S02E04: Windin’ down for Christmas

The end of the year is rapidly approaching, which has meant the slow wind down of most customer requests. This has, in turn, lent me more time to do some strategic thinking about my next few years and draw maps.

Monday was a nice quiet day. A client got in touch asking about delivery of their software. We’d actually already delivered it, so there’s a clear lesson from me in clarifying communications and making sure that the definition of done for new work includes letting the client know. It’s the first time it’s happened and I suspect it’s a function of everyone being much busier. It’s annoying, but thankfully not the end of the world. We’ve got some content to tweak and then they’ll be live.

Development has moved to committing to main branch via pull requests. It’s a good first step towards DevOps, but it’s causing a little bit of initial slowness as we identify areas we need to improve before we can go all the way. I’m glad we’re surfacing them, but it’s an unforeseen hurdle that’s slowing down delivery of new features. I’m happy with this tradeoff as it’ll make us faster in the long run — even if it means I’ve got fewer fun new features to show off.

Tuesday was a mammoth technical day. I spoke to the lead dev about our technical debt: as a startup, we generated loads for the same reason that running away from monstrous creatures builds up lactic acid in the muscles and carbon dioxide in the lungs. If the choice is between short-term pain and long-term death, we always choose short-term pain — but now that we’re successful, we’ve got to get rid of it in order to scale to the next order of magnitude. It’s better than over-engineering in the first place, because that guarantees you‘ll never get feedback from your audience, but it means we go from rapid delivery to a slightly more pedestrian pace as we, metaphorically speaking, lie down on the ground and grip our sides, saying “I’m fine, I’m fine, just-woo-agh-just give me a minute”.¹

You’re absolutely right, Bojack

The SMT was the usual fiery discussion. The three of us believe in being honest with each other, and discussion can get very frank. We overran by half an hour, and that’s really frustrating. For colleagues with childcare, 1730 is a hard stop and if we can’t ensure we run to time we risk losing those excellent colleagues. I’m going to spend some time over Christmas thinking about the best way to make this work: longer, less frequent meetings? Shorter, more frequent? Or just an aggressive approach to keeping to time? If you’ve got experience in this field please add your ideas in the comments below.

On Wednesday we had our retrospective. There was a lot of good to talk about, some issues that simply refuse to die, and one solid critique of my behaviour as a leader. There are times when I get too carried away with my experience and knowledge and dictate instructions to the team. There are a couple of things wrong with this:

  • From a leadership perspective: it takes away agency from my team, and makes them feel as if I don’t believe they would have come to this conclusion/technology/answer by themselves. That’s a shitty way to make people feel.
  • From a senior management perspective: my time is valuable. If I’m spending it telling people things they already know, I’m wasting my most valuable resource.
  • From a financial officer perspective: I’m responsible for the costs incurred from development time, and if they’re spending time listening to me tell them something they already know then I’m using company money inefficiently.

Management is really bloody difficult, and a skill I’m still learning. The fact my team are comfortable calling me out when I mess up is something I count as a massive positive.

I’m getting there. I think. I hope?

Thursday was my last lecture in FoC and my last mentoring session of the year. I feel slightly better armed for the year ahead, both in terms of my work and my degree. With the morning free I acquired secret Santa presents for all and sundry: Oxford Street at 10am on a Thursday meant most shops were still relatively quiet. I did my best to walk almost everywhere in preparation for the office party later on.

After the office party I headed over to see some former DDaT colleagues in the Fountain and Ink. It’s really nice to see them and talk about what’s going on in Government and on the scheme, as well as getting an understanding of what works and what doesn’t in their current roles so I can use that learning in my own recruitment campaigns.

Plus, any opportunity to catch up on gossip is an opportunity I can’t miss.

Friday started our next sprint. We’ve got some people off over the duration, but enough of the team are working that we’ve committed to getting some work out of the door. I spent some time with my colleague Felix, who’s gone from zero coding knowledge to building something exciting that fills a very niche user need. In order to exceed his objective he’s got to have it deployed by the end of the year, and it looks like he’s on track. I’m really pleased that he’s making such excellent progress — in part because it’s just great to see people shine, but also because it adds evidence to my belief that giving people space, resources, and a clear direction gets quality results.

There’s another bit of management that sucks — I would have absolutely loved to take the project myself, but I don’t have the time. Instead, I have to support someone who’ll take longer to get it done than I would — but, more importantly, they’ll learn valuable skills and I’ll be able to use the time more efficiently.

I’ve seen managers either claim an idea and then never progress it², frustrating everyone else, or reluctantly letting someone else take it before barging in and rewriting the whole thing. I’m doing my best not to do that.

¹ I went with Bojack Horseman, but this was my first pick.

First image when I Google “stitch”, and you’d better believe it’s staying

² A concept called “cookie licking”. No, really.

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