Weeknotes #120 — Lean business case

Back to five days at work after luxuriating with Monday and Friday off the week before. It took its toll. I had so little time that I could call my own between all of the various scheduled meetings that it was difficult to make significant progress with anything. Frustratingly, my to-do list looked broadly unchanged at both ends of the week. In the evenings I found myself struggling to stay awake in front of the TV before the clock struck 9pm. My bike training programme on TrainerRoad has ramped up in both intensity and duration so I was up a little earlier than usual on most of the weekday mornings, and this will continue for the next few months.

This was a week in which I:

  • Worked through a monitoring system issue with our Compliance Officer in New York and agreed to follow up with the vendor.
  • Reviewed a draft ‘lean business case’ for a proposed piece of work in our team. Templates only prove themselves when you come to use them in anger. It has been interesting to try and get our heads around the hypothesis for the entire initiative, which could be months or years of effort, versus getting to the ‘minimum viable product’ which is unlikely to have much of a short-term payoff. I haven’t seen many examples of lean business cases, let alone good ones.
  • Met with our Head of Operational Risk to ensure we were aligned ahead of the next regional governance meeting.
  • Promoted the concept of Kanban work-in-progress limits to our sub-teams. There seems to be a good understanding of why this is a good idea and it will be interesting to see it implemented in the coming weeks.
  • Made contact with a couple of our vendors to discuss a Microsoft consultant vacancy in our team.
  • Created the first ‘random coffees’ pairings for one of our global business teams. They have decided to try it out for their own group, beyond the region-wide setup I’ve been running for the past year.
  • Had my own random coffees — one with a member of my team and another with our Head of Risk. My pairing spreadsheet told me that it had been 50 weeks since the Head of Risk and I last got together for a chat. It’s gone so fast.
  • Joined an online live event to get an update from our division’s Chief Executive.
  • Attended an architecture overview session on our firm’s plans for data management. I ran a project to build a data warehouse from scratch back in 2004–5 and it was interesting to hear some of the terms from that era again, alongside many new ones.
  • Had lots of interesting discussions peppered throughout the week about the thought process of returning to the office and what form it takes.
  • Caught up with an old colleague on a new project we are both involved in. It was fascinating to hear what he had done since we parted ways six or seven years ago, and contrast it to how I’ve approach things. I’ve never had a long-term career goal whereas he planned a number of different moves and executed them. It was inspiring to hear how he went about it.
  • Installed some D-Line Micro Trunking to hide the wires for our two new doorbells. They are excellent and the process couldn’t have been simpler; even I with my extremely limited DIY skills have managed to make them look quite good. I’m short by a couple of lengths so I’ll have to finish the job off next week.
  • Put my new pictures up in my home office. They are fabulous, but I wish the glass was non-reflective as they are a bit difficult to see.
  • Went for a solo bike ride on Saturday morning, following a route I found on Ride With GPS. I’m not sure I’ve ever sweated so much on an outdoor ride; at one point I could barely see with all of the salt going into my eyes. I’ve ordered a couple of headbands to try and combat it for next time. The route was a bit hairy in places with some very dodgy pot-holed and grit-covered single track roads, but it was great to try something new. There are so many blackflies and greenflies around this year; my legs came back looking like a car number plate from the 1980s.
  • Bought some new cycling shoes from my local bike shop. I’m hoping to break them in over the next four weeks before my big ride.
  • Tuned into as many of the UEFA Euro 2020 football matches as I could. I was as stunned as everyone to see the footage of Christian Eriksen’s collapse and resuscitation on the field during the Denmark v Finland game, and even more stunned when the teams resumed playing later in the afternoon. I hope he makes a full and speedy recovery.
  • Ran the line for my youngest boy’s friendly football match. I really enjoy doing it. I was very grateful for an early kick-off as it was a sweltering day.
  • Booked a holiday for next year with some close friends. It’s over a year away but it’s something to look forward to.
  • Attended an Album Club in person for the first time since February last year. We had a cautious approach, with a well-ventilated room and a couple of people sitting out in the garden. I’m grateful for the videoconferencing services for seeing us through the past 18 months, but getting together in person to socialise is so much better than online.

Next week: Looks much the same as this week, perhaps with even more meetings, and the same puzzle of how and when I will be able to get anything else done. I have some deadlines to meet so something’s got to give.

Weeknotes #119 — Red legs

A three-day week at work, top and tailed by a public holiday and a Friday spent with my family. I’ve swapped the jeans and socks for shorts and flip-flops, but nobody I work with is any wiser. I was grateful for more time away from the keyboard and another long weekend.

This was a week in which I:

  • Overslept on Tuesday due to the Sleep Cycle iOS app deciding to terminate at some point in the night. I know that this is always a risk with a third-party app that isn’t part of the operating system, but it’s been pretty solid over the eight years and many iPhones that I’ve been using it. It threw out my cycle training sessions for the week which left me feeling mildly annoyed. It’s interesting how much I’ve been able to make exercise a part of my life since the pandemic hit, and losing it is the biggest fear I have with going back to the office.

  • Completed a deck of slides on the IT infrastructure story of our New York office ahead of a Management Committee meeting this coming week. In the three days at work I had thirty minutes here and there between meetings to get the work done, and I felt as though I was always just picking at it instead of sitting down and getting absorbed in the task. It was interesting to do the work and see visually how different it is from the Beijing deck I put together recently. Three more sites to go.
  • Put together some additional slides for the same meeting on a recent process failure and the work we have done to put it right.
  • Presented options for in-room meeting equipment in one of our offices and agreed on a solution with the CEO.
  • Reviewed and discussed the need for redundancy in public cloud installations that we use, and agreed on next steps.
  • Agreed our approach for initial monitoring and maintenance contracts for our sites where we still need to complete our back-end infrastructure rollout.
  • Spent time reviewing the epics/projects on one of our sub-team’s Kanban board with the head of the team. To be concluded next week.
  • Had my first regular one-on-one meetings with a couple of members of the team that I don’t speak to regularly. It was great to have a space to catch up and get aligned.
  • Attended a talk held by our Marketing and Communications team on the preparation for our big investors conference that takes place at the end of the month.
  • Watched a very entertaining talk by our Head of IT Governance, Risk and Compliance on the importance of risk management.
  • Attended Visualise Your Agile Strategy and See Your Roadmaps in Context with Craig Cockburn, organised by the Agility Leadership Network.

  • Caught up with some school governor emails. I have such a massive backlog of work to look at for school and I am not quite sure how I will get on top of it all.
  • Spent Thursday evening and a chunk of Friday afternoon setting up Home Assistant on a Raspberry Pi. Our new doorbells are fantastic, but I wanted to solve the problem of their being no audible chime in the house when a button is pressed. In a few hours and with the help of a ton of Googling I managed to create a script that pauses the Sonos speakers in my house, plays a doorbell chime mp3 and then resumes whatever was playing on the speakers. There is so much to Home Assistant and I want to write up my experience so far in a longer blog post, if I can prioritise it.
  • Took my youngest boy and three of his friends to Topgolf in Watford. I had no idea that such a place existed — it effectively turns a driving range into a digital bowling-alley experience. It wasn’t cheap but they had a lot of fun and it was great to see them out enjoying themselves.
  • Had a family dinner at Pizza Express. Due to the iffy weather we had to eat inside which I didn’t feel very comfortable with. We’ve got used to takeaway food over the past year, so the price of the meal felt enormous for a visit only lasting an hour or so.
  • Went out on the bike with my eldest boy on Saturday for his first 100km ride. I’d created a route that looped around Luton and I had no idea that the surroundings were so beautiful. We stopped for a perfect lunch at the Surfin Cafe in Ampthill and fuelled up with sandwiches and drinks. About ten miles from the end of the ride his front wheel started making some strange noises, and with just one mile to go he hit a pothole which gave him a flat rear tyre, so we walked the few hundred metres to the local bike shop and dropped the whole thing off for a service. I’ve been using a new Garmin Edge 830 for the past couple of weeks and it is so impressive — incredible battery life, rolling ascent/descent profiles and information on climbs as you go. It’s a massive upgrade from my seven-year-old Garmin Edge Touring in every conceivable way.
Somewhere in Bedfordshire

Somewhere in Bedfordshire

  • Regretted not putting sun cream on my legs before the bike ride. I only ever seem to go red on my nose, neck and arms and made sure that they were coated in factor 50, but my legs now look ridiculous.
  • Enjoyed an alfresco dinner with a couple of close friends at Rosanna’s in Berkhamsted. We hadn’t eaten together in so long and it was great to see them.
  • Watched my youngest boy’s side win a friendly 10v10 football match as I ran the line.
  • Loved watching the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. It was sad to see Verstappen lose out on a win through no fault of his own, but great that Hamilton’s error meant that the championship race is neutralised.

Next week: Another week jam-packed with meetings, and an Album Club at the end of it.

Weeknotes #118 — Sunshine, cycling and barbecues

Summer finally arrived! The weather took a turn for the better towards the end of the week and we have just spent the bank holiday weekend basked in sunshine. It may not last long, so we’ll make the most of it. The lawns have finally been mowed and it feels like we’re back in control of things.

Our eldest son was stuck at home once again, having to self-isolate after close contact with someone at school who had a positive COVID-19 test. Being only one of a few people at home was very different to the whole class, or whole year, being off. No shared lessons or check-ins. When we look back in the years to come, perhaps some of the benefit will have been that he’s had to self-start and manage his own time productively, way ahead of when it’s expected of him as a student.

Having him at home meant that I slowed down a bit at lunchtime in order to spend a little time together, instead of rushing around doing the household chores. We watched the news and I dadsplained a bit about how the House of Commons worked.

This was a week in which I:

  • Quickly prepped a summary slide for our London Governance Committee on the different communication channels available to employees and how they are governed and monitored. Later in the week I took a guest slot at the meeting to present for ten minutes on the topic, which seemed to go well.
  • Got the feedback that our presentation for the Beijing Governance Committee was well-received, paving the way for us to complete the IT infrastructure work that we started last year.
  • Watched the team peel back the layers on one of the important systems that we took over from our previous infrastructure vendor to understand how it all hangs together. We’re nearly there in putting the full picture together.
  • Spent more time in meetings on the big group programme. I’ve been struggling to get very excited about it, but I do need to get on the bus. This week I was introduced to the concept of take, shape or create — i.e. whether we just have to do something that is being forced on us, whether we can influence it or whether we make it up ourselves. For the past few years I’ve had the good fortune to be almost totally in create mode, and I am struggling a little to find how to effectively shape this work with so many people involved across the company. I will keep plugging away and hope that the enthusiasm will come.
  • Created a draft outline of material to present to our Internal Audit team, and agreed it with everyone involved in the process. Now to pull the content together.
  • Spent time with another of my peers, reviewing their Kanban board and getting it to a good starting point.
  • Attended a monthly check-in for two of our teams who don’t run regular stand-up meetings, and gave some thoughts on how to tweak the format to make it more effective. It’s a fine balance between people saying they never hear about something and them saying that they get too much information.
  • Added regular 1:1 meetings to the diary with two permanent members of the team.
  • Attended an IT ‘town hall’-style meeting for our division of the company. Not much news, but it the first one under new leadership.
  • Discussed our firm’s approach to cloud computing with our senior IT Architects for this area.
  • Attended a meeting where we learned about how our company has established an ‘incubator’ presence in Mozambique.
  • Met with our Artificial Intelligence team to review their proposal for using their tools in our part of the business. There is a lot of excitement about the possibilities that may open up.
  • Attended a presentation by a member of my team on the tools used by our Compliance department.
  • Had a random coffee meeting with our General Counsel. Really interesting to hear how he ended up in his role.
  • Joined the HeForShe Summit as a viewer. The movement for gender equality is so important, but the event didn’t live up to my expectations — it seemed to be a stream of pre-recorded videos and interviews with various state and business heads, with a text chat room alongside.
  • Had my bike serviced by the local bike shop, ahead of my planned first Audax ride in July. It’s running like a dream now. Did one of the fastest 100km rides I have ever done on Saturday and went for a fun ride from Berkhamsted to Ascot with my son on Sunday. I am in love with being out on my bike at the moment.
  • Spent most of Bank Holiday Monday setting up two Ubiquiti video doorbells on the house. DIY isn’t my forte but it went well. I discovered that decent drill bits make a massive difference, particularly when you’re trying to get through steel. The units look great and the functionality is superb. I need to tidy the wires up, but that’s a job for next weekend.
  • Went to my brother’s house for a barbecue. It’s been such a long time since we got together and it was wonderful to see him and his family. It made me realise how grown-up our boys are becoming now. Like an idiot I spent too much time in the sun and now have a pair of very red arms.
  • Decided to take Friday off to spend with my family, giving me only three days in the office next week.

Next week: A three-day week with plenty to do, our first night out for an adult dinner in over a year and the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Weeknotes #117 — Golden

The endless pre-summer continues, with barely any let-up in the cloud and rain. Our lawn is now so long that the grass blades have literally gone to seed, and anyone who drops something out there is in serious danger of never seeing it again.

It was another busy week. At the start I had been feeling like I had lost my mojo and was feeling a little melancholy, but my zest came back as the days went by. The weekend was very strange in that we spent most of it socialising, in stark contrast to the past year and a half. Although I wasn’t used to it, getting together with friends and family was just like riding a bike. It was so lovely to see people. I am not sure I want to go back to cramming everything into the two days though; I went to bed on Sunday having not finished all of the personal jobs and getting nowhere near finishing these weeknotes. There’s a healthy balance somewhere.

Meeting up with people felt like a step back to normality. But on Sunday evening a text message and email landed to say that our eldest is a close contact at school with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. He now has to self-isolate for 10 days. There’s a lot to be grateful for — his own tests are negative and we’re all fine, and I am grateful that my wife and I have had a vaccine — but it felt like a cruel end to the weekend. I do wonder how long this stop/start will go on for.

This was a week in which I:

  • Finalised the Beijing IT infrastructure journey presentation and submitted it to the committee where it will be presented.
  • Met with our Internal Audit department to discuss the scope of a potential audit later in the year, and agreed an approach to preparing for it.
  • Spent more time in many meetings about the big group-wide programme. The work is so vast and spans so many areas that it is often difficult to navigate or understand at what level the conversation is taking place. I have enough material to start to craft our approach to the work for our part of the organisation and now just need to prioritise the time to create a draft.
  • Had too many meeting clashes. Lots of meetings now get recorded and at one point on Thursday I seemed to be constantly one meeting behind and watched everything on catch-up throughout the day.
  • Coordinated a detailed analysis on the different communication paths open to staff in the organisation, and the status of each one from a monitoring and compliance perspective. I had to summarise this information into a single slide over the weekend. As George Michael might didn’t quite sing, you’ve ‘got to get down to get up’.
  • Published an article about our weekly ‘wins’ sessions on our business unit-wide Teams channel. Later in the week I made the mental connection between Teams channel posts and blog posts — they are effectively the same thing.
  • Discussed with a colleague in HR how we could go about moving highly confidential data from one place to another in a safe and secure way, and evidence that access to the data wasn’t misused.
  • Spent time walking through another of the team’s Kanban boards, helping to get them to a start line for managing their work.
  • Took some colleagues through my ‘random coffee pair generator’ with a view to them using it for their own team. In doing so, I realised quite how complicated it is and how proficient you need to be in Excel to make it work. There is always so much value in walking through a process to see it through someone else’s eyes.
  • Had my own random coffee with a close member of the team. It was lovely to talk about non-work things for a bit.
  • Pondered how our organisation has grown into two schools of meeting culture, those that keep their cameras on and those that only put them on when talking, if at all. Keeping the camera off always makes me think that the attendees are doing something else. We have a written team rule of “cameras on if you can” and I think that is probably the right approach.
  • Wondered why more people don’t take the time to reject or cancel the meetings in their diary when they know they will be on holiday. It avoids people turning up to meetings that don’t (can’t?) exist, and is cathartic!
  • Attended our school Full Governing Board meeting. I’ve now come to the end of my second four-year term as a governor, and signed up to continue in the role for a while longer. We have a healthy pipeline of governors now, but it takes at least 6–9 months for a new governor to become effective, and even longer to think about stepping into a Chair or Vice-Chair role. Hopefully over the coming year or two more people will get additional experience of different roles.
  • Agreed with our school Full Governing Board that the majority of our meetings will be run remotely via Teams, with one or two held at the school each year. We are much more effective online, and are able to start and finish broadly on time, every time. As a school in the commuter belt around London we no longer need to deal with people messaging that they will be late because the trains are invariably messed up. Everyone agreed that we will avoid the ‘hybrid’ model of some people in the room and some remote, which is the worst of all worlds.
  • Loved meeting my wife’s parents to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. We had booked a garden tent at Cowley Manor with the idea of spending the day in the garden, but the weather had other plans. The hotel asked us if we minded moving to a private room instead, which turned out to be an incredible free upgrade. It was so lovely to spend time with them again and flick through their wonderful wedding photos. My wife has an amazing talent for organising special events and she outdid herself once again.

  • Had to do a school and work pick-up and drop-off for the second week in a row in order to take my eldest boy to the orthodontist.
  • Read and admired Troy Hunt’s account of how he ‘optimised his life to make his job redundant’. I know blog posts like this never paint a full, rounded picture, but it is good to get some insights into ideals to aspire to.
  • Appreciated the work of our handyman as he spent three days installing new internal doors in our house. We never loved the cheap ones we put in when we moved here; when the handles started falling off we had to prioritise getting them changed. I could barely lift a single one of them so I’m not quite sure how he did it, but we’re really pleased with the results.
  • Enjoyed the F1 Monaco GP despite the racing being a yawn-fest. I am sure the races were more exciting and had some overtaking even just a few years ago. It’s interesting how one result can turn the tables on the championship. I can’t wait for Baku.

Next week: More of the same at work, and taking my bike for a service ahead of the big rides in a couple of months’ time.

Weeknotes #116 — Tomato soup

A cold, wet week. In our garden, the giant beech tree has suddenly burst into green and everything is growing as if someone has pressed the fast forward button.

Once again I barely left the house. With infection rates so low (relatively, at least, for the UK — we’re not quite as fortunate as somewhere like Australia) there has been more discussion about returning to the office. I hope that whatever happens, I am still able to spend most of my working life at home. I’ve never seen my family so much as over the past year, nor had the opportunity to exercise for five or six days a week on a consistent basis. Of course it is important to get together in person, and even more important for new joiners, people at the start of their careers etc. to be around others in the firm. But I am hopeful that the pattern of going to the office five days a week just to spend most of my time on Teams calls is behind me.

I spent some time this week trying to get on top of my work and personal email backlogs, but as ever it feels like a losing battle. I wish I was as good at email as Michael Lopp, but I’m not and it irks me:

Email: I’ll respond in a timely fashion. I have two inboxes: work and personal. Both of these are empty at the end of each working day.

I seem to have to pick my battles with what I can keep up with. This week I’ve been on top of the very busy WB-40 podcast Signal group messages, but have not been as involved in the micro.blog community as I would have liked. There’s just not enough time to do it all.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had to take one of my boys for a planned hospital visit at Monday lunchtime. This meant I needed the car, which meant I had to do the morning and afternoon school runs also. Somehow I found myself standing behind the protective shield in the x-ray control room, marvelling at the images as they were created.
  • Attended our bi-monthly Information Risk Steering Group.
  • Finished the first draft of my slides showing our IT infrastructure journey and future planned project for our Beijing office. Presented this to the team and got some useful feedback.
  • Saw the team close out on a couple of long-outstanding projects, including getting our small IT team up and running in Beijing and removing our final on-premises user-facing shared drive.
  • Attended a couple of architecture presentations on key technical work taking place in the organisation.
  • Pulled together a draft summary of all communication channels, both inside and outside of the organisation, along with relevant references for how they are governed.
  • Attended a presentation by Theo Watson, commercial lawyer for Microsoft Africa, on the topic of Responsible AI. It got me thinking again about Bill Joy’s essay from over two decades ago and the Moral Machine.
  • Prepared for and chaired the school Finance, Premises and Personnel Committee meeting. I really do prefer the online sessions as we seem to keep to time much more easily than before.
  • Saw our London office increase its capacity as the COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease. I’m still nervous about being inside with other people, and would much prefer not to be. But if I’m being honest I’ve also enjoyed becoming a bit of a hermit. Life feels so much better now that some of my time is my own, and not just dominated by everything I need to do for work, school and family.
  • Enjoyed a lovely random coffee meetup with a colleague who has recently moved from Johannesburg to Brisbane, as well as a coaching chat with a colleague in London.
  • Ran the line again for my youngest son’s football match, his last league game of the season. The pandemic meant that the season was over before it really got started, but we both really enjoyed the games that we did have.
  • Enjoyed a Friday night Album Club, with more Talking Heads.
  • Resolved to fix the guttering at the back of the house, if it ever stops raining for long enough to do so.

  • Delighted in the things my teenage son has been cooking as part of his Duke of Edinburgh scheme. Tomato soup, homemade bread and a pad thai have all been excellent this week.
  • Finished season 5 of Spiral. My wife and I have agreed that we need a break from police dramas for a bit.
  • Signed up to do the Hemel Hillbuster with my eldest son in July.
  • Agreed to meet up with some friends in a pub (well, outside it) in June.

Next week: More of the same at work. Another school run, a school Full Governing Board meeting, and a 50th wedding anniversary celebration.

Weeknotes #115 — Barbershop

I notice the weather a lot more now that I’m working from home and not squirrelled away inside a big office. We’re just a few weeks away from the longest day of the year, but my jumpers were out in full force again. Conditions have been cold, windy and rainy with the odd blast of sunshine. Things start to warm up next week but it still looks showery. Hopefully summer will put in an appearance soon.

Monday was a public holiday in the UK and although I only worked for four days, it felt like a full week. My mind may be playing tricks on me, but I still feel as though I am getting over my first COVID-19 vaccine as I struggle to stay awake in front of the TV at the end of the day. Or it could just be that I’m getting old.

This was a week in which I:

  • Spent time putting together a slide deck on the IT infrastructure journey so far for one of our regional offices, in order to bring the senior management up to speed with where we are and what we still need to do.
  • Completed my backlog of document reviews of project completion materials and invoices as well as new project proposals.
  • Met with the vendors we are working with for our flagship conference to refine the IT plans and associated quote.
  • Met with our primary IT vendor in the UK to get aligned on a very long list of projects and licence renewals.
  • Attended a detailed information briefing with the finance team working on the large group programme that we are involved with.
  • Hosted a talk by our Head of Procurement on the new system and processes that are now in place.
  • Had a short random coffee with our head of Wealth Management in the UK, and another with one of our Compliance officers. Good to catch up with both of them.
  • Spent a little time adding our latest full-year actual financial data into our budget projections for school, ahead of our next Finance Committee meeting.
  • Took delivery of a bunch of internal doors to replace the ones in our house. We put the current ones in when we moved here almost two decades ago and have never loved them. They’ve started to fail, with handles coming loose, so it’ll be nice to give the house a little refresh by replacing them.
  • Cleaned the windows on our house again, fighting back against the dive-bomb onslaught from the town’s bird population who have used us for target practice.
  • Went for my first haircut at the barbershop in over a year. My wife has done a brilliant job learning how to use the clippers, but this weekend it was easier to nip in and out to get it done.
  • Had a random flat tyre on my turbo trainer. I’m guessing that the inner tube punctured just due to age as it failed near the seam. I’m glad it happened on the weekend as I had the time to replace it and get back in the saddle.
  • Finally purchased a proper amp and speakers to go with my turntable. I bought everything through Deco Audio in Aylesbury, who have been nothing but super helpful. It was fun to get the boxes home and assemble everything, trimming speaker cable and trying not to lose too many copper wire strands in the process. The results are amazing, and I’m already hearing things in my records that I’ve never noticed before.

  • Saw my youngest son’s team win their latest football match. It feels like we’ve barely got started, but the end of the season is just around the corner.

Next week: A hospital visit with my eldest boy, a school Finance Committee meeting, and more of the same on all fronts at work.

Weeknotes #114 — Steve from Hemel

Mid-bike ride pub lunch

Mid-bike ride pub lunch

It’s still very cold here in the UK, and strange to think that we are only a few weeks away from the longest day of the year. Since signing up to the 300km Audax ride in July my spare brain cycles have been spent thinking about cycling. I do so hope that the sun is shining by then — or, at least, that the rain stays away.

This was a week in which I:

  • Got my first COVID-19 vaccine. The whole process was incredible from start to finish. I booked both of my vaccinations online, choosing Hemel Hempstead Hospital as the place where I wanted to go. So many volunteers were on hand to welcome us, direct us to parking and through the screening to the waiting room. Sitting there waiting to be called into the vaccination room was quite an emotional moment, reflecting on what has happened over the past year and a half. The day after my vaccine I felt rubbish, like I was about to come down with something; although the worst of it was over quickly I’ve spent most of the week feeling like I have a mild hangover that gets worse in the evenings. Still, I suppose it’s good to know that they actually administered something to me and it wasn’t just a placebo.
  • Reviewed a number of documents relating to our infrastructure programme, reconciling a completion report for one of our recent projects to our document library and refining statements of work for two projects that we plan to complete this year in Beijing and São Paulo.
  • Had a few meetings and vendor discussions in preparation for our investor conference in June, reviewing what was done last year and planning our activities for the next few weeks.
  • Spent more time in meetings for our large group programme, understanding how the processes work to obtain funding for projects.
  • Discussed the concepts of customer journey mapping and how it applies to our work.
  • Completed the sessions to review the Kanban board for our Infrastructure and Operations team. One of the team members said the process was “cathartic” and I know what he means — everyone is now up to speed with the content of the board and knows what is in the backlog.
  • Saw another product demonstration for analysing large volumes of news feeds and generating leads.
  • Attended a session on changes to our performance management approach and the system that will be supporting the process from this year. There is an emphasis on developing staff even beyond the boundaries of the organisation, which seems very forward-thinking.
  • Learnt that trying to help isn’t always the right thing to do, and that you should always check ahead of time whether a presenter can still make a session.
  • Attended an online event organised by our Marketing and Communications team and hosted by Mr Plant Geek. Gardening and botany aren’t really my thing, but the attendees seemed to really enjoy it. Our team do a fabulous job of thinking up new themed events every few months, which is great for keeping connected and making everyone feel like they are part of something bigger.
  • Pulled back from evening Meetup sessions in order to try and get a bit more balance in my life again. Although meeting up with people from other organisations is great, I’m not sure how healthy it really is just to have another couple of hours of video calls after a long day at the desk.
  • Reviewed the school budget for 2021–2022 as well as our draft financial self-audit.
  • Rode 50 miles with my eldest son, his first half-century. He asked me if we could plan a route and go for a long ride — I know that the answer almost always needs to be yes. It was so lovely to do something together. I’m now planning to take him on his first 100km ride.

  • Rounded off our Saturday of cycling with a family dinner at The Alford Arms in Frithsden. Although it was outside, like in many pubs the area we ate in was pretty self-contained and shielded from the weather which I am not sure how COVID-safe it really is. Having been vaccinated and knowing that cases and transmission rates are low right now I definitely feel much more relaxed than at any point in the past year and a half. They took good care of us and did everything they could to make us feel as safe as possible.

  • Booked my bike in for a service at the end of May. There’s nothing immediate that needs an emergency fix, but I do want to make sure that everything is running well before I set out on my monster ride. The bike shop said that they are still busy, but the wait for a service is much shorter than it was last year.
  • (Eventually) successfully changed the chain on my bike for the first time, getting through a few pairs of disposable vinyl gloves in the process. Twice (twice!) had to undo my good work to find that I had threaded the chain around the derailleur incorrectly. Every day’s a school day.
  • Continued our journey through police dramas by watching Spiral season 4 and Line of Duty season 3, which are both excellent in their own way. It’s good to know we still have lots of episodes of both to get through.

Next week: A four-day week, with a focus on all of the usual projects and trying to get the statements of work agreed for the pieces of work we need to kick off.

Weeknotes #113 — St George’s

Friends reunited! (Photo: Daniel Russell)

Friends reunited! (Photo: Daniel Russell)

The weekend was so busy that I didn’t get a chance to write up my weeknotes until Monday. Once again it felt like a heck of a lot of meetings, with any spare time focused on getting things over the line. I struggled to prioritise work for school and have a few governor things piling up which I need to address during the coming week.

This was a week in which I:

  • Welcomed new members of the team. Although it has been sad to say goodbye to colleagues in recent months, it is great to have some new minds and fresh thinking as new people join.
  • Spent a number of hours reviewing Kanban boards and cards with the IT team and coaching them on the best ways to work with the boards. The timing is good given that we have a number of new people in the team.
  • Created some templates on one of the team Kanban boards for our joiner/leaver checklists.
  • Reviewed a vendor proposal for assistance with our flagship conference to be held later this year. Agreed in principle how we will approach it with our internal team.
  • Spent a lot of time on the large group programme, attending design authority forums and co-authoring a presentation to get our closest business colleagues aligned with our thinking.
  • Reviewed and submitted materials for our company governance committee, in a colleague’s absence.
  • Reviewed our self-assessed risk controls.
  • Saw a demo of a powerful desktop analytics tool that examines and processes news feeds, with a view to looking at whether we could make use of it for client work.
  • Attended a leadership talk hosted by the CEOs of our offices in China and Kenya.
  • Hosted a talk by one of our colleagues in the Finance department on the impact of our automation work over the past few months. It was very powerful to hear not just about the time saved, but what it has meant that he can do with the additional time each month.
  • Enjoyed a lovely, inspirational ‘random coffee’ with an IT colleague. They have been going through some personal challenges over the past few years and it was great to have the space to understand more about them.
  • Attended a Meetup on the use of coaching and mentoring as a way for teams to ‘get back to normal’ after the pandemic. I’ve made a resolution to be a bit more selective about the Meetups that I join.
  • Joined, and spoke, in a Twitter space for the first time. It’s like an even more ephemeral version of Clubhouse.
  • Heard a rumour that the NHS were taking vaccine bookings for the under-45s and got myself booked in for both appointments.
  • Found out about and signed up to the St George’s Sportive, along with my friend Ian. Many thanks to my colleague Dan (photo above) who let me know it was happening. It was great to see him after more than a year. I decided to ride there and back as well in order to make it a century ride. It was brilliant to be back outside again, riding with other people. So many hills, but it meant that the views were beautiful. The food wasn’t brilliant — cheap flapjacks, as many fig rolls as you can handle, and no hot drinks — but it didn’t take the shine off of the day. Many thanks to another Andrew who showed me the way out of Princes Risborough and into Great Missenden so that I could navigate my way home.

  • Spent a lot of my spare time thinking about cycling. I stumbled across Katie Kookaburra’s brilliant YouTube channel and have spent time lining up videos from her archive to watch. She started cycling around the same time as me but now looks like she has made it her career. Such infectious enthusiasm for riding — it’s a joy to dip into any of her videos. I’m now pondering a 300km Audax ride that is scheduled for July. It would be a massive personal challenge, but that’s the attraction.
  • Loved hearing Counting Crows’ August And Everything After again at Album Club. It had been a while.

Next week: My first vaccine! A plethora of documents to review for work and school, a couple of evening Meetups and the next F1 race of a very exciting season.

Weeknotes #112 — Emilio Romagna

This week wore me out. I slept badly on a number of nights, waking up in a panic and then seeing that it was an hour before my alarm was due to go off. The week was packed to the rafters with meetings, leaving only a few odd hours here and there free for any focused work.

We’re only two months away from the longest day of the year but it’s still very cold here in the mornings. Spring is making it hard for summer to move in.

This was a week in which I:

  • Managed the communications for an issue we uncovered on one of our systems. The problem had gone unnoticed for a few years. It was frustrating as I had asked questions about the tool on multiple occasions but never saw it through to a conclusion. There’s no major damage done, but gathering the facts and writing the communications was an additional overhead to an already busy week.
  • Took part in a pre-kick-off meeting for the next stage of IT infrastructure work in our Beijing office. We’re aligned internally on the big picture of what needs to be done and now need to move fast to get the work lined up with our external technical partner.
  • Attended a presentation where we got an excellent overview about how our part of the firm sources new clients.
  • Completed a review of an early draft proposal for support and maintenance of our New York office IT infrastructure.
  • Attended many meetings relating to the big Group-wide programme, including another ‘masterclass’ session held in conjunction with the software vendor. Refined our thinking on the presentation we are scheduled to give next Thursday.
  • Joined a webinar with the business head of our division and met new members of his immediate senior management team. Very impressed with how he responded to a question on gender diversity in that team.
  • Made progress with staff contract renewals.
  • Reviewed quotes for renewals of infrastructure licences in London and Dubai.
  • Attended the quarterly IT and Real Estate Services review for the Dubai office.
  • Said goodbye to a colleague who has been on the team for the past three or four years, first in Johannesburg and more recently in London. We’re sad to see him go, but it’s great that he’s driving his career and moving onto the next chapter in his working life.
  • Met with our new Head of Infrastructure and Operations who joins the team as a peer next month.
  • Had a productive risk review session with my peers in the IT management team.
  • Met up with a colleague in our Compliance team for a ‘random coffee’. A lovely half-hour covering a lot of topics, including our recent performances in Learned League.
  • Spent an evening catching up with all of my handwritten notes from the past couple of weeks, getting them into my to-do list system.
  • Attended the latest Microsoft 365 UK User Group meeting which had some excellent presentations on apps and customisations for Microsoft Teams, and Microsoft Viva.

  • Made a bit of progress with planning some home improvements. Took a trip to Milton Keynes with my wife to look at sofas, and ended up indulging in a Pret-A-Manger lunch while we were there. I do miss office lunches.
  • Enjoyed a sunny Sunday morning bike ride with my eldest son. I had to raise his seat post by about four inches as he hadn’t been out on his road bike in a year or so. It was lovely to spend some time with him.

  • Collapsed in the evening with my wife in front of TV crime dramas. We’re making our way through both Spiral and Line of Duty, alternating between them as we finish each series.
  • Loved watching the Emilio Romagna F1 Grand Prix from Imola. It had all of the ingredients of a great race and lived up to expectations.

Next week: A hectic one, with lots more meetings again plus some deadlines to meet. I have a couple of evening Meetups in the diary but they may need to make way for getting stuff done instead.

Weeknotes #111 — Snow flurries

Another short week ‘in the office’ following my six-day weekend. Wednesday felt like a Monday, and I felt a little guilty about not feeling well-rested whilst everyone else on the team had worked a couple of extra days. The three days at my desk were productive, and it was good to be back at work.

Monday and Tuesday were spent pottering. My wife and I had a lovely long walk through the fields in our house. The weather has been crazy — snowing one minute and then glorious sunshine the next. When we started our walk we were freezing but by the time we finished it was beautiful.

This was a week in which I:

  • Spent some time at the weekend finishing off my presentation on my Ride 999 adventure in 2015, which I rebranded as Couch to 1,400km. I presented this to our team on Wednesday, a great opportunity to get some experience at delivering a presentation as opposed to reviewing and collaborating on a document.

  • Attended a ‘masterclass’ session for the big group programme we are becoming more and more involved with. I took full advantage of the Q&A function in the meeting and it is good to know that my perception of key issues we need to navigate isn’t wrong.
  • Agreed to a meeting later this month where we’ll take people through the programme and how our part of the organisation will interact with it. For a while it has felt like I’ve had more questions than answers, but over recent days things have started to become clearer. We’re not completely there yet, but I’m comfortable that we have enough to review with a wider set of people.
  • Logged a couple of risks that my brain had surfaced during the downtime over the weekend. My mind really does ‘join the dots’ when I’m busy doing something completely different.
  • Finally said hello to our new IT team member in our Beijing office. It’s taken a while to get the paperwork in place to on-board him and he joins us at a great time. We will now have a ‘follow the sun’ setup across our three regions for any ongoing issues that come up.
  • Reviewed a number of documents, including a project closure report for some work we’ve done over the past 18 months in London, an engineering standard, and our existing support and maintenance agreement for two of our locations that we want to use as a basis for a third.
  • Had a meeting on how we will refine and communicate our strategy to our team.
  • Dug into the setup of a couple of our key systems, trying to get myself and a number of other technical team members on the same page as to how they work.
  • Worked on some staff contract renewals.
  • Gave my body a treat by investing in a Roost laptop stand and Logitech MX Keys keyboard. Now I’ve made the change, I can’t believe I spent a year at home hunched over my laptop. My back is already thanking me.
  • Attended the first part of a webinar on Advanced Story Mapping with Kevin Callahan, but left early. I’m getting quite good at managing an exit when I no longer think I’m going to get value from a session. Lockdown has made me acutely aware of how valuable my time is. The session was good, but it isn’t directly related to any work I’m doing right now.
  • Had a short meeting with an old friend who has an upcoming interview with a high-profile technology company. He has a background in academia and is just finishing a PhD, so is doing his research ahead of his conversation.
  • Paid to get our washing machine repaired. Although I’m sure it isn’t the cheapest way of doing it, going back to the manufacturer website and getting their own engineer to come out and do the job is always fast, seems honest, and the cost doesn’t feel too outrageous.
  • Replaced a toilet seat. Never a fun job, but it’s lovely when it’s done.
  • Gave outdoor cycling a miss in favour of some long stints on the turbo trainer and a long run. I have loved going back outside on my bike over the past couple of weekends, but I’m waiting for the temperature to rise by just a couple of degrees before heading out again.
  • Saw my youngest son’s team get a well-earned draw in their football match against the strongest, unbeaten team in the league.

Next week: Another one packed full of meetings and online events, but there is a Formula 1 race to look forward to at the end of it.

Weeknotes #110 — Six-day weekend

I decided to take Thursday and Tuesday off work, further extending the already long Easter weekend. The boys and my wife are all off school so it made sense to get away from the keyboard when they are around, although we hadn’t made any plans.

The three days where I was at my desk felt like they were filled with a lot of ‘busywork’. There are lots of upsides of working in a large multinational company, but there are sometimes downsides too. Hopefully this is just a blip and won’t be an ongoing feature of the weeks ahead.

This was a week in which I:

  • Said goodbye to a friend and colleague in our Americas IT support team. It never fails to amaze me how quickly things move in the US, with two weeks being the standard notice period.
  • Met with the Americas IT support team to talk about handover and support while a replacement is hired.
  • Continued to coach some of our teams in their daily standup and Kanban board review practice.
  • Met with some of the management team to discuss how we can continue to improve ‘team effectiveness’, and what opportunities there are for upskilling when at least half of our team don’t work directly for our organisation.
  • Reviewed the areas of focus for our team for the remainder of this year. We sit in the intersection of a large number of different, larger constructs, all of whom have their own way of representing their aims and objectives. We need to define something that speaks to all of these that is also useful for our team in their everyday work.
  • Got final approval to on-board our new Beijing IT support team member, after some last-minute unexpected hurdles. Hopefully he will start with us next week.
  • Started to think about how we can get a couple of important infrastructure projects completed this year with a constrained budget.
  • Attended a number of architecture discussions for the large group-wide programme that we are involved with. We all make sense of the world through the lens of what we’ve seen before; I can’t help but think that the core of a big SaaS CRM programme is just like an ERP programme of 20 years ago. Am I wrong?
  • Met with the CEO of a very interesting organisation that gets young people involved with company boards to bring fresh thinking to real business problems. Hopefully this will be the start of something good.
  • Attended a very interesting short talk on work a ‘hackathon’ run by our internal AI and Data Analytics team where they used a number of months of historic client revenue data to make predictions on future revenue.
  • Met with a colleague to discuss some upcoming contract renewals in our team.
  • Attended the CAE Live webinar on the topic of ‘Purpose, People and Poverty — The Future of Technology’. Like most events of this type, half of the value is in the attendee chat and questions from the audience. It was fun to be promoting the virtues of micro.blog and the IndieWeb at an event with Sir Tim Berners-Lee.
  • Received an email out of the blue from an ex-colleague and friend that I worked with 15 years ago. He is a Buddhist, and funded time away on camps in India and Nepal through working in IT in London. I’ve now learned that he didn’t return and instead built a home in the Himalayan foothills, got married and wrote a book. It was so lovely to reconnect.
  • Joined the Microsoft 365 Security and Compliance User Group and attended a meeting on ‘Teams Architecture for Compliance’ with Albert Hoitingh. I learned that the ‘code snippet’ component of a Teams message currently gets completely ignored by the auditing processes. (Who knew that it was more than just formatting?)
  • Celebrated our eldest boy’s 14th birthday, his second in lockdown.

  • Managed to get out on my bike for my second ‘real’ ride of the year. I was gutted to find that the beautiful path through Eythrope Park to the grounds of Waddesdon Manor is now closed to the public. Apparently a cyclist was rude to one of the Rothschilds, which when coupled with the increased number of people using the route at speed has resulted in it being closed permanently. I had to take a detour by the relatively horrible A41 to get back onto my route.
  • Saw my youngest son play his first football match this year. It’s great that activities have started up again.
  • Joined some close friends in their garden for cake, the first time I’ve socialised in person with anyone for months. It was cold but we made the most of it, and it was so lovely to see them.

  • Went for an Easter Sunday lunch visit to my parents’ back garden, the first time we’ve seen them this year. We enjoyed the best weather of the weekend, and at one point even started applying sun lotion. It was lovely to see the boys off of their games consoles and making their own entertainment, reinventing ‘blow football’ on the table tennis table.

Next week: Another couple of days off before heading back ‘to the office’. Returning to the turbo trainer to keep out of the cold and snow.

Weeknotes #109 — Foam party

My F1 qualifying companion

My F1 qualifying companion

A week of two halves, or more accurately one fifth and four-fifths. Monday was Human Rights Day in South Africa (reflecting the date of the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960), so half of my colleagues were out of the office and I had a clear diary. On Tuesday the meetings started early, and for the rest of the week I had barely any time where I wasn’t in some video call or other, and I felt the pressure to use the small gaps productively.

The boys and my wife are now off school for two weeks for their Easter holidays. I’m taking Thursday and Tuesday off to get a longer break as well, and I’m looking forward to being away from the keyboard for a bit.

My wife got her first COVID-19 vaccination on Sunday, which I am ever so grateful for. She went on her own and said that the process was super-efficient, with tons of volunteers helping to guide people through the vaccination centre. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I join her.

This was a week in which I:

  • Attended a meeting with a vendor in Beijing to try to close out on the new local Helpdesk staffing contract.
  • Spent some time preparing material for our first local IT architecture governance authority meeting. I’m looking forward to sharing where we are, how we got here and where we plan to head next.
  • Attended a number of meetings related to the big group programme that I am getting involved with. Every meeting reveals something new, and we are slowly piecing together a picture of how the work may unfold. One of the brilliant things about working where I do is the access we get to senior leaders, who invariably will take the time to go through materials and answer questions. I’m taking advantage of it.
  • Spent time with one of our teams to take them through the more nuanced and detailed aspects of Kanban, including why work in process limits are useful and how the unit of delivery is the team.
  • Heard about two members of staff who will be leaving the company in the next few weeks. They’ll be missed, but it’s great for them that they are moving onto the next chapters in their adventures.
  • Attended a couple of what used to be known as ‘town hall’ meetings, one for our global IT and Operations function, and another focused on our business outside of Africa.
  • Caught up with a couple of our key vendors in London.
  • Attended an excellent presentation on Internet Protocol Address Management (IPAM) and saw a demo of a tool we are now using to manage our address spaces.
  • Had a ‘random coffee’ with a colleague from China who grew up in South Africa and lived in Dubai before coming to work in our Beijing office.
  • Took part in our monthly São Paulo IT and Real Estate Services governance meeting.
  • Used LinkedIn to ask for help for the first time. With a little help from a repost by my brother, it yielded some results which I am now following up with.
  • Had the honour of being given a ‘Mark of Excellence’ award at work. Somebody must have nominated me, and it was a total surprise to receive it during the global IT webinar presentation. I feel a bit uncomfortable with individual recognition as now more than ever the work we do is as a team, but I am flattered to be on the roll with others who have done amazing work this past year. The next day, a lovely small hamper arrived which I already made significant progress in consuming.

Food hampers are always welcome here

Food hampers are always welcome here

  • Attended our school Full Governing Board meeting. We were done in under two hours; remote meetings have definitely made us more efficient and I am hoping we can continue with them in some capacity once the coronavirus threat has abated. We started the meeting with a short safeguarding quiz which was both fun and useful.
  • Met with our personal financial advisor to check in on how we are doing with our savings towards our retirement. I’ve realised that I’m possibly halfway between the start of my career and the end of it.
  • Had smart electricity and gas meters fitted at home. It’s quite something to see how much energy we have used before we even come down for breakfast.
  • Booked in a washing machine repair after it decided to host its own version of a nightclub foam party.
  • Had a slow start to my fitness activities for the week. I wanted to rest on Monday and then on Tuesday my meetings started too early to fit anything in beforehand. I made up for it from Wednesday onwards, culminating in my first outdoor bike ride in nine months on Saturday. It was great to get out and my speed was good, but I felt just a teeny bit broken for the rest of the weekend.

  • Loved watching the Bahrain GP kick off the new Formula One season. It’s a busy calendar this year with 23 races planned, so I can’t quite believe we have to wait three weeks for the next one!

Next week: A three-day working week and our teenager’s second birthday in lockdown.

Weeknotes #108 — Hello blossom!

Inputs exceeded outputs this week. I felt as though there was far more information coming at me than I could process in the time available. I finished the week with a whole load of unread emails and chat messages that I will need to go through on Monday.

Spring is breaking through, with the trees behind our house now covered in blossom. Although we’re still in a form of lockdown here in the UK, there’s an optimism in the air. Sunny days make everything better.

This was a week in which I:

  • Spent time with a colleague to unpack tasks on a number of long outstanding projects relating to our infrastructure rollouts of the past 18 months.
  • Attended another team’s standup and gave some coaching advice on how to improve it. It’s very early days; people still have their training wheels on for now but it’s already better than what we did before.
  • Went to a number of meetings related to the big group-wide programme that we are involved with, stepping in for our CIO on a couple of them.
  • Agreed to work on a brief update about the programme to our part of the organisation.
  • Spent time looking at potential strategic themes for the coming 12–18 months for our team. We’ve been in receipt of so many different strategies, perspectives and metrics over the past few months, but we need something that is simple to understand and easy to communicate. I’ve gently pushed the idea of OKRs but this may be one change too much right now.
  • Agreed on our short and medium term strategy for printing infrastructure.
  • Played a very small part in the team getting the in-office information display screens up and running again in Beijing. It is so difficult to do this kind of work from a distance, with a local contract team on the ground.
  • Attended a meeting on the new production change management processes using our internal tool.
  • Agreed preparation tasks for our first local Architecture Design Authority meeting.
  • Went to a number of school governor webinars:
  • (As an aside, HfL are using Livestorm for their online webinars and the platform seems to work very well. I’m not sure people will ever completely learn the difference between the ‘chat’ and ‘Q&A’ panels on any platform — it’s an interesting case study on how difficult user interface design can be.)
  • Spent Friday in an all-day training course on Liberating Structures. I’m looking forward to introducing the concepts at work and putting them to good use.
  • Spent a few hours reading material ahead of our school Full Governing Board meeting on Monday.
  • Attended some online talks as part of an event to mark International Women’s Day at work. It was very impactful to hear Josina Machel talk about her experience of being assaulted by her then partner and losing an eye, and her subsequent experience of seeking help and justice for what happened. It is shocking how normalised gender-based violence is. In the UK a woman is killed every three days by someone she knows; in South Africa it is every eight hours.
  • Spent an evening developing and editing a talk on Ride 999 which I plan to give to our IT team in the next few weeks.
  • Attended parents evening for my eleven year-old. Being in lockdown and online means that I managed to make the event, and it was great to hear how he had been getting on at school.
  • Started our 11th year of Album Club with a visit to Siamese Dream by the Smashing Pumpkins. My friend had played this to me when we were teenagers and it had been on my ‘to listen’ list for the past 25 years or so. It was great to take the time to hear it.
  • Cleaned the downstairs windows at home. We cancelled our window cleaning contract a few months ago as we weren’t happy with them. I’m going to add this to my ‘genuinely enjoyable and satisfying jobs to do around the house’ list.

Next week: Colleagues in SA off for Human Rights Day, a Full Governing Board meeting, bringing our house into the 21st century with a smart meter installation and the return of Formula 1.

Weeknotes #107 — Back to school

A happy week. It was lovely to see the boys get into their uniforms again and head back to school. Being at home has been fine — the school has been brilliant, particularly with the latest lockdown — but I really feel as though they need to get face-to-face interaction with their peers, and distraction-free work time again. I really hadn’t done much in the way of helping them with their tasks, but it still felt like a weight off to have the house to myself during the day.

I started the week with a presentation that I’d been working at on-and-off for 18 months which felt like a big positive step forward. We’ve gone from working on a monolithic backlog across the whole team into a set of smaller backlogs. My spare time during the working week was spent reviewing and refining my team’s backlog as well as getting on with closing some very long-outstanding items of my own.

This was a week in which I:

  • Presented the longer version of our ‘new ways of working’ deck. The team seemed really engaged with the material and are enthusiastic to get going.
  • Started daily ‘standups’ with my small team of three. It felt fantastic to be gathered around the Kanban board each day, focused on the work. I’ve now also reviewed our entire backlog and applied some rudimentary prioritisation to it. We took some bigger discussions offline and moved forward on a whole bunch of things that have been sitting unresolved for some time.
  • Attended a series of meetings with different participants on and stakeholders of the big group programme. Now that the ‘new ways of work’ launch is behind me, this is where I need to be spending more of my time and attention. I now have a daily one-on-one with the lead business analyst on our team who has been involved in the programme, and she spent time bringing me up to speed with some of the key concepts and status.
  • Participated in the first of a new monthly series of formal risk review meetings with the rest of the management team.
  • Finished interviews for our Network Services Manager role, and shortlisted the candidates to take forward.
  • Caught up with a close colleague who has been off work for some time battling an illness. It was great to see him, and reinforced how much I’m missing him. I hope he’s back with us soon.
  • Took part in an interesting team talk on our DNS setup, what we’re doing in the short term and where we are heading.
  • Attended the latest quarterly update from the LeanKit product manager. I am still in love with their product, and am using it now more than ever.
  • Went to a series of short lightning talks on how Nationwide Building Society has accelerated its agility. It took me a few minutes to understand what the speakers meant when kept using the word ‘society’. It must make internal corporate social responsibility discussions a little tricky.
  • Attended a school governor complaints training session. I hadn’t done this course in a few years and there are some key changes that made it worthwhile.
  • Chaired our Finance, Premises and Personnel Committee meeting at school. It was great to hear how seamless the transition back to more children being in school had been.
  • Read the electricity and gas meters for the first time in months, and found that our under-stairs cupboard floor was soaking wet. We had to call out a plumber, who discovered that a small valve had been leaking, probably for some months. The electrical connections for our entire house start there, so I’m very grateful that nothing more serious came of it. We’re now running the dehumidifier to dry things out.

Next week: More ‘walking the board’ and getting on with tasks old and new. An internal conference on the theme of International Womens’ Day. Hertfordshire Headteacher updates. The first secondary school parents’ evening for our youngest boy. A full-day immersion in Liberating Structures. And an Album Club.

Weeknotes #106 — Horse racing

Another really tiring week. By the end of Friday I was ready to drop. I tried catching up with some sleep at the weekend but my brain quite literally had other thoughts; I ended up having vivid dreams and woke up early both days.

The boys are back to school from the middle of next week and we are so pleased. The school has been incredible with all of their remote learning provision, but I am so keen for them to be with their friends again.

This was a week in which I:

  • Introduced the whole department to the proposed new ways of working. I covered just the main points, and have a longer session booked in for Monday for anyone who wants to know more.
  • Set up our new Kanban boards and distributed all of our outstanding epic and feature cards to the appropriate boards.
  • Spent an hour with my small team reviewing the ‘in process’ cards on our board. We’ll be ‘walking the board’ every day from now on.
  • Reviewed a revised proposal for an upgrade to one of our server rooms.
  • Was given an invaluable insight into how our Compliance team do part of their job on our CRM platform.
  • Started a daily meeting series on the large new group programme that I am going to be working on with a couple of colleagues.
  • Attended a three-hour ‘masterclass’ on some of the aspects of our new group programme.
  • Took part in three more interviews for our Network Services Manager role.
  • Completed a final review of the draft contract for our support service in Beijing.
  • Had the pleasure of attending a virtual office talk by Mark Denton called ‘Navigate the storm — How to stay resilient when the only way out is through’. I remember watching the news when the BT Global Challenge yachts were racing around the world in 2000–2001. I don’t think I could spend half a year on a boat traversing all kinds of weather conditions in close quarters with a few strangers, let alone try and win the race.
  • Attended my eldest son’s parents’ evening using the online platform that the school had set up. One of the big positives of the lockdown is that I could attend for the first time; usually I couldn’t easily make it home in time from London. It was lovely to sit there and hear from his teachers, and the system worked very well with a five-minute countdown clock ticking from the moment a new session started.
  • Celebrated my wife’s birthday. Unfortunately due to other commitments we couldn’t have a big birthday evening and had to spread ourselves between her actual birthday and a takeaway and movie on Friday night.
  • Along with our Chair of Governors, took part in our Headteacher’s mid-year review.
  • Met with our School Improvement Partner to receive her feedback and evaluation following her virtual visit.
  • Took part in a strategy planning meeting with the rest of the school governing board.
  • Attended an Agility Leaders Network Meetup on Agile working with Finance.
  • Hosted a Macmillan Horse Racing Night over Zoom with a few of our close friends. It was a good giggle, and the kids all enjoyed it. I am so ready to be back in the same room with everyone.
  • Went out for a bike ride with the family. When we got to Ashridge Monument it was amazing to see how many people were out. We are meant to be in quite a strict lockdown, but people need to get out and about.

Next week: More interviews, a workshop on the new ways of working, starting our daily standup, more Meetups, school governor complaints training, and a school Finance Committee meeting.

Weeknotes #105 — Giant octopus

A big week, with half of Tuesday taken up with me finally presenting my ‘new ways of working’ proposal to the rest of the IT management team. Getting to this point had been like wrestling with a giant octopus; now I’ve finally got it out into the world and built some consensus I am looking forward to putting it into action from next week.

This was a week in which I:

  • Reviewed the annual renewal proposal for a key vendor.
  • Along with our procurement and legal teams, reviewed the draft contract for our consultancy hire in Beijing.
  • Agreed a shortlist of candidates to take forward to interview for our Network Services Manager position.
  • Took part in more interviews for our Head of IT Infrastructure and Operations role.
  • Reviewed options for meeting room AV equipment for our New York office, taking into account the specific technical restrictions with the room.
  • Started discussions on a ‘project to production’ handover document. It’s not very DevOps, but I’m hoping it’s the start of a conversation on what we need to consider up-front when we start a large new piece of work.
  • Reviewed a draft proposal for power resiliency changes in one of our server rooms.
  • Attended a leadership talk with our country heads for Mozambique and China.
  • Checked in with a staffing consultancy in the UK that I haven’t formally worked with since 2010. They have a brilliant model and are one of the largest IT graduate employers in the country.
  • Attended the Herts for Learning Chairs’ Strategic Information Briefing. These meetings are great but they feel like information overload, trying to listen to the speakers, read their slides and follow the extensive audience Q&A at the same time.
  • Had a Zoom meet-up with an old colleague that I haven’t seen in five years. I’ve been trying to get back in contact a little bit with people via WhatsApp and this time it led to an evening of chat. It was so lovely to talk to him and hear how well he and his family are doing.
  • Had a great random coffee with a colleague in our São Paulo office.
  • Started a new season of Learned League and ended the first week at the top of the table. There are now two people at work that have signed up with my referrals and they seem to be enjoying it.
  • Got the pizza oven out of the shed for the first time this year to compliment our family movie night. My eldest son is now a real dab-hand with getting the pizzas in and out of the oven and they came out perfectly.

Next week: Rolling out ‘new ways of working’, getting stuck into a big new programme of work, continuing with recruitment, our headteacher’s mid-year review, a school strategy planning session, a Meetup on agile working with finance and my wife’s birthday.

Weeknotes #104 — Anniversary album

A short week, as I took Friday as holiday to spend some time with the boys and my wife during their half term holiday. For the four days I was working I couldn’t shake a general feeling of malaise, and that I and everyone around me is treading water as we wait for the pandemic to pass. By the end of Thursday I was so grateful that it would be the last day at my desk as I was feeling pretty horrible.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had an good introductory call with an internal architect who may be able to help out our team on a temporary basis.
  • Saw demonstrations of three different automations and software solutions built by our team. All of them are genuinely exciting, and will make significant differences to our colleagues.
  • Spent time, including Sunday afternoon, refining the slides and narrative for the ‘new ways of work’ session I am running next week.
  • Discussed our roadmap for kicking off our involvement in a giant programme of work being run by the wider Group. Got buy-in from a senior stakeholder for him to represent us at the appropriate forums.
  • Caught up with our People and Culture partner to brief them on the plans for our new team member in Beijing.
  • Attended a meeting to move us a step closer to getting our Architecture Governance Authority in place.
  • Started to look at options for in-room videoconferencing without any cables between the conference table and the monitor, camera, mic and speakers.
  • Had a random coffee with a colleague in New York. It’s been a year since I was out there rolling out our new infrastructure; the fastest, slowest year ever.
  • Enjoyed my day off by starting it with a run, having a car-park based McDonalds breakfast with the family and going for a walk around Tring reservoir.

  • Reached 50 films in our family ‘round-robin’ movie night by watching Space Sweepers (2021) (also known as Seungriho). It looks beautiful and must have had a massive budget, but it lacked a certain something.
  • Had a wonderful time at the 10th anniversary Album Club evening. As well as the incredible biscuits and beers from Left Handed Giant that were distributed to everyone in the club, our host had organised a lyrics quiz and we enjoyed the thoughts on music provoked by Songversations. A brilliant evening.

Next week: Lots of early starts, including one for our next management workshop on the ‘new ways of working’ that has been cooking for some time. More interviews for our Head of IT Infrastructure and Operations role, and a Herts for Learning Chairs’ Strategic Information Briefing.

Weeknotes #103 — Workshop

A productive week, albeit one didn’t seem to have many distinguishing features. We had the threat of snow lingering all week but it never happened; it’s been very cold but also very dry.

This was a week in which I:

  • Spent Monday and Tuesday morning with the rest of our IT management team in a workshop, defining and refining the responsibilities for each of our functions. It was good to have made this explicit and I’ve already referred to the resulting documentation when something came up later in the week.
  • Took my team through the results of the workshops.
  • Continued to update my ‘new ways of work’ proposal ahead of the next management team session where this will be the core topic. This is really starting to come together now.
  • Had a productive meeting with colleagues from our wider group where we agreed on a way forward for digitising our IP address management.
  • Met with a colleague who is looking to start a ‘random coffee’ initiative in their department and offered them the basic spreadsheet that I put together.
  • Had another couple of introductory meetings with candidates for our Head of Infrastructure and Operations role.
  • Attended an internal all-hands briefing update on the equity markets.
  • Joined a ThoughtWorks webinar for the second edition of Infrastructure as Code, but didn’t stay long as it wasn’t really aimed at a randomly curious person like me. I would love to learn more about the concepts and practices but this wasn’t the place to do it.
  • Attended the first part of the Agile20 Reflect Event on An Agile Manifesto Futurespective. I really struggle with this type of event where I am wondering whether it is the best use of my time, particularly where there is little direct interaction and the videos will be made available. Three hours on a Friday evening was probably asking a bit much of anyone. The panel discussion was ok, but I ended up drifting back to working again and eventually left. Videos for the session are online.
  • Talked to our eldest son about his GCSE options, which he has to decide on in the next few weeks. His school has put together an excellent briefing pack and set of online videos. It probably works even better in this format than it would have done face-to-face. It feels like yesterday he was born and now here we are picking the subjects he’ll study for his first exams.
  • Had an ‘active recovery’ week on the bike trainer, with only one very early morning session in order to make an 8am meeting. With the temperature rising this week I may try and get a couple of runs in as well as cycling. I’ve only managed two this year, and both times I’ve ended up walking around like John Wayne for a week.

Next week: Finishing up the ‘new ways of working’ thinking ahead of the next workshop. Taking a day off on Friday to do something with the family who are all on a week’s holiday from school. (What, though, I have no idea.) And Album Club turns ten years old.

Weeknotes #102 — Sooner Safer Happier

An enjoyable week. I felt like I got lots done, and had some breakthroughs with the ‘ways of work’ changes that I am trying to define for our department. I am itching to complete this, socialise it, turn it into action and get back to focusing on delivery. Hopefully I will get this out in the coming week.

This was a week in which I:

  • Started Monday morning with my first migraine in a year or so. I’m lucky in that they don’t hit me very hard, but the aura for the hour beforehand is frustrating in that I can’t see to be able to read anything easily.
  • Handed over to my small team to give brief updates on where we are with our key initiatives in a weekly department meeting. It was much more effective and interactive than me giving the updates myself; we should have done this sooner.
  • Went through the third detailed review of our low-level design for our New York office. We are on track to baseline this by the end of next week.
  • Aligned with key members of our the team on the sequencing of our next few large infrastructure changes.
  • Completed the first published version of our Team Charter. The whole exercise felt very positive and the team seemed to feel safe enough to contribute and discuss what we collectively came up with.
  • Prepared my contribution for a two-morning strategy session with the management team on Monday and Tuesday next week.
  • Reviewed and agreed the scope of back-end infrastructure work in our Dubai office following the move out of another company’s equipment from our comms room.
  • Worked with the team on planning roles across the whole of our organisation who will get involved with one of the Group’s signature programmes over the next few weeks and months.
  • Continued interviews for our Head of Infrastructure and Operations role.
  • Arranged for our CIO to meet our planned new hire in Beijing.
  • Started the outline of an ‘introduction to IT’ curriculum for a colleague in China.
  • Agreed next steps for our planned Architecture Board which is still on track to get started this quarter.
  • Discussed another printing solution with a vendor. It’s always a great experience when you feel like you have an expert in the room who can answer all of your questions.
  • Met our new account/sales manager at one of our smaller vendors, and spent some time explaining who we are and our history with their firm.
  • Attended our first school Full Governing Board meeting of the year. I miss meeting the other governors but there is something about being online that makes us more effective — it’s great to have all of the information we need at everyone’s fingertips. Our Chair is really exceeding with the amount of things that she is doing at the moment. It’s great that we now have a number of new governors around the table.
  • Attended a Meetup with the team behind the new book Sooner Safer Happier. It’s interesting how many events of this type are now being brave enough to move away from the ‘webinar’ format, with anyone being able to unmute their video and audio for the session. Telling people that they are on mute is still a regular thing, but telling them to go on mute is rare. After the authors had given us a run through of the key takeaways from the book, I took the opportunity to get some input into my specific situation and the issues I have been struggling with. The feedback they gave me was very useful. I’ve bought the book, and although I know that this won’t be the silver bullet for anything I expect it to be an interesting read.
  • Attended the fourth webinar in the Diverse Governance series, on the governing body’s strategic role in delivering an inclusive education.

  • Enjoyed two ‘random coffee’ catch-ups this week, one having been delayed from last week due to my coffee partner’s workload. It was lovely to talk to someone that I used to chat to late at night in our office that I hadn’t spoken to in almost a year.
  • Struggled to fit in my planned indoor bike exercise with early morning meetings. I had one day where I got up just after 5am to get on the bike and felt horrible all day. The early morning meetings are likely to continue until the clocks go forward at the end of March.
  • Wandered over to drop off a birthday card to a close friend who has just moved to the other side of our town. They moved somewhere bigger and better after having been a few doors away from us for a decade or so. We haven’t really seen each other for a proper catch-up since the pandemic started, but I’m still missing them. Last year I took him to see the Smoke Fairies as his birthday present; I can’t wait to be able to do this again.

Next week: Two mornings in a management strategy session, getting our New York infrastructure design completed, finishing the ‘new ways of work’ initiative, more interviews, more agile training, and trying to stay warm.

Weeknotes #101 — Dreaming

So that was January. Over in the blink of an eye. I’m so glad that the days are starting to get noticeably longer. A few bulb shoots and crocuses have started to pop up in the back garden, so despite the recent snow it feels like spring is a little bit closer. I’m really looking forward to things warming up and spending some more time outdoors, even if it is just to have lunch in the back garden during the warmest part of the day.

It felt like another really busy week, with many hours sitting on video calls. Despite getting some exercise most mornings I felt stiff after all of the hours in the chair and can feel the stress inside me. I don’t have enough of a window to go for a good walk during the middle of the day, but I’m going to look for opportunities to get out more, even if it is just to wander around the block.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had a half-day meeting with our CIO and Head of Governance and Control to plan our management team strategy session. It was very productive. We now have an agreed plan, with structured meetings, materials and agendas in place.
  • Followed up with our planned new hire in Beijing as we hadn’t spoken since before Christmas. If all goes well, I am hoping he will be joining us in late February after the Chinese New Year holiday.
  • Continued with interviews for Head of Infrastructure and Operations role. We have now added a stage to the process where I meet the candidates ‘informally’ for a coffee chat ahead of the main interviews; this is very useful for clarifying the role and making sure we’re aligned ahead of the interview itself.
  • Worked with the team running a large Group programme on how we will fill specific programme roles and representatives from our area.
  • Looked at the backup technology used in our wider group. We agreed to stick with what we have for now as there are no significant advantages to changing.
  • Looked at tools we can use to make our IP address management easier.
  • Was grateful for the team who had an early start to run various performance tests on our Beijing network, particularly a colleague in London who is coordinating the efforts. We now have a good set of remediation tasks in place.
  • Revisited how our internal governance and compliance teams interact with the data within Microsoft 365.
  • Continued with work on our Team Charter. We now have draft statements which I put out to a short survey, which everyone completed within a day or two. Hopefully we will complete this work next week.
  • Watched a short external vendor demo on Microsoft 365 Defender. I’m never going to be an expert, but it is good to know that it exists and what its capabilities are.
  • Attended an internal seminar on the UK Africa Investment Conference.
  • Started making my meetings finish 5 mins before the half hour or hour, to give people a little gap before their next one. Microsoft Teams has recently added a banner warning that appears 5 minutes before the end of a session, so this is now 10 minutes before the end of an hour. A small contribution in trying to make life better for everyone.
  • Attended the Liberating Structures London Meetup. It was my first time there, and such a positive experience with a very welcoming group. The hosts were excellent organisers, and the use of the Structures in the meeting served to reinforce how useful they are. It’s one thing to read about them, but another to participate and feel their inclusiveness. Liberating structures has been described as “good practice at being a human being” and “democratising discussion”, both of which ring true.
  • Spoke to my financial advisor for the first time this year. I consolidated my pensions into ethical investments a few years ago now and am so glad I did.
  • Was impressed with my boys and their continued focus on home learning. They struggle with distractions a bit, but don’t we all? I am so grateful that they are of secondary school age and don’t need my constant supervision. My wife worked from home on Thursday which is unusual, but she had a full day of remote work to do as well, so we were all beavering away.
  • Prepared for our first school Full Governing Board meeting of the year.
  • Took part in a family quiz with my brothers, my parents and their families. Kahoot! is a great platform for these types of get-togethers, with live scoring after each round keeping it fun for everyone.
  • Was so pleased to see a close friend of mine sign up to micro.blog, the loveliest social space on the Internet. He was looking for somewhere pleasant to hang out, and micro.blog is definitely that.
  • Got my reading page up and running on my blog, with links added for all books. Missing, ‘mini-reviews’ are to follow where I can remember what I read. I don’t feel like I read a lot but when you see over 10 years’ worth of books on one page it’s quite something.
  • Listened to Tortoise Media’s four-part series on Hidden Homicides, women that have been killed by their partners but not counted. It was harrowing, but encouraging that there is focus on this.
  • Finished reading The End of Epidemics by Jonathan D. Quick. I’d started this back in March/April last year, as we went into lockdown and the pandemic took hold. I had to put it down as I found it all too much to dig into at the same time as spending my days full of anxiety, watching the terrible news roll in. If only people had read this book when it came out and had used it when things started to develop. It’s all here.
  • Continued to have lots of bizarre dreams, although they seem to have stopped waking me up in the middle of the night. Highlights this week have been:
    • One dream where I found myself attending the University of the West of England as a mature student (an institution that I have never visited in real life), but trying to figure out why the Students’ Union was miles away in a different city and I didn’t have a permit to drive. It felt good to be starting something new with a mature mindset, but the overwhelming feeling was one of the people working there frustrating me with their indifference and nobody offering to help me get my driving permit.
    • Another where a close friend and I both had balloons that we could blow up and hold, which would lift us in the air and take us out across the countryside and through weird buildings. I kind of enjoyed this one and was sad when my alarm went off.

Next week: A school Governing Board meeting, a webinar on Sooner Safer Happier and the next in the series on Diversity in School Governance. I’ve also taken to blocking free space in my calendar again to try and move forward on the work I need to do — let’s see if that yields results.