100 (Working) Days

I’ve been at DIT 100 (working) days as of today (Friday 27th January). This is significantly longer than I lasted at Becta, Defra or UKHSA and on a par with consultancy gigs at Essex and the BBC – though it was 100 and out pretty much with them.

I continue to really enjoy the role and the environment. The product community is a great group, a mix of Civil Servants and Contractors with differing levels of experience – of product and the Civil Service split between London and Cardiff. I have a great boss who is part of a Senior Management Team that I like and rate – with a mix of perspectives and motivations that provide a useful level of challenge and an insight into what works for the wider organisation.

My role is very people focused – I am now line-managing seven Senior Product Managers undertaking a mix of weekly / fortnightly one-to-ones offering a sounding board, checking in on well-being, talking about learning and development opportunities and generally seeking to support them in their work/careers.

I also contract manage a similar amount of contractor Product Managers – those meetings are less frequent and a different shape but I still try to reflect on the main themes – being a sounding board and occasional guide through the organisational politics and expectations.

The lack of visibility of their actual performance at the team level is a little disconcerting –  the hybrid-ness of things combined with our matrix org design means I am a bit far from the action sometimes (always?) and need to work out how best to address this. There is that anthropology principle about the very act of observation changing things and I’m very much aware of that when I get invited to sessions or meetings so I need to find a better way to get this kind of insight without adding pressure to the individuals.

Taking the reins of the Community of Practice from Tom felt like a big – and stressful – moment. Tom is more of a natural teacher (+ a true student of the product game) and really made great use of the community time to introduce tools and techniques to the group. I’m less inclined to do that – looking to use the space to exchange ideas and viewpoints or invite guests in to share their experiences. So far I haven’t really landed either. The sessions have been fine but I’m still talking a lot in them but I can feel the momentum is shifting. I’m trying to plan ahead a lot more – build a programme of activities and take the time to use Emily’s approach to track whether things are working.

It is amazing to have a real L&D budget to work with and a talented team to support that – I’ve planned a series of courses to broaden the product groups knowledge beyond the finer points of product management – I’m especially keen for them to have a deeper knowledge of agile comms, service design and tech/cloud architecture. That broader foundation makes conversations at team levels so much more effective.

I’m also constantly pushing links to reading materials to our Teams channel with reading material for discussion – and am going to add a few more books this year to the little library I started in Cardiff. I suspect people are finding the stream of links a bit tiresome but I’ve no inclination to ease off just yet.

Recruitment has been a bit challenging 😦

I did update the job descriptions for some roles and get the vacancies published with help from recruitment but we ended up pulling both vacancies before interviews due to some errors my end. 

I attended Silicon MilkRoundabout which was fun, interesting and exhausting – but also did not convert into any applications. It is such a tough market – and even with my network, newsletter and a decent offer it is a fight to attract people.

We’ll go again soon and hopefully this time I’ll have a better grip on the whole process.

I’ve enjoyed the challenge of redesigning a DDaT wide planning approach – trying to empower and unburden the teams while at the same time upping the communications and transparency. It hasn’t been straightforward and finding the right level of assurance when maturity is at different levels in different places was a particular head scratcher but I like the direction of travel now and am pretty proud of the balance that we seem to be striking.

It was interesting getting back to being a Lead Assessor on a Service Assessment and I’ve been pretty vocal about my desire to get more involved in ensuring that Assessments are a safe space for teams and are focused on support and learning to improve our services – not box ticking for governance.

A few random additional things I’ve done since I landed → 

  • Gave a talk about blogging at DDaTFest (our December All-Hands) and supported our Chief Data Officer Sian with sessions about wider ideas on ‘working in the open’ initiatives as well.
  • I took part in the Staff Engagement Exercise as part of the recruitment for the Chief Technology Officer role.
  • I was an interview panel member for the Lead User Researcher and Agile Delivery Lead roles.
  • One of the organisers of the X-Gov Product Unconference.
  • Did a Lightning talk (regular DDaT wide talk on any topic) about my street art travels and agreed to do another about my thoughts on being ‘loyal to the network’.

So what is the plan for the next 100 days?

  • Keep going with the recruitment
  • Get (much) closer to the coal-face with a couple of the product teams
  • Get a deeper understanding of the DIT world outside of DDaT
  • Iterate the planning work – especially supporting the move to longer term roadmaps and how that interacts with the new workforce planning approach
  • Get (much) more involved with the Service Assessment work
  • Iterate and improve the Community of Practice activities including more joint sessions with Delivery and Design colleagues. Use Emily’s approach to measure the success of the CoP.
  • Keep up with all the 1-2-1s etc – don’t let that slip as pressures mount elsewhere
  • Revisit the product workforce plan – make sure everybody is in the most effective role and we have succession planning in place

Anyway – long story,short – it has been good. I’m pleased with the decision and am looking forward to my next stage here.


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