This is how I work….give or take.
I was nominated by Julie Byrne to write these (massive shout out and thanks). I’ve found it tricky to get all my thoughts out but here goes, it’s a 10 minute read.
Delivery Manager, UK Parliamentary Digital Services.
Current Mobile Device:
Dell latitude i5 12” laptop — standard issue in 2016, at home a Hewlett Packard i5 14" Pavilion G series laptop.
One word that best describes how you work:
First of all, tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today:
I grew up not far from Britain’s 5th worst high street (2002) Leatherhead, it’s not that bad if you don’t know any different. I did average at school nailing a solid 8 B’s and a C at GCSE, experimented with Media Studies at Kingston College but chose to leave after a year and start my career in London.
My friend introduced me to my first full time job. It was based in Bastwick street near Old Street London (before it got trendy) and my life in Digital Print - laser printing as it was known then started. I moved from stuffing envelopes of insurance policies to running laser printers producing end of year financial documents. I had great mentors, worked long shifts, and spent my first pay check on a DVD player! I worked for the same company for the next four years and worked my way up the ladder to a Senior Operator position.
I relocated to Essex for a couple of years working 12-hour shifts and printing the nation’s T-Mobile phone bills for TNT Document Services. Then in 2009 I was headhunted by a recruiter and my C.V. had ended up in the House of Commons HR department. I attended the interview and got the job as a Production Assistant for Print Services in the House of Commons. When I started, it was when Michael Martin was the Speaker during the members’ expenses scandal so there was lots of scanning happening. I had an magnificent time in Print Services and working with people at all levels across parliament really helped my role, service their printing needs but also understand parliamentary procedure. The team was really well formed and we were at a point of sheer performance and camaraderie.
I worked my way up over seven years to Senior Operator and then joint Production Manager for an interim period. I got lots of satisfaction from mentoring, training and developing staff members, and producing parliamentary business papers. I took advantage of the wonderful training schemes and opportunities unique to parliament but the work/life balance was not there. Returning home at 7 a.m. after a particularly late Monday night shift walking like a zombie to bed while my young children went off to nursery was a wake up-call (excuse the pun).
An opportunity presented itself and I moved over to the Parliamentary Digital Services in 2016. It was the scariest thing I’ve done in my career and that new person feeling didn’t leave me for a long time until some more team members joined after me. So after 14 years in print I moved to the Parliamentary Digital Service (PDS). I was a Programme and Project Officer (which is a support role) in the Portfolio Management Office. It took around 10 months to adapt my working style, work out how I could support the Infrastructure and Cyber programmes and help to roll out governance across PDS. A real turning point was when I identified my whole career I had a tangible output at he end of a day or shift which is where I gained job satisfaction. With that output gone I had to realign to find a new way of getting that satisfaction.
This was a challenging time for me with multiple line managers, being matrix managed, learning about agile working, honest feedback from the programmes, and remembering to take my laptop to meetings! I was mentored in project financial management and soon realised I was able to hit the deadlines and support other team members in this area.
I got promoted to Portfolio Support Manager and became financial transformation lead as well as line managing eight Programme and Project . I enjoyed seeing the growth of these talented people and they all had such drive, passion, and work ethic. I got a real buzz out of supporting them, simplifying processes, and make things/processes easier for everyone.
I supported the Portfolio Manager for the development area and on the new website for parliament and took care of the finances for the whole directorate! So here’s me with no financial qualifications advising heads of teams and the director on approaches to take, where funds could be saved, re-purposed, and bringing clarity to forecasting and actual spend.
My hard work and experience on programmes and working with the procurement and management accountants paid off and I was flying. I had mentors, coaches, and the support from my old and new teams. I joined the Talent Management Program in 2017 which woke me up from the operational space I’d been in — read more about that here.
I came to a realisation that I could do more, help more people, and make a difference to teams if I got out from behind my spreadsheets for most of the month to gather feedback and force myself into difficult and alien situations. When an opening came up for Delivery Manager (DM), I threw myself into the application maelstrom. I received career coaching from Deborah Taylor and the epic Dan Barrett. We discussed the interview, my approach, and what I could give to the role of DM. I remember using an analogy of a lava lamp and that the DM’s job was to create the environment with the right amount of heat, and support, for teams to gel and work effortlessly and fluidly. I didn’t use that in my interview but I still think about how random that was and have it in the back of my mind when describing to someone what I do for a living.
Although it was the toughest interview I’ve ever had, I was the calmest I’ve ever been. I was able to respond to the curve balls that they hit me with and I didn’t just sell myself, I sold my previous track record and why they needed me on the team. I was the best/most authentic version of myself and proud of getting the job.
Take us through a recent workday:
My day starts early having two wonderful children and no circadian rhythm from the 14 years of shift work. I take our dog out for a walk around 6ish, help my wife get the kids ready and make breakfast, cycle to the station then after some Headspace meditation start my commute.
I’m fortunate enough to get a seat and work offline or draft write-ups and other admin tasks that don’t require a connection, generally sound tracked to a podcast, audiobook or music. I fire off all the offline work once in the office and loosely schedule the day ahead.
I facilitate the stand-ups for the product team I’m in and take note of any issues, blockers, or things to chase up. Every day is different which is why I love my role but, on this occasion, it was ceremony day. I organise the rooms and top up post-its, sharpies, and sweets and then facilitate a Sprint Review, Sprint Retrospective, and Sprint planning.
I work in partnership with the Product Manager to ensure we get through everything, stay on topic, and the team are aware of anything outside of the product team that may impact on the next couple of weeks’ work. For the Retrospective, my main aim is create an environment where the team feel safe and can express their feelings about the last couple of weeks working together.
I look for patterns and themes and we take part in group synthesis to investigate how we can adapt and iterate for the upcoming sprint. I used to hate standing up and talking to groups of people or presenting but it’s getting easier and my experience has increased my self-confidence and quieted my self-talk, which always used to talk me down before running a workshop or sprint meeting.
I eat lunch at my desk while writing up the notes from the mornings ceremonies (meetings) so they can be circulated as quickly as possible for the team to use. In this short time, I’ll also follow up any urgent emails I’d missed by being in meetings or that had arisen in the stand-ups. I’ll then be back into planning meetings for the other team that I’m working with, running through the same schedule but with totally different approaches and formats for the actual sessions.
When I started in Delivery Management, I thought it would be a case of finding out what works best and replicating that across all teams I work with. I learned the hard way that each session needs to be tailored to the audience, and work out what outcomes are required and who the people in the room are. I work with amazing, talented, and passionate people, with each of them a specialist in their discipline. It’s my role to coach, give them the time, space, and awareness of how to excel at what they do, and help people collaborate, build networks, and have a shared understanding of how to deliver these awesome products for parliament.
I’m usually flat out all day then head back to Victoria to jump on the train home. I’ll respond to any urgent emails and write up the most important points of the retro, start the sprint on the train, and then circulate it all to the team when back online at home. This was a particularly long day but time flies here and the day goes quickly.
What apps, gadgets, or tools can’t you live without?
Spotify — music, powerful algorithms and over 55,000 minutes last year!
Reminders — iPhone stock reminder app to keep on top of the things to get done and awesome people to meet, started using location-based alerts to minimise noise in my mind
SimpleMind (pro) — I didn’t think I was a visual person but this mind mapping tool is intuitive and getting stuff out of my head and in a place to see the wood for the trees, I’ve found it easier to present in this way too
Audible — I find it easier to digest books in audio format, I listen on walks to and from work, walking the dog and sometimes when cooking
WhatssApp — main communication app outside of work
What’s your best shortcut or life hack?
Disconnecting — The beautility smart phone setup. About a year ago I switched off all notifications on my phone bar one. I found I was seeking notifications and alerts even when they weren’t there and would check my phone so many times a day. I read this article and it really struck a chord. It’s helped me to switch off when out of the office and enjoy my leave more but also not be a slave to my phone.
Saying “no” — and explaining to people what I can’t do and why in a way that connects with them. The advantage and disadvantage of working in parliament is that there are always lots of opportunities and new initiatives to get involved in. There are 24 hours in a day and I’ve spent a lot of time looking at what my principles and values are, so I can quickly choose what to pursue or what is part of my role. People don’t mind if you say no if you explain why and if they do, then it’s on them, not you.
Beginner’s mind — approaching every new meeting and interaction, leave all preconceptions, politics and considerations I may have for whomever at the door to the meeting room. It helps me to focus on what’s being said where some fears or concerns are and how I can best build a relationship in that moment.
Listen for what is not being said
Take us through an interesting, unusual, or finicky process you have in place at work
Booking meeting rooms is always fun and never straightforward, we have three different ways to book different areas across the palace, and depending on the number of people and what facilities you need, depends on the process. One of the ways is inviting the room through Outlook as a participant or resource for the meeting. It always makes me chuckle when the room comes back with tentative or declines and it makes me think the room’s not interested in being part of my meeting or can’t see the point to why I’m holding the meeting. Weird but funny.
How do you keep track of what you have to do?
I use a combination of tools depending on which teams I’m working with. Jira, confluence, Trello, and Outlook. I keep to a near zero inbox and where possible use the Getting Things Done (Brian Tracey) approach. If it takes less than 2 minutes do it straight away otherwise schedule and break down. I spend a lot of time in meetings so I usually follow up on any actions if I’ve got blockers or important tasks. I’ve reduced the “must do this now” approach and built in more flexibility, so workflow is more organic and can be throttled depending on time and value added. It’s taken a while to reach this stage but I’m enjoying it now I’m here.
What’s your favourite side project?
Being part of the capability team lead by Julie Byrne. I’m passionate about personal and organisational development and her crack team are working on loads of cool stuff that is underrated in most organisations, including this one, and shifting the cultural iceberg. A team that makes the difference, goes the extra mile, and brings positivity and pragmatism to everything they do. The work is across PDS and key in joining up initiatives in the House of Lords and House of Commons.
What are you currently reading, or what do you recommend?
In no order of impact but have got lots out of each of these last year:
· Happy — Derren Brown
· Daring Greatly — Brene Brown
· Essentialism — Greg McKeown
· Atomic Habits — James Clear
· First Man In — Leading from the Front — Ant Middleton
Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
If they fancy writing and sharing their stories i’d like to read something from Louise Duffy, Lee Morrow, gemma rogers, Sach Thakor, Fred McGhie and Dan Cook
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Something that has stuck with me from the moment I heard it.
“Get out of the stands and on to the court!” — A.M
Thank you Angie.