Another typical week brimming with meetings. Lockdown has been fascinating as a study into mental and emotional wellbeing. Tuesday and Wednesday were very similar in size and shape, but felt completely different. On Tuesday I felt like I was drowning in work, with no agency based on the amount of things in my diary that I couldn’t shift, and not spending enough time helping my boys with their schoolwork. But Wednesday had a serenity about it, despite no significant changes to anything. It made me think of the pseudoscience of the Biorhythms programme that was on the Welcome tape for my Acorn Electron computer; perhaps some days are just extra hard for no good reason.
I feel like I got a lot done this week, but am still struggling to spend my time on the core of what I think I need to do in organising the team around a clear set of priorities, and methods to approach the work.
This was a week in which I:
Spent nearly three hours in the evening with our CIO wrestling with the ‘ways of work’ problem. We’re edging closer, but I am still so very wary of creating negative disruption by introducing something half-baked to the team.
Participated in four more interviews for our Head of Infrastructure and Operations role. It’s been very good to stick to the same set of questions for each of the candidates, an attempt to judge them on their answers as opposed to the rapport we have with them. It’s such an inexact process. If you know anyone looking for an IT infrastructure leadership role in a small, brilliantly supportive team, please do get in touch!
Welcomed the news that a good candidate for an IT support role in Beijing is keen to join us. It will be great to get this function up and running locally, and give a rest to our wonderful colleague in Johannesburg who has been getting up early for months.
Reviewed the draft terms of reference for our planned Architecture Governance Authority.
Met with the entire Dubai office to talk about our work of mapping our business processes with a view to looking at how we can improve things with technology, as part of a Group-wide programme that has recently kicked off.
Caught up with our IT colleagues from the other part of the firm that sits outside Africa to discuss how we will collaborate on this same initiative.
Met with our SD-WAN vendor to discuss issues relating to one of our locations.
Handed over the project of building out the end-state back-end infrastructure for our New York office to one of my colleagues.
Met with the vendor who are partnering with us for the New York deployment. They have allocated a new project manager and technical staff member to the work and so far I am very impressed.
Reviewed our Microsoft licencing requirements for the coming year.
Fixed our financial forecast spreadsheet so that we are accurately reporting against our budget numbers for 2021.
Ran a session with the whole department to start to draft a Team Charter. I am extremely grateful for Stuart’s facilitation of the session for us. The team took to the session with a lot of enthusiasm and I am hoping to complete it next week.
Welcomed back our last colleague to return from their Christmas break.
Had to work for a few hours at the weekend in order to catch up with the pile of to-dos on my desk and get a few smaller items off of my plate, in the hope that this will help with the feeling of overwhelm next week.
Chaired the primary school’s first Finance, Premises and Personnel Committee meeting of the year. It was the first meeting in a while where I felt I had been able to prep quite a few days ahead of time, and it went very smoothly.
Started my week with a run, the first time in a while that I’ve donned my trainers. As usual, I ended up spending a lot of the rest of the week walking around like John Wayne as my running muscles aren’t used to the work. I plan to try and run a bit more on the days that I don’t have a scheduled cycle, especially as the weather improves towards spring.
Watched a ton of snow fall down in the time it took me to ride for a turbo session. It was wonderful to see the boys playing outside, away from their Xboxes. We eventually had to retrieve them from one of the hills, quite some time after dark, when they were the last ones still skidding down the slopes!
Continued my journey through the works of John Steinbeck by starting Cannery Row. I’m grateful that I stopped off to read other texts that covered the end of his 1930s period as it gave good context to the novel. Visiting Monterey and Carmel in 2019 has also helped me to ‘see’ the book in a way I haven’t done before.
Read a teeny bit more of the excellent Agile Estimating and Planning by Mike Cohn. I’m struggling to allocate time to finish it; the days are busy with work, I spend time with my family in the evening and it never feels right to finish the evening in bed buried in a textbook. Perhaps I just need to be more disciplined. I’m going to have to put some time aside at the weekend and plough through.
Next week: Detailed planning for a management team strategy session, more interviews and continuing to try and get the new ways of working processes finalised and launched.
I really struggled to stay afloat this week. I had so many meetings and urgent things to move forward with that I didn’t have enough time for the bigger, more important work that I really need to push forward with. Friday came quickly, but I ended it under a pile of tasks and unprocessed emails. I’m feeling exhausted and, unusually for me, I didn’t sleep well this week; one night I lay in bed with a sense of panic that I was late to start the day and when I finally resolved to get up, I found it was just after 2am. Prior to the pandemic I used to have two or three late evenings a week in the office where I bashed through lots of work, but this has been replaced by family time. I’m grateful to be able to eat with my children every day, but with exercise having replaced my morning commute I now have much less dedicated work time than ever.
This was a week in which I:
Had many early morning calls with colleagues in Sydney and Beijing.
Struggled to make sense of different reports about how well our network is working at one of our sites. We may need to invest in some more capable end-user experience monitoring tools to diagnose things.
Appreciated the candour a colleague showed in their feedback to me on how well (or otherwise) some of our regular meetings are working. This is part of the bigger thing that I am trying to prioritise.
Solicited feedback from each of our team members on their top 3–5 priorities for the first part of this year, as input into a top-down planning exercise.
Had a long-standing mental model of how a part of our infrastructure works challenged by new information. We now need to definitively answer the questions that this has thrown up and make sure that we document it for shared understanding.
Caught up with one of our key technology partners/suppliers on a whole raft of items that we are working on together.
Rebooted the project to complete the back-end infrastructure work in New York. We now have a little momentum behind us that we need to capitalise on.
Agreed a way forward for our backup strategy for our smaller offices.
Ran our two Change Approval Board meetings.
Reset our budget/forecast tracking spreadsheet for 2021, and reviewed the final numbers for 2020.
Attended an ‘all hands’ meeting on the impact of Brexit to our business.
Shook the tree on hiring our Head of IT Infrastructure and Operations, and generated a couple of leads to follow up with.
Had my first annual appraisal since becoming a full-time employee again.
Had two random coffees, one with a colleague in Beijing and another in London, both of whom I had never spoken to before. We now have 80 participants in the scheme and it still seems to be providing a lot of value.
Finished reading John Steinbeck’s Bombs Away: The Story of a Bomber Team. A really strange, interesting work of propaganda that came three years after The Grapes of Wrath. I found it hard to adjust to Steinbeck being so jingoistic and celebratory about the history of US gun ownership and how it contributes to staffing the Air Force with excellent gunners, for example, when a number of his previous works had been about the common, working poor railing against big business and the state. Perhaps the magnitude of events and the need to play a part in a potentially existential crisis overrode everything.
Hosted Album Club on Zoom, with my pick for the month being Six by Mansun. From the feedback it seemed as though everyone enjoyed a foray into ‘Brit-prog’ from the late 1990s.
Next week: The last of our global team come back to work after their Christmas break. Time is running out for me to get the main part of my work completed, refocusing everyone with new ways of working that will allow us to ‘stop starting and start finishing’, as lean/agile advocates like to say.
Back to work. I felt well-rested and ready to return to the keyboard, and unlike previous years didn’t feel that I hadn’t made the most of my time off. Working for a South African firm, with December and January being peak summer for my colleagues in Johannesburg, means that people tend to trickle back over a period of a couple of weeks. This is great in that the pace isn’t relentless from day one, but it does mean that some people aren’t present for the ‘kick off’ meetings that put a marker down for the year ahead.
The terrible COVID-19 infection, hospitalisation and death numbers as well as the hideous events at the US Capitol building completely overwhelmed any sense of 2021 being a fresh start. Given that COVID-19 has mutated and is running rampant in both the UK and South Africa it was really important to check in with the team on how everyone was coping before we got into the detail of work. Quite a few of us now have friends and family that have been touched by the disease, or are currently ill. The school where I am a governor places great emphasis on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and recognises that the children can’t focus, learn and do their best work if there is something more fundamental that needs to be addressed first. Our company, and our management team in particular, are also very good at ensuring that everyone knows what the priorities are — family comes first, and there is a culture of trust in letting people take time to do what they need to do in order to come back to their desk and be effective.
This was a week in which I:
Got aligned with my boss on the work I had completed before Christmas, a draft of a proposed new way of working across our team. It was great to get focused on this again. There’s lots to do, but we’re aligned and have a clear way forward for further work on this next week.
Caught up with emails and updates on our LeanKit boards. I am grateful that the organisation runs on a skeleton crew over the holidays so this wasn’t a big task.
Picked off a few long-outstanding items that had been hanging around in my email, getting my outstanding mails down to less than 100 for the first time in four years or so.
Talked to a few colleagues in Beijing to push forward on a few different initiatives that we had been working on before Christmas. I have a few early morning calls lined up for next week and this may be the status quo for a little while.
Helped out a colleague in São Paulo who was looking for a tool (or tools) to manage and present on work across the team.
Ran our first IT change approval board of the new year.
Met with our HR and recruitment teams about a key IT technical leadership role that we have been trying to fill for some months. Last year we found someone who looked as though they would be great for the role but they took another job that they couldn’t refuse, so we’re back to square one.
Checked in with a technology consultancy that I used to work with as a client over a decade ago. We get in touch every year or two and the contacts there are still the same even after all this time, a tribute to how good their firm must be as a place to work.
Restarted our ‘random coffee’ sessions after the Christmas break. We now have more participants than ever, with almost 40 pairings happening every week.
Met a colleague in our Group IT team who has expertise in physical door access systems, invaluable as we look to replace the technology in a couple of our offices over the next few months.
Caught up with an old colleague via an old-fashioned phone call in response to a ‘check-in’ text that I sent her. It was so lovely to talk again. I’m going to try and keep in touch with a few more people than usual this year.
Met with a fellow governor and the site manager at our primary school to look at a number of things we need to address on the premises over the next few years. We were fully masked and very socially distanced outdoors, and it was a nice experience to actually meet people in person again.
Had a Zoom call with a cute nephew for his birthday. His mum is currently in hospital with COVID-19 so we made sure we made a small fuss of him. Hopefully she’ll be back with the family in a few days.
Spoke to my Nan who turned 90 this week. It feels like yesterday that we got together for her 80th birthday. She’s keeping safe and well.
Took a lovely family walk down to our castle and around the town. The best thing about a freezing cold walk is how much you appreciate a cup of tea when you get back home.
Sat down with the family to work out how we will cope with many more weeks of home learning. I know I expect too much of the boys, particularly as I have over 20 years experience of sitting at a desk with a computer, getting work done. They need supervision but I also need to get on with work. Home schooling seems a lot more organised for this lockdown, with many more ‘live lessons’ to give their day more structure.
Finished reading Carol and John Steinbeck: Portrait of a Marriage by Susan Shillinglaw. It was a superb read, giving a real insight into the people involved (and there were more than two of them) without judging. Shillinglaw did an excellent job, particularly given that Carol didn’t keep much of a diary at any point. Steinbeck’s work up to and including The Grapes of Wrath were influenced and, in his words for this book specifically, “willed” by his wife who even suggested the title. I’ve been working my way through the Steinbeck bibliography and stopped off on my journey to read a few different books that discuss this 1930s period; I think that I’ve completed my ‘reading around’ on this for now and will get back to the main body of work.
Tried to keep away from doomscrolling Twitter but struggled this week. It was hard to resist taking a look at what everyone was saying about the terrible news that kept pouring in.
Next week: More refinement of our ‘new ways of working’, my annual appraisal, and hosting Album Club again.
Based on the evidence of the past week, retirement would suit me fine. I got myself into a routine of reading until quite late, waking up around 8:30am, going out for a run or a session on the turbo trainer and then joining the family for lunch. Afternoons were then spent pottering around the house, typically settling down to watch one of Fred Astaire’s musical films, which I am working my way through in chronological order. Family dinners, movies and the occasional board games gave us a variety of things to do in the evening.
Typically I finish the Christmas holiday feeling as though I didn’t get anywhere near to doing all of the things that I wanted to do. I usually vastly underestimate how much of our time is taken up travelling around and going to events. This year has been very different due to the pandemic. I really missed seeing friends and family, but being able to get into a relaxed routine at home has been lovely. Perhaps if one in every few Christmas holidays was like this, it would be great.
It feels like 2021 is off to a shaky start. The COVID-19 statistics in the UK look terrible, and it feels inevitable that we will close schools nationally as well as have some kind of major lockdown in the coming days. I don’t understand why the government gets to decisions so much later than everyone else, making the situation even worse than it already is. Both my boys won’t be going back to their secondary school for a couple of weeks now, and given the rates of infection and the number of people in hospital I suspect that they may not go back this month at all.
A week in which I:
Cleared out our little loft area and took a whole heap of rubbish to the recycling centre. It’s amazing how much stuff accumulates even when you think things are relatively tidy.
Took the tree and decorations down. Usually we’d wait a while, but the tree collection service run by the Scouts isn’t operating this year, so we had to get organised quickly to avoid having to shred the tree ourselves.
Turned 44. It was an even more relaxed New Year’s Eve than usual, and the whole house was in bed by 12:15am.
Working from home since mid-March has been incredible for the amount of exercise I’ve been able to do. Before the pandemic, I would only exercise on a day that I wasn’t going into London. I’m now able to fit in something on most days, taking days off only when I feel that I need to. I came to fitness in my late 30s after a lifetime of doing not much at all, and couldn’t imagine not exercising now. Strava tells me that I managed to do something on the vast majority of days this past year; you can see what happened after mid-March in their graph:
Next week: Back to work. 2021 feels like a blank canvas right now, and there is much that I want to get done in terms of how we approach what we are doing. The first few weeks will be focused on this, as well as getting some momentum with external partners on some work that we didn’t manage to complete last year.
Halfway through a two-week break from work for Christmas and New Year. I have always had an ability to switch off from work, which serves me well mentally. Our eldest boy had to self-isolate until Boxing Day, so we’ve largely been confined to the house.
A week in which I:
Keep hearing of more and more friends and family that have had a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. I hope that the statistics don’t see a large surge due to people getting together over Christmas.
Had the chimney swept. We don’t use the fire much but it had been a few years since the last sweeping and thought it was about time to clean it again. It’s been lovely to have a real fire in the evening.
Watched a live production of A Christmas Carol from the Old Vic in London. Nowhere near as good as being there, but as close as we could get to a theatre visit this year. It felt good to be supporting the theatre with our tickets and donation as well.
Played some BBC Micro games with the boys via an emulator. (I think they were humouring me, but it was nice that they did.) It seems that I haven’t lost my 8-bit keyboard skills. Arcadians is still superb.
Enjoyed a relaxed Christmas at home. The boys were very happy with their gifts and we got to enjoy a delicious home-cooked roast dinner. I don’t eat meat and the rest of the family don’t eat it much so it was unusual to have the oven on for more than 30 minutes. The boys decided themselves to stay off of the Xbox for the day and to join us for family video calls and board games, which was lovely.
Laughed through an online family quiz organised by my brother. I’d never used Kahoot! before, but it was perfect — getting immediate feedback on where we were on the scoreboard after each round kept it fun for everyone.
Haven’t been truly hungry in some days now. Other than Christmas Day I’ve been on the turbo trainer and/or going out for a run but I fear that the level of eating is far surpassing anything that I’m burning off.
Had a ridiculously muddy family bike ride. All of the bridleways around here are muddy swamps. We had one boy enjoying himself and wanting to get as muddy as possible, with the other not loving it one bit and wanting to get back onto the road.
Seem to have got into a routine of going to sleep at 1am and getting up late. I’ll need to fix this over the next week.
Next week: More time off, with literally nothing on the agenda other than turning 44.
A strange week where everything seemed to be on half power. Colleagues that were still working — including me — seemed to have one foot in the holidays, but we had to keep pushing ahead of what will be a very busy start to 2021.
A week in which I:
Completed my first draft of our ‘new ways of work’ document and published it to a few colleagues for review. I’m excited about changing how we do things. The challenge will be to hold ourselves to account by ensuring that we regularly review what is and isn’t working, and then adapting it further. I am still concerned about how (and even if) we slice the team into sub-teams to tackle the backlog, but we will work it out. As ever, Stuart Mann has been a massive help and I am very thankful for his time this week.
Attended an internal Brexit training course. To be this close to year end and to still not know what UK companies should be preparing for is shocking. This really is the most incompetent UK government I have ever seen in my lifetime.
Had my final Random Coffee for the year. I’ve had so much good feedback on this initiative from people across the firm. I’m extremely grateful for Chris Weston of the WB-40 podcast pointing me towardsthe idea. If we ever get back to being office-based I hope that these will continue face-to-face. We finish the year having had just shy of 1,000 coffee pairings between 99 different people since mid-May.
Joined our monthly São Paulo governance call. Sometimes I realise just how wonderful technology is — our CEO was out and about in São Paulo but still managed to join us on a videoconference via their mobile phone.
Ran another interview for our IT Infrastructure and Operations manager in Beijing. Hopefully we can have someone in this role in January to take a bit of pressure off of our Johannesburg team.
Reviewed some CVs for our Head of IT Infrastructure and Operations role in London and gave more feedback to our recruitment team as to why the role, and this team, is so special.
Met with the team that will run the back-end infrastructure implementation deployment in our New York office. We had to put this work aside earlier in 2020 due to other priorities, so it will be good to get going with it again.
Had a wonderful experience courtesy of the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris. They ran an event called A Song Just For You At Christmas, where 35 lucky participants joined a Zoom call and then were taken into individual break-out rooms, each with an individual Irish musician, for a personal musical performance. I’ve spent a good portion of my working life over the past four years on video calls, so it was wonderful to find that they can still be a source of delight and joy. I was so lucky to be paired up with Lauren Kinsella and Matt Robinson who played and sang four songs for me in the 20 minutes we had together. The music was so beautiful — a mixture of a 250-year old Irish folk song, a Snowpoet track, an acappella Gillian Welch tune and a rendition of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. At the end of the set we all got back together in one big Zoom room where some of the artists took turns in playing or singing a song for everyone. Music is so incredible.
Joined the WB-40 podcast team and WhatsApp group members for their year-end event, a ‘World Cup of Gadgets’. I was distraught that Clip-Its (Bevara for Ikea people) — one of my submissions — went out in the first round, with the ultimate winner being the original PlayStation. A total upset. Despite this, it was a fun way to spend an evening and a good way of getting to know some of the people that I’ve spent days and weeks chatting with on the WhatsApp channel.
Rounded the working week off with the latest Album Club. Always great to be introduced to an artist that I’d never heard before.
Watched the new Bee Gees biopic with my wife. I’ve been listening to a lot of Bee Gees ever since I heard that this film was coming out. It’s very well done. The only disappointment is that it is less than two hours long and seemed to just skim the surface — I would love to see an extended version (six hours might cover it) that goes into much more depth. The music soars, and Barry Gibb is clearly heartbroken by being the last of his family to survive.
Carried on with my journey through Buster Keaton’s early silent work by watching Coney Island (1917) and Out West (1918). Neither of them were anything to write home about, apart from the occasional pratfall or backflip by Keaton. Both were marred by racism, the first with a scene that was deleted from the end of the film quite early on in its life and the second where everyone in a bar starts shooting at the feet of a black kid to make him dance. Horrendous. The one good thing was the discovery of The Witching Waves, an early bumper-car type ride with wicker cars and a moving floor. Apparently these were installed in various amusement parks around the world. I had to go back and watch the scene twice as I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Next week: Two weeks off for Christmas, trying to relax and enjoy some time at home, whilst watching in horror as we punch ourselves in the face with Brexit right at the point where the pandemic reaches its zenith.
December is always a challenge. It’s the height of summer in South Africa, and my colleagues there start turning their attention to the end of the school year and summer holidays. In the UK we get thinking about Christmas. Typically I find myself battling two ‘mes’ — one that wants to relax into some time off at the end of a busy year, and another that needs to focus on the groundwork so that the team can hit the ground running in January. Kind of like Superman III but without the physique.
Over the past two weeks I:
Took a day off to spend with the boys while their school was shut for the day. I introduced them to the concept of the McDonalds breakfast (the best kind), we went for a walk in the woods and then spent the afternoon playing Xbox together. A few weeks ago a colleague said to me that “you spend time with the people you love” and it has been ringing in my ears ever since. It was time well spent.
Tried to focus on the ‘new ways of work’ that we’ll experiment with as a team next year. Most of the global IT organisation are following the Scaled Agile Framework. Whether we decide to go with those practices, or even Scrum, I am struggling with applying this to a team of our size and what we do. We are around 20 people who at the moment mainly focus on infrastructure implementation and configuration, such as networks, firewalls, Wi-Fi and Microsoft 365. Everything I read about agile points towards self-sufficient software teams of 5–9 people. 20 seems too big, but I don’t see how I can easily break us into two teams, or whether that would even be the ideal setup. I would love to hear from anyone who has had experience with this.
Asked the team what they want to change for next year. Alignment around common goals, more committed planning and some accountability for pieces of work that have drifted were common themes.
Finished reading Product Roadmaps Relaunched in a weekend. Of course, the book doesn’t contain all the answers, but it gave me some very useful pointers and general guidance on putting together a roadmap. (Top tips: Don’t use a timeline with ‘task’ durations, and ensure your ‘things’ are outcomes, not outputs.)
Moved onto reading Agile Estimating and Planning by Mike Cohn. My Amazon receipt tells me that I bought my copy of the book in 2008. I’m about 50 pages in; so far there are no revelations, but Cohn has such an incredibly readable style and some brilliant prose on the reasons why things should be done in a certain way.
Had another session with Stuart Mann to go through my thinking on all of this so far. I’m so grateful for him giving me the time, as well as some sage advice that at some point you need to stop reading and start doing — nobody ever ran a marathon by reading about it, at some point you have to put on a pair of trainers and start training.
Continued spending a lot of time with client-facing colleagues to uncover details on what they do, what processes they follow and what their pain points are. If everything goes to plan, this will be the start of a new line of work for the team next year.
Had a lot of early morning meetings, with year-end sessions scheduled by the IT team in South Africa as well as interviewing for our open position in Beijing.
Finalised plans for our annual backup restore test, the first one of which will take place next week.
Attended our online year-end function at work. I’ve recently seen a lot of negative comments from friends who have been put through some well-intended but awful corporate events. Ours was genuinely brilliant. Our communications team delivered a hamper to everyone in the team no matter where they were — even reaching a colleague who was isolating in a hotel in Australia after emigrating there. We all gathered online on Thursday afternoon for a few hours of fun. We had a speech from our CEO, a photo montage of 2020 across our global team, a hilarious video of the brave ones among us who recorded themselves singing Bohemian Rhapsody as well as some comedy online bingo. There’s such a wonderful sense of community and teamwork right across the firm; it’s an incredible place to work and I feel so fortunate to be a part of it.
Attended our final school Full Governing Board meeting of the year. We’re missing something by not seeing each other in person, but the meetings seem to be more efficient now that they have moved online.
Had to get up at 6am for two Sundays in a row in order to fit in my two hours of scheduled bike training, running the line at my youngest son’s football match and watching the Formula One race. By early on Sunday evening both weekends I was completely spent, but it felt good to have not frittered the days away.
Got the Christmas lights up in the front garden. They are a bit longer than I had planned for, so we now have the entire perimeter of our front lawn illuminated every night.
Solved the condensation problem in my home office by buying a dehumidifier. I now have a new game of seeing how high I can raise the relative humidity in the room during a turbo trainer session. 🤢
Next week: My first meeting-lite week in a while. Planning on using the time to get my thinking finished and written down on changes to our working practices for next year. Plus, drinks for a certain podcast that I follow and our last Album Club of 2020.
This felt like a really pivotal week. By Friday afternoon I was exhausted, but I didn’t want the week to end as my creative juices were flowing. The central focus was once again picking up and thinking about how we will manage work across our global team in 2021 and beyond.
Most of our wider organisation uses the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), with self-sufficient agile ‘feature teams’ of 6–8 people, rolling up into larger constructs. This doesn’t work for us out of the box as (a) we are 15–20 people who do everything, from the helpdesk, to choosing and managing hardware, to network management, telephony management and managing our Microsoft 365 configurations, and (b) we don’t actually do that much pure development work. We could try and split the team down into three agile teams, but it’s hard to do when the required skillset of each team is so diverse.
My mission is to put a little bit of structure into the work so that we focus our efforts on less things, finish more things, and start to have some more predictability over what we will deliver in the near-term.
For the first time in three or four years, I don’t have any milestones that I have committed to and have a little bit of space to do this thinking instead of focusing on getting work out of the door myself.
This week I:
Got alerted to a production issue late on Sunday afternoon, and didn’t get to bed until after 2am on Monday when we were finally happy that it had been resolved. I always hate the feeling at the start of a major incident where we are not sure what the problem is or whether it will be fixable — I have to consciously stop my mind from catastrophising and to focus on the facts. It’s so important to take things slow and steady when things are broken and to piece together a simple plan of action to get them working again. I was in awe of my colleagues in Johannesburg who were two hours ahead of me and didn’t complain once, despite needing to get up and look after their families the next day.
Met with the brilliant Stuart Mann to talk through the work planning and management problem that I’m trying to solve. We actually met a year ago but events overtook me during the past year, so not much has really changed. It’s great to have someone so experienced and knowledgeable in the organisation, and I’m determined to keep the dialogue open as I work things out.
Took our CIO through a sample of our project backlog so that we are on the same page with what we have left to do from the major programme we’ve been running for the past few years.
Spent time thinking about roadmaps and how to put them together for our work. I’ve picked up a copy of Product Roadmaps Relaunched and ploughed through half of it over the weekend, as well as watching a few videos of presentations given by the authors. (I really do need to remember that YouTube videos saved to Instapaper are a great alternative to whatever happens to be on TV.) As always, there is no recipe or secret sauce, but there are loads of great points on how to approach the problem, such as ensuring that the focus is on outcomes instead of outputs, that the work has been prioritised well, and that it is clearly of value to the customer.
Learned that wireless access points really don’t like being squirrelled away in ceiling voids and would prefer to be on show. Obvious in retrospect.
Started to run a small team meeting with my two direct reports, in place of the 1:1 meetings that we used to have. We should have done this ages ago — it feels great to work out ideas together and to get aligned as a team.
Spent time with business colleagues to continue to map our ‘as is’ client processes, with a view to looking at where the key pain points are.
Had the pleasure of meeting with Tom Arbuthnot to discuss tools for reviewing and diagnosing all manner of problems with Microsoft Teams meetings. His monthly podcast is excellent, and it was great to be able to get some time with him to go deeper on some of the topics.
Reviewed and agreed our regular backup and restore testing process.
Trained a colleague in Beijing on LeanKit and how we use it within the team.
Interviewed candidates for the local Infrastructure and Operations manager/helpdesk role in our Beijing office.
Attended our monthly IT governance review for our Dubai office.
Along with four colleagues, won an award at work for ‘connectivity and collaboration’ during the past year. It was a bit overwhelming to be nominated and selected amongst such an excellent group of people. It’s a fantastic company to work for, and provides an environment where anyone can have an idea that will be listened to, with space and support being given to put the idea into action.
Reviewed the aggregated feedback from our annual employee survey.
Enjoyed another lovely ‘random coffee’ with a colleague, someone who grew up in Mauritius and South Africa and is now living in London. At this time of year, with the weather as bleak as it has been, I had to resist the overwhelming desire to ask “why?”
Watched in horror as Romain Grosjean crashed on the first lap of the Bahrain Grand Prix. It’s been many years since I’ve been concerned about a driver in an accident. Seeing the car explode in a ball of flame had all of us watching with our hands to our mouths. I’m so grateful that he seems to only have minor injuries.
Continued my journey through the short films of Buster Keaton, this time with the titillatingly-titled His Wedding Night (1917). This is one that is gladly tucked away in the historical dustbin, with casual racism and an odious Fatty Arbuckle drugging a woman with chloroform in order to steal a kiss while she is unconscious. How hiliarious.
Next week: Joining my boys for a day off, and using the rest of the short week — when I am not in meetings — to try and complete a paper prototype of our ‘new ways of working’.
Another couple of weeks that went by in the blink of an eye. The overwhelming feeling from the team is that everyone is worn out. December in South Africa is like August in the UK in that it is typically a time at work where things completely wind down; people are hanging on in there for their break.
Since we hit the last of our firm committed deadlines for 2020 a few weeks ago, things have felt a little bit adrift for me. There’s a lot happening, but I feel like I am in the ‘discover’ phase of the Double Diamond model, except that there are at least three or four Double Diamonds in play at the same time. More new things and pieces of information are landing on my desk than I am able to keep up with.
The wider organisation has kicked off some major initiatives and we are still working out what the impact is on us, and what we should do in response. I really suffer from being interested in everything, and wanting to learn as much as I can about the topics that come up. I need to try and keep myself operating at a higher level as there is no way that I can do it all.
Over the past two weeks I:
Have once again rediscovered my love of reading. When I felt ill a couple of weeks ago I wasn’t able to do much other than sit around and read, and I loved it. I felt the same when I found myself in hospital on holiday a few years ago — it was rubbish, but at least I could spend hours on end reading my book. I’ve taken to reading again whenever I get the chance, avoiding other distractions like social media and reading the news. It’s amazing how much material you can devour when you prioritise it.
Lost out on a key hire that we were making into our team when the candidate was offered a dream job in another company. We’re back to square one, and need to think of a different approach. Not having someone in this role continues to hamper us.
Heard some bad health news from two of my friends. It’s really been a year for it. Hoping they and their loved ones are on the mend soon.
Had a brilliant introductory meeting with a promising vendor in Beijing. They asked all the right questions and made us feel like they are there to help solve our problems, not to just throw things our way to make a quick buck. I’m hoping that they live up to their initial promise and our discussions bear fruit.
Spent a lot of time contributing our formal annual risk assessment for IT, and stepped in to represent IT in reviewing the summarised report across all of the departments.
Made some steps forward with establishing a regional IT Architecture board.
Reviewed our project backlog and made a quick and dirty summary of where any of the initiatives would require funding, if they were to be prioritised.
Chaired the Finance, Premises and Personnel Committee meeting at our school. I continue to be so impressed and proud of all the work that the staff are doing. They are incredible people.
Met with the Chair of Governors, the Headteacher and our Improvement Partner for the Headteacher’s annual appraisal.
Interviewed a prospective new governor. After a few years of drought it feels as though there are quite a few people putting themselves forward for the role, which bodes very well for the future.
Attended the latest LeanKit product update. Planview have just been acquired and I was concerned about what this meant for the company, so I continued my recent run of asking lots of questions in all of the webinars that I’ve been going to.
Got brought up-to-date with the state of Microsoft Project at the Microsoft 365 UK User Group meeting. Project for the web seems like a very basic ‘minimum viable product’ at the moment, and is definitely something that I won’t be using any time soon.
Thought a lot about the words of one of my colleagues when he said that “You spend time with the people you love”, or something to that effect. My boys have a couple of days off school soon, so I’m planning to take one of the days off to do whatever they want to do, even if that means playing some Xbox and going out for a takeaway lunch. Hopefully we can get dinner sorted for mum as well.
Had a random coffee with another of my colleagues in Sao Paulo, and had a lovely chat about how they had been getting on given that they had joined a new company in the middle of a global pandemic. The next week, my coffee was with a colleague in London that I knew only vaguely, so it was great to be able to get to know them a little better.
Spent time with a friend who is going through some difficult job-changing decisions to help him work through the various scenarios. I have my fingers crossed for him that all of the variables and timings land in his favour.
Popped into a live recording of the Postlight Podcast. It didn’t seem to work as well as the show normally does, but it was fun to see the two hosts live. I don’t know what I was expecting, but Rich Ziade looks nothing like his voice!
A week where I seemed very busy but ended up without any big achievements at the end of it. The three days that I took off the week before only served to give me a taste of pottering around the house reading, playing board games and generally not doing too much. I wasn’t quite ready to get back to the keyboard on Monday.
Our eldest boy, who had been diagnosed with COVID-19, finished his 10-day isolation period and went back to school on Tuesday, but my wife and younger son were at home all week while we continued to isolate. On Wednesday I started to feel light-headed, spaced-out and tired, and this gradually got worse through Friday afternoon, where I found it incredibly difficult to concentrate as the week came to an end. I went up to bed straight after dinner and got myself a solid night’s rest. This helped, but I still felt weird on Saturday. Another early night followed, and by Sunday I was starting to feel myself again. Of course, I was concerned that it was COVID-19, particularly as I have had no exposure to anyone and it is the only confirmed illness that we have had in the house. But I had none of the symptoms that are prerequisites to getting a test — no temperature, no coughing, no loss of taste or smell. Hopefully whatever it was is behind me now and I can get back to feeling normal again.
We’re out of our own personal lockdown and find ourselves emerging into the broader second lockdown for England. I suspect that this will be far less effective than the first as there is still so much activity going on with children attending school etc., as well as less of an acceptance by people to stay at home.
A week in which I:
Felt pleased at how the team had managed without me in my few days off. I had been tempted to jump into Teams chat threads a few times but held back, and I’m glad I did.
Marvelled at reports of how ‘normal’ life is for my colleagues in Beijing, particularly outside of the office.
Decided on a plan of action to improve the Wi-Fi in two of our locations, to be followed up quickly next week.
Was grateful for a colleague stepping in to cover early morning while we work on a more permanent support solution for our Asia time zone.
Seemed to quickly move from sleep credit to sleep deficit. Sunday night we had 50mph wind gusts keeping us awake, Monday night I had one my very occasional ‘oh my, what has happened to the world’ moments and Tuesday night I had a bizarre nightmare where I was climbing up a very tall aluminium ladder for no good reason and suddenly realised how high I was. It still makes my heart beat faster just thinking about it.
Attended a small internal seminar on mental wellbeing with Colinda Linde. The session had a specific slant on looking out for your team as a manager. It’s definitely a lot more difficult to do this when you aren’t seeing them on a regular basis, and need to be deliberate about scheduling face-to-face time.
Went to a short internal training course with Stuart Mann for a refresher on programme-level agile. He’s an excellent instructor and an even better writer. I need to try and spend some time with him to help focus on our specific concept, as our team is a weird shape and doesn’t quite fit the mould.
Gave a short demo of LeanKit to some internal staff, who are now interested in looking at it for their own purposes.
Had a lovely random coffee with a colleague from our Dubai office. I can’t believe it has been over a year since we were there putting the new IT infrastructure in place.
Was sad to see grassroots football cancelled with the second lockdown. Given how close everyone is to each other at the matches — the spectators to each other, the children playing the game, the managers and the linesmen — it felt inevitable.
Was pinned to CNN and Twitter during the aftermath of the US Election, seemingly like everyone else. The result is fascinating — just enough of a narrative for Trump to capitalise on, and nowhere near the complete rejection of the right-wing narcissistic fascism that he represents. Sadly people aren’t savvy enough, or interested enough, to understand how the vote changed as the postal ballots were counted. Perhaps it would be better not to report the totals in real-time at all?
Continued my journey through Steinbeck’s works by starting on Sea of Cortez. I read the ‘log’ portion as a teenager and found it a little boring, but coming back to it now as an adult it feels much more relatable. Stories of setting off on a quest, of the relation of tide pools to the universe, and of the boat crew to each other as they journey around Baja California is just the thing for a person who hasn’t left the house in weeks.
Treated myself to a few books written by people whose work I follow and enjoy on the Internet. Ian Dunt, Nina Schick and Katherine May. Kindle where it makes sense, and physical copies from Bookshop.org I want to pass them on.
Settled in and watched another paid gig from the comfort of my lounge, this time the Smoke Fairieslive from De La Warr Pavilion. The gig wasn’t truly live, having been recorded a few weeks before in an empty venue. But it felt like a good compromise to avoid all of the potential Internet connection and quality problems that being truly live might bring. The sound and vision were superb. The band joined everyone watching in the YouTube comments as we watched along, which was a lovely touch. They really are a special band.
Stumbled across Hope Griffin playing a live set at a vineyard. After the election was called for Joe Biden on Saturday evening, I browsed around Periscope to find some unfiltered ‘on the ground’ reaction. An acoustic gig was much more relaxing than what I had been seeking. I’ve found a few live musicians on the platform, and it’s magical when you stumble across someone that’s really good.
Had a scheduled ‘active recovery’ week on the turbo trainer, filled with low-intensity workouts. I’m doing a ramp test for the first time in quite a while on Tuesday and am interested in where Trainerroad thinks I’m at.
Next week: Hoping to have my energy back to attack the long list of things I need to get done. Many, many meetings at work and some important school governor duties to fulfil. Watching Marika Hackman live on Friday evening will be a great way to start the weekend.
This week was half term here in our part of the UK, which means that my wife and both of our children had the week off at home. Having taken barely any time off myself since Christmas, I booked Wednesday to Friday as holiday so that we could go out and do some things together as a family. Unfortunately, on Friday night our eldest boy started feeling ill with a slight temperature. We booked him in for a COVID-19 test on Saturday morning and then eagerly awaited the results. He was over his illness by the time the positive result came through on Tuesday afternoon, but it meant that the other three of us have to isolate until 6 November. Fortunately, none of us have shown any signs of getting ill. I still took the days off but spent them pottering around the house, which I was quite happy to do. I’m back to work again next week but my wife and youngest son will be at home with me, whilst our ‘patient zero’ heads back to school on Tuesday. I’m very thankful that it wasn’t more serious for him, and we seem to have escaped any ill-effects for now.
A week in which I:
Put together a small plan for how we can try and improve Wi-Fi at one of our sites that recently went live with new infrastructure. The plan was put into action while I was away for the rest of the week.
Spent a couple of hours with a team member going through the project work that follows-on from our ‘minimum viable office’ setup, building out the rest of the infrastructure.
Took part in the preparation for our annual formal risk assessment, and discussed how we can further embed risk management into what we do on an ongoing basis.
Had a random coffee with another colleague that I rarely spoke to in the office. Setting up a random coffee system for our part of the organisation is one of the best things I’ve done this year, and possibly ever.
Attended a ‘mini-masterclass’ webinar on Ulysses, the text editor I use for blogging. The session was hosted by Shawn Blanc of The Sweet Setup. Ulysses is a wonderful application in that the complexity is mostly hidden from view, so it was great to be reminded of some of the things it can do and to learn how Shawn organises all of his writing. I was so impressed with the software used for the class, and the coordination by the admin staff behind the scenes. The webinar is available online. They run a paid Learn Ulysses course which I would love to take if I could dedicate the time to it.
Met with the founders of Readwise, Daniel Doyon and Tristan Homsi, to talk about their product, and the Readmill-shaped hole in my life. I’d made notes beforehand and rattled through as much feedback as I could think of. Readwise has revealed itself to me slowly, and continues to delight me as I find out about more of its features. My main fear is that I commit time and effort to the platform and it goes away. I’m not yet as emotionally attached to it as I was to Readmill, but I am now committed to making it the centre of my ‘external long-term memory’ for the things I read.
Spent some time during my days off collating my book highlights that I made during the years between Readmill closing and going all-in on Kindle, and then uploaded them to Readwise. This took a few hours to get the data unformatted from the various notes and into a CSV file. For most of this period I used Marvin, a lovely iOS app which mainly suffers from not being part of the Kindle ecosystem — I stopped using it when I bought a Kindle device. I’ve now got nearly 6,000 book and article highlights into Readwise.
Binge-watched The Haunting of Hill House with my wife. It seemed like the natural thing to do after finishing the brilliant Haunting of Bly Manor. Watching TV in the daytime during my time off felt extremely indulgent — we never do it, other than for the Formula One. I think I enjoyed Hill House a little more, but both are excellent — just the right mix of horror and drama.
Started on the Buster Keaton boxed set that I bought a few weeks ago, which contains restored versions of all of his short films. So far I’ve made my way through The Butcher Boy (1917) and The Rough House (1917), both of which see Keaton playing a supporting role to Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle. Neither of them were life-changing, but there’s something amazing in watching films that are over 100 years old, and thinking about the context in which they were made. The films are public domain and available on YouTube, but these restorations on Blu-Ray are exquisite.
Caught up with a lot of sleep. I seem to naturally shut down around 1am and then wake up just before 9am, and it felt great to get a full eight hours for a few nights in a row.
Next week: Back to work. Planning to try and get my head up out of the detail to think more about how we can move from our Kanban ‘flow’ way of working towards a more structured, committed delivery plan. And moving out of isolation just as the country moves into a second version of a full lockdown.
Life goes by so fast right now. It has become a running joke in the team that it is “always Friday”. This is good in the sense that the weekend keeps turning up quickly but bad in the sense that you always wonder what just happened and how you didn’t get the things done that you wanted to.
A couple of weeks in which I:
Was up at 3:45am again for a day of working with the team in our Beijing office. We had a good result in that we have increased our capacity for wired devices, improved redundancy in our Internet/WAN connections and have re-established videoconferencing in some of our meeting rooms.
Met with the CEO of one of our International offices to discuss some of the networking problems they have been having. It’s a human trait to just work around problems without fuss, so our main focus was on emphasising reporting them so that we can investigate further.
Decided to take a few days off over the coming week while the boys are off school. I feel like I’ve hit a productivity wall and need a bit of rest, having only taken the odd day off here and there since January. I am not sure how much three days away from the keyboard will help, but it’s better than nothing.
Agreed a draft role spec for an IT support team member in Beijing. Will now need a crash course in Chinese employment law to see if hiring a temp is the same as it is in our other offices.
Got pulled into helping out with a flagship annual event run out of our São Paulo office, which like so many other events this year has gone virtual.
Continued to scratch my head at a large company-wide transformation initiative. I keep attending meetings where everyone seems to be running forward, and I feel like I’m the only one where I don’t understand what the destination is yet. People are willing to talk and share their views, and I am gaining knowledge with every interaction, but I am a few iterations away from truly understanding it.
Continued interviews for the role of Head of Infrastructure and Operations in our team. I am hopeful that we’ll have the right person in the team soon who can make a big difference for all of us.
Struggled to get to emails again. But people are learning that it is definitely not the best way to get hold of me.
Had a lovely ‘random coffee’ with an intern in our São Paulo office. There’s nothing like meeting someone literally half your age to make you feel old.
Attended my first Microsoft 365 UK user group meeting. Really impressed by the quality of the speakers and the materials. I’ve been reading Joanne C Klein’s blog for a while so it was great to hear her talk. The topic was Protecting Your Teamwork Across Microsoft 365, and gave an excellent overview of the tools available in the platform. The whole session is available on YouTube. I’ll be joining the next one.
Set up and ran our school Pay Committee meeting. Virtual Governor meetings seem to be so efficient compared to when they are face-to-face. Once things are ‘back to normal’ we need to look at why.
Attended my youngest son’s football match where for the first time this season I didn’t have a job to do. I think I have been the only mask-wearer at all of the events so far this year, and can’t believe how close the parents from all teams stand to each other.
Finished reading Normal People by Sally Rooney. A good book, but I wish I had read it before seeing the TV adaptation, as the two were virtually identical.
Had my running judder to a halt after pulling a calf muscle on a Monday morning run. It’s so strange how you can be doing nothing different to any other day, on a route you have run lots of times, and suddenly have a problem. I was limping for a couple of days but still managed to get on the bike as it seems that I only use that muscle for running and not riding.
Joined 100 other people for Helena Deland’s debut album launch party. Online gigs don’t come anywhere close to being there in real life, particularly in terms of sound quality, but it was nice to give some support and feel like part of a little community.
Finished watching The Haunting of Bly Manor with my wife. Properly scary in places with characters that you really get to know. Great series.
Continued our family movie ‘round robin’ with my choice of The General (1926), which to my surprise everyone seemed to really enjoy. Taking it in turns between the four of us to pick movies has been great; we get some forced family time where we’re sharing things and not just all off consuming media on our own every night. I’ve watched so many films that I wouldn’t have picked myself, and for the most part they’ve all been enjoyable.
Loved watching the F1 race at Portimao in Portugal over the past weekend.
Next week: A couple of days’ work and then a few days off. Trying to get our networks up to scratch in our two most remote offices, and hoping that things go well for our conference in Brazil. Trying to balance the myriad of items on the backlog with the need to get my head up and look at the bigger picture.
For the first time in over three years it felt like a quiet week at work. I was grateful to have the space to breathe.
A week in which I:
Finally, FINALLY caught up with my emails. I had over 5,000 to get through, and the concern that there was something important in there had been hanging over me for a while. It took me a couple of days but I am now down to less than 250. The bad news is that each of these 250 need some kind of action.
Leveraged the wonderful WB-40 podcast WhatsApp group in the hunt for our next Head of Infrastructure and Operations. I’ve had so much value from the group over the years; there’s a lot of banter but people are so quick to go out of their way to help.
Took part in a couple of vendor meetings relating to key parts of our infrastructure that are underperforming. We have good relationships and agreed a plan between us that we have already started executing.
Met another vendor to get a technical overview of their cloud-enabled printing solution.
Spent some time with a newly-recruited peer to show them how we use LeanKit.
Had a half-hour ‘random coffee’ with someone from our office that I had never previously spoken to. We covered some interesting topics in our chat such as Social, Economic and Environmental business and how this will be balanced against other more traditional work in the future.
Attended the first school Full Governing Board meeting of the new academic year. I was voted in as Vice Chair again. It’s an honour to serve in the role, but I do need to spend some time this year on succession planning.
Took part in Herts for Learning’s Chair’s Strategic Information Briefing. The quality of support, insight and training that we get from HfL is superb, and I feel lucky that we have had a long and fruitful partnership with them. There was a massive amount of information passed on during the update which will take some time to digest. Managing Director Andrew de Csilléry presented HfL’s very strong anti-racism stance in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, and quickly responded to comments in the meeting chat relating to everyone already having equality.
Took the younger boy to his football match on Sunday and ran the line. As the months get colder, it’s always better to have a job at a match than to just stand around with the spectators. We lost 10-1 against a team of giants, but the boys played well and the autumn sun was lovely.
Finally finished Imagine John Yoko, the big hardback coffee-table book that was released with the 50th anniversary Imagine album reissues. I grew up in Ascot, not far from the Tittenhurst Park property where the album was recorded and which features so heavily in the photos in the book. It’s a beautiful thing, with lots of detail on that little slice of time in John and Yoko’s life.
Loved the F1 Eifel GP. I’m not sure if it’s lockdown getting to me, but this year I seem to find myself paying attention to F1 practice sessions as well as qualifying and the race. The cars only being able to run for an hour on Saturday morning presented an interesting challenge and added to anticipation of the race.
Next week: Planning for a management offsite, thinking about the key deliveries for the remainder of the year, interviewing and a school governor Pay Committee meeting.
Hectic. The past month has been busy and stressful, but also one that has made me stop and reflect. At the end of September, the IT infrastructure programme that I have been running for just over three years hit its final deadline. We cancelled the SLAs with our previous infrastructure supplier in both São Paulo and Beijing, and we are now running our own stack in the five cities that we operate. We have changed literally everything. When we started out I had no idea how we would approach the seemingly impossible work, let alone get to the finish. But we did it.
For the first time since March, I finally started missing being in an office. Not necessarily being in my regular office in London, but in our São Paulo and Beijing offices as we cut over to the new infrastructure. Partially, it was the early mornings and late nights. The physical work was carried out by local contractors, and multiple times over the past couple of weeks I have had to be up and at my laptop by 4am to coincide with their time on-site in Beijing, sometimes rolling into a long afternoon with the equivalent team in São Paulo. But mostly, I missed being present in those offices for the little things. When you’re making a major IT change it’s great to be in and amongst the staff, spotting where they are having trouble using the new equipment or giving hints and direction as to how to get the best out of the tools. At one point we were about to pull the plug on the old infrastructure and then found that three people were in the office still using it, something that would have been obvious to us if we were there.
The programme is still a long way from being done, but our ‘minimum viable office’ is now up and running everywhere and gives us a solid foundation to build upon. The metaphor I keep returning to is that the restaurant looks great and we’re serving fine meals, but there is a lot of work to be done behind the scenes in the kitchen. Nothing is on fire, and the sprinkler system isn’t drowning us, so we have time to catch our breath, take stock and decide what our next priorities are.
Over the past month, I:
Found myself at home alone, with everyone back at school.
Participated in a lot of school governor events: Full Governing Board and Finance Committee meetings, safeguarding and exclusions training courses, and a Herts for Learning Chairs’ Briefing.
Was elected as Vice-Chair again for the coming year. It’s a pleasure and an honour to serve in this role, but we do somehow need to get a solid succession plan in place.
Resumed our monthly IT Steering Committee. We are trying to pivot away from status updates and into more of a forward-looking strategic debate, but it hasn’t found its feet yet. I’ll keep trying.
Asked a member of my team to step up and take on a leadership role for our strategic data programme. I need to try and get my head up and look across our whole portfolio, which means the team taking on a bit more of the project and programme management. It felt like a weight off to be a participant in the steering committee meeting that I usually chair.
Delighted in seeing our São Paulo office be the first to move to a cloud-based Teams telephony platform. Given how prevalent Teams is in our day-to-day work, it is the natural place to put the ‘office’ phone lines, and they will now be available wherever our staff run the app.
Set up an informal, optional meeting twice a week for my peers and our CIO to check in with each other. A management team ‘water cooler’ where we can connect. It seems good so far, but we’ll need a few weeks to really understand if it is something that will stick.
Wrestled with our global support model, and specifically how we will cover one of our offices in a totally different time zone. We’re too small to justify having an ‘IT person’ either on-site or available every day, but having someone who just dips in and out is unlikely to work.
Sat through a vendor meeting where they just spoke at us for over an hour, not once asking for what we are looking for or seeking to understand our business. A complete masterclass in how not to do it, and an hour of my life that I will never get back.
Became a Salesforce Ranger, joining the ranks of literally thousands of people that have achieved this over the past month in our wider organisation.
I also listened to the audiobook of If I Could Tell You Just One Thing by Richard Reed, a founder of Innocent Drinks. He sourced the material for the book by asking lots of famous people for one piece of advice that they would like to pass on. Someone on Goodreads has posted an excellent review which summarises it well; in the chapter where he is asking Margaret Atwood for her words of advice she shreds the concept of the book by asking for more specifics on who the advice is for, and makes an excellent case as to why this matters.
After finishing the rather dry Platform Revolution I’ve been making my way through the much more enjoyable The Business of Platforms. The latter book has plenty of great examples of the success and failure of platform businesses, and is a very approachable take on the subject.
Got my bike back from our local bike shop and got back on the turbo trainer again. Running and cycling seem to utilise completely different leg muscles, so although I have maintained fitness I have still found my first few rides quite difficult. I’m going to try and maintain both running and cycling as winter draws in.
Saw our house extension finally get completed with new patio doors, an outdoor render and some outdoor motion-activated lights being installed. It’s all taken much longer than we had expected, but it’s great that we’re finally done.
Watched The World’s Toughest Race with the family across a few evenings. I had expected something as entertaining as the wonderful Race Across The World, but I found the whole thing strangely unsatisfying, and I can’t quite put my finger on why. Too much Bear Grylls, too little emotional attachment between the viewer and the teams, and far too many participants to keep track of. In the last episode we started seeing teams that hadn’t been mentioned in any of the previous programmes. Bizarre.
Next week: With deadlines behind us, fighting the desire to relax with the reality of the work that still needs to be organised and delivered this year. (I feel like I need a holiday, but I also don’t want to waste any days I have on just being at home.) Keeping up-to-date with governor work, and continuing to recruit for the one key remaining management role in our team.
As the the calendar turned to September it seemed as though Autumn arrived right on schedule. Temperatures have dropped, shades of gold and brown have started to creep into the leaves on the trees, and I have suddenly noticed how early sunset arrives.
Monday was spent enjoying our last public holiday in the UK before Christmas, so I had a four-day week ‘in the office’. My week off hadn’t felt like much of a break, probably because the two nights we had away were spent slightly on edge. It’s hard to relax during a global pandemic. Still, this squirrel came to check up on me on a regular basis throughout the week, which helped.
A week in which I…
Slotted back into work on Tuesday a little bleary-eyed, but didn’t take long to get going again. My first day was full to the brim with meetings so I had little chance to catch up with all of my emails and Teams messages, and this persisted for most of the week.
Got involved in a deep-dive for an issue with our sole on-premises shared drive that we are in the process of moving away from. Lots of our staff suddenly found themselves with errors when trying to access the server. We have a few leads but have not yet got to the root of the problem.
Prepped the materials and ran the project Steering Committee meeting for moving off of the shared drive. We’re on track to report that we have hit our first and most significant milestone on Monday, which is an amazing team effort.
Had an engineer come to my house to run some Cat6 Ethernet cable out the front of the building, up over the roof, down the rear and then up the garden to my office. Where I was previously getting around 10Mbps download speeds I am now getting 210Mbps. It took two hours and has already been transformative — I should have done it sooner.
Met with a company to discuss supporting our various telephony installations across our five global offices.
Stepped in to run our Change Approval Board meeting.
Tried to spend time in Salesforce Trailhead each day. Our company is pushing for as many staff to become ‘Rangers’ as possible. I need 50,000 points and 100 badges, and I’m currently on 6,575 and 26 respectively.
Arranged dates for our Finance, Premises and Personnel Committee meetings for the coming school year. It’s difficult to get dates that fit everyone given the parameters of not being too close to other meetings, and taking place soon after the monthly finance admin visits.
Enjoyed a fun end-of-week team meeting where we were given a ‘little-known fact’ and then had to guess who in the team it applied to. It’s great to throw these things into the meetings occasionally to let off a bit of steam.
Arranged a visit from the company that built our garden decking and got them to re-fasten some of the boards that had expanded and bowed over the summer.
Saw our youngest boy start secondary school. He seemed to take it all in his stride. He’s with two or three of his best friends in his form group, so was very pleased on Friday evening.
Started a new kids’ football season with a short friendly match at the local Astro pitch. I ran the line, and had to re-acquaint myself with the offside rule. It was great to get back to some kind of normalcy, although I am pessimistic about how long it will last; there were three or four matches going on and I was the only person wearing a mask, with social distancing between the spectators being very limited. Come on people, make mask-wearing just something that you do now.
Watched a thrilling Italian Grand Prix and was overjoyed at Pierre Gasly’s win. He’s been through so much over the past year. To win in Italy with an Italian team is really something, despite the tifosi being absent.
Finished reading Platform Revolution by Geoffrey G. Parker, Marshall W. Van Alstyne and Sangeet Paul Choudary. As a long-time reader and listener of Stratechery it didn’t give me any massive new insights, but I do like the way they organised their information and reasoning on platforms today. I have another couple of books lined up on the same topic which I’ll be starting soon.
Watched a couple of classic 80s films with the kids. They loved Coming To America (1988) (which is one of my favourites), but thought that Big Trouble In Little China (1986) was just ok. I had great memories of watching the latter film with my brothers when we were kids and finding it a wild adventure, but it now just seems full of plot holes, terrible acting and poor one-liners.
Next week: In the house on my own for the first time since March, with everyone else back at work and school. Focusing on trying to get as much of our Beijing IT infrastructure set up as possible, so expecting a few early morning meetings, starting with one on Monday. At least the commute is short right now.
I spent Monday ‘at work’ to hand over the various in-progress technical projects to our CTO for the coming week, and then took the rest of the week off. I hadn’t had a break since Christmas and it was good to have a few days to think about other things. While I was away, the team worked with our on-site partner in São Paulo to establish our ‘minimum viable office’ of SD-WAN sockets, a server, a switch and some wireless access points. If staff return to the office they will now be able to seamlessly connect and get things done.
A week in which I…
Took some time to catch up with a few school governance items. The government guidance for the full opening of schools in September took around 90 minutes to read, but it was good to go through this ahead of reviewing our own school’s risk assessment for reopening. The staff continue to do amazing work. Things will be very different when children go back, but it will be good to have some degree of normality again. I really hope it lasts.
Spent two nights away at a rented house in Mathon, near Malvern in Herefordshire. We were there with my wife’s parents and one of her brothers to celebrate my father-in-law’s 80th birthday. My wife had picked the house as there was enough space inside for us to keep physically apart, with different lounges, kitchens and toilets to go with the many bedrooms. It was lovely to see and spend time with everyone, but I still found being inside very uncomfortable — mask on, sitting away from everyone. The first night was great as we all sat outside and ate home-made pizzas cooked in our new oven, but it rained for most of the second day which really limited what we could do.
Took a wander up British Camp in the rain for a couple of hours and marvelled at the views. It always amazes me how little vertical distance you need to cover in order for the climate to change. As we started our walk down, a strange fog covered the area which muffled the sounds we were making.
Carried on with running in place of being on my bike. Unfortunately I forgot to take my heart rate monitor away with me, so my efforts don’t show up in my training log on Strava. Only three or four weeks before I get my bike fixed so that I can start training on the turbo again.
Missed out on Album Club #114 as we were away, but I caught up with Idlewild’s 100 Broken Windows in my own time. I used to read about the band in NME back in the day, but never listened to them, so this was a new experience for me.
Caught up with my personal and governor emails, getting my backlog down from around 1,000 to about 50 in a few hours. I now need to do the work contained in those remaining 50.
Swept out the gutter on our garden studio and set up a GutterGrid system which will hopefully mean that I don’t need to do it again.
Next week: Back to the race against our deadline to get our Beijing ‘minimum viable office’ up and running, and completing the first phase of our unstructured data migration project. Plus the first day of secondary school for our youngest boy.
A week of trying to ‘dig in’ and getting things moved along and prepped as much as I can for when I will be ‘out of the office’ for a few days next week.
A week in which I…
Got a contract in place with our local IT support vendor in São Paulo, ready to rack and build our new ‘minimum viable office’ setup next week.
Agreed that the same vendor will also be in to get our new desktop equipment — monitors, webcams, and wireless keyboards and mice — onto staff desks in the same week. We’re not anticipating that anyone will be back there soon but it will be great to be ready for them.
Agreed in principle the ‘minimum viable office’ work for our Beijing office with our local IT support vendor there. Spent some time drawing up the ‘after’ version of our rack diagrams for the implementation document.
Had a visit from a third company to get a quote for hard-wiring my garden office back to my router. Looking forward to getting this in place in the next couple of weeks so my Teams calls no longer have to have Wi-Fi battles with Xbox game updates.
Met with the CEOs of our Dubai and São Paulo offices to go through the current IT status and plan for the next couple of months.
Reviewed a presentation by one of our team members on how they will be pushing Salesforce Trailhead over the next few months. The whole company is making a big push to upskill as many of our ~55,000 employees as possible and a significant number of our most senior leaders in the firm are already ‘Rangers’ with 50,000 points each.
Continued to support teams and individuals with the work to move 5TB of data from a shared drive up to Teams/SharePoint Online. We only have a week to go and things are going well with surprisingly few issues.
Ran a Steering Committee meeting for the migration project where the sponsor reiterated their commitment to a hard end date. I now need to spell out what the impact will be to the wider team so that there are no surprises for anyone when we close down access to the old drive.
Reviewed another batch of CVs for a senior technical leadership position that we are recruiting for. Barely any of them were suitable — we’re after a person who can lead and inspire a small geographically-dispersed team, who can argue a point with our CIO and CTO, credibly present to our business leaders, and also roll their sleeves up and do the work themselves when necessary.
Attended a presentation on the firm’s interim results. The company continues to do well but you can’t escape the clouds on the horizon related to the pandemic.
Attended a webinar on options for integration LeanKit with JIRA. LeanKit is really embedded in our team but the business unit/company dashboards all use JIRA so we need to find a way to keep them in sync.
Started to use WhatsApp on my desktop to get in contact with some old friends and colleagues. I’ve been reconnecting with a different person each day. Sometimes a conversation sparks and sometimes it doesn’t, but I feel that I’m scratching a long-neglected ‘keeping in touch’ itch.
Continued my journey through John Steinbeck’s bibliography by devouring the second half of The Grapes of Wrath, including a blissful 90 minutes of reading outside at our local cricket club while my youngest son attended practice. Sitting outside reading a book is sublime, and I need to do it more.
Continued our round robin of family movies with The Last Samurai (2003) and Titanic (1997). I’d forgotten the Samurai film — it’s fine, but doesn’t linger for very long in my memory. I don’t think I’d seen Titanic since it was released in the cinema and it was great to revisit it, the boys loved it. It was interesting to see it so soon after The Abyss (1989) as so many of the early ‘exploring the wreck’ scenes could have come from either film.
Next week: A day ‘in the office’ for a handover to our CTO, and then a few days off for the first time this year.
I’ve found it difficult to put the time aside over the past four weeks to write up any weeknotes. The days and weeks whizz by one after the other and are filled with stuff. Sunday night rolls around and it’s very hard to settle down to write while my eyes are falling out of my head and a sweet song of sleep drifts down the stairs from my bed to my ears.
Big events from the past month are where I…
Gave into the fact that we had to buy a new car. Being offered £50 for part-exchange of our old one at the dealership proved the point. It’s been lovely owning an old jalopy that we cared little about for the past few years. It meant that we could offer an “Oh, don’t worry about it” when a neighbour admitted to reversing into our car door. The whole process of buying a replacement filled me with dread — it’s a classic paradox of choice, where too many options made it almost impossible to get started. We were fortunate to have a friend to guide us in the right direction and now have something that we need to give a little more respect to.
Visited my wife’s parents for her dad’s 80th birthday. I wasn’t happy to stay anywhere local so we spent five hours in the car there and back, but had a lovely time in their garden. We hadn’t seen them since Christmas, and it was great to be with them all again.
Continued to push forward with all of the key projects within my team, covering:
New telephone systems in New York, São Paulo and Beijing, including decisions on whether we’ll need physical handsets in the future
A ‘minimum viable office’ LAN/WLAN/SD-WAN network setup and desktop equipment in two of these offices
Agreeing a support model and vendor for Asia
Coordinating a massive data migration from an on-premises shared drive to Teams/SharePoint Online, including training all of our staff in how to work with the new tools
…as well as many smaller initiatives that we are running. We are up against some hard deadlines for some of this work, and every day I am cycling through the list, looking to see if there is anything else we can be doing to inch them forward.
Interviewed a number of people for two key roles in our team where I will be a peer of the successful candidates. Interviewing over video calls really loses something compared to meeting candidates in person, but we’re getting used to it.
Ran a number of Steering Committee meetings for our function and my projects, all of which went well. I asked the question of one of the committees whether the meetings were useful and giving us what we needed, which prompted a very rich discussion. As a result, we’ll be changing the format for the next one in September.
Attended a splendid virtual summer ‘Picnic on the Green’ organised by our wonderful Marketing and Communications colleagues. Staff around the globe were sent beautiful food hampers that corresponded to their dietary preferences and time of day of the event in their country. We even had treats for our pets! We all met up on Teams, had an interesting talk from a brilliant presenter while we ate, took part in a magic show, and then heard some great music to finish things off. There was so much thought and love that went into this, and it really showed.
Glowed with pride as our CTO presented the details of our IT platform to the wider firm, with over 500 IT colleagues joining the live session. The building blocks of our setup are simple, and hide a lot of thought that was put into how we would make it great.
Embarked on Salesforce Trailhead training along with thousands of other people across our firm. The gamification of learning really seems to be working, particularly when the push is being encouraged from the top of the company.
Continued to exercise regularly, but have now incorporated the odd day off when I feel that I need it. I’ve tried to add running back into my schedule alongside the cycling on the turbo trainer and I think this is doing me some good. If I run after too much time off I end up walking around like Clint Eastwood for days afterwards, so I’m keep to keep it up. I’ve also worked out how to set up a cycling plan in TrainerRoad where there is no particular goal in mind, and now have sessions mapped out for the next twelve months. I can’t believe I used to regularly unsubscribe from TrainerRoad due to under-use; keeping fit is definitely a massive upside to the lockdown.
Had fun with Cameo, bringing a surprise birthday message to a friend via James Buckley, a special ‘Hooooo!’ to my twin brothers via ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan, and a message of congratulations to our department head from Jody Watley. All of their faces lit up in every case, and they were well worth it.
Smiled as I watched my eldest boy take up a newspaper round. It has brought back so many memories for me. Getting himself up to work every day at 6:30am is good discipline, and the money will soon add up.
Had a couple of visits at home from networking firms, looking for a solution to get a better network signal out to my home office. The first proposal suggested point-to-point Wi-Fi and the second is for an Ethernet cable that would run around the perimeter of my house. I’m waiting to get a third opinion and quote from another company in the next week or so.
Next week: My last full week before a few days off. With a technical colleague away, I’m on my own in trying to close out some quotes for installations in São Paulo and Beijing so that we keep our momentum.
A fortnight of light and shade. My downbeat, frustrated mood from a couple of weeks back carried on to the following week and I just couldn’t shake it. Work weighed me down, I seemed feel miserable and couldn’t find much joy in anything. But for no obvious reason, everything felt so light and breezy during this past week. I am not sure which one of the two ‘modes of being’ is more accurate — should I be stressing about my many impending deadlines or should I be assuming that it will all just work out ok?
The only thing I can think of that contributes to my mood is that I struggle with the weeks where I am in back-to-back meetings for a number of days in a row, feeling that my time is not my own. The pressure and frustration seems to crank up with each meeting. To combat this, on Monday mornings I now religiously block out whatever free time I have that week with some ‘keep free’ appointments, minimising the number of late-breaking meetings that go into the diary.
A couple of weeks in which I…
Saw our team start and finish a rollout of new laptops to all of our staff in China. It was an incredible job, taking staff through the Autopilot/Intune processes and then giving them the ‘white glove’ setup treatment despite language and time zone barriers. An incredible achievement to get it done in just over a week.
Was grateful that our Beijing office allowed external contractors to enter once again. We’ve now got our new-spec monitors on each of the desks, and the local contractor has carried out a server room audit for us.
Also managed to complete the server room audit in our São Paulo office. It’s now back with us to check that we understand the findings, and to plan the deployment of our new equipment.
Made a decision to go with a local vendor for a new telephone system in São Paulo. The implementation cost difference between the local solution and an alternative is too good to pass up. The beauty of it all being cloud-based is that if things don’t work out, we can easily change it.
Completed a review of our proposed new telephone system in Beijing. Of the five countries on our rollout, no two telephony setups are the same from a technology perspective, and the Beijing one is in some ways the most complex. We’re not quite there yet in terms of signing off on the work but I am hoping we can get it done early in the coming week.
Road tested a training course that we plan to roll out to most of our staff. Half of it is on functionality within Microsoft Teams and SharePoint Online, and the remainder is on how we intend to use the tools in our specific setting. I’m very impressed by the trainer and am hopeful it will give people what they need for the upcoming data migration project that we plan to involve them in.
Relieved some pressure on myself by moving a couple of our upcoming Steering Committee meetings around. Sometimes I forget about the amount of control I have over events.
Attended a few more town-hall style work events. We have a brilliant colleague who gave everyone a brief masterclass on how to present yourself well on videoconferences. Updates from the revenue-generating side of the business were also very good; the idea to do them has come as a result of the pandemic but we should have started them years ago.
Spent time thinking about the structure of the team, and looking at the key roles that we will be hiring for over the coming weeks.
Heard the sad news that a colleague I worked with briefly many years ago had passed away.
Attended our final school Governing Board meeting of the year. The pandemic has made it feel like the end of term has come around even more quickly than usual.
Continued with the bike training, although I am incorporating a few more rest days into the schedule now. Abandoned my planned weekend turbo rides in favour of a run with my wife, a bike ride to Savill Garden with my 13-year-old son and a ride home on my own, all in the same day. I ended up with that lovely feeling of being a bit physically broken at the end of it, hoovering up food and looking forward to climbing into bed. It was really interesting to see on Strava the difference in ‘effort’ (and presumably therefore, benefits) between time on the turbo and time out on the road.
Saw our youngest boy turn 11 the day after he left primary school. It’s a strange feeling to know that they have both left primary school behind them now and we’ll soon be a house full of GCSEs and A-Levels before we know it. It was such a shame that the end of term was curtailed for him — yes, no SATS, but also no residential trip or social events. I hope he has enough fun experiences in his life ahead of him to make up for it.
Watched the Dacorum Sports Network awards for local schools. Our youngest son and his friends won a few different categories and it was lovely to see their football coach, one of the dads from school, get recognised for his contribution. Sadly the Zoom call was set up in such a way that it let people draw on the presentation; I am guessing that parents wandered off during the call and their young children ended up doodling on what they were watching.
Have been loving the return of the F1 to the TV. It’s so lovely to have the qualifying and the race to look forward to. I’m part of a random ‘F1 Geeks’ WhatsApp group and someone has added a friend to the channel who used to be a senior member of an F1 team. It’s been amazing to get their take on a whole bunch of different things.
Met up with friends on a couple of different occasions for a socially-distanced chat. I’m still pretty terrified of catching the bug, and it feels like it takes a lot of mental strength to get together right now. I definitely have FOGO, and think I am an outlier amongst my social groups.
Finished reading John Steinbeck’s The Long Valley. Definitely not my favourite of his books so far, and the short story collection format almost felt like a step backwards, with the clear exception of The Red Pony.
Continued reading Michael Lopp’s Managing Humans. I started years ago and put the book down for some reason. There are a lot of tips and advice to take in, but some of it seems to be sticking. Reading books in an alternating fiction/non-fiction way seems to be a good balance for now.
Next week: Another Steering Committee meeting, planning our next steps in Sao Paulo and Beijing in order to beat our deadline, and the first week of the school holidays.
A really tough week where I felt completely drained right from the start, and this time it didn’t improve as the days went on. My emotions were sapped. Partially it felt like I had caught some kind of bug but I also wondered whether I had just been overdoing it with all of the bike training and was just generally worn out. I had a completely exercise-free day on Friday and felt much better for it afterwards. I had so many meetings that it wasn’t until Wednesday afternoon that I felt that my time was my own again.
A week in which I…
Took part in a technical workshop for our new phone system setup in New York. It’s good to finally get this one properly underway and to have some next actions written down.
Met with our on-the-ground IT partner in Dubai to review a long list of changes and ‘snagging’ items that we need to tackle.
Kicked off the rollout of new laptops to staff in our Beijing office. This is our final site for our rollout, and we’re doing it one year after finishing London, our first site.
Received a last minute proposal for a telephony solution in São Paulo that looks too good to be true, so I’m doing all of the things I can to make sure it that it isn’t the case before we dive in.
Took part in a number of preliminary discussions with different departments in London on their upcoming move of documents (‘unstructured data’) into a new platform.
Reviewed the materials for a new training course on the unstructured data project that we plan to roll out to our London team.
Had a catch-up with our key IT partner in London. We hadn’t spoken in a while and it was good to get aligned again.
Admired our CTO as he took part in a Computerworld panel discussion on data centre modernisation.
Agreed to move some of our key meetings to the afternoons so that our New York team members can participate. I’m really looking forward to them becoming a more integrated part of what we do.
Basked in a little bit of internal glory as our team were given an award at the Group-wide IT awards event. I’ve loved working in this team for the past few years and we’ve really achieved some great things to make a big difference to the organisation.
Found the ‘build’ phase of TrainerRoad really challenging, although I do realise that this is probably the point. I’m almost halfway through this phase and have a low-intensity ‘recovery week’ next week to look forward to before it ramps up again.- Spent some time at the weekend doing minutes again. I really need to try and work out how to get these done during the week.
Attended a National Governance Association webinar on what school governing boards need to start thinking about and doing ahead of the autumn term.
Called Virgin Media to start a new Sky Sports subscription ahead of the F1 season. Managed to negotiate an 18-month contract at a reduced rate with a new ‘V6’ TV box thrown in for free. It’s always better to phone them up. Activating the box was a little bit painful; I had to diagnose that my Pi-Hole was preventing it from reaching a URL that seemed to only be known to the Virgin Media DNS servers. I put the box to good use over the weekend through enjoying the Austrian Grand Prix; it’s so great to have the racing back again.
Enjoyed my amazing prize for winning our team quiz night last week. My family and I have made light work of this over the past few days!
Finished reading Biko by Donald Woods. I’d had it on my bookshelf for a long time and was drawn to it as the Black Lives Matter protests got some momentum. A big chunk of the book is taken up with what happened at the inquest into Biko’s death, which seemed less important when reading it 42 years after it was published. The old, racist, South African government is now consigned to museums and memory. What I did find interesting was his philosophy of Black Consciousness:
Biko saw white racism in South Africa as the totality of the white power structure. He argued that under apartheid, white people not only participated in the oppression of black people but were also the main voices in opposition to that oppression. He thus argued that in dominating both the apartheid system and the anti-apartheid movement, white people totally controlled the political arena, leaving black people marginalised. He believed white people were able to dominate the anti-apartheid movement because of their access to resources, education, and privilege. He nevertheless thought that white South Africans were poorly suited to this role because they had not personally experienced the oppression that their black counterparts faced.
For my sanity and emotional wellbeing I need to intersperse some fiction into my reading. I’m continuing the journey through Steinbeck’s works that I started last year by picking up The Long Valley.
Next week: Trying to focus on those things that will make or break us in terms of hitting our agreed deadlines.