in the world, is a game-changer.
  • Said ‘welcome back’ to a colleague who sits next to me in the office who had been out of the office for a few weeks. He’d been missed.
  • Had lunch with my client for the first time in a long while, to mark the end of the year.
  • Scratched my head as our SD-WAN reported connection blips for different sites, which seemed to resolve themselves as soon as they occurred and had no visible user impact.
  • Somehow managed to squeeze in some governor work on my commute and late in the evening. I still feel like I’m treading water and just about getting the urgent stuff done. I am hoping that I can catch up next week when I am off for Christmas, although I’m also trying to not be too ambitious as I know the holiday will slip through my fingers in a flash.
  • Joined the WB-40 Global Canteen videoconference for a Friday afternoon catch-up. It’s only the second time I’ve been able to hop on the call, and once again I found Matt Ballantine to be the only one there. The concept is great — a coffee and a catch-up with people beyond the office — and it was lovely to hear about Matt’s new job and the challenges he’s facing.
  • Attended Album Club #106 to hear Ben Folds Five’s debut. Great hosting and a lovely evening of music and talking nonsense. We’re going into our ninth year next year and it’s still the best night of the month. I enjoyed the album but it wasn’t up there with the greatest things I’ve heard; it took a few songs for me to get into it and I’m not convinced by Ben Folds’ ‘geeky’ vocals.
  • Spent Saturday in London with the family, meandering our way and shop-hopping from Euston to the London Palladium to see the panto. A lunchtime visit to Leon saw me tuck into my third delicious LOVe Burger of the week, perhaps one too many. The pantomime was good, but not as great as I had hoped; the review in The Guardian nails it with the description of it as “a case of double the entendres and half the story”. There’s always some fun at the panto where there are rude jokes that largely go over the childrens’ heads, but this one had the balance wrong — there were whole sections of nothing but innuendo, much of which seems very dated now.
  • Saw a silent disco walking tour, where the group sing along as they move from place to place. Nice concept!

  • Watched Stand By Me for the first time in years. It still really holds up. It’s weird watching it now that I’m around the same age as the dad telling the story, given that I was around the same age as the boys in the film when I first saw it. I hadn’t realised that it is based on a Stephen King short story.
  • Caught up with some sleep, and got back on the bike again with a couple of turbo trainer rides. The day feels a whole lot better once some exercise is out of the way.

Next week: A week off for Christmas.

Weeknotes #52 — Another naan bites the dust

A week in which I…

  • Felt like I spent most of my time in videoconferences and conference calls, picking up tasks, and not having a lot of time to get them done.
  • Helped my client with a separate project to refit their London office. Reviewed the bill of materials for the audio/visual equipment and raised a lot of questions, many of which come from me being new to the work. There’s an intersection with my programme which is deploying new technology to each of the offices. There’s massive pressure to hit a hard deadline, which means it is even more imperative than usual to keep a cool head and not be pushed into going down the wrong technology route.
  • Worked from home on Monday so that I could attend our final school Full Governing Board meeting of the year straight after work. I’m still carrying forward too many tasks and not getting as much done as I would like to each term. I am hoping that I can use some of the time at Christmas to catch up a little. We had two new governors in the meeting, and one of them came out with us for our annual curry-based social night. We get so little time as a team to talk about anything that isn’t on our meeting agendas, and it was lovely to get to know each other better and to build our relationships for a change.
  • Made progress with our equipment orders in Dubai and New York, and continued to wait for feedback on our chosen vendor in São Paulo. We’ve made some key decisions around our telephony and Internet service provider in Dubai and I now need to plan the detail on how we get the main changes done in all three locations in January.
  • Had a Wi-Fi survey completed in the New York office. We’ll use the results to determine specifically what wireless access points we should install and where they should be placed. I’m not sure how reliable or specific it will be given that the Wi-Fi is likely to be doing battle with an ever-changing landscape of other networks in all directions in midtown Manhattan, but we’ll see.
  • Completed a review of the ‘level two’ support contract with our vendor to clarify some elements of what we expect from them, given that we have now been live for almost half a year and have the benefit of experience. It’s good to work with a pragmatic supplier who sees mutual benefit on getting something like this right, and doesn’t just insist on ‘working to rule’ on what has been signed off.
  • Had a rare evening out with my wife and a whole bunch of our friends for a bizarre ‘curry and Freddie Mercury tribute act’ night. The whole curry house had been booked out for the event, so there was one sitting of food followed by an evening with Luke Antony singing Queen songs, and getting everyone up and joining in.
  • Felt dismay when the night out was sadly punctuated by the release of the general election exit polls. If I could have voted for a hung parliament, I would have; a gigantic Conservative majority wasn’t what I was expecting at all. The news quickly spread around the room and it took the shine off of things for a lot of people. When the morning came, we found out that it was as bad as we had feared. It’s going to take time to get used to the thought of having Boris Johnson and his band of rogues in power for the next five years. I don’t know what happens next, but I do know that there are a lot of motivated people out there who will want the electoral system to be reformed. I’ve always said that if I was one of the nearly 4 million people — 12.6% of the total — to have voted for UKIP in 2015 and found that I was represented by only 1 MP out of 650 I would have been outraged. Again, this time we have the Green Party pushing nearly 1 million votes for the first time and only having 1 MP. Given the focus and protests on climate change this must be a gross under-representation of the issues people care about. I have no idea how we could move from a first-past-the-post system to one of proportional representation, given that the governments in power have zero motivation to change it.
  • Enjoyed the 1992 version of Of Mice And Men with John Malkovich and Gary Sinise. I’d seen it a long time ago and though that the rest of my family would enjoy it, and they really did. My 10 year-old was really touched by Malkovich’s acting as Lennie, and we were all taken aback by the emotional ending. I was surprised how much of an impact it had on me, especially given that I had recently read the book and watched the 1939 film version, so the ending wasn’t exactly a surprise. There are some really interesting differences between the book and the two films, which I may write up if I can prioritise the time.
  • Spent Saturday with my parents, my brothers and their families for a ‘mock’ Christmas Day. Everyone had a lovely time together and it felt more relaxed and less rushed than usual, probably as a consequence of the children all getting older. Christmas dinner was lovely. I had my first Christmas pudding of the year (definitely my favourite festive food) and rolled home with that ‘I can’t possibly eat anything for tea’ feeling. We’re all going on holiday together next year which should be a lot of fun; I’m looking forward to getting to know my niece and nephews as we really don’t see them enough.
  • Watched the latest instalment of His Dark Materials with the family, and sadly found myself getting bored. The series started well and had us all gripped at the beginning, but something about it is not sticking for me. We may skip it this week in favour of watching BBC Sports Personality Of The Year together for the first time.
  • Cleaned out our big envelope of vouchers that people have gifted to us and have come to the conclusion that we are really, really awful at remembering to spend any of them. The good news is that we have some money towards a meal at The Waterside Inn in Bray (given to us as a Christmas gift in 2008) and some Theatre Tokens from our wedding in 2004 that were to be used after our honeymoon, both of which are still valid. The envelope is no more, and I am hoping that leaving the vouchers in an annoying place on the kitchen table will push us into finally using them.

Just like last year, I’m planning to work over the New Year period whilst most of the team are off so that I can get prepped ready to hit the ground running in 2020. It has felt like I have been treading water over the past couple of weeks, doing just enough to keep any catastrophes at bay, and I am really looking forward to having some days with no meetings in place so that I can get some focused work done.

Next week: The last week of work before a week’s holiday for Christmas.

Weeknotes #51 — Power steering

A week in which I…

  • Focused on working from the list I already have, trying to ignore distractions that turned up in my inbox.
  • Met with the CEO of my client’s Brazil office to review progress on the main programme, and to draw a rough sketch of a timeline for the rollout in São Paulo early next year.
  • Made good progress with equipment orders and deliveries for the New York office. I’m still waiting on some pivotal installation dates which prevent me from planning the work in more detail.
  • Had a kick-off call for a Wi-Fi survey in New York, and took receipt of a ‘predictive survey’. I’m not sure how much value there is in a paper-based exercise when the office is in the middle of a tall office block in a densely-occupied area of Manhattan, presumably with other wireless networks firing signals in all directions.
  • Started to wrestle with telecoms and data discussions with our vendors for the Dubai office. I have had to to plan my days around calling in-country vendors as early as possible to get the most out of each day. Major public holidays in the UAE meant I couldn’t start the work until everyone was back at work on Wednesday.
  • Put to bed a discussion on whether my client should implement a remote access solution. It doesn’t represent value for money to do it right now for the odd occasion where it might be needed; the organisation isn’t big enough to justify the fixed cost initial investment.
  • Provided some input into a project on how to manage an organisation’s unstructured data. There are so many tools to do the jobs these days. The trick is understanding the business, picking the right tools for the right reasons, and producing some simple rules that people can follow on ‘how we organise work here’.
  • Met with our architect and builder for our small home extension planned for next year.
  • Took a day off from paid client work to attend the TBD Conference. I’m still processing my thoughts from the event and need to turn this into a write-up all of its own. It was good to have a day thinking about, and being exposed to, something completely different. However, I am not sure I was really part of the ‘core audience’.
  • Rode my bike out to Cowley near Oxford to see my eldest boy compete in the Inter Counties Cross Country Championships. I hadn’t been out on my bike in many weeks, and the last-minute prep meant I set out late and had to push to get there on time. I made it just as they were lined up and ready to go. He had a great run but was so muddy by the end of it.

    Ready to run

    Ready to run

  • Bought our Christmas tree and put the decorations up. Somehow every year we seem to always need new lights for the tree and nobody remembers why. Emergency lights have been purchased (again) and we are now fully illuminated.

    The traditional Christmas tree picture. With me looking ridiculous, with added shorts to make me slightly less embarrassing in non-bike riding situations.

    The traditional Christmas tree picture. With me looking ridiculous, with added shorts to make me slightly less embarrassing in non-bike riding situations.

  • Went for a pre-Christmas lunch with our close friends at The Fox and Hounds in Englefield Green. We’ve been there loads over the past few years, including for a friend’s wedding, and it has been consistently good up until now. Lovely food, cosy atmosphere, and a great location with easy access to Windsor Great Park for a post-food stroll. Sadly the food and service weren’t great this time so we may need a new venue.
  • Got taken home from the same lunch on a flatbed truck when the power steering failed on our car. The lack of being able to change direction was accompanied by a burning smell, so it didn’t seem a good idea to drive home. It’s only been two weeks since we had a new clutch fitted. This may be the tipping point where things start to go wrong on a regular basis and it doesn’t make sense to keep spending money to fix them.

Next week: Trying to lock down delivery dates for Dubai, New York and São Paulo. More car repairs, a governor meeting, and a curry with Freddie Mercury.

Weeknotes #50 — Of Mice and Men

A week in which I

  • Started to ask around for consultancies that provide training on and running of Failure Mode Effects Analysis sessions. I think that something structured in this way would be very useful for a team that has just put a brand new IT infrastructure into production, but I need to talk it over with someone who has experience in it.
  • Spent an hour and a half on a video call with agile coach Stuart Mann, getting his advice and feedback on how our programme team are working and what I intend to put in place get the rest of the programme delivered. It took me 40 minutes to give the background and context, but it’s always good to talk it through and see it through someone else’s eyes. Stuart’s a great guy to talk to. My conclusion is that we are doing a lot of things right and are on a good path. As usual, we need to take just what we need from the methodologies available and focus on the outcomes. Getting this advanced is at the forefront of my mind.
  • Got a hard copy of our LeanKit Kanban boards and various reports up on the wall in the office. A really interesting experiment to see the whole thing at once instead of having to scroll up and down on a web page, and the reports generated some good discussions within the team.
  • Continued to push forward with vendors in New York and Sao Paulo. Our initial kit orders in New York are on their way and we need to finish them off early next week. Brazil is proving to be an order of magnitude more complex to do business in than anywhere else so far, with all kinds of exotic import/export, billing and taxation issues to manage. With one month to go until the end of my client’s financial year, getting our orders in is my top priority.
  • Stepped in to give an update to one of my client’s Management Committees on where we are with delivery of our programme. Made a ‘note to self’ for next time that I should ask whether there are any actions I need to be aware of before going into the meeting.
  • Brought our school’s Pay Policy up-to-date to the 2019–20 version and caught up with my actions from our Finance, Premises and Personnel governance committee.
  • Worked from home to meet a plumber to get a leaky radiator valve fixed. We have an insurance policy so we ‘only’ need to pay the £60 excess. They were meant to turn up a few weeks ago but called on the day to say they weren’t coming, and automatically sent me a £10 cheque as compensation, considering the matter closed. Service is not what it used to be.
  • Got back into refereeing my youngest son’s Sunday football matches again. I’d not refereed a match in many months. I find it a real challenge, particularly as I’m not a dad who is into football, but it’s definitely the best job to have at the match on a cold winter’s day as you get to run around and keep warm. The boys had a great game today, with a 3-2 win and an exciting opposition corner to finish.
  • Got on the turbo trainer every day where I had the chance to. It takes up time, but boy do I feel good for having done it.
  • Had my eyes tested for the first time in a couple of years. Feeling like an old man as I am now slightly long-sighted as well as being very short-sighted. I knew this before I went in there, from the way in which I sometimes have to peer over my glasses and bring something close to my face, grandad-style. No time to shop for new glasses this week, will need to do that later in the month.
  • Finished John Steinbeck’s In Dubious Battle and read Of Mice And Men again. Of Mice and Men was my introduction to Steinbeck when we studied it at school in the early 1990s as part of GCSE English. I fell in love with his writing, and remember our teacher assigning us to parts to the book like it was a play, with one of our classmates having a brilliant mock-American twang in his voice for the role of George. What struck me from reading it again this time is how compact the novella is; it has nothing superfluous to the story and it moves along at a very rapid pace. I bought the 1939 movie version on iTunes and watched most of it on Saturday; it’s excellent, and fascinating to think that it was made when the depicted events were still contemporary.
  • Watched The Shawshank Redemption for the first time in a long while. It deserves to be #1 on the IMDB ratings chart. Great story, great acting.
  • Had a lovely lunch at The Swan in Southrop with my wife’s family. A stunningly beautiful village and pub. We had our own private room complete with log fire, which started to get us into the Christmas spirit.
  • Watched the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the last of the year. The circuit always looks the part but never seems to deliver an exciting race. Just over 100 days until we start all over again in Australia.

Yearnotes 2019

Elevators at the Jumeirah Emirates Towers, Dubai — just makes me think of a scene from _Star Wars_

Elevators at the Jumeirah Emirates Towers, Dubai — just makes me think of a scene from Star Wars

No, the irony of writing a blog post about how I will keep up the challenge of blogging and then promptly stopping writing weeknotes after just one more is not lost on me.

It’s been an amazing year. As Christmas approached in 2018, instead of relaxing my way into the holiday in typical fashion, I knew that I would have to take advantage of everyone else in the team being out of the office in order to get organised. We had to hit the ground running in 2019 as it was truly make-or-break time. The IT programme I have been running effectively had no budget; the high-risk strategy was to spend money to build a completely new IT infrastructure stack — from the cables coming into the buildings, to the delivery of applications to the desktop and everything in between — and then run a ‘big bang’ go-live, moving people over to the new equipment and switching off the service level agreements for the old technology. The savings in the second half of the year would then pay for what we spent in the first half of the year. We had a deadline of 1 July that we had to hit, and we absolutely had to hit it.

Request for feedback on our planned end-user computing technology

Request for feedback on our planned end-user computing technology

I have never worked so hard in my life. I knew it was going to be tough. I had warned my wife and two boys that I would have to give work a priority for half a year or so, and I am so glad that I had realised this. Late nights, and work almost every weekend in order to take stock of the previous five days while preparing for the next five, became the norm. The first full weekend I didn’t do any work was at Easter, where I managed to indulge myself with a bike ride to Ross-On-Wye and then to Bristol for family events before I got back to work. Somehow we wrestled the new infrastructure live on time. Although it is not completely finished and there is still a very large amount of optimisation to do, we did enough to hit our deadline on the nose and avoided an expensive overrun.

Out with the old and in with the new

Out with the old and in with the new

As soon as we hit the deadline, it was as if someone had come along and thrown the room upside down. instead of the whole team being focused on one common ‘go-live’ goal, there is now a production environment to run, some stability, remediation and optimisation work to complete as well as the next set of deadlines for the next cities where we need to go live.

Over the past two-and-a-half years we have had to continue to change tack and refine the approach to delivery of the programme, shaking things up when they have got stale or are no longer working. The micromanagement approach to wrestling the work over the line in July is no longer appropriate or managable, and the team are currently in a transition between ‘large scale Kanban’ and something more date-driven like SAFe Programme Increment planning. My goal now is to get the new approach to work agreed and bedded down ahead of next year so that we can start to plan some predictable deliveries, and in particular decide what things we will not do.

It’s been difficult to recover from being so work-focused. Back to the ‘four lightbulbs’ analogy from weeknote #1, I had been putting almost all of my available 100W into the ‘work’ lightbulb and the little left over was shared between health, family and recreation respectively. I’m trying to restore the balance but it is difficult to get out of the normal pattern of behaviour and leave the laptop off at night time.

We still have some critical deadlines to hit on the programme and I am determined that we will keep ourselves on track, but the extreme pressure has lifted a little.

As our attention has turned to rolling out the IT infrastructure in other cities, it has been fun to visit Dubai and New York over the past couple of months.

When I’m on a work trip my hotel is typically close to the office and I end up missing the exercise I get from my daily commute to London. I fixed this in Dubai with a morning run almost every day. Dubai didn’t really have much ‘weather’ to speak of, only degrees of difference in humidity. It’s strange to feel that it’s a bit chilly at 6:30am when it’s 31C, just because the humidity is down a few percent from the day before.

View from the morning jog

View from the morning jog

Breakfast in Dubai

Breakfast in Dubai

Home from home

Home from home

I love visiting New York. It feels like yesterday that I lived there, but it’s now almost 20 years ago. It was a bit of a shock going from the gigantic modern hotel room in Dubai to the one-quarter the size (but twice as expensive) pokey room in New York. The faded glory of the hotel was propped up by the champagne vending machine in the lobby, a bizarre melding of tacky convenience and luxury that I couldn’t get my head around.

A work visit to the Microsoft store in midtown led us to the gaming room upstairs, where I took on a few laps of Forza on the biggest console screen I’ve ever seen.

I’ll take it!

I’ll take it!

A Monday afternoon, filled with regulars

A Monday afternoon, filled with regulars

The week in New York was hectic. We had a production problem that developed halfway through the week; I ended up on a call from 10am until 6:30am the next day as we worked through a resolution with the team. Everyone was exemplary in dropping what they were doing and getting stuck in until we were done.

At the end of the week, I indulged myself with a late night metro trip downtown to Chelsea, finding my old apartment building and then nostalgically wandering the long route back to my hotel, through the streets where I used to live. It was strange to be back there and to think about how much time had passed. Since I turned 40 I’ve been thinking about how short life is and it seems to get more pronounced with every year. I know I’m not the only one to feel this way. This quote from an FT magazine article I read on the plane over continues to echo in my head.

This really struck a chord with me

This really struck a chord with me

As a school governor, it never feels as though I’m contributing enough and this year this feeling has been running deep as I have had to focus so much on my other work. Now that the term has started again, I’m trying to make up for this a little bit. It is still a collective struggle for all of us, particularly as we have said goodbye to some great governors this year as their terms have come to an end. There seems to be an eternal quest to recruit good governors who are willing to get involved and have sufficient time available to do it justice. It doesn’t help that the role is getting increasingly more demanding and complex; in recent years we have taken responsibility for setting the performance-related pay policy, taken on the role of the Data Protection Officer and now having to increase the amount of regular financial reporting for the Schools Financial Value Standard. All of these things are laudable but each one needs to be picked up by someone on the governing board, adding to the overall burden. The role of a governor is so very different from the one I put my hand up for six years ago.

At home, we had a big summer project of installing a garden building, including a shed and an outside room both for home working and keeping fit. The process of getting it installed was amazing. Someone turned up to fit some ‘ground screws’, which are simply MASSIVE SCREWS that go into the ground. A little later, the installation team turned up and spent two weeks transforming the space to a building complete with windows, plastered walls and electricity. We’ve been making great use of the room and I’ve been spending a lot more time on the turbo trainer; the mental barrier of setting up all of the kit every time I want to use it has gone away. The boys have both been having a good go on the turbo as well, with Zwift’s free accounts for the under-16s tempting them for a workout.

New rooms in no time at all

New rooms in no time at all

The children have really been enjoying their sport this year, with the eldest recently coming second in his first duathlon and the youngest enjoying a new season of football as well as taking up judo. They both have so much more of a love of sport than I did as a child and I really hope it continues.

Duathlon racing

Duathlon racing

Cross country

Cross country

I can’t sum this year up without talking about Brexit. Prior to 2017 I think I had only been on one political march in my life, against the Iraq War in 2003, but I now seem to have found myself on umpteen of them. I’m still of the mindset that I can’t sit on my butt and complain about and and need to do something, and I fully expect that the marching isn’t going to stop for some time. I now find myself listening to hours of commentary from the Remaniacs, Political Thinking, Cakewatch, On The House, and the Guardian’s Brexit and Politics podcasts every week, as well as wading through a book called How Parliament Works. I’ve never been so informed, which I guess is one good by-product of what’s been going on. I worry for the upcoming election in that personality and celebrity seems to completely trump reason and respect in who we are putting in charge. I fear that it would take some universally reviling news about Boris Johnson to emerge for the Conservatives to not be elected.

Marches, marches, marches...are all political rallies around the world as rude as ours?

Marches, marches, marches…are all political rallies around the world as rude as ours?

Wandering through Berkhamsted High Street this weekend I was stopped for a chat by a campaigner for David Gauke. I explained that I was undecided and wanted to see some local polling before committing to whoever has the best chance of beating the Conservative candidate. (When or where this polling data will come out, I have no idea.) A few paces on, the Liberal Democrats had a team of four or five people on the street and one was being shouted at by a man who was incredulous that their policy is to revoke Article 50. “You will lose so many seats!” he said. The Liberal Democrats didn’t have many to start with, but I know what he meant — and who knows if he is right?