Weeknote 11a: A more relaxed pace of life (Week 8, 2018)

Last week, for the first time in ages, I got my weeknote out on time. Indeed, I wrote it on Thursday night, published on Friday afternoon, and then ran away to The Cotswolds.
Restored Massey Ferguson Red Tractor at Vegetable MattersMy wife and I spent the weekend in and around Chipping Campden with great weather, wonderful views, fantastic food and a lovely hotel. And on more than one occasion I felt like I was living in an episode of The Archers (not just because of the restored tractor at the local farm shop).
It was just a more relaxed pace of life in a rural idyll. A place where people are friendly and they talk to one another. And a trip into Moreton-on-the-Marsh showed that many businesses remain closed on Sundays – which is no bad thing either.
On Sunday afternoon, we drove back over the beautiful Cotswolds and the Northamptonshire uplands – then we got to Northampton and boom! Into the chaos of Sunday afternoon the M1, massive distribution centres, traffic, modern life…
It made me think that not all progress is good!

Weeknote 11: The link between consultant utilisation and beer! (Week 8, 2018)

Two weeks ago I commented that I was hoping to see Wales beat England in the Six Nations. We put up a good fight but, in the end, Eddie Jones’ team continued their unbeaten record at Twickenham. Then, this week, Manchester City got knocked out of the FA Cup by Wigan, who play in League 1 (the third tier of English football), so it’s not been a good month on the sporting front for me. Still, I have been enjoying the Winter Olympics!

Thankfully, work has been a little more successful – and my return from half-term “holidays” has seen me get properly stuck into my Modern Workplace project (though I do need to step out of it again for a few days next week). I also had the opportunity to spend some time with Microsoft in an “AI envisioning session” today.

On Monday though, I made the journey to Long Eaton, to hear a former colleague and Fujitsu Distinguished Engineer, Ste Nadin (@SteNadinFJ), give his views on “Demystifying DevOps” at the Nottingham and Derby branch of the BCS. I was pleased to hear Ste start his talk by saying that he wouldn’t talk about tools very much (which is good – because culture is far more important in a DevOps strategy) and even more pleased when he used the medium of Lego to bring his presentation to life! Ste also made some interesting observations on measuring utilisation – something that’s close to my heart as a practicing consultant.

Taking a beer glass as an analogy, the glass may be seen as better when it’s fully utilised. Empty is 0% full, a short measure is 80%, and we really want it to be 100% full.

Some people see consultant diaries in that way – aiming to be 100% busy all the time.

But let’s take another analogy – if a road is 100% utilised, that’s not so good – it’s not efficient. With infrastructure (like roads) we don’t really want to fill them to capacity but instead to focus on flow!

So, are people (not resources!) empty vessels to be utilised (like a beer glass) or more like a road where work flows?

I’d argue that I’m not very efficient when I’m filled with beer – and it’s the same when utilisation is driven to 100% for an extended period too!

It all comes down to wait time, which is a fraction of %busy time over %idle time. After about 80% busy-ness (or even business?), wait time really spikes and, as utilisation increases, the ability to respond to change and priority decreases. At 100% there is no flexibility and it’s difficult to prioritise (or respond to business change/demands).

This is shown in the diagram below, described in Nabil Hashmi’s post about The DevOps Handbook (and it reminds me I really must finish reading The Phoenix Project):

Wait time vs percent busy

When I was a business manager (in my role as a Head of Practice when I worked at Fujitsu), my operations manager would ask me why I was forecasting that I would run a “bench”. I didn’t know about wait time then – but I knew I needed some flexibility to cope with unplanned work – not just a team that was maxxed out on planned work.

A consulting business is never constant – we live in a world of peaks and troughs and, whilst someone suggested to me that, during quiet times, Consultants will drink from the proverbial pint pot and that, conversely, they need to fill it up in busy times, that’s not the whole picture. I’m fortunate that my manager understands my limits, my constraints and that I can’t be productive when constantly running at 100% but unfortunately there are many in this industry who don’t see things the same way…

Right. I’m signing off now for what I hope is going to be a relaxing weekend… back soon!

Weeknote 10: “A week off” (Week 7, 2018)

I only worked one day this week. Or, more accurately, I only went to work at risual one day this week. There was plenty of work in the week though – and a similar amount of travel to a normal working week too!

Monday was a good day. We had our biannual summit at risual and, like the last one, we ran it as a mini-conference (risual:NXT) with a keynote followed by 22 sessions over 4 tracks – and I was responsible for the technology track again.

I also brought my 13 year-old son to work with me. He had a great day and it was fantastic to see my colleagues make him so welcome as he helped our ops team to run the day. And the highlight for him? Holding up the cards to tell me when I had 10, 5, 2 minutes left in my presentation and then time’s up. I went 1 minute over (into my Q&A time) and he was sure to tell his Mum and his little brother when he got home! (Believe me, there are people who are far worse at sticking to their allotted presentation time than me!)

As it was half term where I live, I took the rest of the week off but it was still pretty busy. With a loft conversion planned in the coming months, there’s a lot of “sorting out” to be done in my house and the pile of recycling sacks that I’ll be leaving for the bin-men next week is only the tip of the iceberg. In addition to sorting out my own place, I took a trip to South Wales to help empty my Gran’s flat as she moves into care. That’s when I ended up at a recycling centre where I saw this sign and I really did wonder if the Welsh language is just a joke played on the English (it’s not really!)…

Welsh scrap metal sign

One of the most enjoyable parts of the week was on Tuesday, when I took my eldest son to Derby Arena for a track cycling experience with Team MK. My only previous visit to a velodrome was at Lee Valley, where I was in the spectator seating above the track. At Derby the track is on a mezzanine level above a sports hall so you can stand underneath and really get a feel for how steep the banking is (42 degrees, I believe). Nevertheless, my son went from “never-ridden-a-track-bike” to “fearlessly-hammering-it-around-the-top-of-the-track” in less than 2 hours and I think this could be the first of many trips to a velodrome…

I want to have a go now!

Next week, I’m back to work and should finally be getting into the swing of things with my Modern Workplace project, plus an evening BCS meeting and an “AI envisioning session” with Microsoft. Watch this space!

Weeknote 9: SharePoint as a CMS, with a little Power BI to help visualise dynamic data (Week 6, 2018)

2018 is flying by but the last couple of weeks have been exciting. After a period of working on short-term engagements (which can be a challenge at times), I’ve landed myself a gig on a decent sized Modern Workplace project that’s going to keep me (and a lot of other people) busy for the next few months. Unfortunately, I can only devote 50% of my time to it for a couple of weeks as I need to clear a few other things out of the way but that will all change soon.

One of those “things” is a project I’ve been working on to provide supplementary information to operators in a part of the critical national infrastructure (I wish I could be less cryptic but I can’t just yet – I hope that maybe one day we can create a case study…). It’s replacing a bespoke system with one built using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products, with a little customisation – and it’s been my first “software” project (cf. infrastructure-led engagements).

Basically, we’re using SharePoint as a content management system, receiving both static and dynamic data (the latter via a service bus) that needs to be displayed to operators.

All of the data is stored in SharePoint lists and libraries and then presented to a browser running in kiosk mode. The page layouts then use web parts to either display data natively, or we use Power BI Report Server (this solution runs on-premises) to create visualisations that we embed inside SharePoint.

And, because the service bus isn’t available yet, we had to demo the dynamic data arriving using another tool… in this case, SoapUI populating SharePoint using its REST/OData API.

It’s been an interesting project, not just because I’ve had to step back and focus on just the architecture (leaving others to work on the detail) but because it’s been software-led. I must admit I was nervous hearing status reports from the team about the page layouts they had created, or the webparts they were scripting, and I was thinking “but didn’t you do that last week?” but, once I saw it come together into something tangible, I was really impressed.

Yesterday was our first opportunity to demonstrate the system to our stakeholders and the initial feedback is positive, so that’s a really big tick in the box. Now we need to document the solution and get it production-ready, before progressing from what’s currently just a framework to something of real value.

Next week will be very different: I’m taking most of half term off work but Monday is the bi-annual risual summit, and I’m responsible for the Technology Track again.

Before then, it’s a weekend of kids football and cycling, plus Six Nations and Winter Olympics on TV. So I’m signing off now to (hopefully) watch Wales beat England at Twickenham!