Weeknotes s01e10

Silencing Bono

Last week I did a recap telling the story so far in this ‘geek serial’. The overarching narrative thread for the year is my quest to find a better balance at work.

This week wasn’t especially balanced. I write a skeleton for the notes from Monday to Friday, and on Tuesday the skeleton said

Jesus it was too intense today

I might have been being a bit melodramatic, but still.

This week I’ve been thinking about the ‘search’ part of our data and search work. Understandably, there’s big focus on the high profile [1] work to build a new website for the UK Parliament at the moment and my team are involved in that.

However, search transcends the new website [2]. Search is fundamental to modern life — it’s all around us at work and outside. Search is really hard to do well, and it’s somewhat intangible too.

From working with a variety of our users, I recognise that ‘good’ search has the potential to improve access, understanding and use of material from the UK Parliament. Soon we’re going to see the first implementations of work the team have done on search over the past year. I’m really looking forward to being able to test, iterate and improve it.

I have a work daydream about search and the inevitable [3] Hollywood movie that will be made about my team one day.

Picture the scene: The team take the UK Parliament Digital Service Learjet [4] to Silicon Valley. We step off the plane into the blazing California sunshine. Close up on Michael who puts on a pair of aviator sunglasses. We walk in slow motion across the runway towards the camera. The soundtrack is something kind of nu-metal but before the genre was called that so it’s a credible musical choice and the heavy guitars evoke a sense of the Data and Search team really meaning pro data and search business.

“WE ARE HERE BECAUSE USER NEEDS”

We have come to purchase now-worthless intellectual property from former tech-giants.

In a generic but strangely empty office building, Samu carries an attaché case that’s chained to his wrist because he is a pro. Samu puts the attaché case on a desk and opens it.

There are five one dollar bills inside.

A man in overalls hands us some dusty rack servers. We take the Learjet back to London. Maybe Robert opens some champagne in the plane. Or perhaps it’s more of a Courvoisier vibe [5].

We all laugh.

SPENDING PUBLIC MONEY WISELY

Next, and probably through the medium of a training montage, we resuscitate the old algorithms and use them as the basis for a world beating new search service [6].

We finish with an image of the team on the cover of Time magazine. Caption “really pro data and search”, perhaps.

So yes, I’m excited about search. Both in fantasy and in reality.

Elsewhere this week, I’ve been struck by how effective Tori (Director of Transformation) has been at encouraging open communication over email. This has helped me to get greater visibility of everything that is happening with corporate management information dashboards, breaking down some silos and avoiding back-channel escalations. A big help.

Week in brief

On Monday Emma (my Director) had set aside the morning to have a workshop for her leadership team, featuring the Heads of X (Carrie, Jamie, Jeanette, Matt and me), Jo, and Julie. Jeanette couldn’t make it, but it was good to take the time nevertheless. We’re still a pretty new team, and haven’t had many opportunities to work and share openly together like we did.

Much of the time was spent on a team retrospective, with actual Post-it notes. We’d also been asked in advance to think of two things to represent what we thought the team was like now; and how we wanted it to be.

For what the team is like now, I chose the album ‘A Tribute to Spacemen 3’ by Various Artists.

“TALENTED GROUPS COPYING OTHER PEOPLE’S WORK, WITH MIXED RESULTS”

For how I would like the team to be, I chose the album ‘The Band’ by The Band.

“TALENTED PEOPLE MAKING SOMETHING FAR GREATER THAN THE SUM OF ITS PARTS, WITH NO SUPERSTARS”

I thought the morning was really good and look forward to doing more of this in future.

Elsewhere on Monday, work on corporate management information dashboards (explained back in episode 5) was difficult. Simply put, there are many, many people involved in all this and I don’t know everything that is going on. I don’t think it would be possible to know either, even if I worked on corporate management information dashboards full time.

I went to the ‘Digital Strategy Board’ which comprises some of the most senior, decision-making people in the House of Commons and House of Lords administrations along with Rob Greig (Department Director). Emma and Jamie were presenting the developing road map for the new website. A big effort has gone into this over the past month. The presentation was a success and the Board were supportive.

New developer Matthieu started in the team.

On Tuesday new integration engineer Lewis started in the team. We had the team rally where I told everybody what was happening and that kind of thing.

Looking at why Tuesday felt so unbalanced, I had 7 meetings on different topics taking up 5 hours of the day. For one of the meetings it would have been better for somebody else to be there.

I think I found the context switching exhausting.

Wednesday was data day, my team’s planning day. Colleague Ben from the House of Lords came along and stayed for the whole day, following a good chat we’d had the day before about working more closely. We were also visited by Ed from Represent and had a constructive session talking about Bills. It was particularly good to have Ben there for that part given his knowledge of the legislative process.

We got through pretty much everything on a big agenda, despite the room being oppressively warm. It’s great to use this loft room that takes us away from our usual space, but when it’s sunny outside it gets pretty soupy in there.

NOTICE ME SWEATING BLOOD FOR DASHBOARDS

Thursday started with a ‘Heads of Profession’ workshop about ‘smart working’. Encouraging people to work flexibly is a big priority for the organisation at the moment.

I had a couple of one to ones.

Jo, Julie and I had a planning session with our user research colleagues for the event that we’re going to have for everybody in Emma’s directorate at the end of the month.

I did some work on corporate management information dashboards.

On Friday I went to the show and tell for the new website. I was really impressed with progress. There was a good and varied crowd too, and there were some challenging questions about data at the end.

I did some bitty admin work.

We had the Friday session to agree priorities for next week, although only Robert and Kheira were around so I got most of the updates remotely. I want to evolve this a bit so that we’re having more of a group conversation about what the most important things are, but thinking about the ‘smart working’ question I don’t want to make people be in the office in order for this to happen…

#MeetingWatch

It’s the 10th week of me gathering data about my meetings [7]. Slowly but surely I’m gaining insight. Developing the data capture has helped as well — the switch from “how did the meeting make me feel?” to “did the meeting contribute to my objectives?” is an improvement. My objectives are pretty broad, but it’s still a good check.

There’s clearly something about Tuesdays in my meetings culture. Here’s an updated graph:

I MADE THIS

All the data is here.

This week I also heard Rob Greig talk about some out-there, sci-fi analytics from calendar and email that may soon be available to staff. I hope I get to try that out. It might save me from having to do a detailed time and motion study on myself to work out how meetings affect me at a more detailed level.

[1] Relatively, for our organisation

[2] In a humble way. This is not to say that search is more important or valuable than a new website

[3] Might happen. They made a cracking film out of ‘The Big Short’ and I imagine there must have been some scepticism at initial pitch meetings

[4] For the avoidance of doubt theUK Parliament Digital Service does not have a Learjet (as far as I’m aware)

[5] Product placement!

[6] This bit is woolly and needs work, I know

[7] Because my life is thrilling

#MEETINGWATCH

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Dan Barrett

Head of Data Science at Citizens Advice. These are my personal thoughts on work.