Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Taking a breather

I've had it officially from Rochdale Council that I've had it, officially, from Rochdale Council. This is all my own doing and if it all goes pear-shaped I'll have nobody to blame but myself. The opportunity came along to call it a day with honours equal on both sides so I took it. Spending three or four hours a day commuting has been wearing me down, no matter how much I try to turn the unreliabilities of the services involved into pantomime demons to be dismissed with scorn. The workplace, while visually-stunning (and award–winning), is difficult to work in. Most of all, though, the problem is the work: you can only keep so many plates spinning before dropping something and it's a rare day when I feel like I'd actually done a good enough job of a piece of work. So I decided that it was time to stop, get off, get a fresh perspective and make a fresh start. Technically I'll be taking early retirement but in truth I can't really see this as retirement. I intend doing something else once I've had a few weeks' break but at the moment I know not what. I was never any good at that "What do you want to be when you grow up?" question.

The shame of it is that I'm in a really good team of people, we've learned to work effectively and collaboratively and there's some really interesting developments we're involved in that I think will improve both the way that we could work and the service we deliver to our customers. For instance, we've implemented Release Management, which means that if there's a standard way of packaging and rolling out a new piece of software or upgrading a system then we'll have created a set of instructions leading somebody by the nose to follow that standard procedure, with minimal risk of forgetting any step along the way. Which makes the process easier and more reliable to deliver, even if it's hard work to set up. Mapping out the essential steps involved in packaging and rolling out an upgrade to new client software for a library management system, for instance, was a bit of a revelation: I hadn't realised we did so much work in the process and it gave me fresh respect for my colleagues who roll out a constant stream of updates to the revenues & benefits system required by the almost-monthly moving of goalposts by the Department of Work & Pensions. There's also a shedload of new developments both technological (for instance, working with our LMS supplier on automating the loading of e-book MARC records or building bespoke reporting and dashboard tools for the Library Service based on skills picked up while doing a schedule of work for a transport management depot) and operational (such as supporting the development of a library lending consortium or re-engineering the business processes of a stores depot). Which really are all very exciting and interesting. But there's also all the work that there has been all along that was keeping us quite busy enough thank you before the new stuff came trotting along. One day last November when I was feeling tired and, frankly, a bit low I realised that four years previously there would have been six people doing the work that was sitting in my tray. And they hadn't been sitting on their hands daydreaming. My case is by no means unique: you see it all over the shop and in all walks of life but it still came as a jolt. So I decided to do something about it, which I have. I'll admit to feeling guilty about scuttling off and leaving the rest of the team to pick up the pieces but they've been very nice about it (they promise me that it isn't a collective sigh of relief) and my going helps to free up some resource for addressing some more technical skills gaps we've been trying to cover for a while.

It's a strange and scary time. I'd forgotten that peculiar feeling coming towards the end of a contract where even though you're taking the money and doing the job there's a point beyond which you can't commit time and resources and where plans become manuals for instruction rather than calendars of activity. Although I already had scores of files of notes documenting processes and the key bits of operational knowledge necessary to respond to service requests and incidents I'd massively underestimated how much documentation's required for someone to pick up the work after me if they don't already have a library background (I was all too aware of the steep learning curves with the other lines of business I support). Since Christmas I've been testing the documentation by following my own instructions, refining as I go along, and adding new material as and when I find myself doing undocumented work. Where possible, I've tested important set pieces with people who've no idea what I'm doing or how it's done, which is why I did two dummy runs for the last financial year end and had an audience for the real thing. Which of course has added to the work load but I'm hoping it's worth it in the end. I want to be able to not leave some poor devil all at sea with the systems I leave behind the way that I have in the past. I'll be told if I have!

I'll still be interested in libraries and the way that they work. I may even end up doing some work for libraries, who knows. When a colleague from elsewhere heard I was jumping ship he exclaimed: "Oh God! Now you'll have time to come and have a look round our libraries and complain about the stuff we're not doing!" I truly hope I don't do that! I want to have the space and time and energy to be able to see the positives that people manage to deliver.

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