Seachdain nota aon

Time for another season of weeknotes – though there is every chance the title is nonsense but Google thinks that is Week Note One in Scots Gaelic as I am writing this in Edinburgh as I hide from humanity after a wonderful – but intense – few days up here for Service `Design in Government.

So it is already three weeks since I departed Business and Trade and since then I went to Los Angeles, struggled to recover from going to Los Angeles and then came here for this conference.

…except there has been a lot going on in the background as well.

Here in Edinburgh I found myself giving a talk that I was unusually underprepared for. I was a back-up speaker for the event – which I have done before – but previously I’d been giving a talk that I had done elsewhere and thus was rehearsed and iterated and if not slick then at least comfortable. This was not that. It was a talk title I had submitted on a whim as I thought the title was fun and I had some things I wanted to get off my chest about the struggles I was witnessing with prioritisation. The reality is though at that point it was pretty thin and I wasn’t surprised when it wasn’t accepted…but I think I have a reputation as a reliable speaker in a crunch so they found a spot for me on the subs bench.

Anyway I got the call-up Monday at which point I had two slides (but had spent days and days thinking about it) and by Tuesday evening I had something that felt reasonably coherent with a few meaty points to land. Namely –

OKRs are more trouble than they are worth 

We need to think bigger because quarter by quarter was limiting to ambitions – despite it not being the intent

COVID fooled us into thinking we had a handle on prioritisation because for two years people agreed what was important

It doesn’t matter what methodology you use – there is no silver bullet – it just matters that everyone involved agrees on the process and that it is transparent

…and everybody thinks their work is an 8/10 anyway. Regardless.

Because John Cutler is right – prioritisation frameworks are just negotiation frameworks in disguise

Any process that doesn’t acknowledge the constraints – especially around capability and capacity – is more dangerous than helpful.

Civil Servants advise. Ministers decide. Learn to live with it.

Whatever you do you need to make it a safe space or some unfortunate elements of human nature creep in..

..because the problem with prioritisation is people.

Actually it looks more coherent listed like that

Anyway I pulled something together and presented it in the fancy room. The pacing was all over the place, I missed some big points I wanted to land completely and generally felt a little out of control giving it…but people seemed to have enjoyed the level of openness, some of the points and the performance of it all. So I’ll take it. I was quite unhappy immediately after but I’m feeling better about it as time has passed.

Once I delivered the talk I was a bit more free to enjoy the conference itself and what a conference it was. So many brilliant people to chat to – to the extent I was a bit broken for human interaction today as mentioned earlier. As usual I didn’t attend as many talks as I should have but there were three wonderful morning keynotes – including a remarkable turn by Julian Thompson that will stay with me. I caught up with old friends, met folk who had previously been trapped in Teams windows only in previous interactions, made new connections, ate some great cake, drank some free beers and generally had a lovely time.

Thanks to the organisers, volunteers, speakers, attendees, catering staff and everyone else. Top notch all round.

Immediately before my talk I took part in a Q&A for people interested in my former role at DBT. Miranda did most of the heavy lifting but I spent an hour answering questions in the chat which was interesting and I hope a little bit helpful. I suspect it is slightly unusual for someone who has left to be so involved in the recruitment of their successor – I am also going to be on the interview panel – but I left on such good terms with the team and a little earlier than I might have so I’m really happy to be involved.

Though things are getting busier on the work front – I’ve been doing a bunch of admin this week as I’m starting something new a couple of days a week from Monday – though I’ll save the detail until the next edition. It is the first actual, genuine freelance piece of work I’ve done and the first thing through my new Limited Company so it is all very exciting.

Plus Mr Gray has started work on Digital by Default Jobs and I’ve been having a lot of interesting conversations about that – people definitely seem interested in the idea. I just need to get the price point right I think.

I’m putting the Academy / training plans to one side for a couple of weeks. I spoke to some people about it up here and am more convinced than ever it has legs and I have some really great folk lined up as potential collaborators but it needs some real focus to move it forward and I don’t want to short change it.

Oh and the other thing is I got confirmed to do a bit at FWD50 in Ottawa in November. FWD50 is the big digital gov conference in Canada and given my ambition to try and spend Spring/Summer over there next year it was too good an opportunity to miss.

Right these seem very long so I’ll end there.


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