The Professional

..and this ‘thing of ours’



One of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot since my move to the consultancy side of things is the perception of professionalism.

It was never something I really thought about when I was a civil servant — for better or worse I figured I’d be judged by my deeds and behaviours and at mySociety the remote working and open source nature of things changed the dynamic again.

Now though it is on my mind.

I’m pretty sure I don’t look like anybodies idea of a ‘leader’ really (well apart from being white and middle aged which probably plays into a LOT of preconceptions). If anything as I have got older and more senior I have become more casual in my attire. I wear trainers (Run DMC set my standard), the occasional hoodie, t-shirts and regularly show up to meetings with over-sized headphones around my neck.

Now I’m not going to change. My only suit has been worn twice (once to meet the Queen and once for a wedding in NZ) and was bought for a version of Matt who was four plus stone larger. I mean I probably should own one that fits but lets just say it isn’t a priority.

I know none of this really matters but it is about perceptions and sometimes I wonder if this is one of those things that makes this ‘thing of ours’ just a little harder than it needs to be? Especially when you come from the ‘outside’?

Do all those things that make it easy to recognise members of our ‘tribe’ — the stickers, the Macbooks, the posters, the Post-Its, the hoodies, the bloody Lego — alienate others that we really need to bring along on this journey with us? Does it all reinforce the (still widely held it seems) idea that agile isn’t sufficiently serious and that being user-centric is somehow less important than delivering for the ‘business’.

The reality — as all of us know — is that agile is no easy option. Doing it well is hard work as is taking a true users first approach. It just doesn’t always look like it from the outside so I think it is our responsibility as advocates for this modern approach to do what we can to reassure everyone that this is serious stuff.


Now I’m not saying I’m going to get suited up as if I’m part of Don Cheadle’s crew in House of Lies (but I think I could pull it off!) but I am wondering what I can do to reinforce just how serious I am about this stuff (I mean would I really write so much about it if I wasn’t or spend hours reading a book about designing meetings if I wasn’t!?).

So I’m just thinking about some habits I can double down on to reinforce my professionalism without betraying my sartorial style(ha!) or agile principles..

  • Always be on time to meetings
  • Always be prepared in meetings — do the reading and be present
  • If running meetings ‘design’ the agenda, share it early, arrive early, make sure room is right
  • Communicate with stakeholders via the channel that suits them best as much as they can handle
  • Written documents get a second pair of eyes and proofed before they get shared with clients — always
  • Always seek feedback — keep iterating and improving
  • Be open, honest and transparent as much as possible
  • Seek opportunities to ‘join in’ — to get to know the teams and their ways of working elsewhere in the organisation

It’s easier to adopt the language and vocabulary of the culture in which you are working than it is to teach them a new one.
Dana Chisnell

  • Show empathy for local ‘rules’ (doesn’t mean don’t push back when appropriate but don’t assume the worst)
  • If sharing a space with other colleagues don’t monopolise it
  • Share agile approaches as widely as appropriate but don’t be generic — be mindful of the local culture

This all feels pretty basic but I’m writing it down to hold myself accountable!

Then again — maybe I should just buy a suit…