A blip in time

This week marked my first trip, on a train, into central London in what will be nearly 20 months. Old habits are clearly hard to break, and of course, I ended up in Pret-A-Manger munching on a toasted sandwich with a coffee, watching the world go by… it was good to be back… like old times…

Or was it? In some other ways, the experience was unsettling.

  • The first train was quiet – I got a seat!
  • The tube seemed busy – although I was able to get on the first train, so in fact by comparison to ‘normal’ – in fact very quiet!
  • And, at 8am there was hardly any traffic on the street – surreal, just like a movie set.

Less people, less hassle, less stress – it all seemed more civilized – but it also did just not feel right, something felt off.

In going back and starting a routine, one I was so familiar with before the lockdown, I think it was because I kept stumbling on small, subtle differences, that said… “everything may appear normal, just as before… but something has happened, underneath things have changed”.

Now before I could go full sci-fi, I was told that Monday and Fridays, have become ‘working at home’ days now, so these can be quiet – it was enough to reassure me that I was not in fact returning from a 2 year ‘blip’, everything was normal, and I could leave the action man (eagle eyes) costume at home for now – phew… (let’s face it, it would not fit anyway after lockdown anyway).

But it did really reinforce just how big an event the pandemic has been for society and one we are only still right at the start of working through any recovery.

After the Black Swan

It is said that history doesn’t move slowly and smoothly, but jumps with a few vibrations in between [Black Swan]. This certainly felt to be the case recently and dystopically… two related stories also seemed to dominate my discussions, this week too.

  • The economy and inflation. Concerns over inflation have been brushed off as transitory over much of the summer. Nothing to worry about, will all be back to normal parameters soon many said. However the mood over the last couple of weeks seems to be changing, with supply chain issues, staffing shortages, prices are going up and it is not back on the agenda. Macro economics need to be watched very carefully at the moment it seems.
  • The energy market. With another 3 suppliers ceasing trading last week alone, the outlook is not looking good. Over the week Russia has also decided to not increase supply and there is stress in the gas hedging market too. Even large suppliers are now under pressure from the price cap, and the prediction is for another 20 suppliers to cease trading next month. This story has more to run and one to follow.

With all this cheery outlook, I am going back under the duvet, avoiding the news (and sci-fi films) this weekend. It will seem better next week and the coffee with pain-au-raisin will help too.

Have a good weekend everyone.

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Running out of time, or time to think differently?

Time is becoming a problem again, it seems. Not really time itself, more the lack of it.

And, it was not just me noticing this, this week other people were reporting the same observation too. Things are getting busy.

It is all too familiar. You have a list of things that you need to do and all progresses well at the start of the week. But, by Friday (and earlier sometimes), you suddenly realize that not everything is going to be done, you are running out of runway on the week and some of the list is going to have to get carried forward to the following week. It is frustrating.

The same dynamics seem to happen just before a vacation too. The mad rush to get everything done, to have a week off, followed by a mad rush to get caught up again when you get back…. it can be all very stressful, sometimes feeling you need a holiday just to recover from taking a holiday.

All cake no filling

Of course in the world of business, it is money, rather than holiday, that is a key driver. Getting stuff done helps generate revenue and controlling spend reduces cost, all to maximize profit. The bigger the difference the better goes the thinking.

This approach is dominant in everyday decisions and no where more so than in areas for investment. “Can I get a good price?”; “Is there a cheaper supplier I can use?”; “Can we shave features off to save money”… all without noticing any impact on quality of course!

Vendors, often do their best and try to react, often offering lowering prices to get the work. It can cut into margins, forcing them to then drive economies themselves; reducing work detail, time dedicated to a project or spending less on finishing touches. It can sometimes be a false economy.

We all seem to know of projects/implementations that have gone live without reporting, controls, or features, that with hindsight would have added value… we often get just enough, no more. Sometimes it feels all we get to eat is the cake, without the icing (or the filling for that matter).

Time is money or is money, time?

But is money for investment really the limiting factor here? Money can after all be printed, borrowed or diverted from other projects to deliver the funds you need. Money however is a common currency, one we can use to trade time and resources and get stuff done.

Time is a different matter. More time cannot be created. We can borrow time, by getting others to help, but their time is limited too. It is fixed, there are only so many hours in the day, days in the year, and years in a lifetime.

Thinking about projects differently

So may be we have everything back to front. Time, rather than money, is the fundamental resource, limiting factor and universal currency instead. Time is what we really have to manage closely to get stuff done.

So bringing all this back to the problem of the week, the mad Friday dash to get things done…

Could it be we need to think differently about our week, not thinking just in terms of financial efficiency, but focusing on time instead. Using the same rigor and zeal we have for financial control, but this time on time. (Is time accounting a thing? maybe it could be!)

As a fundamental driver of value, getting the timing right will mean more projects on deadline, faster delivery, better features and likely more money too… not to mention getting everything done by Friday! One to think about this week.

Other stories this week

Have a good week everyone

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Bacon sandwich or lemsip

I was feeling a little under the weather much of this week. Normally this would not be a concern, I would just soldier on, keep going.

In the current environment, with COVID cases rising again locally, everything seemed different. So despite not showing classic COVID systems, I pretty much spent the week stuck indoors my days filled with taking lateral flow tests and feeling sorry for myself.

Despite being isolated at home however, in some ways it was even easier to carry on working. If I was in the office, my colleagues would, quite rightly, tell me to get out, go home and stop infecting everyone else. There are no such concerns working remotely, there is no spreading on Zoom or Teams meetings and when you are sitting at home… bored… the computer beckons… then just one email, just one spreadsheet and you are hooked in for the day.

So what started out as good intentions to have a lemsip and get some rest, somehow seemed to evaporate by about 10am… and the day was done. Need to be stronger next time!

But, this time off, or slow down at least, did give me a bit of a chance to catch up with a few folks on affordability and some of the current trends. A few factors do seem to all be colliding at the same time.

  • End fo furlough. This finished at the end of September. Impacts appear to be slightly lower than some of the expectations at the start of the pandemic. It will however take sometime to flow through to businesses and cash flows and could impact employment, especially in some sectors
  • Universal credit cut. The £20 boost for universal credit, made during the start of the pandemic, has now been removed. It is a 25% drop in income support for some. Against a background of increasing prices this has the potential to further squeeze affordability for those impacted.
  • Increasing fuel costs. The price of natural gas has more than doubled since the spring, and reportedly an expected increase in oil prices on the way too. This will increase expenses for many consumers, especially heading into winter and put pressure on costs for businesses, which will also be passed onto the consumer. (I was reminded that with the price cap mechanism in GB, the price increases will be lagged, albeit this does not help the energy supply businesses, bit impacts there – could be only 10-20 left is the thinking if this continues).
  • End of pandemic restrictions. Pandemic restrictions seem to have been pretty much ended here now and certainly looking at the traffic (jams) on the road, people are getting back to the old ways of doing things. This may be good news for many, no-one misses home haircuts I am sure, but during lockdown, with remote working, a lot of people saved money. Getting back to the office now means extra expense on commuting, coffees, sandwiches at lunch. And, if oil prices do increase, commuting is about to get a lot more expensive too.
  • Supply chain issues. Supply chain issues in the UK have been widely reported. Whilst this is also a global phenomenon, a combination of factors apparently means the UK is more affected than most. Shortages now will likely translate to price increases in the future… inflation is now expected to increase. All this continues to put pressure on the consumer and costs (especially if you do not have a job, or your wages (or pension) do not keep pace with inflation), reducing affordability

The impacts of all these will not, of course, be seen suddenly and indeed will be different in different segments of the population. However, the factors are there, and there is a risk they can combine to stretch affordability for an increasing segment of the population, resulting in increased arrears and for those already there, more financial difficulty. It does not all seem very cheery, I agree

What is more optimistic, however, is just how much customer-focused infrastructure has been put into businesses the last few years to help with these situations. Yes, I know there is probably more on the way with the FCA focus on outcomes with customer duty, but we have come a long way already. The tools are there, we just need to make sure we use them and build on the progress to date.

So back to work then… now where is that Bacon sandwich.

Have a good weekend everyone.

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