Weeknotes 14/10/2018 – Week 6

This week I managed a day working at home on Tuesday for the first time since early summer due to busyness in the business. I had even cleaned and tidied my desk in preparation. It was very productive and relaxing.

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Sunny autumn afternoon

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Mid way through Sprint 0 on our ‘Manage My Money’ project. Really enjoyed working closely with one of our designers this week…I prefer pictures over words as you know they paint a 1,000 of them. A prototype destroys a 1,000 meetings etc. The designs are driving understanding of what we want to change. There is a lot of detailed work required though to build the things we need. Lots of work this week on the wider requirements for the work. Need some practice on how to write good user stories and also define detailed technical requirements. Thankful we have smart designers, BAs and devs to help because I need it. I also need to pull my finger out on getting things written to define the product direction a little better but to help with getting more of a shared understanding across the company.

I am also trying to work out how to do more experimentation in delivery. Empower engineers / designers to have a crack at solving some problems / trying some new features without the full on corporate bureaucracy but being aware of the need for all the prioritised work to get worked on. Tricky balance but I would like to push it towards doing shorter things more quickly and seeing what happens. Getting stuff in front of customers quickly to try and solve problems but also show momentum. Hopefully next week we might get the first pieces of the project live.

Attempts to make user research a little easier to do regularly are progressing. We have to map out each process and step required to show we are doing everything by the book. Also need to get some new tools approved for use. A painful process but necessary and worthwhile. Still painful though.

Lots to learn and think about in this great list of Internet Era Ways of Working by Tom Loosemore. I hope he writes a long series of follow ups on how to get started with some of these because I need some help with these things too.

Outside of work I finished reading record of a spaceborn few by Becky Chambers. I have really enjoyed her travellers series. This one focused on those struggling with the travelling or having been travelling all their life and not knowing a planet based home. Very good. I also managed to rattle off a book inside a week which I have done very infrequently since the arrival of our children. I bolted through Slow Horses by Mick Herron. A splendid modern spy thriller set in 2010 London. With a splendid twat of a lead character in the rotund and grumpy shape of Jackson Lamb. I am going to have to get hold of the others in this series. Proper page turner.

Talking of slow animals I managed to run just under 7k on Thursday. Only six weeks until I have to run 10k. Hoping to start running to work at the start of November which is 8k and thankfully realtively downhill. Get some miles in my legs then onto some hills by the end of the month. Enjoying the challenge but not enjoying the leg and back pain the day after when I try to get out of chairs.

We are finishing off our dining room which is very sparse since the completion of an extension in December last year. We have finally saved a few quid to tidy it up. We bought some stools for our breakfast bar. They were too dark so my wife went and bought a detail sander. Not too dark anymore. Looking much better now after being oiled. The dining table might be getting sanded next. Still a bit of a big white cube of a room and I am a frustrated interior designer who is uncertain what to do with it and also how to agree with what my beautiful wife wants to do with it. Design is all about direction and compromise I guess. Work and home life have many parallels.

Weeknotes 06/10/2018 – Week 5

Five weeks in and this is still not feeling too natural. A well timed reminder on my phone on a Sunday evening reminds me to publish them. I occasionally jot notes throughout the week but it is not quite free flowing fully formed habit yet. The structure also feels a little forced. Some stuff about personal life and then some stuff about work. This week I am going to mix it up a bit. I will talk about work first. One day I hope my weeknotes are as natural and funny as Alice Bartlett’s Weaknotes. They never will be, obviously.

This week was a tough one at work.

Got a few things live (an update to our FAQ which tidied lots up and added search, also updated our pricing section which is used in four areas of the site) that had been hanging around a while at the back of a long queue of other work. First designs and front end builds from some of our relatively new staff and I am very pleased they are in the wild and to see how people use them. One of them is already showing a lot of promise.

I managed to miss a couple of things though (Left something in that compliance did not like/get to see before it went live, and we broke some URLs to the FAQs) and we had to do a couple of last minute fixes which really annoyed me. I blame myself quite strongly when things like this go wrong but the act of putting things live has to be the priority.

It has taken a while to get those things live as we have a lot of things on that are not so customer facing (Rackspace – AWS Migration for example). More good customer facing features to come over the next few months as we get into the momentum of getting things built and live in far shorter cycles (I hope).

The two things that went live have not been tested with users which is obviously bad. I am trying to get a far more user centric thing going on but it is taking time. I am struggling with getting research being simple to carry out and that is holding things back a lot. We have some challenging compliance and data issues to resolve and I am the worlds most impatient man when it comes to bureaucracy and policies and governance, annoying words that all mean you have to write hundreds more words.

I am pretty sure we are over complicating things (huge bias/lack of knowledge sirens blaring here) so I sought help from Twitter/Real Life. I got some lovely advice from the folks at Paper and Leisa and Ross and Dean. They all think we are over complicating things too but they may have been biased by my biased view. Next week I will try and work on a process that means we can easily and repeatedly test with users in a fast enough way to be compatible with sprint pace.

In more pleasing news I finally got a squad together on a project to revamp a large part of the way U Account works. The majority of the team are new to agile and we are working it out as we go…that’s basically what agile is though yeah? It has been great working through a few things in a small autonomous group. I am trying to find the right balance of encouraging others to contribute and collaborate (although still a lot of looking to me to tell people what to do) and telling people what to do.

This list passed me buy in one of my Internet feeds and made me grin/grimace in light of so much of what I said in the last few paragraphs.

Awkward switch to my empty/repetitive personal life. Finished watching Killing Eve. It is as god as everyone says. Struggling to find a new TV show now though, any tips? Watched first episode of 28 days later Series 2. We watched series one pretty much when it came out in 2015. We could not remember a thing about it and my Wife said we used to drink a lot back then while watching TV. Old age and boozing at home mean my memory is getting ever worse.

Managed a couple more runs, with a couple of (very) little hills added in. I have signed up for the Percy Pud 10k on the 2nd of December so need to keep at it. Being very strict with food intake and going to try and go booze free from 29th of September to 20th of October i.e. dates when I have events that cannot by alcohol free. Seeing some results after almost four weeks. Managed to get into some smaller waist jeans like a winner. Slimmer of the week award on Monday at weigh in surely (I am not in weight watchers just ‘competing’ against my wife)

Made a flying visit to the Wirral on Saturday for my Sister-in-laws 40th. Went to Hickories in West Kirby for some spare ribs, washed down with a glass of water. Party time.

Weeknotes 30/09/2018 – Week 4

My exercise and diet regime is going pretty well. Managed to run 5k for the first time since starting. Managed to exercise four days on the trot at 6.30am before work and the kids getting up. Two runs, two kettle bell sessions. Lost 10lbs in 3 weeks.

I have also not had any alcohol for 3 weeks. That ended on Friday with a few lovely beers at the wagon and horses (Buxton’s Salt Edge a massive IPA being a particular highlight). Then went a fantastic Wedding on Saturday at Kelham Island Museum. Lots of embarrassing Dad dancing, myself being the most embarrassing.

Finished watching Bodyguard. Last episode really let it down. Started watching Killing Eve, two episodes in and very promising. Finished reading On Writing by Stephen King which I really enjoyed. Started reading Record of a Space Born Few by Becky Chambers. Loved her first two books so high hopes for this one.

Work wise a few big projects are nearing completion which will make space for some more good things to get built. We had a great show and tell to demo some new work. Show and tells not the norm yet but we are getting there and we have another one next week too, always great to hear from different voices in the company about their work.

We had a day of usabilty testing on Wednesday. Fantastic watching people use our new interfaces. So revealing and quite draining. A big piece of design around payments was very well received which I was really happy about. I was especially pleased for the person who designed it as she has done something quite different and I am so glad it has worked out. We found a few dead ends that we had missed and they will be getting unblocked next week.

First weeknote I have done fully on my phone. Written and published in just 15 mins. No excuse for not writing stuff at all. Must do more.

Weeknotes 23/09/2018 – Week 3

Started running again. Slow crawl back to 5k and then the slower longer crawl to 21k for the Sheffield Half Marathon in April. Running 3 times a week is all that is needed and hopefully I can stick with that habit.

On Wednesday I went to my first UX Sheffield event. The speaker was Ralf Mollich. He spoke about the ethics of UX, dark patterns, political challenges, dilemmas of the soul and the risks of speaking up. OK but a little on the short side.

Two design events in a week. On Friday I went to the future of service design event at the London College of Communication. This was not in the short side thankfully. Excellent event that mixed professional speakers with students studying Service Design. Highlights were Gustavo Burnier, J. Paul Neeley and Lauren Currie.

The fine teams at work got some things live that had been worked on for a few weeks now. That was nice. Next week we are due to kick off a couple of chunky programmes of work. Delivery teams are forming and it will be the first time I am part of something like this. We have a decent list of things we want to do (and I have an even bigger list in my head). Hard to not just want these teams to do my bidding and I am trying to be all agile about it but damn it is difficult. Joking aside what I am really looking forward to is a team of people building stuff together. Our ideas, our processes, our mistakes and our successes.

Weeknotes 16/09/18 – Week 2

Monday started with my latest attempt at losing weight after an unhealthy 18 months or so, well and unhealthy adult life to be honest. The weighing scales chastised me once again, although the warning signs of my belt fast running out of notches had prepared me for the worst.

I am now on a low carb diet along with my wife and I. I am supplementing the diet with some exercise as well. I have done three kettle bell workouts this week as my legs were too stiff from football at the weekend. Running starts Monday. I am signed up for the Sheffield Half Marathon in April next year. My goals are to get back to 5k by the end of September. 10k by the end of November. Might give running to work a go somewhere in between those dates (roughly 8k). Again another habit that I have rarely managed to make stick longer than about a month at a time without it tailing off. Also off the booze for a few weeks until a friends wedding on the 29th of September. If I write it on a blog post no one reads will it still pressure me to stick to all these goals?

In less healthy news, I watched ITV’s John Simm vehicle Strangers. Very poor (just like the the last ITV vehicle for John Simm). Interesting premise and having it set in in Hong Kong added some colour to the drab plot but the script is very clunky and moves from each obvious revelation to the next without any sort of surprise or tension. After watching Ozark this felt even worse.

I watched Pirates of the Caribbean five with my youngest son. It was pretty bad. The silent cameo by Kiera Knightley spoke volumes about hers and everyone else’s reasons for doing yet another sequel.

I paid my first visit to Hillsborough on Saturday. We started dreadfully and Stoke looked like they would score 5 or 6 after the first 20 minutes. Thankfully we scored before halftime and set up an interesting second half that I was certain we would fail to score in. My negativity was once again proved wrong and a delightful freekick by Barry Bannan cheered me greatly. Football is a stressful thing to watch though. Glad I can’t afford to go week in week out anymore.

Working week. Finally got a new product manager in the team after a few months of recruitment challenges. We are now a team of 3 (after the departure of one of the team on maternity leave) and I am trying to work out how to balance the work best for all as we look to deliver but also develop the team (and organisation). We are also all new to formal product management but all have relevant backgrounds. Looking froward to seeing how things pan out with new skill sets in the organisation and a team to define.

The sprints I mentioned last week were going so well but we hit a couple of little bumps which meant we missed the delivery by the Friday. Release to be done Monday instead. More practice needed with sizing and working to these tighter timelines. The way the team is forming and working together is great to see.

I had my first annual appraisal, which went well. Still a horrible process of form filling in though. I am not sure there will ever be a good process for me as these things always involve you writing about yourself and justifying who you are and what you do (or don’t do).

Highlight of the working week was the fact we held ten customer interviews on the subject of how they managed their money. I say ten…we had a 50% drop out rate which was very frustrating and gives us something to think about for the future. We will review how we recruit, reward and communicate with people who are willing to give their time.

The interviews that did go ahead were brilliant. All fascinating, all revealing of new things that we had not thought about, reinforced other ideas and just made me want to do far more as we need to far better understand our customers. Next week will be all about turning those golden insights into needs etc. and feeding those into a few strands of work that are starting later next week all being well.