Design Sprint course intro

I attended the intro course with Jonathan Courtney, Co-Founder of AJ&Smart and Product Strategist, and Jake Knapp is the creator of the Design Sprint.

I want to learn more about the Design Sprint process and use it in product work. And I’m intrigued by the idea of a one hour Design Sprint.

What are Design Sprints?

Structured step-by-step system for solving big problems as a team in one week, one day, one hour.

Who are Design Sprints for?

Anyone involved in design thinking, strategy and business.

What problem does Design Sprints solve?

Gives projects a structure to kickoff.

Helps make big decisions.

Provides a repeatable recipe for being able to guide a team through the experience and guide them to do more valuable work.

Brings together a team of people around collaborative process that builds a momentum.

Weeknotes #245

This week I did:

Coordinating information, spotting patterns

This week has been about working through ways and means of coordinating information from different sources to create a single cohesive picture. A big part of that is around bolstering our digital safeguarding response in the short term and figuring how the picture changes into the future to affect a longer term response.

I’ve also put a lot of time into scoping the next version of the product we’re developing, understanding what problems we should be solving and being specific about which problems we aren’t tackling. I’ve approached it in more structured way than how we scoped the current version, partly because I’ve had more time but also because we’ve learned a lot about our capabilities over the last few months so I have a better idea about where to focus my attention.

Why we need a better understanding of problems

I wrote about how sometimes we have a tendency to jump to solutions, and often technology solutions, without truly understanding the problem we need to solve. I wrote it as a talk for a charity meetup that didn’t happen but as its something I believe strongly about I thought I’d add it to my blog so I don’t lose it.

Standapp

I’ve started using Stand-up template in the journal app that Ross has been building. I’ve made various attempts at daily personal stand-up/journaling but it feels different when its a dedicated app. The challenge, regardless of how they are written, is in getting value back out of what was written. I haven’t quite figured that out yet but it’s something I’m thinking about.

1000 digital tools

The Ultimate Digital Tools List reached a thousand entries. I’m still unsure what to do with it, other than my creator tech/business models idea, but I’ll continue to add to it in case it becomes useful one day.

#ThingsIveReadRecently

I posted my fourth Twitter thread of things I’ve read recently. Although each one takes a couple of hours but I find it quite useful to look back over the things I’ve read to remind myself why I was interested in it and I hope they are useful for others too.


This week I thought about:

Bricolage

‘Meaning, ‘constructed or created from a diverse range of available things’, bricolage might be the term that describes an idea I have about mixing methods and techniques together. As a ‘digital bricoleur’ we could bring together daily stand-ups from Scrum, storyboarding from Design Sprints, service safari from Service Design, etc., and so construct working practices made up of elements from a diverse range of frameworks and methodologies, each solving identified problems (which is the hard bit).

Why are strategy and tactics seen as opposites?

Sometimes when I hear people talk about strategy and tactics I sense an implication that strategy, and strategic thinking are seen as impressive important things whereas tactics are dismissed as unimportant and not worthy of consideration. I think the real skill of strategic thinking isn’t just in the big ideas and ambitious aims but in how all things are connected. Good strategic thinking is realistic and integrates the details that will make the strategy happen. I feel like there’s a version of S.M.A.R.T. thinking for creating strategy rather than setting objectives.


This week I read:

A body of knowledge

I’ve become a little enthralled with the Digital Practitioner’s Body of Knowledge, not just it’s really well written (it isn’t) but because of the challenge of what it takes to create such a thing. Where would you start with creating ‘a body of knowledge’? How would you decide what to include and what not to? How would you keep it up to date?

Paradox and conflict

Chaordic organisations are “self-organizing, adaptive, nonlinear complex system, whether physical, biological, or social, the behavior of which exhibits characteristics of both order and chaos or loosely translated to business terminology, cooperation and competition.” So many interesting ideas to get into.

The theory of multiple intelligence’s

The theory of multiple intelligence’s challenges the idea that intelligence can be measure linearly (low to high) by a single metric of logical thinking, and we should approaching understanding our intelligence(s) as mixes of visual, social, spatial, etc., intelligence’s. It seems obvious when you think about, but where I think it becomes interesting is in the ways the digital working methods and techniques can be adopted that make greater use of this mix of ways of thinking an learning.

Understanding problems and why technology almost never solves them

Why we need a better understanding of problems

Einstein probably said “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” In fact I’m sure it’s true because I read it on the internet. He was a pretty smart guy. he knew what he was talking about. And that’s what I hope I can encourage you all to do today; to spend more time thinking about problems.

What happens when you try to fix air pollution in Mexico city?

In the late eighties, when I was just a lad, Mexico city was suffering from extreme air pollution. To the government of Mexico City the solution seemed obvious. “We just need to reduce the number of cars on our roads”, they thought. “Surely that’ll reduce pollution, right?” So they created a law that prevented 20% of cars from being driven on any particular day. If your number plate ended in a 6 you couldn’t drive on Tuesday, and if it ended in a 3 you couldn’t drive on Fridays, and so on. But of course, people still needed to get to work and school and do their shopping, so whilst some did what the government expected and used public transport or car shared, others found ways around the new law. They bought second cars, which had different number plates but which were often older and produced more pollution, or they took taxis more often, or drove more on days they were allowed. And so the air pollution increased. What seemed like a simple problem with an obvious solution was actually a complicated problem that the city government didn’t understand well enough before they implemented their solution. Had they taken the time to understand the problem better, to find out about people’s motivations and behaviours, they probably wouldn’t have attempted such a solution.

So, what makes something like air pollution such a difficult problem to solve? It’s because it’s what’s called a ‘wicked problem’.

Why some problems can’t be solved, and why charities choose wicked problems

Coined in 1973 by Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber, wicked problems describes problems that are particularly complex and difficult to solve. Whereas ‘tame’ problems have knowable, predictable solutions, wicked problems, like air pollution, homelessness, climate change, and a million others, are impossible to pinpoint a single solution for. Wicked problems don’t always have the same contributing causes, so what causes the spread of an invasive plant in one environment is different from another. Wicked problems often never have a finished end state where you can be certain the problem isn’t going to return. And anything we do to tackle a wicked problem will always have unintended consequences.

Why does what two German urban planners from the seventies have to say matter to us? Because charities invariably choose wicked problems to tackle. No charity ever picks something easy. Charities love problems, they love tackling difficult problems, and helping people facing those problems. Perhaps part of the reason we all choose to work for charities, and what we love about them, is that they aren’t afraid to tackle the tough problems. I wish I could tell you how to solve those wickedly tough problems, in fact I wish I could tell you that there even is a solution, but hopefully instead I can help you think about ways to understand these wicked problems better.

So, let’s get practical.

Why leaping to solutions doesn’t help, and why technology is almost never the solution

The five biggest problems in the UK today, according to YouGov research, are health, economy, Brexit, the environment and education. These are the wicked problems of an entire society. Obviously these problems are of their day. If we were doing this talk five years ago, that list would look quite different. That tells us that problems, and how big a problem is, changes over time.

Leaving aside Brexit and the economy, because no one knows what to do about them, let’s look at three of those issues in the little county of Buckinghamshire. Despite being the 33rd smallest out of 40 counties, Buckinghamshire has over two and half thousand charities operating in it. 388 are focused on health, 272 on the environment and 1400 on education. Does that tell us that education is bigger problem than health? Well, no, because we’re already mixing up problems with solutions. Those educational charities might be educating people about health or the environment or any other issue. In their case ‘education’ is the solution and ‘health’ is the problem, but for other charities, ‘education is the problem’. Being able to keep problems separate from solutions is an important thing.

Of those 388 health charities, let’s look at just one as an example. This small charity supports people to look after their mental health by providing them with therapeutic activities in group settings. What problems does this charity face? Well, right now, in the midst of a pandemic, as with lots of charities they are facing the total disruption of their services. Instead of us trying to understand the problems that creates for the charity let’s consider what might happen if we leap straight to solutions?

The charity wants to stay in touch with the people they support. Like many others they turn to Zoom for video meetings, they send more emails, they start a Facebook Group. They do everything they can think of because they just want to help. Like we said earlier, that’s how charities are. But how do they know those things will help? If they didn’t ask those people they are trying to help, if they don’t understand what new problems those people face during a pandemic, how can they know they are actually helping? How do they know that being on Zoom calls doesn’t make people feel self-conscious and anxious. How do they know that people have a good WiFi connection or enough mobile data for video calls? How do they know that people check their email? How do they know that someone doesn’t avoid Facebook because they’ve been harassed on there?

Of course, in a crisis, sometimes any solution is better than no solution. But if they had been able to understand the problems, they might have still used the same technology but they might have been able to use it in ways that better meet the people’s needs. Actually, I’m not referring to a real charity here, it’s hypothetical situation, but it’s one I’ve seen play out time and again in charities of all shapes and sizes. Using technology to implement a solution before understanding the problem.

What happens when we leap to technology being the solution

First, in defense of tech, where is it the solution? Technology is part of the solution when the problem is well understood, even if the charity doesn’t understand it but others do. In 2010 Ethan Marcotte wrote an article called ‘Responsive website design’. In it he talked about the need for websites to be built in ways that meant they adapt to the screen size of the device viewing the website. I bet back then, very few people in charities understood the trend towards mobile devices, but it didn’t matter because the need for people to be able to use a website on a smart phone was well understood by others in the web design and development industry. So, if a charity wanted a website built any time after 2010-ish, it was built to be usable on any device size. That was the default solution regardless of whether people in the charity understood that trend.

Let’s look at some example of where tech isn’t the solution…

Will a CRM improve relationships with donors?

No. A Customer Relationship Management tool can’t improve the relationship a charity has with it’s donors. It can be part of the solution, but unless you understand what donors want from the charity it isn’t going to improve that relationship.

What problem does the CRM solve for the donors? Do they want the charity to communicate more with them? What do they want to hear about? How regularly do they want to hear from the charity? Answering these kinds of questions will help understand what the donor’s problems look like rather than what the charity’s solution looks like.

If ‘improve relationships with donors’ actually means ‘increase donations’, then being clear about that will help the charity understand what problem the CRM is actually trying to solve. And tackling the problem of ‘increasing donations’ rather than implementing the solution of a CRM offers more scope to understand the barriers that are preventing donations, which might uncover a problem in the website donation process or some other cause of the problem.

Will an app increase engagement with service users?

No. Some charities have tried developing apps but if people aren’t already engaging with a charity already they aren’t going to download an app with which to do it. If the app lets people access a service with the charity is the app going to be an enabler or a barrier? The only way to know would be to speak to those people you expect to use it. A charity should only think about developing an app if it needs to use a sensor or technology that only phones have like GPS or Bluetooth. In the majority of cases a good website will work better and be easier to maintain.

Oxfam announced recently that they are shutting down their app because having talked to their supporters they found they would rather Oxfam communicate with them in other ways. The app was originally developed to give supporters more control over their donation amounts in response to falling income. It’s good to see them approach making the decision to shut it down by speaking to their supporters about whether it is still meeting their needs.

Should a charity be on Clubhouse?

No. Unless you know what you are trying to achieve with it. Who are you hoping to reach? Are the people you want to reach using Clubhouse? Do they all have iPhones or will you exclude some people? If a charity wants to create an account on every new social media to make sure they’ve claimed their name, then great, but before actually using it they should be clear what problems they are using it to solve for their service users and supporters.

Where technology isn’t the solution is any situation where the problem isn’t well understood, which is almost always situations where those experiencing the problem haven’t been involved. So let’s have a look at how to involve people in understanding the problems they face…

How to be better problem understanders

There are lots of problem solving frameworks and methodologies that charities can use to get a better understanding of the problems their service users have: Design Thinking, Double Diamond, Charity Digital Design Principles, Public Digital’s Internet-era ways of working, and the Digital Scotland Service Standard. They are all really useful for approaching complicated and wicked problems and they all have something in common.

Start with users

This is the number one golden rule of understanding problems. Start with the people who have those problems. Speak to those who are using the charities services. They are the experts in dealing with that problem. No one knows more about the problem than they do. They probably don’t know what the best solution is, but they can certainly help understand the problem. Lived experience is a kind of expertise and we should let those people be the experts of the problems they face.

So why is it so difficult? Well, as we said earlier, because the problems are so complex. If charities were Amazon all they’d have to do to meet user needs is make it really easy to click that buy button. But charities have to deal with a person’s problems on many levels; behavourial, emotional, social, financial, etc., etc. It’s not an easy thing to understand problems like these but every step a charity takes towards starting to understand the problems is a good thing.

How do we do it?

User research can be done in many ways: interviews, surveys, focus groups, even just chatting with people in an open way about the problems they face. There are some ethics to consider around it, so it does need thoughtful planning in order to be effective, but conducting user research really is the best way to understand problems. This can be supplemented with information about the situations those people are in. This could be anything from bus timetables if people are struggling to go somewhere to statistics about how many people suffer from a health condition. It all helps in understanding the problems.

Once some understanding of the problems has been reached, there should be a standardised way of expressing the problem so that all that knowledge doesn’t get lost. Again there are lots of ways of doing this but broadly we call them problem statements.

How do we express problems clearly?

Problem statements are a summary of our understanding of a problem. They can express big problems or small, and there are lots of ways to write problem statements. But what is important is that they tell us who is facing the problem, what they need to help them with it, and why this problem should be solved. User… needs… because… is probably the simplest format for a problem statement.

User… needs… because…

So, problem statements might say:

  • Primary school-aged children need to be able to express their feelings about being home-schooled because they have experienced considerable upheaval in their routines, social lives and education.
  • The parents of a child with autism need to be able to talk to other parents because they feel isolated and excluded from mainstream activities.
  • Those who come to our lunchtime club need to know what time lunch will be served because they feel anxious about eating in front of others and need to prepare themselves.

Now, behind each of these statements there could be lots of research documentation that explains the detail of the problem, but the thing about problem statements is that they don’t suggest a solution. Once we have good problem statements then, we are in a position to start thinking about prioritising them and developing solutions. And we can be confident that the solutions we develop are going to be tackling the right problems.

Takeaway

If you take one thing away, let it be this… “Speak to those with lived experience, they know the problem best”

References

Weeknotes #244

What I did this week

Roadmaps are hard

I’ve spent quite a lot of time shaping our roadmap for the projects we have coming up this year. Lots of things are still up in the air and working to different time scales so it’s an interesting challenge to get to different degrees of certainty about the goals and work required to achieve them.

Asynchronous working

I took part in the SCVO DigitShift talk about how to share ideas when you don’t share a space. It was my first time doing a talk, and although I really enjoyed it, it’s not something that comes easily to me. I think I’ll work on improving my writing (being as that’s a more async way to communicate) than my speaking.

WDTCCTR V 1.1

I updated the Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road website with the latest version of the story and we chatted through some feedback to improve it for the next version. We’re trying out a rapid prototyping and fast feedback with lots of iterations approach to writing the story, which is something I’ve been thinking about for a while.


What I thought about this week:

Personal API

One type of personal API is about collecting all the data we generate from all the services we use, aggregating it and making it usable and perhaps available for others to use. That’s interesting, and probably has huge commercial potential in the future, but I’m more interested in a conceptual API that allows others to access someone else’s knowledge, ideas, processes, etc. rather than forcing a technical solution.

Hacker News | SoLiD project | A personal API | The API of Me

Doing less

I’m trying to do less. To spend more time sleeping, going for walks without a purpose, and challenge my old ways of being really efficient and effective. Everything has a culture, nothing exists in isolation. There is the culture of productivity with it’s hacks and methods for getting more done. And there is the culture of non-productivity with it’s romantic notions of layabouts and beatniks. It’s impossible to do anything or be anything without cultural referencing.

In Defense of Doing Nothing


What I read this week:

Volunteering technology

This BBC article about volunteering technology (VolTech, if you want to be tech hip) presents a few examples of volunteering apps and services but doesn’t go into any depth of thought about the considerations around decentralising volunteering. The suggestion that charities should adopt should use these kinds of technologies displays the usual lack of understanding about the difference between volunteering as an individual and volunteering through an organisation, and where responsibility lies when an organisation acts as intermediary. Charities are modes of organising people just as social movements are, but they serve very different purposes and so to suggest that tech that matches people who want to volunteer with people or organisations that want volunteers could easily meet that need in any/all circumstances seems very simplified.

Agency and taking control of your situation

If 2021 already has a theme, then for me its the tension between the individual and the collective. Everywhere I look I see that tension playing out; from protests against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to articles about High Agency. It wouldn’t be true to say that agency is a personal trait and so someone either has it or doesn’t regardless of the situation they find themselves in, but its also not true to say systems and structures can’t be affected by individuals. Its all very complex and so much to think about.

Service design glossary

Made Manifests Service Design glossary explains all the words.

DigiScot Talk: Asynchronous working as part of a learning culture

Introduction

I work on the product team that focuses on young people -facing products. That includes the digital services we build ourselves and the off-the-shelf products like Zoom and Teams. Our team has about twenty people and we’ve never all been in the same meeting at the same time. We work asynchronously, which for us means being in-sync about the important things; the outcomes of the work, and not being tied to less important things like having to all work at the same time and in the same way.

We don’t have all the answers. We’re still learning how to make this work for everyone, but three of our priorities are how we learn and share knowledge more effectively, how we give people the freedom to work in ways that are best for them, and how we quickly respond to changes and new problems.

Learning, and integrating learning into the organisation Our team (in fact, I think, everyone who works for any modern knowledge work organisation) has two jobs; learn, and integrate that learning into the organisation. This should be the goal for all modern knowledge workers who are creating new knowledge. If that knowledge stays in the head of one person it can’t be utilised effectively by the organisation. So having effective ways of sharing information is an essential aspect of async working.

Meetings are not that. They aren’t effective ways of sharing information. They are left over from a time before the internet when organisations didn’t have any other means of telling people stuff. Meetings and calls have their place, but they serve a social purpose rather than an information sharing one. They can help people feel connected, help with team cohesion, etc., so I’m not saying we need to never have meetings, but we need to clear on what purpose they serve. Meetings aren’t even great for discussion because they favour quick thinkers and don’t allow for equal input from slower reflective thinkers. And in any discussion it’s usually the loudest most persuasive voice that wins.

Writing and drawing instead of always talking and listening are under-utilised asynchronous tools for thinking and communicating. More asynchronous working gives us more opportunities for everyone to contribute and learn. It gives us time to be considered and reflective, deliberate and thoughtful. It prioritises depth of thinking and writing over the speed of thinking and talking.

Communicating, and pulling information when it works for you

Async communication work best when everyone gets to contribute at a time that works for them along with all the other work they’re doing, has time to develop their thoughts on the subject, and learn from what others think. Compare this to joining a video call with no agenda or preparation, and being expected to think effectively and make good decisions. It’s no wonder that so many meetings end with an action to arrange another meeting.

We still have way too meetings, but most of our discussions take place in Word documents. The body of the document contains what we’re talking about, and the discussion takes place in comments, and once something is agreed it’s written into the document. When someone sends an email the information in it is limited to those the email was sent to. That’s what email is good for; passing a fixed piece of information that doesn’t really require any discussion to a fixed group of people. But if we want people to contribute, to build on the information and improve it, and to learn as they do it, then putting the same information in a shared document and working on it together gives us better quality decisions and longer-lasting information which is available to anyone and for as far into the future as needed, which is hardly ever the case with meetings, calls and emails.

The challenge with communication is to create ‘pull’ systems where the information is available when someone needs it, and not ‘push’ systems which send information to people when they’re working on something else and so causing distraction and information-overload. All those products which send a notification email every time an update is made, or show how many chat messages you haven’t viewed yet are bad for really effective asynchronous working because they push themselves to you and demand your attention now regardless or whether you’re in the flow with something else.

Even though we write lots of documents, I’m always keen to guard against assuming that they have all the information in them. So I’m big on encouraging questions. When someone asks a question they are coming from a particular context which affects the answer they need and means the right information might not be in the document. When I reply to question, even if the answer could have been a single sentence, I’ll often try to explain about the background, why the decision was made, what implications or unknowns we’re aware of, all because keeping that information in my head doesn’t help anyone else learn. I’m sure some people find that really annoying and just want the short answer but we all have to make sacrifices for the goal of learning.

Working together, in small lightweight temporary teams within teams

Asynchronous working allows for different ways for teams to organise themselves and their work. We want to be synchronised around outcomes; what we want to achieve and when, but we want to try to remove as many dependencies as we can so that we’re able to respond to change without any drastic impact on the project.The 20-person strong team I’m part of is a cross-functional team, which means it’s made up of people with different skill sets, and is focused the one big project we’re working on. But sometimes something new comes up. A new problem to solve, something we didn’t know about before. It might be considered part of the project we’re working on, or it might not. We don’t want to distract everyone on the team, so we get together a small lightweight temporary project teams made up of people from within the larger team and outside of it to focus on solving the new problem.

One of those times was when we wanted to make it easier for young people using Microsoft Teams to ask for help. So we set up one of these lightweight temporary teams made up of someone from our safeguarding team, a designer, a developer and me. We started a Word doc, all added to it to get to a good enough understanding of the problem to solve, what constraints we faced, and what solutions could look like. We settled on the solution being an app that would live in Teams and have its own button in the Teams menu so that if someone had any questions they could click that button and the app would open and provide them with ways of getting help. So, even though our colleague from the safeguarding team had never worked this way before the rest of us were familiar enough to help her contribute effectively and we were able to design a solution within about 48 hours of picking up the work, and alongside other work we were doing. If we weren’t working asynchronously it have taken us longer than that to find time when everyone was available to have meeting to talk about the work before even doing any work.

Amy Edmondson, professor at Harvard, calls this way of working ‘Teaming’. She describes it as “teamwork on the fly. It involves coordinating and collaborating without the benefit of stable team structures,” It’s a skill that enables groups of people who aren’t part of a formal team and don’t have a history of working together to work effectively together for a short period of time. I think the asynchronous mindset of not having to be doing the same thing at the same time as someone else helps with adopting this way of working because it has a low overhead for organising people. All it takes is a document and writing clearly what we’re thinking about to get started.

Asynchronous teaming also has an interesting side-effect. The people who work in those teams, they spread knowledge from one temporary team to another, which helps to increase learning for everyone. It creates a network of knowledge transfer. It uses Stanford professor Mark Granovetter’s idea about the strength of weak ties. Where we talk about how not being in offices means we miss out of those informal coffee-break chats, creating a these network where everyone talks to people that they wouldn’t have if they only worked within formalised team boundaries means people, maybe it can help.

Asynchronous working at its best leads to a learning culture where two things are true: One, people know stuff that is beneficial for them to know, that isn’t necessarily part of their formal job title, and they don’t know how they came to know it. And two, learning and knowledge sharing are regarded as an implicitly beneficial activity as much as the producing of outputs of work. We’re still working on achieving both of those, but if you’re interested in trying asynchronous working I’d say the three things to try out are:

  • Make writing and drawing the default ways to communicate before meetings (not as well as).
  • Focus on sharing knowledge and learning rather than coordinating people and work.
  • Pick a small problem and get a group of people who wouldn’t normally work together to solve it.

Resources

SVCO blog post: How to share ideas when you don’t share a space

Weeknotes #243

This week I did:

Roadmapping

I’ve been working on a developing a process for coordinating a product roadmap and delivery plan with the operations of the teams running the training courses for young people. I haven’t quite got the strategy figured out yet but as it shapes up the biggest challenge is going to continue to be how change and adapt quickly to deliver a good enough product just in time for the course delivery.

We discussed the difference between an operating model which explains how things usually work and a support model that explains how to respond when things go wrong, so now we just need to build out those models and make them work in practice.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

I started collaborating with an old friend on writing a children’s book to answer the question, Why did the chicken cross the road? I hand-coded the website in a couple of hours (it loads in 68ms and gets 99 performance grade) and want to use it to try out ideas around ways of writing a book iteratively. The plan is to not have a plan, but to explore and figure where the project goes at each step. At the moment it’s meant to be a read-along story with an adult reading to the child and the child pressing the buttons (which is why the website needs to fast, to avoid frustration), but it might evolve into a story for older children, or into a game, or something we haven’t even imagined yet.

Digital creativity exam

I did my Digital Creativity exam, which finishes the module and means I only have one module and my dissertation left. I really enjoy studying, even though it takes lots of time I get a lot out of the pressure it applies.

Prototyping

This week’s Service Design course was about prototyping. We talked about rapid prototyping of digital services which involves building only enough to test your idea, and then going right back to make an improved version once you’ve gotten the feedback you need. Quite timely, I think, as it’s pretty much the approach we’re taking with Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road.

Upgraded my office

I bought a wireless keyboard which means I can have my laptop monitor up at eye height rather than looking down and getting neck and back ache. If I was still writing about being a Digital Nomad I think I’d use this to talk about how people adapt their surroundings to fit their needs and what that means when your immediate environment is more limiting and changes regularly.


I read:

Human-Centered Design Considered Harmful

Donald Norma from NN Group writes about how Human-Centred Design can be harmful when it causes designers to create for a single idealised user and so excluded others. I’ve been thinking (a little) about how the approach of designing for the extreme user and so including everyone else might work in practice. And when I say design I don’t mean ‘what a web page looks like’ (although that is part of it also), I mean how we design systems and structures and organisations to work for everyone.

Computers and Creativity

This wonderful essay by Molly Mielke, a product designer at Notion, asks the question, “How can we push digital creative tools to their full potential as co-creators, thus harnessing the full power of creative thought and computational actualization to enable human innovation?” This idea is interesting to me as I’ve been studying digital media and how it affects creativity.

Welcome to the Experience Economy

The experience economy is where commercial activities move to beyond commodities, products and services. Pine says that the difference between service and experience is how the customer regards their time. When they are accessing a service they want it to be convenient so they spend as little on it as possible. But when they engage in experiences the customer wants to make the most of their time, and will pay more for it. I wonder if the same thinking could be applied to how charities approach how services are delivered?

Speed as a habit

I believe in speed. For the advantage it offers in almost all situations, and for the tendency towards taking action and getting fast feedback that it brings. In this article is Dave Girouard talks about how, “All else being equal, the fastest company in any market will win“. Speed of decision-making is the main topic the article covers, including some of those anxieties we tell ourselves exist as reasons not to make decisions, things like dependencies, perfect knowledge, and understanding impact, all things that apply if the default decision is to not make a different decision anyhow, we just choose to ignore it.

Abandoned

I’m fascinated by places like this old canal. Places that are from a previous time, abandoned by people and gradually taken over by nature. They remind me of how temporary we and all our works are, and that nature carries on regardless.

Weeknotes #242

What I did this week:

Rescope and replan

Another change. Such is the nature of offering a service that has many dependent and tight-coupled aspects. We re-scoped and re-planned to come up with a version of the product that still meets the user needs but it much simpler to build in the time we have available. Thinking about the changes over the past few weeks has helped me realise that a product being minimal and viable isn’t enough. It also needs to be acceptable. It needs to meet some stakeholder’s expectations to continue to get support. One of the positives of the changes and increased pressure is that it seems to be forcing us to work more closely as a team, especially design and development. It has also helped me see more clearly where we have mis-alignments that need to be resolved.

Agile Project Management

I wrote up some of my thoughts about agile project management not being the project management of agile software development but about how project management can adopt some of the ideas of agile to produce iterative project plans that help to identify gaps in the schedule.

Revising convergence

I’ve been revising the concepts from the New Media and Digital Creativity module I’ve been studying, including the idea of convergence which describes how media used to be in separate forms, for example print on paper and music on radio waves, but through digitisation technologies has converged into a single media of 1’s and 0’s. McMullan talks about how this digitisation creates the ‘proto-affordance’ of computability that fundamentally shapes our culture. There’s no going back.

Writing day notes

I’m still writing a short pre-formatted status post every day as part of an experiment in reflective learning. I think it needs some form of review trigger that makes me look back over the week, or to this time two weeks, etc., to reflect on whether things have improved, are issues persisting, what am I learning, etc.

A few things I thought about this week:

Charities shouldn’t be trying to put themselves out of existence

Do businesses try to put themselves out of existence? Do they ever say, ‘We’ve made enough money now, lets stop.’? Do governments try to put themselves out of existence? Do they look for ways of devolving power to the people? No. Why not? Because both businesses and governments have a place in society. They serve a role larger they just the benefits they seek for themselves.

Charities are the same. I know our assumptions about charities as organisations are closely tied to the cause they are tackling, and that’s why it’s easy to fall into the idea that if the cause didn’t exist then charities wouldn’t need to either, but I say this is false logic. A charity builds up lots of expertise in some fairly unique capabilities and to throw all that away because they we’re so good they achieved their mission would seem to me to be very wasteful and a great loss of all the other benefits charities create for our society, like volunteering and prompting people to make change.

Oblique strategies for alertness

Brian Eno’s oblique strategies, random instructions printed on playing cards, are reputed to have been responsible for some very cool music. Following the instructions forced musicians out of their comfort zone and made them pay attention. They disrupted the complacency of expertise. I’m interested in what the benefits of this kind of thinking might be in digital work, whether it might help us deal with uncertainty better. So many of the tools and techniques we use convince us that they are all we need to have certainty about things, and I’m not convinced that’s a good thing.

What does it mean to be a product-led charity

What might a product-led charity look like? How might it differ from a non-product-led charity, and how would you tell the difference? To be clear, when I talk about ‘product’ in this sense I don’t mean the technology. It’s very likely that a product-led charity would make use of technology in their products but a product is more than the tech. A simple example is Hullo. Their product is the offer of a conversation with a friendly stranger, not the phones they use to have those conversations.

I think it might require a move away from idea of charities providing value as one-way stream (from funders, through the charity, to service users). Being truly product-led might mean recognisjng a mutually reciprocal value exchange along the lines of how service-dominant logic explain it. I’m pretty sure it means repositioning the IT/Technology department to no longer be seen as a support function for fixing your laptop. And I’m certain it’ll bring all kinds of funding challenges where income is usually associated with delivering projects.

Some stuff I read this week

Where do good ideas come from

Chance favours the connected mind.

New product development body of knowledge

All the right answers.

OCVA Digital Needs Survey

I read the results of the OCVA Digital Needs Survey. Apart from the very un-digitalness of embedding a pdf on the webpage, it’s a interesting survey. Some of the responses includes things like how to better meet the needs of people who are digitally excluded, procure digital products, make the most of Microsoft 365 and use video meetings software better. These are all things that large charities seem to struggle with too, so it seems it’s a general lack of digital knowledge across the sector rather than being specific to a certain size of organisation.

A while ago I started a blog post on how small charities can assess and procure digital products so maybe I should finish that, but I also had a quick look around for ideas about how I might be able to help small charities improve their digital skills. I found a charity mentoring organisation but as all of their mentors were white, middle-class and middle-aged it didn’t look like somewhere I would fit in. I wonder how oblivious organisations are to this kind of stuff of if it’s implicitly intentional.

What is agile project management?

If you search online for ‘agile project management’ you get video of people talking about project managing an agile development process. Well duh. I think we can do better than that.

Project management that had agility would be adaptable, accepting of uncertainty and responding to change, would deliver value at the earliest opportunity, and would bring people together to share knowledge and shape the plan.

How might this approach show itself in something like a project plan? Instead of starting with a high fidelity plan that has unknown gaps, maybe the plan would start in low fidelity, defining the big chucks of the project so all those involved get some immediate value from the plan. Maybe the big chunks are things like scope, time, budget, people. And then as more information becomes available the plan is iterated upon to reach a slightly higher degree of fidelity, and again to even higher fidelity, all the time delivering value.

Fidelity increases with each iteration

This kind of approach acknowledges that there are unknowns in the plan and would fuel conversations as people fill the gaps, meaning people have to work together to develop the knowledge. The plan is the output of those conversations but it’s the collaboration that makes the plan a reality.

“I love it when a plan comes together”

Colonel John ‘Hannibal’ Smith

Weeknotes #241

What I did this week

We lost our way

One of the products I’m working on, that was meant to be an MVP, has grown in size and complexity that it’s now impossible to deliver it by the deadline. I’ve mentioned a few times about keeping things simple, that we should be building a minimal viable product but I didn’t do it well enough to keep the team focused. I dropped the ball. And now we have thirteen days to get it back on track and delivered.

A couple of other projects, on the other hand, are progressing nicely and will provide some really useful learning.

Agile education

This week’s Service Design course assignment was to conduct some research to help design a service for remote learning. My research led my thoughts to Agile Education. I want there to be more to Agile in education than just Scrum in a classroom. I don’t know how the course assignment might develop and whether the idea of Agile education might affect the service design, but its something I definitely want to learn more about what it could be.

What’s the difference between a roadmap and a delivery plan?

I wrote up my thoughts on the difference between a roadmap and a delivery plan, including the difference of logic each applies. It made me think about creating a product for creating goal-based roadmaps and options for achieving the goals.


What I thought about

Divergent and convergent thinking

It’s easy enough to say we’ve finished the Discovery phase and now we’re moving into the Definition or Design phase, but changing mindsets and approaches to thinking is much harder. Moving from using divergent things when doing discovery work to convergent thinking required for design and definition work is much harder. How do you know if you’ve done it? Or if you’re still thinking creatively, coming up with ideas, exploring in a non-linear way? It isn’t easy to check your own thinking. So changing project phases is fine, but we need better communication about what that change means for our ways of thinking too.

What shouldn’t be in a digital strategy?

Ross asked the question, “What shouldn’t be in a digital strategy?” which sparked lots of discussion about what strategy is or isn’t.

I wonder if one of the hardest thing about strategy is that it means lots of different things to lots of different people. Thinking strategically is seen as a positive management trait but without any clear definition of what that means within a particular organisation. And there’s a difference between a strategy and the strategy. Maybe when people talk about the strategy they often mean the document that explains a strategy the .

What’s the purpose of a strategy, what problem does it solve for the organisation? If it is used to set direction, describe where to play and where not to play, achieve organisational alignment, etc., then it should contain what achieves that purpose. So perhaps the answer to Ross’ question is that there isn’t anything that shouldn’t be in a strategy. If having that piece of information or this level of detail helps to solve the problem that having a strategy is trying to solve, then it should be included.

How to course correct

Plan continuation bias is the problem of carrying on with a plan even as it becomes riskier and less certain to succeed. Those experiencing it find it hard to recognise and do anything about it. How might we avoid this? Talk about the plan – get other’s thoughts and feedback long before you get too far into the plan, preferably people who aren’t involved in the plan. Step back – look at other options even before you need to, be critical of your own reasoning and reasons. Don’t ignore new information – take anything new on board, try not to ignore it. Be ok with change – tell yourself it’s ok to change your mind, do something differently, and that changing a plan isn’t a failure of the first plan.


What I read this week:

Digital service to strategy

I read Bobi’s article ‘How to move digital teams from service to strategy‘ (not just because I’m mentioned in it, because it’s really interesting). One of the things I like about, and where some of my thinking is also going, is that it suggests that the usual approach to digital transformation of running an 18 month project with an end date should be replaced with digital evolution where an organisation take steps that work for them to figure out what being a digital organisation means to them. Digital transformation should look different and be unique to each organisation. That’s kind of the point with digital, it can handle variability in ways that our old mechanistic thinking and systems couldn’t.

Thinking systems: how the systems we depend on can be helped to think and to serve us better

This paper describes “methods for understanding how vital everyday systems work, and how they could work better, through improved shared cognition – observation, memory, creativity and judgement – organised as commons.” I’m reading one of Mulgan’s books on Social Innovation for my dissertation so this paper by him caught my eye. His ideas on how the collective shared intelligence of the system should be organised as a commons so that the data is more open and usable to make systems visible and graspable look really exciting.

Trauma-informed approaches

I reread “Trauma-informed approaches: What they are and how to introduce them” from NPC and did a bit more reading around the subject of trauma. Most of the literature talks about the services charities and health services provide to people dealing with things like drug addiction and domestic violence, and I couldn’t find anything about how to use trauma-informed approaches in organisational design and management.

68% of the charity sector workforce is female. 80% of all women have been publicly harassed, and 97% of 18-24 year old women sexually harassed. That’s a lot of people dealing with traumatic experiences everyday at work. So, how do we make our organisations trauma-informed? Some of the key principles for trauma-informed approaches include: recognition, resisting retraumatisation, cultural, historical and gender contexts, trustworthiness and transparency, collaboration and mutuality, empowerment, choice and control, safety, survivor partnerships and pathways to trauma specific care. I wonder how we might use those principles in how organisations manage their staff, how teams work together, and how people treat each other. Maybe the answer is that we shouldn’t have to, that society should be fairer and not misogynistic. But until that happens there must be more organisations can do.