Steve Messer

The Step Up

Weeknotes S01E03

Surprised myself this week by how much I handled it all. Everything feels like it’s fitting together well, and despite one minor wobbler I held it together. But most importantly, there’s a sense we’re making actual progress.

Despite being skint, I bought tickets to MozFest 2018 to find out where the Web is heading. 13-year-old Steve would be very proud.

Five Things That Happened

One

My return flight from Venice on Sunday was delayed by several hours, meaning I didn’t get in to bed until 3.30 a.m. Took the morning off and rolled in at lunch time. Completely failed to clear my inbox except for a few unimportant messages, but I did manage to catch up on the previous week’s events.

Unrelated to but alongside a pretty major announcement, I was told about our deteriorating team health – both work-induced and general illness. We also talked about how to share good practice or stories of failure in the team, which got us thinking about team culture and leadership from within. I’ve always been a fan of CharlieHR’s CultureLab and wondered how we might set up our own. If you have any interesting stories from the tech world, dear reader, please do share tales and links with me. First we’ll tinker with retros, and I’d like to encourage more blogging.

The day ended well, though, with a huddle on the pipeline work. It turns out the team had engaged with the discovery well, but we weren’t out of the trenches yet. We met to look at options, pick over them, and it raised questions about whether our work would be for short-term gains or long-term scalability.

But it’s something I’ll need to ponder tomorrow on a better night’s rest.

Two

A packed Tuesday, a standard for my working week, wherein I failed to reach Inbox Zero again. Tons of meetings happened, and I had to prepare slides for our Show & Tell during lunch, which meant I was pretty pooped when it got to pre-planning. But there’s a much better sense of where we’re headed now: we got used to the ebbs and flows of working on a stretched WebOps team last quarter, and planning is less worrisome.

Another boon is having a workstream to call our own. I presented the discovery-esque work we’d done so far at the Show & Tell, which seemed to go down well. There were murmurs of support from the tech community, its lead architect especially, DataOps, and the team making improvements to the publisher experience were receptive to our creative thinking.

I’d love for the team to get some feelings of achievement out of the pipeline work this quarter, to be able to say they’ve made serious improvements to the beating heart of GOV.UK, but I’m reticent to push too hard – and we need to consider the long-term effects and scalability of our solutions. It’s going to need some tact, foresight and comfort with having tough conversations. But first we’ll research all the options on the table. (A good night’s sleep helped after all, and this album by jazz/hip-hop/dub keyboardist & SE Londoner Joe Armon-Jones is a bonus.)

Three

Wednesday was a day of highlights.

  • Inbox Zero! 🎉
  • A good planning session with the full team! 👌
  • A progressive retro! 🆙
  • Team health is good! 😁
  • I ran a retro for the first time, and people were engaged! 😊
  • People sympathise with how much effort our work takes! 😎 At least enough to retweet/like this a bunch of times anyway!

It was lovely to bump into Emily at the end of the day and talk #weeknotes, how cathartic the practice can be, and the importance of reflection in a job that moves a million miles an hour. Her prose is much classier than mine, so have a gander.

Four

And Thursday wasn’t too bad either. We had some wise words from Neil to kick off the day.

Chatting to Elliot about the work he’d done on request tracing a couple of years ago was really beneficial. He’d actually got quite far into implementing something useful, but priorities changed and the work was dropped. Later on we searched through our wiki, looked at archived Trello boards, and dredged up old gists and PRs – we found all his work, which means we can pick it up again next sprint.

We’ll hit the ground running on the pipeline work, starting from where he left off, heading towards our renewed priorities. I must make sure to record all the thinking and doing from this work, in case someone else needs to run with it in the future.

Five

On the whole, Friday was good apart from one hour meeting with a stakeholder. They’re relatively new to the organisation but, from what I can tell, also oblivious to government design principles, user research, and any notion that we build with qual/quant data – based on real need – not just whims and fancies. We do not use our time and the public purse to make ineffectual gains. We use research and data to improve a live product, not bias.

Wrangling this person is incredibly stressful – even a fellow senior PM was finding it hard – and I had to take a tea break to chill afterwards.

But that was the silver lining. Wont to get stressed, forgetting to take a step back at times, I took a few moments to decompress and move on. And the rest of the afternoon sailed by with jollity and ease. We even got a shout-out on the programme weeknote, which capped off what was, on the whole, one of my best weeks yet.

Reflections

  • You are a human being, not a human doing.
  • Pebbledash presentations lightly with humour – it makes it easier.
  • Even ‘boring’ work needs good PR. Be an ambassador for your team.
  • Knowledge management is a good thing, but I don’t yet do enough.
  • Take a step back before you fall into the maelstrom.

What I’m Cooking

  • Fabada asturiana (white beans, chorizo & black pudding stew)
  • Pornstar purée (a home-made rip-off of Bomba! XXX)
  • Sonic the Hedgehog chili dogs

Though I’ve always meant to journal my cooking, I never got around to it and it’s ended up here. Some times I’ll cook nice things, other times it’ll just be comfort classics (which I won’t record unless they’re exciting). But if you ever want a recipe for these, ping me – and prod me if I forget to send one over.

What I’m Reading