Steve Messer

The Launch of Quarter 3

Weeknotes S02E01

A new quarter, a new series. My weeknotes have been an excellent learning aid so far, so I’m carrying on with them. It was awesome to meet Dan, @jukesie, Coco and Louise last week and it wouldn’t have happened without this little journaling style. I’m putting together an unconference session around working in the open as a result, please send me your tidbits.

A fair chunk of this week was dedicated to getting the team set up, so I’ve written about that. It’ll be helpful in the future. I probably drank too much though, and after a fun Friday drinking with two workmates I was wiped yesterday – hence why these are later than usual. I’ll also be moving everything to my own website soon, though still posting on Medium for the weeknotes aggregator.

Five Things That Happened

We did more things than this

One

We broke a bottle of champagne over the bow of quarter 3 and launched the damn thing. Monday was all about kicking things off: grouping the team together, going over what’s changed and what’ll stay the same, introducing our priorities for the next 3 months, and welcoming our two new members.

If you’ve been reading my weeknotes for a while, you’ll remember that I covered our objectives and key results for 2018/19 Q3 in S01E10, but since some people might find it useful, here’s the slide we use to visualise and report on our OKRs.

I also put together a slide deck which explained our team and its work in a little more detail for our new developers, Alan and Aga. We spent an hour with them in the afternoon, taking them through the point of our team, our vision, what we’d done before and how that fits in to our the work we’re doing soon. Context is everything to ensure we hit the ground running, and I wanted to make sure they had everything explained plus a document they could refer back to. It also gave them an opportunity to ask questions, and they seemed quite happy with everything.

The last job for the day was to mark up our physical boards with grid tape. It’s something I asked for us to introduce last quarter, so we can orient ourselves, and it was hugely helpful. You can mark the sprint goals for each workstream throughout the quarter, getting a sense for whether you’re likely to achieve your overall goals.

Our Q2 physical board. A grid with sprints as columns and workstreams as rows.

Two

Our wonderful delivery manager introduced the Platform Health delivery style. They went over agile vs waterfall, the difference between scrum and kanban, and explained our hybrid method and why it works. There was also a game about what happens when the product manager changes the priorities of a sprint halfway through, and how to account for that. Largely we try not upend things once we’ve started a sprint but as a (sort of) support team, other people can have other ideas.

Richard and me ran another product management community session. Our new Head of Community, Jon, said hello to the everyone; our Deputy Director for Product told everyone about the new product roles we could apply for; Katie and Alex showed us about behaviour-driven development; and we had an AMA with outgoing lead product manager on Reliability Engineering, Tom.

Tom’s an exceptional product manager, the kind of vision leader who can cogently inspire, explain and motivate in a small sum of words. The audience could ask him questions using Slido on their phones, and we had these displayed on a big screen. My initial hope was that people might ask some cheeky questions but everyone was quite well mannered, and the questions mostly sought to learn from his good experience. We’re going to try it again at a future event.

Three

I met recent weeknotes convert, Alex, who works at Unruly Media which is luckily in the same building. We had an excellent chat about team culture, working on infrastructure projects, the value of being open, and our shared experiences of civic tech. He put together Democracy Club’s polling station finder widget (I think I’ve got that right) which was super useful during the last big round of local elections. We’ve set up a weekly coffee to learn more from each other and meet with other tech people in Whitechapel – all thanks to weeknotes!

We had a retro for quarter 2, the main takeaway from which was that everyone feels good about their work. I’ve been trying to encourage us to blog more but we feel limited by the system the Comms team has put around it. It’s important for us to feel empowered to talk about our work through official channels, and I offered to help work on blog posts with anyone who wanted to write one. But on Monday I’ll be sharing this weeknote and hope some people will jump onboard. One of our developers, Michael, already has.

Updating our team charter was another 45 minutes well spent. It gave us the opportunity to review how well we’d applied our thinking, as well as space to talk about anything we might want to add. It turns out that the team charter is quite a lynch pin to how we work, and it was good that everyone wanted to spend time on it. Something I must bear in mind for future teams.

Four

Caught up with Heads of Product across government about the unconference I’ve accidentally organised for product managers. Jon’s joined at just the right time and been able to pick up some tasks, including helping me wrangle some other key players. He’s even gone and created a slide deck for the day, so we can show the agenda and messages to attendees. He’s been really helpful and it’s an excellent show of how he’ll run the show as head of community, I think.

Five

Did lots of product thinking. My calendar’s looking quite empty on Fridays for the next few months, so I’m going to mark it out as a day for product thinking. Was able to pore through some data with our tech lead, Bevan, which we’d collected through X-Ray. He came up with some great ideas for how we can meet our key results using existing methods, which I think will help us get ahead. I’ll be working much more closely with Bevan this quarter, so I’m excited to see what he’ll come up with as the weeks move on.

I sense-checked my thinking against Martin, who seemed to think it was all sound. We walked and talked, venturing down to the riverside at Tower Bridge, which was a lovely way to spend half an hour. Also, walking is a great enabler of thinking – the repetitive motion helps your body get into the flow state, I find. I wrapped it all up and published some thinking on our Q3 wiki page, and I’d like to make sure that’s updated across the quarter. It’s an essential record of what we’re doing and what we discover, which can help future versions of ourselves (as I learned in S01E03).

Reflections

What I Learned

A good structure around your work and your team can democratise how it works. I was surprised by how much everyone was invested in the team charter.

What I Could Do Better

Delegating work to the most appropriate agents. I am very much an ideas man – in general and in my role – but others are willing to make those ideas happen too.

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