9 November 2020

Published in weeknotes

Did you meet anyone new?

Mike is a new delivery manager, joining the team that look after Check if you can get legal aid, the related call centre software and backend systems. We chatted about bureaucracy in different orgs, his preferred style of delivery, our shared ideal of dynamic reteaming and Mike's experience of the GDS way where "people express preferences to move product areas using a survey" every quarter. I think there a few blockers to working in this way at LAA Digital but would be great to get there.

Brlliant chat with René who has worn a few hats in the digital space before getting into product by building Gapelist. And he learnt a bunch of technical stuff to make this possible, e.g. getting certified in AWS Cloud as a practioner and working towards Solutions Architectc certification. Amazing! So beneficial!

Met Daniel properly this week. Talked about his way into digital ways of working at various different employers and learnt that he ran street food stall in London selling shakshuka. Talked about pschological safety with a passing reference to Project Aristostle, and briefly touch on importance of measurements to understand the flow of value, e.g. value stream mapping and applying theory of constraints. Continuous delivery can get super geeky if you're into that sort of thing.

I also briefly met Adam, another new delivery manager, but this was part of another meeting, so no opportunity to get to know each other. And met Faith and Jake too in a meeting. There's a theme here. Good work is enabled by good relationships so should catch-up with them properly too! So much of this would have been done in the pub pre-Covid. Find myself needing to be way more intentional about this these days as Zoom meetings require organising.

What can we be doing better?

Attracting strong and diverse field of applicants

I'm exploring with our internal recruitment team whether we can advertise on places like CW Jobs. At the mo, jobs are publicised on Civil Service jobs, Ministry of Justice Jobs, Linked In and Jobvite.

Sometimes it's hard to attract a strong and diverse field of applicants for permanent roles. The recruitment principles help here as I initially thought we might be blocked by bureauratic rules:

  1. The media chosen to publicise appointment opportunities and the time allowed for advertising must be suitable for attracting a sufficiently strong and diverse field of applicants, taking account of the nature of the role and the relevant job market.

Also, should we switch from passive to active recruitment for permanent roles which nearly always result in little to no applicants. I'm looking at you Technical Architects. Active recruitment is outsourced for contractors via Public Sector Resourcing. This could be an answer to the question posed to the recruitment panel Chair in the aforementioned principles:

  1. Before a competition may proceed to advertising, the Chair must therefore approve the selection criteria, role description, panel membership, process to be followed, timetable, remuneration and other terms, and the advertising strategy, including how best to attract a strong and diverse field of applicants.

Despite this, we have been lucky enough to drastically improve our gender diversity, going from 3 to 9 women working as software developers by the time everyone lands! That will be 25 / 75 split women to men. So still a way to go on this front.

Who else did you talk to?

Spoke to Heidar and Oli about making it easier for people, particularly developers, to contribute to architecture as code repo, which generates these diagrams. Incidentally, this is brilliant work! We've got to understand the current state before we head off in a future direction. We've had 2 developers contribute so far. Without explicitly saying the term OKR, we kind of agreed on one which was "diversify contributions to Architecture-as-code repo" with key result of "at least 1 developer per team making a contribution". Making it easy to contribute will help achieve this I'm sure.

We also discussed accessing a budget ring-fenced for risk/debt work and appropriate candidates. Luke confirmed there was and the money hadn't all been spent! We're in the process of working out how to spend this wisely. I think this budget might have been rejected by teams a while back before we're trying to fund teams, not specific projects, and work sustainably. Now teams have matured, we're in a better place to work with this funding model, but ideally we could get to a place where funding didn't happen like this. But government funding has a way to go before it gets there, although need for risk/debt budgets will reduce over time as teams get better at software maintenance vs new work, plus better at having a sustainable portfolio of things. It's pretty clear to me now that a major reason why people have felt burnt out and it's been almost impossible to transform services is because project after project resulted in increasing number of systems, with a static headcount, thus risk/debt goes up. Only in the past year has started to be addressed, thus we've grown by 30+ people, although I still think we're thin on the ground in certain areas.

Had a brilliant chat with Rich and Laurence about the challenges of being two people working on key systems that underpin LAA Digital (example of above paragraph playing out). They feel like one of them is unofficially on-call out of hours because they feel so much responsibility and care for their users. They are migrating the remaining systems from a traditional data centre to AWS, recently upgraded to the latest version of Oracle DB (version 19), whilst resisting the urge to modernise some legacy tech, e.g. Pro*C is in use in some places!

Asrar was chuffed with the progress towards continuous delivery, zero down time deployments for parts of CCMS. The team's hard work continues to pay off. Lots of stuff containerised, which will reap dividends once migrated to AWS where sane pipelines can be put in place.

Spoke to Mark and Said separately about the value of doing our take on crowdsourcing technology governance. They have a plan to write some uncontentious guidance that can act as an example of how guidance should be written, plus ideas for categories that will be make for a diverse discussion between developers. Imagined future workflow is (1) anybody can raise an issue on Github either asking for missing guidance or changing existing guidance (2) person who raised issue, along with moderators encourage async debate on the issue (ideally debate doesn't happen in Slack or verbally because of ephemeral nature and lack of inclusion / visibility) (3) ideally healthy debate happens between developers of all levels and technical architects (4) pull request created where guidance is written up and follows some kind of approval process (5) guidance is published when PR is merged into main branch. Some potential categories are: collaboration tools, application frameworks, caching, data stores, API gateways, CI/CD, Cloud and Compute, Containers, Developer Tools, Logging, Monitoring, Address/Postcode Lookup Services; basically recommendations on things to use and, importantly, not to be confused with coding standards, although specifying tools for enforcing standards, measuring code complexity, etc makes sense. We have already have code standards but they definitely need a refresh.

Had a chat in SMT about how external stakeholders understand the roles within a typical digital team. When teams go from forming to high performing, boundaries between the roles and their responsibilities become fuzzy because silos between disciplines are broken down, people emerge into different roles as need dictates, with people swapping hats intentionally sometimes. This blurring of responsibilities is an awesome sign of high cohesion. However, from the outside, stakeholders might not appreciate this and get confused with who they should be talking to. Ideally, a business stakeholder would become part of the team so they could intimately understand this and do some hat-swapping themselves. Probably a while more until this happens but necessary if we're to meet the vision of one team. One day we'll stop saying things like "the business".

I had a few regular 1:1s too. A few interesting things: some people will work despite not feeling well and encouraged to take time off; enthusiasm and motivation will often solve a gnarly technical problem - a pair of devs are working on a side project in 10% time to scratch their developer itch without asking for permission to do so or understanding the true value, sometimes you just have to trust your instincts; "really busy, but not productive" someone said and helped them work through this common feeling when helping others instead of doing the work yourself:

A lot of effective leadership is about growing the potential in others. It’s about the move away from ‘maker mode’, where you’re focused on what you produce, to ‘multiplier mode’, where you’re focused on helping others bring out their potential. In software teams, there are always opportunities to multiply others to help and support other people’s growth.

Pat Kua, How to uncover leadership opportunities

Michael and I dug deep into two things that were discussed in the people manager meeting, a manager's round table of sorts. I don't attend this at the moment, freeing up time for other things. I checked that this was still okay. Yes, there was value in me not attending! A rubber-ducking of sorts happens. Peer support is better by removing me, the notional principal in the group. Only when the group of managers need my support will someone talk me through the problem and recommendations. At my layer of the onion, I can influence structural change and organise things. And on that note, the two topics were (1) moving the protected 10% L&D time from profession level (every Tuesday afternoon atm) to the team level (2) written guidance for professional objectives at the Developer level. I really appreciated Michael sparing his time to reflect on topics that impact our whole profession!

Quotable Slack messages

...the lack of bounded context between “ERP concepts” and “LAA concepts” creates this spaghetti mess.

- Adrian

Did you watch / listen / read anything helpful?

Did you say goodbye to anyone?

Abu left on Monday. He described the change he has seen whilst at LAA Digital for 18 months as "going from black and white to technicolour". One his best times was throwing sweets around a function room in the basement of the Home Office building in Marsham Street. Somehow related to team building activities from memory. He's off to work at HMRC, maybe to kill off IR35 from within 🤣.

What was your meeting of the week?

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ goes to CIS/CWA/MI Apps & CCMS Migration Planning for outstanding facilitation by Simon.

Anything else you've been up to this week?

Yeah, but I've run out of steam.