Weeknotes #14

Week commencing 7th October 2019.

Brace yourself, there’s a lot here. No I’m not apologising for that.

On Monday morning, we moved to the middle of an open-plan office. There’s a lot of politics (aka nonsense) as to why this had to happen but most important to me was the impact on our team as individuals. We used to be tucked away in a corner, around a long, slightly oval board room style table. There were banks of tall cupboards either side of our corner that formed wall-like structures around us. It was a calm and trusted space for our team to work and communicate together.

By contrast, we’re lucky to have fairly diverse team, we work hard to bring together all manner of lunatic for the public good. The advantage of such a diverse team is one that’s full of individuals with different needs, routines and (as they describe them) ‘quirks.’ To be the close-knit team we are means a vast amount of trust and safety with each other, that is, in part, a product of our environment so an uprooting shift to a completely open plan office floor posed a few issues. This week, and for a few weeks to come, we’ll be working out other ways to help each other handle the change. On a positive note, the physical changes this week mean we’ve made time to check in with each other to see how the move has affected us.

View of the open-plan office with some people in the background standing around

The move will become normal soon enough but it reminded me just how far many organisations still have to go to really understand how to develop better cultures, norms and ways of operating that actually have empathy for people. As an aside, This forced change occurred during world mental health week. ‘Nuff said.

Distraction of the week

One thing that stood out this week was another chapter of what I am now calling “Dan’s memoirs on why separation of duties is radically unproductive.”

It began with a security certificate that was expiring (yes, fight off the yawn if you can). Anyway, at the risk of over-explaining, if you’ve not come across them before, security certificates are the ‘padlock’ in your browsers address bar when you visit a website. They stop Snoopy McSnoopersons spying on your internet use. Security certificates have an expiry date and need renewing every now and then. For the certificates our team is in control of, I implemented a process a while back where we didn’t need to do anything. The certificates just renewed automagically and we got a lovely little email that told us everything was dandy, no panic, no effort, just handled.

Recently, however, there’ve been a few ‘situations’ shall we call them where we’ve not been able to use that process, don’t ask why, it still baffles me even now and I’ve wasted far too much time getting frustrated by the madness of it already.

Long story short, I spent Tuesday in a seemingly never-ending email chain waiting for someone to take responsibility for a certificate renewal. It was becoming more and more urgent and it was a certificate that’s not within my team’s responsibility but I’d somehow become involved (the joy of CC in email). Eventually, I gave up waiting for someone to step up and dealt with it myself. I’m really trying not to take control of situations but I equally cannot stand by and watch customers and end-users be let down by a lack of ownership, proactiveness and pragmatism. Sometimes it doesn’t matter about following a process to the letter, sometimes, things just need doing and we can work out who’s budget code to use later. It’s probably not that big’a deal. </rant>

Oh, and the reason separation of duties pains me in situations like this? In my experience of it, separation of duties actively discourages collaboration. Its a notion designed to improve security, however, it aims to do this by keeping things separated, security through obscurity. If we want safer systems of work, we need to build trust through openness and transparency rather than segregation. Don’t @ me.

Leadership meetings

We had a budget and leadership team meetings this week too. The budget meeting was really useful, we now have a shared an understanding of where we are at financially for the year. We asked some good introspective questions, and ultimately found some gaps in the way we work.

We learned that we’re not great at being consistent in the way we do things throughout the team. Processes like; when we invoice and how we invoice, when we move projects from one stage to another and how we close projects down are all have a slightly different method and reasoning by each of us in the team. Equally, our reasoning or focus changes over time. We’re a team that’s grown from 4 to 40 in 4 years and thinking about it now, that’s steady enough growth to not really notice how much we’ve changed.

We came up with a plan to plug some holes and Steve is going to write up a clearer version of what we do so that we can all work out if we are doing the same thing. From there, we can be more conscious of our learning and the changes we make.

On the other hand, the leadership team meeting wasn’t fun for me, a few things happened and I ended up inside my own head because I couldn’t mentally be in the room. I’ve learned over the past few years that I can become quite clouded if I feel like someone attacks my values in public, so I retire to my own thoughts to reflect later instead, it’s a coping mechanism.

One of the great outcomes of writing #weeknotes for me has been the ability to reflect. Every part of me is invested in what I’m doing, I care deeply about the people around me, the work and making an impact, not changing the world, just taking meaning actions. At the time of the conflict in our leadership meeting, I felt attacked and I’ve learned to internalise that so that it doesn’t do long term damage to relationships. Whilst writing these notes I actually feel like it was a really positive thing to have been challenged so openly. It wasn’t hot or cold conflict but somewhere in between and I’m now quite thankful that we’re able to keep that kind of energy in our team – we’re all invested in the work, it’s inevitable that we’ll get caught up in disagreement. The way it was handled by our great leader was really impressive. I’m grateful that we all have such a commitment to learning and improvement in the team.

I’ve just previewed these notes I’m conscious how long they are but I actually need to get the rest of this out for my own sanity.

Anthony has continued to push himself, delivering time and time again on not only his technical ability but his self-confidence. This week he facilitated the daily stand-up, initiated multiple conversations with me and others and continued to deliver a really high standard of work. The most impressive and satisfying thing is the level of consideration Anthony gives to his actions. He exudes intent.

Will is continuing to really embrace his role as a senior in some of the best possible ways. He started a side project a while ago and decided to use it as an opportunity to bring other people from the team in to work on it together.

Will as an apprentice looks like young Harry Potter

These last few weeks he’s really been an example of leading people well. He’s been open, encouraging and adapted to the needs of each person that’s collaborated with him. Equally, Will’s constant emphasis on optimisation is becoming his most powerful weapon, coaching others in really thinking through problems and considering the impact of the decisions we’re making.

I mean, what higher level of acknowledgement of someone’s impact can you get than teammates sharing memes of each other.

Lectures

Last but no means least, Thursday and Friday I started a Global Strategy module for my post-grad.

We worked through a series of exercises, research and concepts developed through the 1960s to present day, many of which I’d not understood in such detail before and the academic focus really helped me understand some of the research theories that back up the events and decision making that I’m seeing day to day in the organisations we work with.

Over the two days, we covered two main areas; Porterian strategy, Resource Based View strategy. Neither of which I completely agree with but the exciting part of the course is that I’m not supposed to.

The best part of the two days was the debate with each other in the lectures and working through exercises to model our own organisations against different strategic tools, I’ll maybe publish my actual notes on these days separately but for now, here’s my scrawlings on Porter’s 5-forces when applied to the shared IT service we work in.

Porters five forces model applied to LGSS IT service

After being inspired by what I’d learned over the two days, I also decided to experiment with a practical application on my own team. It’s still very much a work in progress but I drew up a variation on a Wardley Map that shows dependencies between technologies we use and their evolution

Digital Wardley Map

It’s not an entirely ‘correct’ use of a Wardley map but it’s helping me understand and evaluate how we work, what we use and the decisions we make in future. Next, I’ll be mapping teams and roles into the map too to try and visualise the relationship between technology and people.

Redeeming the week

As you may be able to tell, Monday to Thursday was pretty draining, if you can’t I’m either really bad at writing with emotion or I’ve hidden it well. Either way, I left work almost every day angry, frustrated and exhausted.

To try and turn the week around I took some out for myself before a lecture on Friday. I decided to do something positive for others in an effort to prove to myself that, just because I felt like I was on the receiving end of some crappy situations and behaviours this week it didn’t mean I had to pass them on.

So Friday morning, the day after #worldmentalhealthday, in a Costa in Stoney Stratford, I wrote eight thank you messages.

I didn’t write messages for everyone that I need to thank but just a few people that I’ve talked with about mental health or people that stood out as an example of how to talk honestly and sensibly.

Done.

If you made it to the end of this, thank you for bearing with. I’m writing this first thing on Monday morning because I needed the weekend to process what on earth last week even was.

There were also a tonne of things I couldn’t write about, so count yourself lucky there.

Weeknotes as therapy is a thing.

Recommendations

Malt Kiln farm shop pumpkins