Year of the Dog: Notes from the ‘Beginning of Spring’ (Li Chun)

I’ve decided to return to the #weeknotes fold — sort of. My plan is to write irregular notes throughout the Chinese Year of the Dog that try to coincide with the 24 Solar Terms — so it works out every couple of weeks-ish. We’ll see how this shakes out in practice I suspect.

I like that I am starting by looking back at the ‘Beginning of Spring’ as it seems pretty appropriate as at the moment I am very much starting afresh again and am in the ‘discovery phase’ of a new job. Finding out;

  • who my users are
  • my users’ needs and how I can meet them, or any needs I’m not meeting
  • which people currently meet my users’ needs and whether they’re government or private sector
  • how I’d start developing this role if discovery finds there’s a user need for it
  • getting to know the people you need on my team
  • what to name my role(!)
  • how I might build a bigger team given the constraints of the organisation’s legacy systems
  • the policies and politics that relate to my role and how it might prevent me from delivering a good service to my users

So far it has been eye-opening and not without incident (like all the best Discoveries). Things are evolving rather quicker than I expected but I’m comfortable with the direction of it all so far. I do feel like I’ll need to come at this from a different perspective that much of my work in the past — more programme manager than product maybe. The way we are working with the client (a major Government agency in South-West Wales..) means they provide the vision and the product leadership so my usual role in that space is a bit crowded — however there is a lot of relationship management, team coordination, governance and general pastoral care type work that needs picking up and given I have ideas about how to approach all these things in a ‘modern’* way it gives me the opportunity to try some things out!

Happily I have come in and joined a good team — we are running a handful of ‘squads’ and while I have a deeper role in the largest I have been dipping my toes into the others a little as well. I’m not going to lie it feels good to be back in amongst a co-located team again. It is so much easier to be across everything and communicate everything if you share a space. I’d missed corridor conversations. I know remote teams can work and I know many people who prefer that way of working but it just does not suit me.

There is a certain amount of disorientation being in meetings with civil servants and being on the supplier side of the table — at mySociety I met a lot of local gov folk but as I never really worked in that space it was never quite as jarring as being in a room talking to someone who basically has the same job I used to have at a very similar place. I believe it allows me to bring some insights to situations though as well as (a lot of) empathy for what they have to do to make things happen.

It is nice to be back on the Gov-wide digital Slack as well — nice to be able to catch up with people and just reassuring to see how lively things still are despite the slight public malaise about things these days.

I’ve signed up to give a talk at DesignSwansea in a couple of weeks — just to meet a few people given I’ll potentially be there a lot for a year or so. The talk is a bit of an extended trailer of a longer one I have proposed to a couple of conferences;

Working in the open works.

The talk outlines the importance of openness at an individual, team and organisational level in the public service (and beyond) to spread the understanding and acceptance of a ‘modern’ approach (i.e. user driven and agile) and to build trust with the users who get to peek behind the curtain and see how and why decisions are made and that they are made by real people.

Illustrated by examples from the Office for National Statistics, GDS, 18F, Friends of the Earth, Mozilla, Gitlab, Netflix, a lot of individuals and more.

This is the idea I would most like to try and turn into something longer and book like. We will see. I am looking for a working away project (as if my newsletter, blogging and jobs list aren’t enough!).

So far I have done two weeks in the glamorous Premier Inn Swansea North — which actually was fine and I’ll likely stay there again in future. There is a lot to be said for a bedroom to desk walking commute of about 5 minutes — but the next couple of weeks I am trying out some AirBnBs in town and then a couple of serviced apartments on the Marina.

It has been pretty straightforward so far — this week I iterated on things a bit based on the advice I received and it really helped. Especially taking a comfy change of clothes for the room.

Oh and despite eating out a lot and not walking as much as I’d like I have lost another 3lbs. I am on target to hit my next weight loss milestone by my birthday which is great and a little unexpected.

*when I talk about ‘modern’ I’m trying it out as short-hand for ‘agile, user-centric, multi-disciplinary, people first ways of working’..

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