Sun Jan 03 2021

2020 Year Notes

Since October 2017 I've been keeping week notes. I've found them a fantastic tool to track my focus and to remember to reflect on success (or lack of it). I didn't write them for most of 2020. When pandemic hit it seemed too self-centered. I wish I'd kept them up now.

I wrote year notes last year. Surprisingly that was the only blog post I wrote last year 😱

Here are mine for 2020… It feels egotistical… but it's intended to remind me to reflect. Hopefully it's useful to me in the future even if it isn't to anyone else.

Goals from last year's year notes

and whether I achieved them or not

  • ❌ decide what feedback loops I want to shorten
  • ½ find others that want to do that and work with them
  • ✅ expect to find better ways of doing it by including others
  • ½ read about leadership and get over myself
  • ½ make time to write code and find out from the teams how they'd like me to do that
  • ✅ figure out how I can write weeknotes as easily without images in twitter being the main record
  • ❌ move to a place where we regularly measure and report on our work
  • 🤣 speak face-to-face with individuals instead of in big meetings
  • ½ practice Italian every day
  • ❓use the unfair super power of being a white, middle-class, middle-aged, straight man to lift others up
  • ✅ 10km running on average over 40 weeks of the year
  • ❌ 4 leisurely cycle rides
  • ❓put my phone down and talk to my kids

Maybe measuring goals once a year is a bad way to achieve them 🤔

Running and Cycling

I went for 1 bike ride. I could easily have made time to do more.

I ran 644km in 2020. That's 12.4km a week on average. I'm really pleased with that. I bet I wouldn't have managed that if it wasn't for…


I suppose it would be weird not to mention lockdown and COVID this year. I'm lucky to live close to the countryside, in a house with space, and to have a job I can do remotely. Not everyone is that lucky but lockdown has been nice for me. Instead of 2 hours a day crammed on a train I've seen my family, played the guitar, or walked the dog.

Because I'm in the house I could help with the kids more. We realised that because I could do the school run my wife could work more.

It's definitely affected the "speak face-to-face" with individuals goal 🤣. But I've been for a walk a couple of times with colleagues who live nearby and both times that was golden.

Working remotely has been pretty great despite a background of massively increased anxiety. Given I shouldn't expect to live every year with the worries of this one I think I'm sold.

Being a Principal Engineer

I'm still uncomfortable with saying I'm a leader. Less so than in the past. But I think it's because culturally we have a hierarchical view where the leader is important and has all the power and ideas. I don't think I behave like that. I certainly try not to. I can see the pressure towards and ease of becoming an ivory tower architect.

In a world where the leader is there to help, to have a wider viewpoint, to join things together, and to lift people up, then I'm not uncomfortable. Then I'm scared. That sounds hard. It is hard.

In 2020 I worked with the Co-operate, and the Customer & Member teams and we all contributed to a "membership evolution" programme. You can read about what we achieved in our end-of-year blogpost. That meant I was working across five teams and with a programme group. At times it was too much.

Doing too much

COVID massively reduced what we were asked to do. That was such a gift.

As a result of doing less we did things better. We did (probably) the important things. And at the end of it all we still celebrated. We still achieved goals. Nobody was mourning the missed things. The company turned a profit.

Every year we should routinely chop a third out of what we aim to do. (obvs people would start to include sacrificial work to game the system but…)

Context, direction, and measurement

I need to get better at clarifying and measuring things. And at talking to people about that. My colleague Nathan Langley was incredible at that this year. They stuck at it. From day-to-day influencing, to rolling their sleeves up and making prototypes, months locked in a room working to make things better. Finally pushing through adoption of a way of communicating strategy and vision and linking them to concrete activities. Such a cool thing. And now other teams are picking it up. It is scary how rare it is for people to communicate the basics. And it's amazing how powerful it is.

For most of my time on Membership there was no communicated and agreed vision. Many of us believed we knew what it was, some of us even agreed. But we couldn't write it down and point at it. Nate changed that. 🔥💖 (like, loads of people were involved but he was influential and consistent)

I'm joining a new team in the new year. Finding a way to orient myself, choose action, and check the outcome is still going to be as important. But will be even more in a new (to me) business where I don't have years of context.

I need to remember it's new to me… not to the folk already there. I'll bring my perspective but before that I need to bring my ears

(which is a clunky way of saying I need to remember to listen)

A slight aside to say what I think "the basics" are

  • Why would I start?
  • When do I stop?
  • How do I know it is working?

I see so much work that can't answer those questions. Any framework or process that doesn't remind you to answer those questions should be yeeted into the sea.

I love the accelerate metrics.

  • lead time,
  • deployment frequency,
  • mean time to restore (MTTR)
  • and change fail percentage

But if you're not measuring value then you don't need the accelerate metrics. They might help you do the wrong thing faster.

Black lives matter

Supporting and growing inclusion is the most important thing I can do

This year was already raw. And then George Floyd was murdered by the police in America and something broke. He wasn't the first or last person killed by America's racist system but something caught fire. Doing nothing, saying nothing wasn't ok. I said something about it at our weekly show and tell. I wanted folk on the team to know that their BAME colleagues hurting and for those BAME colleagues to know that if they needed time or support we'd try to help them. It was the hardest public speaking I've ever done.

A couple of times over the last few years I've been asked to come to a meeting to repeat something a woman has been trying to have heard with my man-voice so people will hear it. I'd not given the feedback to the people not listening. I promised myself I'd used up my feeling-too-awkward-to-say-something credit and the next time I saw misogyny or exclusion I'd say something. And the next time I saw misogyny it was on a call with hundreds of other people. So, I said something… I nearly didn't because I wasn't comfortable. Luckily I was able to "say something" with text which made it easier. But I'm glad I did. It was the right thing to do.

I'm not claiming some expertise or moral high ground on this. I'm sharing some of the small things that I have done cos I want a world where we all do the small things. They add up to impact if enough people do them.

I know I'm not doing enough, I know I need to learn more, you almost certainly need to as well.

Things I've thought about more thoroughly than this blog post

Since I joined Co-op I've worked on Membership. I've been there three and a half years. This year I move to work with Funeralcare. This year has been characterised by knowing that I was likely to move but not when or where to. Figuring out how to work so that the things important to me might carry on when I'm not there is hard.

I'll be watching to see what happens and trying not to judge myself too harshly

There are two bits of writing as a result of leaving membership that it felt right to record here

tooting about my time on membership

I tooted a twoot-thread at the end of the year.

That text is copied here for "posterity"…

Today's my last day on Membership at Coop Digital. After three and a half years I move to funeralcare in the new year. I thought I'd reflect on my time…

lines of code is a terrible metric: was the opinion I held until I checked and discovered that since July 2017 I've deleted more code than I've added. Overall, I've deleted 1.5 million lines of code. That makes me happy even though I know it's a terrible metric

Kindness and empathy are key. When I've got that right it's been 💯. When I've got it wrong it's been 💩

This year we made 600 changes, at a higher change success rate, and with better availability. And the systems we built and work we did had more value for the business. We've more than doubled the rate we deploy changes over the last few years

We used to have very slow deploy pipelines and joke we could deploy in-between visits to our sites. In an emergency we can now get (some) changes tested and to prod in minutes. And we have hundreds of thousands of active users

I still feel a bit uncomfortable thinking of myself as a leader but I'm not (completely) scared of it any more. Maybe time to stop winging it and learn something. I'm lucky to have great peers to learn from

I'm increasingly convinced that giving positive feedback is a super power, and that it pays back much more than negative feedback. But I can see times where I've avoided giving negative feedback and things have been much harder than just having the "difficult conversation"

shutting up and asking questions is really hard (for me). knowing when to stop asking questions and make statements is even harder. But the times when I've got that balance right have been incredible

Twice in the last few years people have told me they feel safe on the team. Very few things feel as good as that

Once someone was brave and told me how I was achieving my goals made their job harder. That didn't feel good, but I value it as much, if not more

leadership (maybe just how I do it) magnifies your reach but so also your mistakes. A bad decision I made in Jan of 2018 is still sat in need of defuckulation now. It's hard not to obsess about those mistakes

Building a culture of celebration and sharing is really hard and really, really important

Drawing diagrams is a super power.

The best thing has been learning how much I still have to learn. I had no idea what I was getting into when I took the Principal role, how hard the shift would be from working in a team to working with teams. I'm so glad I did it, I'm so proud of what the teams have achieved

slacking about my time on Membership

I wrote some words in our slack channel when I left the membership team (which I can't completely recreate here cos of secrets and intrigue)

keep up the kindness

When someone does something well, tell them. When you wish someone had done something better, tell them. When someone breaks something, tell them it’s ok, tell them about when you broke something. Have I told you about the time I deleted the record of every insurance sale at The BMC?

We have to have a job, it’s up to us to make sure we enjoy it

people and interactions over process and tools

Process isn’t a good in and of itself. scrum, kanban, user stories, squads, and more are all attempts by people to describe what worked for them. There’s a risk you’re taking advice from a pastry chef while making a casserole.

We should be being agile not doing it.

keep releasing small pieces of things

We made almost a third of Co-op Digital’s recorded changes in 2020, at higher availability, and with better success than the years before. There are few engineering practices more effective than ensuring that changes to code and config make it, safely, to production in the shortest possible time.

Aim for minutes from commit to prod! What is needed to make that possible?!

The things you need to do to make this possible are what good engineering is.

Slow down

I see us regularly spend all week smashing out feature work. It’s wonderful that we’re committed to what we’re working on. But we have to force ourselves to make time for socialising, learning, and tidying up.

There’s a good chance we’re moving faster than sponsors, users, and the team can maintain. It’s time to slow down a little and find a more sustainable pace. You have to weed the garden as well as growing plants.

We’ve seen over the last year folk giving the teams space to make things in the right way. It’s on us to take that time and use it well.

Take part in service and support

Our work is not only about making great things, it’s about keeping them great. Learning from and reacting to what really happens is a super power

Take part in design

We have an incredible design team. If you haven’t worked somewhere that doesn’t value design you might not realise what a wonderful gift it is. Take every opportunity to work with the designers in the team. When there’s user research go along and take notes. Ask them about the designs. The nuance and depth that goes into seemingly simple things is fascinating and can help you understand why you should put in the extra effort (cos sometimes that detail is hard engineering)

There aren’t many investments guaranteed to pay back but this is one that will pay back.

Keep being amazing

3 or 4 years ago Membership systems broke frequently, cost Co-op money, and were an isolated island of functionality. Now we’re rock solid at 10x usual traffic, turn a profit, and support some of the most important things Co-op are working on.

I hope it’s not egotistical to say that I know I contributed to that and feel pride in what we’ve achieved. But I know that you all contributed to it far more than I did. I’m so excited to see where you go from here.

I don’t know what I’m talking about…

…or at least I often feel I’m making it up as I go along. I get the impression that’s true of lots of people, if not everyone. So if you disagree with any or all of this that’s fine. Decide what you think is important and work with people to make that happen.


This is the second full year I've had a dog since I was a teenager. Best decision in a long time. As much work as having a baby but it adds joy to life.

dog on new years day 2019

dog on new years day 2019

dog on new years day 2020

dog on new years day 2020

dog on new years day 2021

dog on new years day 2021

Note that in all three photos the dog is soaking wet.


a homemade cardboard sculpture of a house

All three kids have said they don't want to be on social media so I won't mention much here. I continue to be amazed that my bad influence isn't reducing the kids well-rounded, excitement at the world.

What writing this taught me I want to do in 2021

  • read about leadership and get over myself
  • make time to write code for days at a time
  • start weeknotes again
  • by March understand what business and team goals I'm contributing to
  • meet one-on-one with everyone on my team at least once
  • keep those meetings going with some of them
  • practice Italian every day
  • use the unfair super power of being a white, middle-class, middle-aged, straight man to lift others up
  • 15km running on average over 40 weeks of the year
  • 4 leisurely cycle rides
  • record a video of event sourcing from scratch

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