Steve Messer

The Reshuffle

Weeknotes S01E01

Reading people’s weeknotes was one of the main inspirations for me to join the Civil Service. It sounded like an exciting world, and on my first day at GDS I wrote some notes. I just never got around to publishing them…and I didn’t carry on writing notes. But when Jonathan joined our team a few weeks ago, he encouraged me to give it another go, so here I am.

If you’d like to learn more about weeknotes, check out this explainer from Sam.

Five Things That Happened

One

We kicked off quarter two with a relatively unchanged team and a refreshed enthusiasm for the coming three months. I combed through our backlog to reprioritise cards and clear some clutter. It was a good start and needs more work, it’s important we manage the team’s scope this quarter. Context-switching is not healthy.

Monday’s news gave us some good perspective on the epics would could take on this quarter. Having already plumped for one option but been met with uncertainty, a later incident review gave us a good steer – and straight after that, another change to the machinery of government helped us reshuffle our priorities. There’s clear value for us to bring which aids stakeholders and end users, whilst building our knowledge of the platform.

Two

Though my job title only says ‘associate product manager’, I’m leading the product thinking on a few workstreams this quarter. To make me a better leader, I’ve set myself some challenges.

  • Be approachable but not constantly interruptible
  • Speak more slowly, and think with purpose
  • Help people spot opportunities

Three

General Assembly, where I did the product management course in 2016, have taken me on as a teaching assistant! 🙌 This is really exciting for a number of reasons. The TA on my course was helpful in explaining points which the class didn’t fully understand, and he brought a lot of experience to the table. Our tutor was running his own startup but the TA worked Product in a bank, and it was beneficial to hear stories from that perspective. Can’t wait to share my experiences from Porism and GDS.

Mainly I’m grateful to have a little refresher on their current curriculum. It’s always iterating based on the nature of this ever-evolving practice, and I’m keen to see how they see the role developing.

Four

Had some good 1-on-1s with the more seasoned members of the team. Kim Scott says that ‘the hardest part of building trust is inviting people to challenge you’, but given my relative greenness on the programme, I asked them to provide critical challenge when they felt it necessary.

No one person knows the perfect path for achieving our goals. It’s why we have a retrospective, to reflect on what happened and how to improve next time.

Five

We’ve started planning our major proactive health epic for the quarter. Since there’s a range of experiences on the team and the problem space isn’t super clear, I’m kicking things off with a discovery to build our knowledge of how applications tie together. We’ll then map out the problem space for the health epic, allowing us to start validating (or invalidating) our riskiest assumptions and making improvements to the behemoth that is GOV.UK.

This is really invigorating as our team can be seen as having a support or WebOps role, when really we own a product that is the beating heart of the website. We’ll be viewing the work through the lens of exiting the EU, when responsiveness will be key to communicating changes to the nation effectively. And though no one jumps at the chance to record metrics, taking a lean approach to product improvement is essential to ensure you’re working on the right things. Build, measure, learn.

Oh, and someone asked me to make a presentation about the history of the Web and how it works (for non-techies) 😍

Reflections

  1. It was good to take stock and reflect on what we actually do at GOV.UK, what our purpose is
  2. It’s my job to create more joy and less misery in the team
  3. You’re never done learning
  4. Humanity is essential to building the so-called soft skills of product management
  5. Evangelism is inspiring and helps propagate trust

What I’m Reading

What I’m Cooking

  • Smoked herring, Dijon mustard and dill pasta salad
  • Courgette and chilli spaghetti – from homegrown courges!
  • Oven-roasted aubergines with sun-dried tomatoes and cheeeeeeese