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Weeknotes s01 e02

The difficult second episode

This week I’ve spend more time out of the office than in it, but it’s been fruitful nonetheless. A great thing I’ve seen from other weeknoters is the use of codenames for projects and clients, so I’m going to adopt that convention as well using US Presidents[0].

Monday/Tuesday: a good start to the week, as I packed an overnight bag and headed to Windsor castle to take part in a thought leadership event. This is both deeply flattering and also something my undergraduate self would have sneered at because it’s both uncool and corporate. I appeased that part of myself by ducking out to see a regimental band play a snippet of Clocks by Coldplay, which we can all agree is seriously cool.

If the 10th Doctor digs it, I dig it

Having appeased the sneering teenager that I suspect lives in all of us, I managed to get properly into some fascinating ideas. It was a huge chance to interact with people passionate about using digital and tech to improve democracy (as opposed to government), and I got to meet the Chief Innovation Officer of Estonia. That was cool.

It was also yet another reminder that Government tech is cool, and we’re doing awesome things, and I can’t wait to get back into it.

Wednesday was spent at the Amazon Web Services Summit, and it did not start as well. Getting 6000 people into a building at once is difficult — although at one point it seemed that the tech failed, which must have been a nightmare situation.

Still, once in I got to experience my first sales conference, and it was about 20% valuable. There were one or two products that look like they might add value and that I’ll certainly be trying to apply to things I’m building and owning at the moment. There was naturally a lot of nerd swag, including this beautiful t-shirt:

MongoDB know their audience, is all I’m saying

I left just after a thought-provoking talk from Jonno Southam about hiring, and while his “ABC: Always Be Hiring” probably requires deeper pockets than my current organisation has, it’s a really interesting way of expanding. By hiring brilliant people and giving them autonomy, trusting that they’ll work within your company’s vision, you get creative and exciting new products. It drives its own expansion.

On my way home I dropped into the DaT picnic to give my new Digital and Technology colleagues the benefit of my experience[1]. I also crossed paths with Jenny, who’s definitely a rising star in the DaT world — she’s been busy organising #OneTeamGov with other Government Twitter superstars like Kit and Lorena. Keep your eyes on them, and definitely check out Andrew’s write-up of what a future Perm Sec might look like.

Thursday and I was back in the office, getting a debrief from our remote working colleague about training they’d done with Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. Everything went well and we’ve learned some lessons for our next new set of clients.

I also showed my strategic plan to our CEO. He’s given me a lot of comments and we had a frank discussion about it. It’s been strange to work with someone who’s absolutely willing to disagree and debate with passion — strange, but great. That attitude, combined with an Amazon phrase — “Disagree and commit” — are two things I’d love to bring back into the Civil Service. That and this:

Most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70% of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90%, in most cases, you’re probably being slow.

It’s got more value in the private sector, of course, because your competitor will happily move with less information — as the cost of failure increases, the willingness to make that jump decreases. And in the Service the consequences of failure are absolutely terrifying.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t move though; it means we need to look at other ways we can reduce risk.

Friday meant the weekend, and an opportunity to catch up with conference buddies.

The best goddamn team in the world

Every other Friday is the deadline for items for the Fast Streama Forum update, an internal newsletter I write for the entirety of the Fast Stream, so there was a flurry of last-minute items for inclusion. My goal is to be able to publish it publicly: I think there’s value in letting potential recruits see what our culture is like. We should be explicit about the kind of workplace we are: it helps to attract the kind of people who wouldn’t have considered it before, who might think they wouldn’t fit in.

There are good counter-arguments to that proposal, and the discussions I’m having are properly useful in shaping how I think about our culture.

I managed to spend a couple of hours answering questions from our developers on tickets in our backlog — as I’ve mentioned before, they’re remote, so we can’t do synchronous questioning[2]. I actually find this kind of asynchronous process more valuable: I can manage my time better, and being able to work on something creative for hours actually has huge benefits.[3] And because the items are in the backlog there’s no development time lost unless I get lazy and don’t get to it in time — and as a PO you only do that once, because it’s the most frustrating thing in the world to see a sprint start without a feature you know is important in it.

Having polished the backlog I headed to see the aforementioned conference buddies and, quite by accident, found Hannah at the same gathering. I mentored Hannah onto the Fast Stream last year, and I’m pleased that my digital wisdom[4] has rubbed off on her: we talked about how we could start standardising and digitising the collection of information from her stakeholders. I’ve promised any help I can give: I’m hopeful that she’ll be able to achieve something minimal before the end of her post.

Wandering home, my partner and I stopped off at Pizza Express to celebrate payday and the weekend. And there’s nothing nicer to end a week than that.


[0] If we get over 45 clients before the end of August, I’ll start on Vice-Presidents. After that I’ll continue down the line of succession, in the hope that I’ll learn even more about that nation’s political history.

[1] Dubious

[2] Yelling across a room

[3] Case in point: I’ve taken 90 minutes cloistered away to get these thoughts into order

[4] Near continual evangelising/complaining

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