Steve Messer

The Times and the Customs

Weeknotes S05E09

O temporas! O mores! It has been a heck of a week in the news, a week in which we were part of the news. But Britain is a nation built on the very scowling face of adversity, its dauntless spirit unbound by any crisis. Everything’s all right. It’s OK. It’s fine.

I had a good time this week, even with the jet lag, and despite the ups and downs I’ve ended on a high.

Five Things That Happened

We did more things than this

One

I caught up with Nicole, delivery manager on our Search team, about what everyone had all been up to while I was getting sunburnt in Canada. Turns out they’d done a lot. They’d tested a prototype of the new mobile search interface at King’s Cross, started making inroads on tuning the search algorithm to provide more relevant results, and made a start on some other features too. Since the team had propelled themselves over the previous week, they were really close to the work and the mission, which made planning a really collaborative affair.

Whereas with previous sprints I’ve needed to be quite prescriptive, over time we’ve made it so that the team is setting their own work and I just provide the guardrails. They know the mission and how to achieve it, so they’re exploring the territory and setting tasks to advance through it. I’m so inspired seeing the empowerment of the team, they’re really grappling with the problem space. Hurrah!

Two

The Brexit Notifications team had been progressing well too. Having built a new endpoint for the Email Alert API that can accept messages and send those to a pre-built list, work is dying down. Most of the week was spent documenting from both a technical and product viewpoint, so that anyone else can pick up the work. Further iterations will surface out of user research and feedback, but those won’t need a whole team working on it every day. So next week the focus is on making it sustainable, ready for anyone else to pick up.

Three

I met with Katie from Unmade to talk about managing upwards, product frameworks and leading missions. It was good to spend an hour with a product manager from the private sector and remind myself how, really, it’s a similar practice wherever you go. Katie’s doing some fine work and we both expressed our like (nay, love) of a good framework. More chats like that would be good!

Four

Michael chatted to me about the professional development framework the Cabinet Office have given us and how it isn’t so well suited to agile teams. Everything is geared towards working on projects and delivering outputs (sigh), so it doesn’t match up to product work so well. Having said that, we’re working on three distinct workstreams at the moment. So Nicole and I spent a good couple of hours revisiting how we’ve engineered the Search team, with a view to making the workstreams more clear.

There’s more work to do on it but we’re mainly looking at how to move from Scrumban to proper Kanban, making good use of planning sessions to think about how we’re going to reach the goals we set. This also means that retrospectives should be more engaging and talk about how to improve our processes, as they can feel a bit light and pointless sometimes.

Five

Along with Martin and Till, we hosted a gaggle of Tech4Germany folk to talk about the history of Government Digital Service and how it approaches service transformation. It was an honour to talk to everyone and offer advice for teams working on the frontline in Germany, albeit to a tough brief. That said, the teams are staffed with incredibly talented people, most of whom were clearly more intelligent and skilled than me!

Andrej, the programmer leader, is a force to be reckoned with too. Young, energetic, visionary. He’ll go far.

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