Weeknotes #106 — Horse racing

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

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

This was a week in which I:

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

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

Weeknotes #105 — Giant octopus

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

This was a week in which I:

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

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

Weeknotes #104 — Anniversary album

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

This was a week in which I:

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

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

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

Weeknotes #103 — Workshop

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

This was a week in which I:

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

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

Weeknotes #102 — Sooner Safer Happier

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

This was a week in which I:

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

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

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

Weeknotes #101 — Dreaming

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

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

This was a week in which I:

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

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

Weeknotes #100 — Biorhythms

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

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

This was a week in which I:

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

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

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

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

Weeknotes #99 — Rare insomnia

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

This was a week in which I:

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

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

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

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

Weeknotes #98 — Hierarchy of needs

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.
  • Joined my first Meetup of the year on the topic of ‘Essence for Agility’ with Ivar Jacobson and Jeff Sutherland.
  • 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.

Weeknotes #97 — Retirement rehearsal

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.

Weeknotes #96 — Never hungry

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.

Weeknotes #95 — Moved by music

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 towards the 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.

Weeknotes #93–94 — Dehumidifier

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.
  • Enjoyed another couple of Random Coffee sessions with more colleagues that I had never spoken to before. I like Lisa Riemers’ description of people in your life who are (or were?) ‘non-player characters’; it’s great to connect with them.
  • 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.

Weeknotes #92 — I’ve Got My Mojo Working

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’.

Weeknotes #90–91 — Double Diamond

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!
  • Enjoyed another Album Club, with a great off-piste choice by the host.
  • Joined Marika Hackman for the her new album launch gig, recorded live in an empty swimming pool.

Next week: Reviewing the project backlog with the CIO and fleshing out how we will prioritise and plan what we will do, and not do, in Q1 next year.

Weeknotes #89 — Dizzy spells

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 Fairies live 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.

Weeknotes #88 — Red cross on the door

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.

Weeknotes #86–87 — It’s always Friday

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.

Weeknotes #85 — Breathe

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.

Monthnotes #84 — Milestones

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.

  • Finished reading the annotated book of John Steinbeck’s diary that he kept as he wrote The Grapes of Wrath.
  • 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.