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Weeknote 15 - 19 June 2020

3 min read

On drinking your own champaign and mentoring.

I had fun last week but it was a busy one and now I’m running late with my week note. Maybe a short one is better?

You have probably heard sayings like:

“Cobblers children have the worst shoes.”

I’ve seen examples of this in most of the places I have worked: tech companies with less than ideal internal IT; consulting companies which don’t take their own advice. I’m guilty of this personally by running complex projects at work but failing at trivial bits of organisation at home.

This week we made some progress at removing some of these examples in our department by applying our own technology to tackle some internal issues. As an former colleague says:

“Drinking our own champaign!”

We have to carefully account for what we spend in IS and how we use the time of our teams. This has always involved technology but, sometimes, managing numbers in a spreadsheet can be as laborious and error prone as pen and paper. We are starting to apply more advanced technology and engineering thinking to these sorts of processes. First are reporting and analytical tools to look at our overall capacity and expose patterns we can use to manage our portfolio of work. We are also experimenting with generating summaries of our progress and status from the data our teams create and rely less on manually created reports and presentations.

Powerful reporting tools and open source software APIs[1] make this much easier to do than when I started out in IT but, usually, the availability of the technology hasn’t been the problem. The usual obstacles are:

  • there is always something more valuable for our engineers to do (our customers get our best shoes!)
  • the currenty process hides some “fudges” that the tools don’t handle[2].

We are tackling the first problem by putting better tools in the hands of internal users so they can self-serve many of their reporting needs. Our agile ways of working are helping to tackle the second problem by using quick prototypes to expose the judgement and workarounds in the process so we can either eliminate them or capture the logic in the tools.

A word about a good cause

One of my mentees[3] got in touch to ask for some advice. Their organisation is having to cut back on some spending so some grand plans we discussed before are having to be cut down. We talked through some ideas for adapting to the situation while keeping the spirit of their ideas alive. It does not feel nice to have to cut things down to size but testing out the ideas at a smaller scale initially may turn out to be a good approach. It was great to be able to spend some time considering a different organisation with a different set of issues. I went back to my own work with some new energy and inspiration. Another example of how mentoring can be as valuable for the mentor as the mentee.


  1. These days you can do almost anything with a bit of coding. Want to find the time of every drum beat or string pluck of you favourite Spotify track? No problem. Now I just need a reason to use this at work! ↩︎

  2. It finances turn out to be quite hard to pin down. I first wrote about this years ago. ↩︎

  3. There is a bit more about mentoring in a previous week note. ↩︎

Originally published on by Richard Barton