Weeknotes 06x01: What are the two hard things in management?

6 min readFeb 12, 2018

Revamped opening credits. A dischordant mix of lacrimose strings and upbeat techno. The warning message about scenes of flashing lights jumps onto screen with a flicker of brightly pulsating whiteouts. It’s clear the scriptwriters have been replaced with something cheap at the last minute, but nobody is really sure if it’s by a real human or by a bot. Ratings plummet.

Episode 31. Series 6 is here. I’ll try not to jump the shark.

Last series ended at a busy time. January was the month to catch up on all the stuff that didn’t make it into December because December was so busy. Then UKGovCamp happened and my head was full of ideas which I’m still sitting on, but with good reason and intent.

The other day I was reminded of a quote from Phil Karlton: “There are only two hard things in Computer Science: cache invalidation and naming things.” I’m not going to launch into a computer science lecture here (phew!) but my own attention is simultaneously so scattered and so trying-to-get some structure that I wonder if There are only two hard things in Management: priorities and scheduling.

I started out last week by trying to grapple with having a lot of Bulky Plates spinning at the moment. Sadly these are all long term plates, which means I’ve probably taken too much stuff on over the last few years, foolishly. Looking back over the weeknotes, FOCUS and CLARITY have been the twins to haunt me. Last week wasn’t so different, but their triple sibling, PROGRESS, leaped out and demanded to have its photo taken as well.

I spent some time Monday morning working out all the strands I needed to make progress on. Then I blocked in time to look at the them. This was to be my new organisational regime (Spoiler: Haven’t done it this week yet. I need to make time to look ahead and make time…)

As it’s the start of a new series, here are my current big strands that are pulling me in different directions like a chlidren’s party at Legoland:

  • Team stuff: 1–1s and other people’s careers, which I love but needs some dedicated thought time
  • Tech stuff: Planning next steps and making sure it gets prioritised/done, which is great but needs some writing time and hand-holding
  • Product Ownership on Hive Pixie: Planning out a 9-month roadmap and turning it into something I can follow and communicate easily, which is a brilliant challenge but always more work than I expect and takes a lot of writing and re-writing and drawing strands together which is not very easy in Jira
  • Our own ethical impact: One of our year’s company strategies, which I didn’t originally put forwards or vote for, but it made sense for me to pick up and actually I quite enjoy it, but does seem to mean starting an entire framework from scratch like a mini research project or something, and needs lots of writing time so that I can understand it so that everyone else can understand it
  • GDPR: Which is a whole legal thing apparently

The common threads here are:

  1. I am organising priorities and setting aims, paths and plans for most of this work
  2. A lot of that organisation seems to involve writing up documents and turning things into lists
  3. (Mostly) everything is pretty fragmented with not-a-lot of overlap, and context-switching could potentially kill me

Hard Problem 1: Priorities

What do I/we do next? This is the question that keeps stabbing me in the brain. Everything is continuous, a lot of it is reactive, and even the most ardent of intent isn’t enough to convert the wishes of unicorns into a minimum viable spec.

I think a lot of my cycle looks like this:

  1. Work out what other people’s priorities are
  2. Suggest and discuss a common set of priorities
  3. Do this across multiple things, and so have to do #1 and #2, but for my own work
  4. Write everything up in a list style
  5. Work out all the priorities alongside each other, plus with everyone else’s priorities thrown in.

Basically I may have turned into a Priority Machine. This concerns me.

I would dearly, dearly love to automate this as much as possible — on a personal basis, and on an organisational basis. Please do get in touch with any thoughts on how to come up with a system that takes a few judgements and turns it into a good-enough todo list. I’ve seen the Eisenhower Matrix, which is great for getting rid of stuff that’s not important, but doesn’t help when you’re filling up the top two boxes with the great stuff.

I’ve tried spreadsheets for specific projects, which is great, but I need something much more lightweight for personal decisions. I need tips, suggestions, resources for better ways to pluck priorities out of the air and to shove things into more bullet point lists of their own doing.

Many people try to attack one person all at the same time, from the hit comedy kung fu movie, 'Kung Fu Hustle'. Probably.


Hard Problem 2: Scheduling

So I started last week by blocking in some time in my calendar for the things that I wanted to “MAKE PROGRESS” on (this was my weekly aim, after being caught up in various large tech efforts over the last few months. I’m playing catchup.)

THIS ACTUALLY WORKED QUITE WELL. It meant I had everything laid out for me in advance. Not all of it worked — Thursday and Friday, I didn’t get round to the GDPR stuff because the earlier blocks have time had led to some things needing further work. But the lesson here is that the method works, but just not to that scale. I tried out having 3 focuses for a week some time back, and I still think that’s a good number.

Plus one of the feedback comments from my Annual review recently was that I’m often jumping between things, and it might be useful to be clearer about my availability.

So perhaps that’s something I can address this series. Know my limits. Plan out my own time more. Stick to it.

One of the difficulter things I find about that is balancing the work I’m doing alone, and making time for others. Both are important, but the sheer fact that there are more other people than me in the world means that there’s inherently less weighting for the alone stuff.

Coincidentally, I’ve also started a different working pattern this week — doing half-days on Tuesday and Friday, instead of taking all of Tuesday off. I’m planning to work from home every other Friday, so this may be a good time to book in the “working alone” stuff specifically.

In fact, a lot of what I do comes down to office rhythms — certain people are in on specific days, and certain meetings happen at regular intervals. Maybe I should embrace this more, and plan my efforts around it more consciously. Go with the flow. It’s what a sage would do. (Or quit work and live in a mountain. But we’ve only got the Downs to escape to round here.)

Kung fu on the mountain

The product roadmap is COMPLETE, I tell you

Hard Problem 3: Knowing when to stop

I’ve noticed this is something on my radar. A lot of planning can be quite creative, if you let it — knowing when to put the brush aside and say “enough is enough, this will be OK” is hard.

So I’ll stop there.

Scrolls crash from shelves from the hit kung fu movie 'Hero'. Like a boss.

Originally published at Workweek.




Lead tech at OCSI, making data friendly for social good. Likes words. Doesn't really own a bowler hat.