Weeknote 20

For this week’s note, I’ve borrowed a format from Sam’s post on weeknote styles discovered via Product Manager extraordinaire, Steve.

A quick anecdotal interjection here: Steve and I worked together at GDS and occasionally spoke on Slack, and just 2 weeks before my departure I learned that the person I’d been saying “Hi Steve” to in the kitchen for the best part of a year wasn’t Steve at all, but some poor chap who bears a vague resemblance to Steve’s profile picture, and probably isn’t called Steve. Apologies to both the real and non-real Steve.

Anyway back to the weeknotes. It feels a bit odd to be mixing weeknotes styles, but this week I felt like I needed some structure. So here goes…

Good things

I’m speaking at Content by Design

I can now happily share that I’ll be speaking at the Content by Design conference in the summer. I’m going to be doing a talk about the concept of minimum viable content (which I’m still in the process of exploring and defining).

It’s a new conference, organised by Rachel and the team at Clearleft, and it focuses on the role of content in the design process.

I'm so excited to be part of the line up, which consists of many of my own content design heroes. Roll on June!

Lunch with Masarat

A few weeks ago, after I tweeted a request for advice on product management, Masarat reached out to me and asked if I wanted to go for lunch.

We met this Thursday at Dishoom in Shoreditch, and had the most refreshing, funny and interesting discussion over delicious food and glasses of house chai.

We talked about navigating imposter syndrome, building confidence and resilience, emotional labour, and public speaking (more on that in “Learned things” below).

Masarat wears a burka, and she told me about some of the preconceptions people have of her because of it and how she deals with that. She’s done a brilliant Ted Talk about it which I’d highly recommend.

One of my favourite takeaways from our lunch was a mantra she shared with me. When something isn’t her problem to solve, she simply says: “Not my monkeys, not my circus!”—and I’ve been repeating it to myself and others ever since.

I hope to meet with Masarat again very soon.

Working with Daniel

Daniel is Design Ops Manager at Babylon Health, so I’ve been working closely with him over the past few weeks in my contract role product managing the design system there.

I’m learning so much from him—both from his wealth of subject matter knowledge, and his approach to leadership.

Daniel is very straightforward and encourages radical candor when it comes to communicating and sharing feedback, in both directions. In the 5 weeks we’ve worked together, we’ve already had some very honest conversations about our own and each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

What I’ve learned from Daniel, is that talking about the difficult things becomes much easier if you have a foundation of trust and respect. We have quite different perspectives in some cases, and don’t always agree on the right thing to do, but having permission to challenge each other has made these conversations not only possible, but safe and constructive.

Learned things

Public speaking

During my lunch with Masarat, I shared with her that I wanted to improve my public speaking.

Something I’ve started to notice is that I get much more nervous when giving small-to-medium sized presentations at work than I do presenting to large audiences at, say, a conference (although, suffice to say that both scenarios terrify me somewhat).

This seemed completely back-to-front to me, and I couldn’t make sense of why I’m able to deliver a reasonably confident, coherent talk at a conference in front of 500 people, but put me in a room with 50 or so colleagues and I become a nervous wreck. What Masarat helped me to understand is that those types of talks are fundamentally different things, and my mistake until now has been to treat them in the same way.

When you’re doing a conference talk, she explained, people want a performance. They’re there to listen and you’re there to transmit.

For smaller, internal presentations, people don’t want a speech, they want a discussion or—at the very least—more of a connection. If you go into it with the same mentality as you would with a conference talk, you won’t connect with the people in the room and it’ll start to feel a bit odd and sterile.

I’ve got a couple of internal presentations coming up next week so the timing of our conversation couldn’t have been better. I’m looking forward to seeing what impact Masarat’s advice has.

Delivery management

At GDS, our team was fortunate enough to have a dedicated delivery manager to organise our planning and ceremonies. At Babylon, our squad is still quite new and small, so those tasks fall to me right now.

I’ve worked in an agile team before, but since I wasn’t the one running it—and GDS, like many places, has made its own adaptations to agile methodologies—I’ve only ever really had a peripheral awareness of how agile delivery management works.

All of this is to say that I’m now learning on the job—and fast. I’ve found Atlassian’s agile project management guides really helpful and clear, and I’ve had a lot of guidance from Daniel and the rest of the squad.

And it’s been fun! There’s something really satisfying about going back to the beginning on a topic you know a bit about, and learning it properly from the ground up.

Not-work things

Going to gigs again

Last Saturday, I went to see Bombay Bicycle Club at Alexandra palace with James and a couple of our friends. I haven’t been to a gig in ages and it suddenly made me realise how much I’ve missed it.

Off the back of that realisation, we’ve just made a spontaneous, irreversible and expensive decision to go and see The Strokes next Wednesday at Camden Roundhouse (my favourite venue) and I can’t wait.

Being a bit vegan

Last month, we made an attempt at Veganuary. Though we didn’t stick to it 100%, we did eat a mostly plant-based diet for the whole of January.

I love cooking, and eating, but I’ve lost my mojo a bit with it all over the past 6 months with lots going on in my work and personal life.

Introducing a constraint to my diet forced me to focus on what I was making and eating, and think creatively about food again.

Since then, I’ve been continuing to eat vegan food as much as I can—buying only high welfare meat, and only about once a week.

When I get some free time, I’ll do a write up of some of my favourite vegan recipes and most useful meat and dairy swaps I discovered.


Navigating the complexity of a new design system

Since GOV.UK is a web-based service, working on the GOV.UK Design System never required us to contend the challenge of supporting native apps. We also—as the name implies—only really had to support UK-facing services.

At Babylon, our design system needs to support web, iOS and Android, and that’s just the start of the complexity. We’ll also need to support international audiences and various different brands and partners.

I’m having to quickly learn enough about native app development, internationalisation, localisation and theming to enable me to ask the right questions and make informed decisions.

Some days it makes my brain hurt.

But I remind myself often of Tom Senninger’s learning zone model and feel grateful for this opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and learn in the face of new challenges.


Ran my first sprint planning session

After a bit of research and preparation, I ran my first sprint planning session with our squad on Wednesday.

My goals were to raise visibility of our respective activities, and set some clear objectives for us to focus on and prioritise against.

Afterwards, I got good feedback from the squad on the session, and how useful it was to have a clear direction and plan for the next 2 weeks.

The video for my NUX8 talk is up

I did this talk about inclusive documentation back in October and I was pretty nervous so I wasn’t sure how I’d seemed.

Watching it back made me realise how much more intense the nerves had felt than had actually come across, and all in all I’m pretty happy with how I did.

Things I’ve read, listened to and watched