Year of the Dog: Notes from Minor Heat

xiǎo shǔ 小暑

I’m still a bit emotionally fragile after England losing Wednesday night. I got drunk and had a little cry in my Travelodge. I think I’m lucky I had all these reserves of positivity from my wonderful summer so far that prevented me from spiralling too badly.

I’ve been really enjoying all the hot takes on Gareth Southgate as an example of leadership in business/digital. It wasn’t long ago he was something of a figure of fun, a nearly man who (apparently) only got his shot by being the FA’s ‘boy’ so his rise has been something to behold. I look forward to inevitable ‘Tao of Gareth’ business book(s).

The idea that a manager who trusts his team, treats them like adults, has a plan but is flexible enough to change it, is open with stakeholders (well the press) and is a natty dresser is radical says a lot about our culture but I approve.

Long may he reign.

What did I do this week?

I spent Monday back in Swansea. I have a slightly weird role now in relation to our work there which I am still getting my head around somewhat. The team on the ground are great — really on top of things and have great relationships with the client. Someone else in the company ‘owns’ the commercial stuff so I am really…I don’t know…a ‘relationship manager’? I like everybody involved on all sides which makes things easier but it is hard to know what value, if any, I am adding.

Anyway I had a couple of good meetings. It was a beautiful day. It meant a slightly later train on a Monday morning than my usual 06:00 to London.

Back at our national broadcaster later in the week I had a meeting with the leadership of the team I’m interim-ing for. They had some feedback for me and it something I need to really take notice of. I’ve become a bit ‘backwards coming forward’…a bit placid…as a product manager. I just need to step up and be a bit more vocal and opinionated when the circumstances require it. It is a bit of an ongoing flaw — I’m not in my shell to the extent I was at mySociety at times and I can feel myself breaking free of the shackles of my own uncertainty increasingly.

I think something I’ve realised — not that this is a massive insight — is that it easier to hold those important ‘strong opinions, weakly held’ when you have owned a product from (before) Discovery. You have lived with it for a while and understand the trade-offs almost instinctively. It takes more discipline maybe to get to this place when you parachute in later (if you want to avoid being generic.)

I’m not sure Ben Horowitz was totally right but sometimes his famous quote really does help;

Often any decision, even the wrong decision, is better than no decision.

The team are closing in on launching a ‘private beta’ of an app that we are providing the data platform to. It is great to watch everyone work together, evolving their ways of working as the pressure builds and just getting shit done.

This ‘launch’ will be a major milestone for the team and I’ve been busy trying to look at the road ahead. I’ve sketched out a pretty standard ‘Now, Soon, (Much) Later’ roadmap — even high level and first cut it is ambitious looking! I’ve also been doing some work on OKRs for the team. I’m a bit undecided about OKRs to be honest. I know they are useful. I was totally excited by them when I first started reading about them and experimenting with them…but…I just haven’t really experienced them being done particularly well at scale. Alignment between teams and to higher level, strategic objectives seems too hard and I think too many people miss the whole element that the targets are supposed to be really challenging. Anyway the OKRs I’ve drafted are a work in progress and need more work but they are at least strategically aligned and bloody hard (but doable…in perfect conditions!)

Got a bit of a plan in place to start getting our work out in the open (lots) more. The BBC Design & Engineering division has an Advocacy team who are currently pushing for an uptick in blogging on their Medium publication and I am encouraging the team to ride that wave. I think we have a bunch of really interesting stories to tell on all manner of topics (from our approach to recommendations and data science, our architecture decisions, our work with Google Cloud Platform, our ambitions for machine learning with public service ethics…it is a blogging goldmine!)

I’m also going to put in a proposal on behalf of the team to Mozilla Festival I think. I’ll likely have moved on by then from the Beeb but I think it would be an amazing place for them to do some thinking in the open with some brilliant people from all over the world.

Also if anyone runs data-y meetups and would be interested in hearing about a BBC project using data science to improve recommendations amongst others things? Holler at me 🙂

No Life

Glow season 2 is wonderful. I love every last one of those Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.

Good Girls is decent fun. I’m not sure if it wants to be Weeds or Breaking Bad — it is neither but well worth a watch mainly for the great cast.

Unsolved is interesting. A ‘based on true story’ drama about the investigation into the murder of Biggie. I’m only a couple of episodes in but I like it a lot.

Luke Cage season 2 wasn’t as good as its predecessor but it a good watch at times. Despite his accent Bushmaster is a decent big bad and the journey they take Luke on is pretty interesting.

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