Year of the Dog: Notes from Major Heat

dà shǔ 大暑

Five things that happened

I introduced a GDS style ‘firebreak’ to the team for the latest sprint that has just finished. The idea of this is to give the team an opportunity to ‘scratch their itches’ on things that don’t make the top of the backlog sprint on sprint. Whether that is tech debt, some refactoring, a prototype they have wanted to build or a blogpost they have been mulling. I’m never a fan of 10/20% time as I think it is the first thing to go when things get tight in a sprint so I like this model for building some thinking time into a busy team.

All that said I don’t think it went that well. I’m not sure I really explained it well enough, there wasn’t enough clear water from the previous sprint deliverables so we got bogged down in some bug squashing / firefighting and basically I think it confused the team as much as anything. That is on me. I totally think it is a worthwhile addition to our ways of working but the timing was wrong and I should have taken more time to ease the team into it. Hopefully it didn’t put the team off for trying it in the future.

I spent a lot of time interviewing people to replace me in the team. We did four interviews in two days and because I have ‘opinions’ on how these things should be done I ended up creating a situation where I ended up doing almost all the interviewing even though I was with two colleagues.

I have come up with a list of questions for product management candidates that I have picked up from my own interviews, blogposts and conversations over the years. They require the interviewee to have strong opinions and good examples to answer well but there is nothing particularly tricky about them. It is interesting just how different some of the answers are though — they do not lend themselves to generic answers which is nice (to be fair I’m not sure I’d do better than OK if I was interviewed by me!).

Hiring is part of the job I take extremely seriously — this wasn’t always the case I’ll admit — but I see it as a big responsibility to select the right person. Especially for such a crucial role in a team I think have such great potential.

Visited Leeds on Monday to give a talk at NUX. Unlike Dan I had no train issues — though I did get a good soaking during some briefly apocalyptic weather.

The talk was really fun — it was a lovely venue — right next to the station (which was helpful as I had to get back to London that evening), a really friendly group of organisers and attendees and the pizza was lovely. It was also lovely to see Sharon Dale as ever.

I gave my ‘Working in the open’ talk — I continue to slightly tweak it and it is starting to feel pretty strong now. I am starting to really feel like I should carve out the time to try and turn it into something more. I still have ambitions to make it into a book — a mix of interviews, case studies and my personal journey with openness — but fear I lack the discipline.

Instead of the normal retrospective last week I used the ‘firebreak’ as an excuse to try out the Spotify ‘team health check’ format. Well a slightly lightweight version of it anyway. To start the meeting a member of the team introduced a little mindfulness activity to just give everyone a moment to clear their heads and get into a space to share. This was great so thanks Beth!

The ‘health check’ seemed to go well — it allowed a bunch of higher level conversations to emerge that I think had been lost in usual agile momentum forward — there is a lot of celebrate in this team but there is also a lot of room for improvement (when isn’t there) and I think this was the first step to making some really useful ‘tweaks’.

Friday the team had an ‘off-site’ day. This was really one of the most fun work days I’ve had in a long time (so thanks to Bettina who planned it all and then didn’t attend!). In the morning we were split into teams and played games in the park. One of the slightly ‘off’ things about me is that I’ve never really played ‘games’ — no board or video or anything else. So this was my first experience of Jenga(! I mean I knew how to play — just never had !) and Mölkky (though I suspect this was new to everyone!) — I had played Boules before — I’m not totally weird. It was fun even if my team lost most of our games — oops.

We spent the afternoon at Google — the rest of the team had a cooking class (I was unfortunately busy doing some work for Notbinary) and then after lunch we did a couple of hours of lightning talks — like a less structured Ignite. Basically make it fun, make it fast. The quality was incredibly good. Even my slightly hacky and rushed presentation didn’t spoil things!

We also had a few drinks in a very nice pub after — it was the first real social situation I have shared with the team. I enjoyed it a lot — though I suspect I shared more than I should about some of my escapades when I was younger and prone to such things!


Big fan of Dan and Sam experimenting with video blog type things. I’ll never be joining in on that but I am looking forward to the inevitable podcast that will emerge!

Also ‘The Web of Weeknotes’ is really growing — my being the only ‘owner’ of the Medium publication is fast becoming a bit of a bottleneck but I’m not sure what I can do about that other than move it all to a new platform which would just cause other problems…thinking cap time.

Became slightly obsessed with the show ‘UnReal’ on Amazon. Watched all four seasons in like a week. It is soooooooo dark!

Upfest was stunning again this year — so much amazing street art. You can see my favourite pics on my Google Photos site.

Right that is it for this edition. Take care out their folks. Stay hydrated. Don’t feed the trolls. Be generous with each other. Oh and try Crosstown Doughnuts — they looked amazing Friday and almost made me quite my sugar free life!

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