Despite the intention, it’s lucky that I didn’t officially sign up for project 52, because I’m failing hard at it. Anyway, a bunch of folks have been doing or talking about ‘weeknotes’, and so I thought I’d take the opportunity to jump on that bandwagon. Lets start by calculating the week of my life so far: week 1665.
This week I’ve been working almost exclusively on #blue, which is an application Free Range is building on for O2. It exists for a number of reasons, but you can think of it as a ‘reimagining’ of their Bluebook service, using modern technologies and ‘agile’ development techniques. There’s been some mild frustration as we’ve tried to integrate one of the final pieces of the account confirmation process, so unfortunately we still can’t send out proper beta invites yet.
Tripping over a Milestone
One interesting aspect of this week was our removal of a milestone. We had originally set a date by which we wanted to start inviting beta testers, and scoured our story backlog and icebox for anything that might represent a blocker to achieving that. Any new features were pushed below the milestone, to keep our focus up.
Eventually, only one major story remained, blocked by external processes that we couldn’t control (see above), so we found ourselves in the strange position where there were no more significant stories above the milestone. We started to ask “what should I work on” more frequently. We started, I think, to lose a bit of momentum.
The solution was obvious, in retrospect: get rid of the milestone. It was acting as a dam, stopping us from continuing to add value to the project in different ways while we were blocked. Once we did that, our relationship to the stories that had been pushed below the milestone changed; while we’re still spending a great deal of time trying to unblock the story that lies between us and beta testers, we have our momentum back.
I finished reading REWORK at the weekend, and while it was principally aimed at businesses building and marketting a product, there were nine or ten chapters in particular that resonated with my own feelings about working effectively as a group. I’ve made some notes in Google Wave, which I may or may not share, but it was a useful exercise in clarifying my own thinking about how teams operate.
Meetings, and feeling like a team
We have been trying to have weekly ‘meetings’ with everyone involved in Free Range since before the start of the year, but in week 1664 - last week - we decided (well, I suggested) we should halt them in favour of more ad-hoc conversations.
In any business-like context, having a meeting has a special meaning for me - it’s time spent directed at achieving some specific and clearly-defined thing. Meetings should be measurable in terms of effectivity. If you’re shooting the shit, you’re not having a meeting, you’re doing something else - and that might be perfectly valid, but it’s not focussed on achieving anything specific.
The meetings we were having had become formulaic and chore-like, so it felt appropriate to change the tone of those conversations. I’m hoping that the others involved will actively try to instigate and participate in these ad-hoc discussions, but only time will tell.
This comes back to one of the underlying themes in my thinking over the past few months, being the balance between structured vs. free-form, chaotic interaction; someone at SRC last month suggested it was like communism vs. anarchism, and perhaps they are right.
Co-locating (and feeling like a team)
Recently I’ve become more and more convinced that some amount of co-location is important in making an endeavour like Free Range work. Originally I was quite adamant that “no office will be required and we can all work remotely”, but I suspect now that I was conflating a few different things in that statement.
In a nutshell, there’s a difference between accepting the overheads that an office brings with it, and just doing work in the same space. The latter doesn’t require the former - we can work together in any number of non-office spaces, in someone’s home, or a suitable cafe or a co-working space (like The Hub).
And don’t get me wrong, some amount of independent time is still important, and I have no strong desire to work to any kind of office hours, but I think the discipline that semi-regular co-location brings is a useful force in keeping everyone pointed in the same direction.
Even my thinking about renting office space has started to shift. A shared space is an easy way for a group of people to start establishing their shared identity. Think about it like a bedroom - when you are growing up, and starting to define your own identity, the first place this is expressed is in how you arrange your space. You chose the posters on the wall, and the niknaks on the shelves to help reinforce the kind of person you are aiming at being.
An office can work in exactly the same way. In many cases I am sure that it doesn’t, and that offices are soul-sucking bland canvases, arranged so inoffensively as to become offensive by reaction. But the potential is there. Anyway, one thing I’ve discovered doing Free Range is that it’s hard to build this shared sense of identity. I am thinking a lot about this these days.
Of course, I may change my mind completely during week 1666, but that’s the beauty of it.