Where are the snows of yesterday?
17 January 2020 by David Bott
The week started oddly, in that Cyrus had issued such dire warnings about weather and our safety that I (along with others I think) had decided to call into the “start the week” meeting rather than risk driving down for the early start. What I discovered is that our spider telephones are not very good at enabling off site members of a teleconference to actually hear what is being said by those who are not sitting right next to the phone and speaking loudly. A bit later I had another teleconference about the funding decisions we needed to make about the Industrial Biotechnology Grand Challenge Phase 1. Having done that, I left home and headed down to London, missing out my planned trip to Swindon. A few hours at Tracy Island, including odd conversations with our BIS colleagues about this year’s budgets, were followed by a “catch-up” with Fearless Leader and then an unexpected invitation to join the Governing Board Audit Committee for dinner.
The next day, it was down to Tracy Island first and then off to the RSA for the Board Meeting. There is much going on at the moment and we spent the full time discussing the CEO’s Report. FL talked about the wider goings-on in Government, our early steps to organise and imbed our sustainable leanings, the confusion over the future of our involvement with Space and so on. This was followed by a team act on Metrics (starting with FL, then arch detail merchant Andrew Milligan and then David Evans). After a shaky start caused by confusion about what Andrew was supposed to be doing, David gave a bravura performance focusing on what we did understand and managing to distract the Board from the holes in our current analysis. Bizarrely, we went from a mild intellectual rogering at the last meeting to a feeding frenzy of epic proportion to publicise our work as world class and have it published on laminated cards for the world to see. Luckily sense prevailed and we agreed that we had more work to do, both at the high level and in exploring the application of the process to specific areas that had not come out as well from the current analysis. As Fergus later observed, the tactic of having a Working Group on the subject meant that most of the likely awkward squad were supposed to have some ownership of what was said, so they couldn't really disagree. Later they all expressed the need to work harder on the next phase of the work. Having dodged one bullet, we then walked into another. In attempting to set the scene for some harder decisions about focus for next year, Cyrus slightly over-cooked the scare mongering and caused mild panic about this year’s potential out-turn and comparison to STFC (the research council, not the football team). This led to roughly the same discussion we had with the Board a year ago about why we don't really know what our spend will be right up until the last moment. Then came the exit of the Chairman and the arrival of the KTN Chairs. The other Davids had orchestrated a nice demonstration of why they are individually worth having on the team, the potential if we can self-assemble them into a group, the value of having them interact with the Governing Board and the superiority of the newer ones compared to the more established ones.
Wednesday was another London day. And I awoke to find a moderate amount of snow around London but stories of disruption elsewhere. The first meeting missed a key person, but we muddled on. Next up was a meeting of the Steering Group of the Assisted Living Innovation Platform. It wasn’t pretty. The chairman didn't seem to have read the papers or the brief he should have had, some of the group members seemed more interested in pushing their own agendas and our team didn't seem to be listening that well. It is not currently serving our needs and I know Heidi is on the case. Depressing nonetheless!! However, I had to leave early for the BIS Manufacturing Strategy Implementation Board. I must remember that whenever one of our meetings goes wrong, it has a long, long way to get to this level of non-performance. I haven't seen a more cynical, “jobsworth” approach to critical issues before and I was shocked. Our bits look to be shining examples of good practice, but when they got onto discussing Talent Map, it was a case of everyone trying to distance themselves from the project whilst not wanting to point out that it was going wrong and therefore wasting money and effort. I left the room feeling very disappointed. Luckily. My next meeting was with an SME – specifically with Sharpcloud. Richard Miller and I met with them a few weeks ago, and we have had the NAIGT Roadmap and our own Metrics and Measures work put into their cloud based visualisation system. They are still in beta phase, but I can see how this might be a good tool for communication between the internal teams and the KTN communities once it is finished. The train home was delayed by about 40% of its timetable timing and I had to brush about 4 inches of snow off the car at the railway station, and then avoid the cars people had “parked” off the road due to the slippery nature of the surface. Once again, the Quattro technology allowed vorsprung (wrong tenses, but get the play on words!)
Thursday was a Swindon day and, despite dire prognostications about the weather, the drive down was uneventful. The whole day was filled with the Executioners Meeting, and the error prone clock meant that we mismanaged most of the timings and ran horribly over. Scorecards were discussed (I put this in because I suspect many wonder what happens to all their hard work), Project Holly was worried over, people were discussed, and SBRI got an outing. Cyrus led us through the current years budgets and explained why we had to worry about an overspend – in a discussion reminiscent of the same time last year! Our tame lawyer explained that he kept being asked similar questions and suggested (in a spirit that we should be a learning organisation and not because it meant more billable hours) that we ought to provide basic legal training to everyone in a consistent manner. Not really sure what happened after we stopped but it seemed to fill almost 3 hours before I got the excitement of an evening in the Swindon Marriott!
The hotel managed to lose its hot water in the morning and, since I had an early meeting, I grimaced through a cold wash and oozed my way into work. Friday started with a discussion of a large project submitted by Rolls-Royce in the Fuel Cells area. We all agreed quickly what the decision was, and then spent an hour exploring what could go wrong with its implementation!! Next came the Retrofit for the Future Funders Panel. This was the best we have had since we made it mandatory that Cyrus and I took part. Neil had written a report on the competition which summarised the issues and progress (he will, of course get lynched by the other Technologists when they discover we are going to implement it because he did it first!) and Max explained the funding aspects clearly. The mystery accountant also added a financial aspect we he reported that some of the companies were on the “risk” list because of standard financial reports. Given that this is the construction industry recovering from a recession, and that the projects are only a few months in length we agreed that we would seek clarification of their status and monitor progress halfway through the project but wouldn't be draconian in our implementation of our financial rules this time.
Fun over, we went back into a Board debrief and a continuation of the Executioners Meetings which lasted another 3 hours. Most importantly, we all bought into Coatesy’s clear statement of our goals for knowledge sharing – which will cause us to rethink and extend aspects of how we use KTNs. This opportunity comes because we have gone through the pain of the KTN transition.
The final meeting of the day was organised by Alex Stanhope – I think on the back of several separate conversations he has had with those who were supposed to be in Swindon. The weather, and last minute additions meant that it was a teleconference, so Alex and I huddled close to the offending speakerphone and spent a stimulating 2 hours talking to people from the BCS, Google, Seedcamp and Entrepreneur County. The focus was on helping start-ups in ICT space, but since one of the early points was that it was not clear who was doing what, the clear intent to work together from the organisations around the virtual table can only be a good move.
A final go around what we would say about sustainable agriculture, the Levy Boards and horticulture was the only thing on the agenda before I got to go home!!