myWeek (s4e04)


Four weeks. Doesn’t time fly when you are desperately trying to learn a new role! I remain in the somewhat unusual position (for me) of really enjoying the job — that isn’t to say I haven’t been in that position before but in the past it has snuck up on me and then taken hold after several months but this time it seems to have just clicked.

This week was less full on than the last and was mainly in Bristol which was nice. I spent a bit of time putting some team structure into place — booking meetings, Hangouts etc and confusing people with my liberal use of agile terminologies where it hasn’t been common in the past! I’ve been thinking a lot about the book ‘The Year Without Pants’ by Scott Berkun about the lessons he learned moving to an internationally distributed team at WordPress.com and the things he put in place there to help the team (and himself) get the best out of that way of working. Coming from a background where I have heavily promoted the idea of co-located product teams there is a bit of a shift needed if I am going to really bring my best to the team — so far though I’m enjoying the change.

I nipped over to Cardiff (or is it ‘under to’ as I went via the tunnel) on Tuesday and spent some time with Dave, our ‘veteran’ dev on Better Cities (i.e. he didn’t start this year!) to talk about our plans, some of the history and what he saw as the big opportunities for the product(s). It was a really useful chat and something I’m hoping to do regularly with both Dave and Stu in Brum — there are some insights you only really gain in a meandering, face to face conversation. In fact the conversation was so good I forgot my headphones and had to trundle back to the cafe later on to recover them!

I’m starting to get some ideas about where we might take things in the next year and what a roadmap might look like. I firmly believe in starting with a product vision and working back from that and that seems to be coming in to focus.

Also in Cardiff I caught up with Bec, our Head of Research. One of the (many) things that makes mySociety unlike other digital organisations is that we have a small team that does academic level research investigating the actual impact of the sorts of things we do. They operate internationally on all sorts of topics and also organise an annual research conference (where I will be sporting a fetching staff t-shirt!). Bec got me up to speed on some of the research done, what is planned and what is proposed that fits in with the ‘Better Cities’ practice. All those years working in research adjacent organisations (Jisc, Hefce, MRC, ESRC etc..even ONS) means I still enjoy this sort of work and think it is incredibly important not only as research for the civic tech community generally but also in that it differentiates mySociety from the pack.

There was quite a bit of back and forth this week about a few commercial projects that we are involved with — these are more traditional work for hire gigs that we do alongside our own products as something of a bootstrapping concept. This is new to me as I have always been on the other side of the conversation but on the other hand it is the same conversation 🙂 The projects are interesting and with equally interesting clients and while it takes a bit of juggling to make sure everything gets the support it needs I am really enjoying this aspect of things. I’m only going to take more of a role in this space I think in the months to come.

Rachel and I went to our first existing (active) clients meeting — to date we have mainly been out pitching or discussing development with people pre-launch. This was with a customer service team at the sharp end and it was clear that they had some frustrations but also that they were in our remit to resolve (phew!). Again these are the sort of discussions that are best face to face and I learned a lot, started to build some good relationships (I think) and lined up a great opportunity to do some ethnographic user research and really get a feel for how people use the product.

On that topic I have been reading UX for Lean Startups by Laura Klein as I look to give my skills and knowledge around user research a boost — it has been a long time since I did this sort of thing myself (apart from occasionally dabbling) and I am keen to do it right — well as right as possible in the circumstances and this book is a great read with that in mind. I’ve always liked a lot of the ‘Lean Startup’ approach (while finding some of it a bit icky) so am looking forward to taking an ethical approach to as much of it as possible.

It was #pubcamp this week — it was the smallest turnout yet but I still had a bunch of great conversations. I’m thinking about trying a slightly different approach with it — maybe using Meetup.com and publicising it more widely. Not sure. Next one will be March 1st.

Oh and this will come as no surprise to anyone who has had to use them but I hate procurement portals. H-A-T-E.