Weeknotes s01e23

Perseus

Last week at work was really great, so perhaps inevitably I had a hilariously terrible weekend where I spent most of my time trying to get to the seaside and back while the UK’s transport infrastructure ground to a sweaty halt around me. Then this week at work wasn’t great either, with some unexpected events, lots of unnecessary noise, and not getting much done.

Writing #weeknotes has helped me identify a pattern of steep swings up and down in my mood and experience from week to week at work. Like a rather dull, low-stakes public sector digital rollercoaster. Everything seems fine, then new things come to test me.

I feel like a plaything for capricious gods.

“HI DAN, FYI ZEUS WANTS TO SEE THE NUMBER OF KRAKEN RELEASES THIS MONTH ON HIS CORPORATE MANAGEMENT INFORMATION DASHBOARD”

I need to remember that this year is supposed to be about my quest for balance. I’m nearly half-way in to 2017 [1], it’s time to act on what I’ve learned so far.

There were some high points to the week, mind you.

I won’t be achieving balance next week though, because I am going to North America. This is a trip that was first dreamt about in episode 16. I have never been to North America.

I am going to speak at a conference [2] in Washington D.C.; visit the actual White House to see some computer people; travel to Ottawa to learn about the work of another Parliament; check in with some Canadian Government digital folk; and more.

All by myself.

YOU CAN DO THIS DAN

Writing it down, it sounds rather incredible. I am one fortunate sonofabitch [3], eh? [4]

Week in brief

This week was absolutely rammed with meetings in my calendar [5], which was the last thing that I wanted in advance of going to North America and me needing to get some headspace to prepare.

I didn’t work on Monday. However, it was Kheira’s leaving drinks, so I made the effort to come into central London in the evening. I’m really going to miss Kheira. The evening ended with the data and search team propping up the bar. It was nice to spend time with Anya, Liz, Mat, Michael, and Samu. We came up with a great artisan food truck related idea as a back up plan if this whole data and search thing doesn’t pan out.

On Tuesday I worked from home for a bit in the morning to try to catch up with things.

Robert led the team rally instead of me where he told everybody what was happening and that kind of thing.

Saffiyah (new data analyst) was in for the day before her official start in a couple of weeks. It was good to meet her.

I had back to back meetings with multiple clashes to the end of the conventional working day.

I went to a meeting with colleagues from the infrastructure and technology teams about evolving our department’s practice towards ‘DevOps’. Matt, Jamie, and Emma (my Director) were there, plus several people I haven’t worked with as closely over the past 18 months as I used to. It was a good, constructive session including somebody sketch noting, which I liked.

I went to a meeting about the ‘scaling agile’ theme in my department and the forthcoming mass planning activity to map out the next 3 and 18 months. The main question is how to make the most of it — how can it be constructive — so I hope I’ve set that up for Aidan (delivery manager) whilst I’m away next week.

I went to a meeting about future planning, DevOps, business continuity and so on for the new website for the UK Parliament. This was with Aidan, Emma, Jamie, Jo, and Sam (delivery manager).

I met with Mat and Liz on a consistent technical implementation for corporate management information dashboards.

CORPORATE MANAGEMENT INFORMATION DASHBOARDS

I met with Sarah, who is a new digital project manager, to talk about potential projects involving Parliament’s audio/video offering.

I had a one to one with Lew (data integration engineer). Then I had a chat with Rosie about digital strategy and measurement culture.

I did some editing of a blog post about our new data service. Man, is it ever hard to make things simple.

On Wednesday we had the dashboards team meeting.

In ‘Zeus messes with you’ news, I learned that Bita (delivery manager) has to leave the team in two weeks. This means that after asking for vital support for this important work for 26 weeks, I will have had support (one day a week) for 8 weeks. Back to square one on this.

We had ‘data day’, my team’s planning day. It was cut in half because of the department-wide ‘scaling agile’ work, so we just had the afternoon. Also, we no longer have a space of our own in Parliament’s buildings estate away from our office, so I have decided to be nomadic and ask favours from people outside of my organisation. Episode 19 explains this.

We went to a DEFRA building around the corner, thanks to David. Lack of natural light aside, it was a great space for us and I score it 8/10. I don’t think we’ll be able to use the area again though, because DEFRA are moving offices soon.

Data day was fine. The highlight was we had guest appearances from Andrew and Bill, and agreed to work on some slightly out-there stuff as a result.

Also I made a cake for David, using produce from Michael’s allotment. I burned the cake a bit because my new oven is terrible, but it went down really well nonetheless.

As we visit new people to use their spaces for ‘data day’ I hope we can continue to give them cake with a personal touch to repay the favour. I still owe Cherry-Anne and Mark from DfE a cake (lemon drizzle) from our last ‘data day’. I will not fail to deliver [6].

Dia (product manager) came later in the afternoon because she had been to a briefing for all the staff from my department. Dia told us that Rob Greig (Department Director) had announced he would be leaving in September.

This was surprise news that’s going to take me a while to process.

My initial feelings are that I’m sad, because Rob Greig has been a really great support to me, and encouraged and trusted me to get on and do my stuff. It also means that more change is coming. I’m not scared or apprehensive about that, but I am rather tired. I will need to find some new reserves to motivate myself through it.

Most of us went to the pub for a bit afterwards.

Thursday started with a meeting with Anya, who is my most important internal ‘customer’. I had a chat with Jamie, and then I did travel arrangements for my North America trip with the awesome Rina. Apparently there is some complex etiquette about giving gifts (Houses of Parliament swag) to my hosts, which I wasn’t expecting.

Ed and Alex (product manager) took me through the work they’ve been doing (particularly Alex, as I understand it) on the road map for the new website. I was impressed — the thinking really hangs together.

I think there is a broader something missing about helping everybody to understand the total effort that goes into making a new website for Parliament though. At the moment it’s patchy — the user research and exposure of the complexity of Parliament has been great, but perhaps we need to work on establishing a better level of technical understanding. I think there’s a tendency on all sides to gloss over the gritty computer things as magic.

BEHOLD! THE CONTINUOUS DELIVERY PIPELINE!

I would like to be in an environment where we are all curious about each others specialisms and expertise. It’s too easy to slip into “don’t worry about it”, or “I don’t need to understand this”.

I met with Raphael. He’d been to a couple of conferences and it was good to hear about what he’d picked up. Good chat.

We had Emma’s ‘Heads of X’ meeting. Carrie, Jamie, Jeanette, and Jo were there. It was a bit of a group therapy session. I realised that Carrie, Jamie and Jeanette all have their own version of a corporate management information dashboards work millstone around their necks, which is kind of reassuring.

On Friday my post for the departmental blog about the new data service was published, thanks to Louise. I’m really glad it got published before my trip, really good timing.

As part of my work objectives to the end of March next year (shared in episode 18) I have to write 12 blog posts excluding #weeknotes. I’ve got 10 to go now.

I got a couple of neat things into the post about the data service: It features a West Side Story GIF as a reference to my long-running [7] attempts to ‘rumble’ with GDS last mentioned in episode 17 (footnote 6); and also there’s a link to Samu’s LinkedIn profile in there.

I met Ben who is on secondment to my team from the House of Lords [8]. We went through a list of things for him to be getting on with. I’m really enjoying Ben being in the team, and he’s learning things by the sounds of it.

I met Liz to check in with how she is settling in after 2 months, talk more about objectives for the year, and anticipating the arrival of two new data analysts who she will be managing.

I spent the rest of the day trying to prepare for my trip, and travelled home with a bag full of Parliamentary swag.

#MeetingWatch

The best thing on #MeetingWatch this week was getting stuck in a revolving door for long enough to take a selfie.

[1] I’m struck by the fact that I haven’t taken a full week off work yet this year, despite having a very generous amount of annual leave

[2] To be clear — I’m not scared about this bit. I like public speaking

[3] I am just practicing the USA lingo here rather than insulting my own mother who is the absolute best.

Hopefully somebody will say to me

I love your accent!

And I’ll say

Thanks so much! But my teeth are *terrible* — look!

And then we’ll get married

[4] I am practicing the Canadian lingo here as I understand it, eh? I recognise that popular cultural stereotypes aren’t an indicator of actual cultural experience, of course

[5] In the end, I didn’t go to many of these meetings, and the world didn’t stop turning

[6] It was really nice to make cake for work again after taking a break at the start of the year. I have big plans. Next up is me perfecting a low GI, decaffeinated fruit loaf (Bara Brith) for Janet Hughes. This is the first logical step [9] to making a successful YouTube series where I go to public sector digital folks’ kitchens and make a cake with them and talk about work and cake. Here is the proof that I have prepared for the first logical step:

LOW GI, DECAF BARA BRITH AWAITS

[7] And wholly tongue-in-cheek

[8] Note that Ben is not a Lord

[9] Trust me, it is

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Dan Barrett

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