Reflections on 2019

Looking back at 2019 before I look forward to 2020

2018: Meh!

In preparing my brain to write this post, I went and looked at my 2018 year end reflections. Whilst I can’t recall all the specifics of my frustrations, I can feel the strong vibes of arrested development (not the TV show).

At the back end of 2018, I had applied for a more senior position and failed to get it . It predictably sucked, especially as an internal candidate. However, it was a helpful experience in underlining what was important to me and where I could add value. In a way, it was a useful punctuation point to help me let go of some things that I probably no longer needed if I wanted to push on and do something new and different.

2019: Yeah!

Coming into 2019 I knew it was time for change and as much as I loved where I worked and the people I worked with, I probably wasn’t going to get the opportunity to develop myself in the areas I wanted to explore further. It was time to move on.

I spent the first 3 months of 2019 trying to put the team in a good spot and basically empty my head of accrued institutional knowledge. I made a note of things that people tended to defer to me on and stepped up efforts to make that knowledge accessible to the team. In retrospect, all this was made easier knowing I was preparing for my eventual departure. A sort of Swedish death cleaning.

In the meantime I was putting the feelers out for opportunities elsewhere. As a bit of a generalist coming from a small team where I wore many different hats, it was initially tricky to understand what I was looking for. At a high level, I knew I wanted to explore more of the space between technology and people, and was particularly interested in the design of things (software, services, teams, organisations).

I was extremely lucky that a vacancy popped up at Valleys To Coast for a Delivery Manager, a job role that is still pretty rare in social housing ciricles at least. Whilst I’d never worked under that title before, I could recognise lots of things I currently did (or could do) in the job description. I also knew that it was a place that was amenable to service design which is something I’d been following with interest for a while and had been trying to find ways to put into practice.

I got the job (yay!) and in mid-May I started work at Valleys to Coast. It was hugely exciting because it signalled lots of new possibilities and fresh challenges.

Learning curve

In retrospect I had perhaps underestimated how much time I’d need before I had enough situational awareness to start making myself useful. Having previously been in the same place for almost 10 years, I was operating with the benefit of LOTS of tacit knowledge. That is both a blessing (in that it’s easy to predict or solve problems on an intuitive level) and a curse (in that I might be easily blinded by assumptions).

The 7 months since have been a learning curve. First doing some organisational archeology and understanding the current lay of the land and how it was shaped, then helping to define what the future looks like and (the trickiest part) trying to figure out how to get from here to there. That’s still in the process of being refined, but it’s gone from a vague aspiration to specific things we can begin to articulate to other people. Progress can sometimes feel achingly slow, but the potential is huge and it’s a worthy endeavour to keep chipping away at.

A lot of my workload to date has been ‘fix the plumbing’ orientated. It’s also mostly framed around teams and projects. That’s something I’d like to change next year and be more service focused in an effort to promote more joined-up-ness and focus on things that deliver the most value to people.

I’m still learning the fine art of when to get involved and when to step back. Particularly toward the end of the year when things have started to get extra plate spinny. Knowing where my involvement adds value (to me, or others) remains a bit of a work in progress. Sometimes zooming in is useful for me to gather additional detail and context, but often feels like it’s at the expense of the bigger picture. I’m hoping that as I continue to become more familiar with how services tick and where our competencies and capabilities are as a team, it’ll be easier to identify when to do what.

The good stuff

It’s been great to work with more colleagues who are excited by the possibilities of user centred service design. And it’s been brilliant to try and finally figure out what this all looks like within the context of a housing association and try and put it into practice.

One of my reflections from 2018 was that I needed more opportunities to test myself/ideas in a modest and recoverable fashion. And I’ve currently got loads of scope and support to do just that, which is brilliant. In fact I should probably take much more advantage of these excellent conditions.

The work is challenging and the vision ambitous, which is the perfect antidote to the stagnation I was frustrated with last year.

I’m also really greatful to have been to lots of events this year both small and large. Shout out in particular to community run events which provide solid gold in terms of ‘things I can try in work tomorrow’.

Weeknotes

I wrote 35 weeknotes out of a possible 51. The top five posts were..

My weeknoting has continued the trend for being sporadic, but on the upside I made it through the whole year AND I remembered to review at the end of each season as planned.

Taking a page out of Juksie’s book, I tried to set some goals for myself. I had variable success, but I think that’s less to do with the method and more to do with my goal setting skills. I shall do this again for next year because it really helped me maintain focus on things I wanted to persue. It also helped me drop zombie goals that I was unlikely to do anything with, which in turn freed up headspace for something else.

There’s a definite downward trend of weeknoting as I headed through the year. I think part of this is just the additional mental bandwidth required to absorb new information and do new things. The other part is just being a bit tired and ill. It seems like a perpetually had a cold for almost the whole of December. *blows nose*

Season 1 = 10 weeknotes
Season 2 = 11 weeknotes
Season 3 = 8 weeknotes
Season 4 = 6 weeknotes

I have tried a few times to strip the format down to make the practice of weeknoting more sustainable. I fear I am verbose by default and to some degree I wanted to keep them as stream of conciouness, but then I also spend far too much time faffing about editing thereafter which sort of defeats the purpose.

I quite like Matt Ballantine’s weeknotes as an example of keeping things short, succint and interesting. It strikes me that they’re an on ramp to an interesting conversation elsewhere. This is the format that I may be edging toward in 2020.

Blog posts

I wrote 9 blog posts this year. In descending order of views, they were..

I have a sneaking suspicion that much of my previous blog posting was a bit of a cathartic outlet for things that I couldn’t really tackle as part of my day job. That’s changed and as such, I’m now putting into practice things I’ve been abstractly rambling on about for a while.. which is great! But it’s also meant that the original impetus to write these sort of blog posts has lessened.

However, as someone who values working in the open, I have to be careful that I don’t just publish the occasional highlight reel or abstract meandering thoughts. Thinking and doing in the open is hugely valuable, especially for me as a mechanism to challenge my assumptions. This is something I’d like to recommit to next year.

Thanks

I spoken to lots and lots of people this year, both via the Interwebs and in real life. I’d love to list you all, but I fear I’ll miss someone. So I’ll just say, thankyou for your generosity. What I do is the product of regularly speaking to lots of really clever and thoughtful people. You rock.


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