On getting things done for sure, positive project boards and white men in advertising.
It was great to catch up with the team developing our new website this week. I’ve had to drop out of most of the day to day activities because of my role on our finance and people management platform, so I am just helping here and there now.
Although the new website is not officially live the development team and web-content teams are now using what is effectively production-grade infrastructure. This means that we are pretty confident that what we can see now will work just as well when the site goes live. We can move the features from a status of done-if-we-are-lucky to done-for-sure. We’ve been holding back a big chunk of the budget as contingency against issues that might come up from moving the site onto different infrastructure. We should still keep some contingency but most of it can be released.
This sort of thing wasn’t possible when I started my career, a few decades ago! Back then it was incredibly slow and expensive to set up production-grade infrastructure - equivalent to fitting out a large office space - and it used to dominate how we planned projects. Unfortunately, as we developed on technology that was so different from live, we often discovered problems right at the end which could require a lot of time and expense to fix. These days, we can create and destroy these environments in hours, or sometimes minutes, and run them for a few pounds per day. We can afford to make people the centre of our plans and flex the IT infrastructure to fit in with that.
This is what our agile transformation is all about and this is another step on that journey. There is still a lot more to do. We all got used to treating IT development like a construction site for so long that our controls, processing, assumptions and habits have evolved to suit it. For many years it has been technically possible to treat IT development more like an art studio, but it will take time for assumptions and habits to evolve to match.
There was too much going on in the finance and people management space to list it all here. The major thing for me was the project board meeting at the end of the week. It was the first one I had attended and the roadmap work I have been leading on was also a key item on the agenda. Here are some of the topics that were most significant for me.
The first was that operational issues were taken into account in summarising the status of the project. Some people have a really clear idea about the boundary between the work of the project and the ongoing work of running the systems and services. There isn’t clear distinction to many of our senior stakeholders. I must confess I am in the latter camp so this new way of looking at the status seems much more natural and useful to me than a strict assessment of the scope of the project.
The second was the discussion around the future operating model. Up to now the operating model work has focused on structure (e.g. team organisation and reporting lines) but it was good to hear the board discussing scale and transition too. It can seem, on paper, that these are independent topics and I’ve worked with some teams that have tried to keep these separate and work on them in sequence: design an ideal structure with no constraints, conduct a gap analysis against what already exists, create a transition plan which addresses the gaps. Unfortunately, this can mean leaving some make or break issues, such as funding, right until the end. I’ve seen many examples where the gaps are unsurmountable and so the preparation work is effectively a waste of time. We are taking a much more pragmatic approach. Without putting a load of detail into the future structure we already have a good idea of where the capacity gaps will appear, so we don’t need to wait until the end to start discussions about how to address them. We can also start experimenting with different team structures and ways of working before embarking on a more permanent transition. This means we can learn what works in practice and feed that into a better operating model design and transition plan.
Finally, the board were really supportive of the work we are doing on the roadmap. This included the scope - thinking of the whole service not just the system features - and the approach - work in the open with the prototype in order to learn what our teams need. The board went further than I expected and asked us to experiment with how we govern the roadmap. The team working with the prototype will be trusted to consider the needs of the Council as a whole and prioritise the roadmap accordingly. We can ask for advice or escalate a decision if we get stuck but, otherwise we can get on with things ourselves. I took this as a great vote of confidence in the team and a great way to wrap up 2020.
I’m taking some time off so the Xmas pub quiz was a great way to finish things off. As usual, I could handle the 80’s focused music round but was pretty rubbish at everything else.
Some big highs and lows in my efforts to be a better ally this week. An internal announcement about some new training was picked up by a member of the Council’s race forum. It was obvious what was wrong with the announcement when it was pointed out, and it will get changed, but we can’t undo the hurt it has caused. I would like to claim I wouldn’t have written the announcement the same way but, to be honest, I could have easily made the same mistake. I think that’s part of being an ally. You don’t ever arrive and say you’re done. You listen, learn and try your best but when you inevitably make mistakes, you own them and go round again.
Let’s finish on a high, at least I hope you will think so. I watched Cindy Gallop’s talk about White Men in Advertising1 and was punching the air by the end. Cindy presents an inspiring vision of a fair and just future that is better for everyone without pulling her punches about the issues we face today. Cindy’s talk makes as much sense in my industry as it does in hers so let’s get a few steps closer to her vision in 2021.