Week 31/52

Tomorrow is the two year anniversary of my Matt vs Motorcar incident. As with everything that happened in the Core Covid Era (CCE) it feels both like forever ago and like yesterday simultaneously. All these months later my foot still looks a mess – the scars from the operation never really faded, the weird ridge on the top I thought was swelling is a permanent (footwear limiting) feature – as is the weird spur on the side of my foot. 

The longer term consequences have been a mixed bag – I suspect the incident triggered the spiral I went on that led to my mental health crash last summer but that is (touch wood) behind me now and the days of regular pain (at first excruciating and then later regularly aching background discomfort) are a thing of the past. Unless I walk too much (too much being about 12,000 steps in a day it seems) which pretty much assures I can’t walk further than the bathroom the next day. Or if I walk on uneven ground in anything less than sturdy Timberlands as however all those ligaments re-knitted together they decided they are all about that even surface life now.

Oh and my gosh I am a Nervous Nelly crossing the roads now. I trust no drivers, cyclists or the scoot psychos. I am now hyper aware of just how many drivers don’t stop for me at a pedestrian crossing.

Anyway it certainly could have been worse – it still amazes me I managed to avoid a head injury given my less than graceful landing – but it definitely did leave a legacy behind.

It is amazing how fast I feel like I have returned to a pre CCE work life in the eight weeks or so I have been in this role. In fact it feels like a return to life before consultancy. I’m back in an office two or three times a week. Usually in Cardiff (seven times) but often in London (five times). I’m back to a semi-regular rail commute and the occasional night in a Travelodge. Heck I even found myself complaining on Twitter about First Bus like it was 2012 or something.

I have to say I am enjoying it – it feels familiar and comfortable and (for now at least) not overwhelming from a travel point of view.

The work is familiar as well. The more things have changed in the last 10 years in the digital gov space (and 10 days in just the gov space!) the more they have stayed the same. We are still working out how all the DDaT specialisms work with each other let alone how they work with all the other branches of the organisation. 

Hiring is still a challenge (I started my jobs newsletter more than seven years ago as s stop-gap to help this and it has only become more popular). People still misunderstand and misrepresent agile, user research, service design, content design and product management (amongst everything else.) 

The wider organisation still too often sees DDaT as a service provider not a partner and too often when things get difficult the default in DDaT is to talk about redesigning or reforming the organisation/civil service/government rather than make hard/pragmatic choices about how we can deliver the best possible services in the context we are operating in. Shipping good stuff builds trust and trust gives us space to do more, better. To be honest I don’t think anybody disagrees with this – it is just hard.

The other thing that never seems to change is the low level Grade-ism that permeates the Civil Service. It isn’t always overt but it is always just below the surface. When I was last a Civil Servant in those early, exciting GDS driven days it felt a bit like the hierarchy was breaking down a bit – at least in that corner of the working world – but that didn’t really hold.

Just the fact this Wikipedia table exists mapping Civil Service grades to their Military equivalents makes me chuckle. Apparently I fall somewhere between a Colonel and a Brigadier. Come on!

One of the reasons I was thinking about ‘grades’ was my attendance this week at an away day session that was for the ‘Grade 6 team’. 

I think I have written before that I don’t find away day type scenarios comfortable or helpful on a personal level. The inevitable noise, cross-talk, diversions from stated topics and multitude of opinions, perspectives, styles and attitudes regularly either makes me overly combative or I check-out of proceedings. I know this is neither helpful or mature so I work pretty hard to push past that but sometimes my efforts fail.

So I suspect I failed a bit Thursday. I went into it concerned that it was going to be another one of those ‘redesign the whole Civil Service’ sessions when push came to shove and in my attempt to short-circuit that early I suspect I was a bit more controversial than I intended to be. Namely in a session that was about ‘Leadership’ I made the comment that we were in fact – as Grade 6s – middle management and should operate with an awareness of the sphere of our influence. I did not mean to say that we shouldn’t be ambitious and strike out beyond those confines but I wanted to inject some pragmatism early. I’m not sure I did so in the most helpful way though.

For the record I doubt you could find many folks more committed to a ‘networked leadership’ approach or a desire to influence and coach rather than command and control than me. I also chose to operate at this level as I find it suits my ways of operating in a way being more senior would not…but look at that table again – literally right in the middle 🙂 

Anyway it was nice to see everyone in person, meet a few folks for the first time and generally bond over major national news occurrences.

What else happened?

  • Met up with James for lunch – he left the Civil Service to join TPX and I left TPX to rejoin the Civil Service so we kind of swapped careers which made for a fun conversation.
  • I managed to book an entire day of 1-2-1s on Wednesday (including my own) which was an interesting experience – thankfully everyone has a very distinct personality and product to avoid too much blending but I’m not sure it is an approach I want to repeat!
  • We had our first DIT Cardiff ‘coffee morning’ – which despite its similarity to an AA meeting (Hi, I’m Matt and I’m a Product Manager…Hi, Matt) was really nice.
  • I facilitated my first Product Community call and shared some of my ideas and had a really good conversation that has given me enough to get things moving I think.
  • Taylor Swift released a new album. I know it is weird that when I listen to 98% hip hop that I also love T.Swift but I find her voice so soothing and enjoy her story-telling style of song-writing. I can own this.

Road to 50 – 2002

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