Weeknotes #155

Release the hounds

Saturday was release day. That means we released the past three months of work into the live environment. The infrastructure team did most of the work, I was just there for testing. It wasn’t perfect, there were some issues, but sometimes accepting issues to not be a blocker is more important than achieving perfection, especially in all or nothing situations.

Agile humans

This tweet from Ron Jeffries about Agile being about people resonated with me.

It gave me a different perspective on the Agile values:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools – As the first value this basically says, “Put people first”, and put more effort into how people work together than you do following processes and procedures.
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation – I think this value points to what intelligent creative people should be spending their time doing in order to experience autonomy, mastery and purpose. And it isn’t writing pages and pages of documentation that no one will ever read.
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation – Getting close to customer, seeing what problems they have and building solutions gives meaning and purpose to the work. It makes makes all that effort feel more worthwhile. Establishing relationships with people is so much more fulfilling than communication being through a proxy of a binding agreement.
  • Responding to change over following a plan – Life is a dynamic situations, things change, get used to it. Forcing people into situations where they have to stick to a plan causes frustration, demotivation, and stress to get the plan as close to right in the first place.

Access control

I went to a ‘UX in Publishing’ meetup, and chatted about market trends in the publishing industry. The main trend we discussed was how publishing organisations are controlling access to documents. It’s interesting to know a bit about what’s going on in the wider publishing market as we’re moving in a similar direction, away from purchasing documents and towards accessing a service. I wrote more about it.

Ill Communication

In one day I received just seven emails. Some people might consider that a good thing. I think it’s indicative of the lack of communication. It isn’t that we are communicating using other channels, we just aren’t communicating.

And when we do communicate, we don’t communicate well. Emails are typically sent to offer some awareness, perhaps of an issue and usually only go as far as saying, ‘we found this issue, we’ll deal with it tomorrow’, or to request so information or action, in which case they never offer any background or context. I’m guilty of this, telling myself that they don’t need to know the context because I only need an answer to my question and then I’ll figure out where it fits in the wider context. But of course, they have a wider context that I’m not aware of.

There are some parts of our Golf Team culture that I don’t think we can change but it seems to me that challenging the culture of not openly communicating, sharing things or contributing to shared learning is worth trying.Change happens at different levels, from processes to philosophy, and each is more profound and meaningful than the layer above, so:

Practices > Processes

Principles > Practices

Philosopy > Principles

So, we could try to fix the communication problems at the ‘processes’ level by introducing another process, but it’s much harder to make that stick unless the underpinning Practices, Principles and Philosophies are also changed. And of course, the deeper you go the harder is it to change something. Implicitly accepting a philosophical standpoint that humans are social creatures and so have an innate need to communicate creates the right kind of thinking to be more explicit about the principles of good communication and then the practices of how to communicate well. I don’t really know where I’m going with this, other than taking small steps, trying stuff, and communicating more thoughtfully.

Whether or not I can do anything about our communication problems, I feel satisfied that I finally got a Beastie Boys reference into my week notes.

Roadmappin’ across the universe

I’ve been trying to create a roadmap for our product suite. It needs to distil our strategy for each product onto a single document that shows our intentions for the things we want to achieve and allows other teams to align with us without it becoming a commitment or a timeline.

That is difficult because some of the other teams expect us to be able to tell them when we’ll be doing some piece of work. I think that what they would really like is a project plan rather than a roadmap. That’s a different thing and something else we’re not great at doing.

How do we represent the lifecycle of a product, show when we’re expecting to retire a product, how that affects our investment decisions? How can we show a shift in focus towards building new products? Over what time period? Should it show from now, or show history, even back to the launch? Should it even have time as a element?

I think effective roadmapping is possible the hardest part of Product Management. Everyone means something different, no one agrees on its purpose, and no one uses it after that one meeting to discuss it. Maybe the answer is no more roadmaps.

Feature definition workshop

We had our first Feature Definition Workshop for a new product we’re going to develop. It went really well. We had some really good discussions about product strategy and agreed the core set of capabilities that we need to work on.

The really good thing about the workshop was getting the team in the same place at the same time and working together on the same thing. It’s the first time its happened since I’ve been there.

Aside from that I’ve been thinking a lot about the team and how they work. I’m pretty clear that trying to make them into a team isn’t going to work, so I need to help them develop a really strong product practice to take out into the business.

Other random stuff

I interviewed again for our Product Manager vacancy and have another interview next week. I still feel unsure about what I need to achieve (other than the obvious of filling the position), but I think its one of those things that will just happen even if I’m not entirely leading it in the way I’d like.

I had a funny meeting with a team who produce approximately one CD-ROM a year and felt that we should build an automated service to zip files to replace their manual process. A few questions to help identify the cost/benefit difference and they’ve decided to find an alternative solution.

I learned a bit more about how our data publishing systems work and where the team that manage all that are aiming to get it to. I think they are struggling to get investment to take it to the next level and so need closer alignment with the Product teams to demonstrate the commercial benefits of their work.