Weeknotes s01e27

The horse

Last week I felt like I’d finally shaken off my North American hangover [1]. I realised that nobody was going to come and ask me to go to New Zealand or go back to Canada to do the serious public sector digital pro business, and no amount of Zach Galifianakis animated GIFs were going to change that.


I also felt the beginnings of building some personal momentum. I don’t feel that I’ve had that yet this year. If I could really get into my stride at work for a few months I’d be happier.

I’m thinking about this personal momentum in the context of my year-long quest for balance (see episode 8), and a really helpful conversation with Samu about the context switching in our organisation and how extreme it is.

I’ve grown to be an industrial-scale plate spinner, but that’s not a healthy thing or something to aspire to.

Maybe I can build this momentum if I just try sticking to the things I’ve decided are most important right now, which are: 1) delivery management for corporate management information dashboards in the absence of anybody else; 2) writing a really good data strategy; and 3) being more ‘present’ in other teams to help the delivery of our public-facing digital products.

I’ve also been thinking about change again. I feel there’s a next generation [2] of thought in this whole public sector digital transformation space. It’s either there already and I haven’t noticed it yet or it’s about to take proper shape.

I can say without feeling like a fraud that I’ve been working on organisational change in one way or another for over 10 years. It’s only recently that I started writing about it though [3].

Full disclosure: I’m not very direct in my writing. So far I haven’t come anywhere near a pithy

“The playbook for successful digital transformation with empathy at its core”

I’d be far more likely to write

“Why digital transformation should be less like ‘Repeater’ and more like ‘Red Medicine’ [4]”

So, I’m not very famous and I have my limitations, but I have IDEAS and EXPERIENCE and OPINIONS and I would like to CONTRIBUTE, please.

Last on thoughts last week, it’s great that #weeknotes seems to be taking off, with more and more people giving it a go. Personally, I am getting so very much out of the experience of writing all this down and putting it out.

I hope that @jukesie feels like the man dancing on the hill [6], even if that man on the hill video has been cynically repurposed by a thousand management consultants at the externally facilitated team building workshop at the Basingstoke Holiday Inn (or equivalent).

Week in brief

It’s Wednesday evening and I’ve left my #weeknotes far too late. My memory is a bit hazy.

Monday — the ‘skeleton’ I write starts with


You had one job, past self.

Anyway, I know I sought out fellow Heads of X Jeanette and then Matt for a spontaneous catch up.

I worked on budgets with Jaie and Aidan.

I spoke with fellow Head of X Jamie about corporate management information dashboards, because our respective personal work millstone worlds of corporate management information dashboards and electronic forms were starting to overlap.


I had a one to one with Aidan. I attended the team weekly update with Mat, Noel, Lew, and David for the first time around their Kanban board. We spoke about changing their development practices and building a new development environment and pipeline that would be the same as the rest of the team.

I did some writing.

On Tuesday we had the team rally where I told everybody what was happening and that kind of thing.

I asked Ben to do the intro for the show and tell because I knew I wouldn’t be there.

I met Sam to talk about finding mentors for our respective selves. This was time really well spent, and would never have happened without #weeknotes. It was tough, mind you. Reflective ‘chat’ isn’t easy. Maybe the pair of us got about 25% of the way there.

Next, we’re going to write a job description for what we want from our mentors, and then do a joint blog post.

In the event that you are reading this thinking

Whoah, I would so like to mentor Sam and/or Dan because they could be the future of work if only for my sage guidance

then please get in touch.


I met Gavin at the DfT. My former colleague Jonathan had put us in touch. Gavin and I had a good conversation about machine learning, Parliamentary questions, departmental correspondence systems, and particularly working in ‘an open way’.

It’s taken me several years to build up the confidence to blog and tweet about my work, and it’s been a slow process of feeling my way towards the boundary of what is acceptable, professional, and at the same time constructive or of potential value. My advice (such as it is) is to just start, reflect, and stick at it.

I recommended to Gavin people to connect with or watch, and places to go. There’s also a shared ‘need’ that I’ve come across with other government organisations for data from Parliament, so this could be a useful thing to explore.

I bumped into Tom outside the DfT building [7] who said he was itching to get into some juicy data science projects. I get a bit jealous of other government departments — there’s so much good you could imagine doing with transport data.

The Canadian Digital Service launched. I like their new website and it was good to see some of the faces I’d seen in actual real life Canada a few weeks before.

Le Service numérique canadien a été lancé. J’aime leur nouveau site Web et il était bon de voir certains des visages que j’avais vus dans la vraie vie au Canada quelques semaines auparavant.


I had a one to one with Emma (my Director). It was really good and gave me lots to think about, particularly a forward plan for team visits and events up until the end of March 2018. I particularly want to make things happen outside of London. I suggested that we take a group to Open Data Camp in Northern Ireland in October, and Emma was really keen.

I don’t usually write about my incredible social life, but I went for dinner at Samu’s house. We didn’t talk about work that much, but it was talking with Samu that made me think about our collective context switching problem.

Dinner and the company was amazing, by the way. I can’t remember the last time I did such a thing as go to a colleague’s home to eat. Maybe never?


I cancelled data day, our team’s planning day. I am allowed to do this because I am the boss. Michael and Robert weren’t around, and I had some specific work things on my mind so I decided it would be better for me to focus on those and let the group to keep doing what they’re doing.

I realised that I can’t go to Open Data Camp in Northern Ireland this year because I have a family holiday booked. I expect we’ll send a group from Parliament nevertheless and I’ll work to make this happen.

I did correspondence. I did a sift of candidates for an interview panel I’d been asked to sit on.

I made an spontaneous visit to the Committees Alpha team as part of my new commitment to being more ‘present’. I spoke with Ed and the gang about wanting to make a start on data development and investigation in 2 weeks, with Ed coming to data day in the same way that Colin and Jamie do to update us on website priorities.

I had a very good couple of hours with Samu breaking down all the development work we have on, in the spirit of ‘the tapas of delivery’. At the very least, this helped the pair of us to be confident in our prioritisation decisions. I was surprised to find that things feel more manageable than I thought they were. Everything went up on the pinboard by my desk, and I hope that we can use it to help explain just how much goes into the data computer magic stuff and what it’s actually for.


We had the ‘Heads of Profession’ meeting, which is like everybody at the same grade in my department talking about department-wide things for an hour or so. Rob Greig (Department Director) came in at the end to further set the scene for his leaving in September.

I made a bit of progress on funding for corporate management information dashboards funding thanks to Rebecca (Director of Portfolio [8]).

I saw and read Alex’s blog post, and coupled with Abbey’s Twitter rant (below) I thought “hey there’s something in this let’s not be the archetypal dickhead [9] in bermuda shorts with a MacBook pushing [10] the digital transformation agenda if we want to actually transform things” thing.

We had the corporate management information dashboards team meeting. It was better than the previous week.

I had my first proper one to one with Saffiyah, the new data analyst. So great!

I met with Jane from the House of Commons to talk and share about corporate management information dashboards.

We had the ‘Heads of X’ meeting, featuring Emma, Julie, Jeanette, Matt, and Jamie. Jeanette was talking us through the road map for the new website. I’d only had 20 minutes or so with the people putting this road map together over the past six (?) weeks until the meeting, so it was a helpful session. Over the hour the conversation developed between me, Jeanette, Jamie and Matt in particular and it struck me that this is the work we should be doing as a team on a regular basis (but with Carrie there too).

Thursday featured too many meetings to get any work done, but it was still a good day.


My ‘skeleton’ for the week says

Still got lots of problems; lots and lots of problems

I’m not sure exactly what that refers to, but it does ring true. This reinforces my thinking that I should be more ‘present’ with the wider team. The UK Parliament administration is rather strange and overwhelming in terms of complexity and personal- and cultural histories if you’re new to it and I guess I’m one of the few people still around who knows about that kind of stuff, hopefully without being utterly institutionalised and an impediment to progress.

In my opinion we could be more cohesive as a wider team, and set our bar for quality higher. I will try to help.

I wrote the weekly corporate management information dashboards update like a good delivery manager.

I met Raphael. So great! I met Liz. So great! The data and search team is so great! It’s uncharted stuff for me, where team members are going off and doing things with minimal direction and coming back with all kinds of awesome.


To finish the week I did correspondence including writing interview questions.


Listening: I bought a second-hand ‘best of’ 10cc record for £5 from a hipster shop. 10cc are like an idiot Steely Dan. My mum and dad didn’t have that many records, but I remember the 10cc one with ‘The Wall Street Shuffle’ on it, which is also on this record. It was nostalgic to hear.

To concentrate I listened to a really superb Kompakt label showcase featuring Demian and Rex the Dog.

Reading: still ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ by Thomas Pynchon. It’s over 900 pages long and I’m a third of the way through now. At about 200 pages it clicked with me, but the relentless sex and death has been rather wearing.

Watching: A handful of films, but seeing ‘Big Trouble in Little China’ for the first time in many years was a highlight. It’s very, very odd and funny. I suspect it is a deliberate B-movie pastiche? Good to see/hear the quote from this long-dead emo band’s song that also references Peter Gabriel.

Also: ‘Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight’ on Radio 4 was incredible.


One day I will draw together all of my meetings data and make something interesting, but in the meantime I got stuck in a revolving door a record 4 times last week so I plan to do a week-long time and motion study to establish a baseline of how many times I walk through a revolving door each day so that I can put these kinds of accidental achievements into better context.

[1] I went to North America for work, eh? You can read about it in episodes 24–1 and 24–2

[2] I thought carefully about my words here, because ‘next generation’ suggests younger people and actually in this new paradigm that I perceive it would be a really inclusive deal for everybody regardless of age. Also I am sensitive about my age right now

[3] I won’t link to several of my own blog posts because #weeknotes are primarily for me so I know what those blog posts are, but most everything I’ve written publicly is about change in one way or another, including that relatively poplular post about cake (that wasn’t really about cake)

[4] This hypothetical blog post is pretty clever even if I say so myself. It implicitly rubbishes received wisdom and working by rote (‘Repeater’), and I could even stretch to saying this was an analogy for a Waterfall model if I had a few drinks. The title totally references concepts popularised by ‘the Matrix’ in terms of accepting the harder truths (‘Red Medicine’). It is based on two album titles by (the ethically sound band) Fugazi. Oh, and ‘Red Medicine’ is the better album as well [5]

[5] Fine if you disagree but you’re never going to be part of my ultra-niche ‘public sector digital transformation as American underground music’ club

[6] Is it a coincidence that the linked video is from a Canadian music festival? I don’t think so


[7] Tom last appeared in episode 6, cameo fans

[8] I think that’s the right job title

[9] Forget about the Bermuda shorts and the MacBook, it’s the dickhead that’s important here — where ‘dickhead’ denotes ‘arrogant fool’ because I don’t want to get into the potential gender politics of having an actual penis on your head or… I could write this footnote forever so that you know, but just picture me praying for clemency in the middle of a metaphorical minefield thanks

[10] Remember the ‘pushing’. I reckon digital transformation fails if it feels like sales



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

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Dan Barrett

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