Roger Swannell

Author: roger (page 1 of 109)

Mental health awareness week: coping with stress at work

Does telling people to take time out of their day to play board games really help their mental health? Does having less time to spend doing the same amount of work make someone more stressed? Would helping people deal with being stressed be more helpful than distracting from it? Could a few simple workshop-type activities start to give people the skills for dealing with stress?

I have a few ideas about things that can help our mental wellbeing and cope with stress.

Getting perspective

Sometimes, when we’re really focused on something we can lose a sense of perspective about how important the things that are making us stressed really are.

Write down what the most important thing in your life is. It might be your family or loved ones, or achieving something meaningful to you, but whatever it is let’s give this most important thing a score of 100. Then, list the things that are causing you stress and give them a score between 0 and 100 to describe how important they are to you, not to anyone else, or to your job, but to you. Hopefully, when you add up all those scores they won’t even come close to the most important thing in your life.

Comparing the things that are causing you stress to the most important thing in your life can hopefully put those things into perspective.

Sharing achievements

If we spend our time thinking about all the things we haven’t done, how long our to do list is, and how those deadlines are looming, it’s easy to lose sight of the things we have achieved.

Share with someone (you have to say it out loud) some of the things you have achieved this week. Let them ask you questions about it if they want, but the important part is for you to recognise that you are getting things done and achieving things, even if you still have lots of other things to do.

Recognising and sharing achievements can help us feel good about ourselves as we have to admit that we have have made progress towards our goals.

Be kind

When we’re stressed we can often be quite terse with people, especially if we feel like they aren’t recognising that we’re really busy.

For every person that you speak to that day, try to say something nice, compliment them on something they’ve achieved, thank them for something they’ve done.

Taking the time to actively say something nice to someone not only makes them feel better but makes you feel better about being a nicer person.


Just breathe.

National Defibrillator Database: How to do it wrong and how to do it right

The problem

When a person suffers a sudden cardiac arrest every second until they receive a shock from a defibrillator drastically decreases the chances of them making a recovery. Getting a defibrillator to the patient quickly is literally a matter of life and death.

There are lots of defibrillators out there (although no where near enough to really be effective in a sudden cardiac arrest that could happen to anyone anywhere at any time) but no one knows where. The retailers who sold defibrillators know where some are, the fourteen different ambulance services know where some are, and a few other organisations such as charities know where some are. But just knowing where the defibrillators are isn’t enough. To be useful you also need to know if the defibrillator is available at any given time and whether it has been maintained.

And no one knows all of this, so no one is able to provide full and up to date information about all of the defibrillators across the UK for use by Ambulance Services and the general public when responding to a sudden cardiac arrest.

That’s the problem, what gets in the way of a solution?

The barriers

The barriers to achieving this aim come down to two main factors; it’s a disparate space with lots of organisations doing different things, and many of those organisations rely on individuals who have lots of other work to before they get around to entering details about a new defibrillator in a place they’ve never even heard of.

There are fourteen Ambulance Services across the UK, retailers and suppliers, charities, and thousands of parish councils, sports centres, shops and offices that all have a piece of the picture about defibrillator availability and no way of sharing their information.

The second major barrier is that currently creating even the smallest piece of the picture is almost entirely manual. It requires individuals who are already busy with their day job at the parish council, sports centre, shop or office to check the defibrillator, record the information, and send it somewhere. And then it requires other individuals to receive that data and manually enter it into a database.

Building for the past (or how to do it wrong)

If we were trying to solve this problem in the 1980’s we’d definitely build a centralised database, controlled by a single organisation, that requires other parties to send their data to be added to this central system. We’d try to get all those parties to ‘collaborate’ with the central authority (which of course many of them wouldn’t want to do as they have a vested interest in not sharing data to make their solution the one that succeeds), and we’d spend lots of time and money building something that is out of date before it even launches.

If everyone who has tried to solve this problem in the same way, and no one has managed a solution yet, maybe they’re trying to solve the wrong problem. Maybe the problem isn’t about trying to get people to cooperate to get all the data in one place, maybe the problem is about getting all the data to all the people so they can do what they want with it.

Building for the future ( or how to do it right)

Decentralise, distribute, and digitise is the future thinking approach. Use Blockchain technology to identify each unique defibrillator device at manufacturing source, record the logistics steps in the blockchain, record the location of where the defibrillator and it’s availability, record regular system checks (without the need for manual inspection), record the usage of the device in emergency situations.

Recording all this data about defibrillators in this way meets the Multichain criteria for choosing blockchain over a relational database: ‘Blockchain works for databases that are shared by multiple writers, who don’t entirely trust each other, and who modify that database directly, and there is some interaction between the transactions created by these writers, and an authoritative final transaction log on whose contents all nodes provably agree is required’.

Blockchain technology has proven use in the fashion industry for ensuring the authenticity of garments. If it works for a shirt it’ll work even better for a defibrillator that has a unique identifier and a proven and vital need to make location and usage data available to other organisations.

So, rather than trying to get fourteen ambulance services, numerous suppliers and retailers, and thousands of defibrillator owners to all share their data on a regular basis to update a single central system that none of them have any stake in, the blockchain approach allows for device to share it’s data to a decentralised ledger and make that data available to all the contributors, so if any of them choose to maintain their own centralised database of defibrillator locations they can pull that data and more from the blockchain, ensuring that all lists are always as up to date as possible.

If the aim is to make more available more data about defibrillators, then this approach achieves that in a way that the old approach could never do.

Quantity quantity discussions rather than iron triangles

Waterfall says Resource and Scope should be fixed and Time is the variable for delivering projects. Agile (or maybe Scrum) says Resource and Time is fixed and Scope is variable.

Nothing is fixed

Fixing resource is kind of nonsense when by ‘resource’ we mean people. People take days off, have good days and bad days, get more done on some days than others, so resource is constantly moving in both quantity and quality. In reality nothing is fixed.

Scope = quality

When we talk about Scope we’re really talking about the quality of the solution delivered. Sometimes, if the quality of solution required is too great for the fixed length of time then the quality (scope) is reduced to fit the fixed length of time.

Time = quantity

When we talk about fixing Time, such as in a two week sprint, we are really talking about the quantity of output, the amount of work that gets done.

Quality / quantity

This is why the Scope / Time discussion is really a quality / quantity discussion. If you reduce the Time available to work on a solution you have to reduce the Scope of what will be delivered. You can have it in one day and the solution will be good, or you can have it in one week and the solution will be better, or you can have it in a month and the solution will be the best. Sometimes ‘good’ is good enough, and sometimes ‘good’ is all you have time for, but by fixing Time (and so fixing quantity) you limit the ability to deliver the best solutions.

Perhaps allowing the team to decide what quality of solution needs to be delivered, and how long that solution will take to build sets them up to do great work rather than doing just what they can fit into an arbitrary length of time.

Good, better, best solutions

In retail, people often talk about a product and its position in the market as either ‘good’, ‘better’ or ‘best’.

Heinz position their baked beans as the best. HP might decide not to invest the considerable resources it would require to challenge Heinz’s positioning and instead position their baked beans as ‘better’. The supermarket own brand baked beans would be positioned as ‘good’. (Supermarkets also very successfully introduced a ‘basic’ level to this hierarchy and I can remember as a student being able to buy a tin of baked beans for 9p).

This hierarchy of perceived value can be applied to building solutions to a problem. There could be a good solution, a better solution, and the best solution. The higher up the hierarchy the solution is the more costly, complex, time-consuming it’s likely to be, but it delivers more value than the lower solutions.

Knowing what a ‘good’, ‘better’ and ‘best’ solution looks like helps with plotting the future of the solutions. A good solution might be enough for now but a better solution will be required within a year.

Transparency because…

…stuff gets lost in hand over.
…sharing work creates faster feedback.
…communicating openly builds trust.
…responsibility and accountability are everyone’s responsibility.
…planning is easier when done in context.
…opportunities for convergence are essential.
…generalists learn together.
…course corrections happen faster.
…team culture should be nailed to the wall.
…decision making involves everyone.
…knowledge is power, and everyone should have the power.


Copyright © 2018 Roger Swannell

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