Weeknotes #240

This week I did:

Digital safeguarding

I’ve been working on safeguarding solutions for Teams quite a bit this week. It’s interesting to uncover the assumptions that Teams is built on; things about how people within an organisation should know each other and so be able to communicate and collaborate together. If you then want to use Teams to work in ways that don’t fit those assumptions, what changes can you make to get a high degree of safeguarding controls in place.

What is social design

I started the Service Design short course at UCA. Week 1 was an introduction but had some interesting ideas including the tension between user-centred design and social design, which says that user-centred design, taken in isolation means we don’t see the effect it has on communities, society, and the planet. I hope we get more into the social design approach to Service Design as it looks really interesting.

#BeMoreDigital Virtual Conference 2021

I caught some of the sessions from the #BeMoreDigital conference, but not enough. I would have liked to have been able to be more engaged in it to get a better sense of where the charity sector is in its digital transformation.

Daynotes

I started writing daily posts answering three questions: What went well, what didn’t go well, what could I do different in the future? I want to see if it is a helpful habit to get into and whether it’s useful research for daily standup app I’ve been thinking about.

Working on my website (again)

Did a bit of reorganisation of my website and turned my Now page into a roadmap.


And I read:

Teaming

I started reading Teaming by Amy Edmondson, mostly to look more into the idea of how people can work together effectively when they aren’t a close-knit team with well established routines and relationships.

IoT in the Charity Sector

How the charities could use Internet of Things is something I’ve never thought about, but James’ example of using such devices to help people live more independent lives is fantastic. It opens up all kinds of opportunities for IoT to support and improve service delivery.

BeMoreJanet

I watched the Mr. Strategy & Mrs. Wellbeing video with Janet Leighton. She talks about the culture of happiness and kindness at the Timpson Group and how they use upside down management, random acts of kindness and supporting colleagues with whatever is going on in their lives. The point that Wayne makes is that they’ve shown that it works, it isn’t just a philosophy, is such an important one for taking action to improve working cultures.


And thought about:

Place-based systems and nomads

Abby Covert says, we “turn a space into a place by arranging it so people know what to do there”. And some of the stuff I’ve read in the past talks about place-based thinking as less about the location of the place and more about the systems that interact on someone who is in that place. Which means a nomad might interact with fewer systems or those interactions might be more transitory. I think that changes what a nomad ‘knows’ what to do in a particular place. Even though they are in the same location as a non-nomad, they interact with systems differently and so see the place differently.

Solving problems simply

I’ve been thinking about ways of asking the question, “What is the simplest way we can solve this problem?”. Can we still meet a user need with a simple solution? How simple can a solution be in order to learn from it? Are simple solutions less likely to have unintended consequences than more complicated solutions?

Asynchronicity and learning

I’ve been thinking about the benefits of async working being greater than just less non-productive time spent in meetings. Async working utilises writing and drawing more than speaking and listening, which changes the nature of how information flows and enables those people with different learning styles to contribute in more considered ways.


Some people tweeted:

How to make sense of any mess

Doug Belshaw tweeted a link to howtomakesenseofanymess.com, Abby Covert’s website/online book about information architecture. It’s brilliantly thoughtful and thought-provoking. If I ever get around to writing a book I want it to be like this.

Validate the vision

Rosie Sherry tweeted, “Don’t validate a product, validate your vision“, which is much bigger but I think much easier thing to do. You’re not asking people if a product solves their problem, you’re asking people what kind of world they want to live in.

Levels of listening

Joshua Kerievsky tweeted, “Added “Levels of Listening” to the #PsychologicalSafety cheat sheet.” I still find Modern Agile the most inspiring way to think about modern digital ways of working. Joshua describes it as “a community for people interested in uncovering better ways of getting awesome results. It leverages wisdom from many industries, is principle driven and framework free.”

Weeknotes #239

This week I did:

Where to invest in capabilities

I started working on a big new project that is due to go live in a couple of months. I was brought in to product manage the automation work and it’s been really interesting to get into the problems that exist with the manual processes and figure out how we can use automation technology to improve them. I’m keen that we use tools that can help us learn about automation is ways we can use in the future.

The usual, ‘a roadmap isn’t a delivery plan’ conversation came up again this week. I think the best type of roadmap for us at the moment would be one that suggests where to invest in capabilities, be that building up existing capabilities such as digital delivery or developing new capabilities in self-serve learning.

This is how high-speed project initiation goes: Mon – Opportunity to trial a new product comes up, Tue – Proposal approved & budget allocated, Wed – Put team together & wrote implementation specification, Thu – We wrote design & user research plan, and Fri – Agreed the delivery plan. One of my colleagues remarked that it was a good example of what we want to achieve by having cross-functional teams that can come together quickly to achieve something and disband when they’ve done it.


Thought about:

Organisations of Theseus

The metaphysics of identity have been questioned back to 400 bc by Plato and Heraclitus, and by many more thinkers since. The question is expressed by the story of the ship of Theseus which throughout it’s journey has every plank and rope replaced. So the question is, is it the same ship at the end of the journey as it was at the start?

The same question can be put to an organisation going through change. If all of the processes, people, branding, even the name, change over time, is it still the same organisation? There is lots of talk about strategy and culture for organisational change but not so much about identity. Perhaps organisational identity is tied to more intangible things, things like purpose, values, place in society. But these can change too.

Everyone agrees organisational change is hard. It’s hard to make happen, hard to deal with when it is happening, and hard to accept when the results aren’t what we want or expect. Maybe Heraclitus would have said that organisations are always changing, and and such never had a fixed identity anyway. I wonder if organisational change would be different if rather than talking about changing the old, we talked about building anew.

Out of business

It is not a charity’s job to put itself out of business. I’ve heard a few people say that it is recently. I completely disagree. A charity is way more that just a means of tackling a social issue, with the expectation that it should be disbanded once it has achieved . Over the life of a charity it builds up a wealth of expertise and capabilities, hard won in many cases as charities deal with all kind of difficulties, and to throw of that away when the social issue has been resolved is extremely wasteful. If a charity solves the issue it has been working on, or the need goes away or changes, charities should be able to pivot towards a different issue. They should also be able to point themselves at different problems than what they we’re originally set up to do and contribute to a different cause. I know this is a difficult because of the mindset and legal structuring of charities, but I can dream.

Daynotes

I had an idea for a product to encourage daily self-reflective microblogging. You’d sign-up and set-up your URL, select a template for your posts, and the time of day you’d like to write, and then you get a an email everyday to remind you to login, answer the questions on the template and post it. Each template might have three questions like ‘What went well today?, What didn’t go so well?, What could you do differently in the future?’. Now I just need someone to build it. (Of course the first thing I do is go looking for a domain name to buy…)

Individual, team, organisation

Andy Tabberer’s questions about teams always get me thinking. “I believe in a type of citizenship at work, on teams, that carries both rights and duties. Getting the balance between those two is the hardest bit. What do you think?”, he says. Well, I think it’s pretty complicated. Citizenship in the public sphere is between the individual and the state, one-to-one relationship, easy. But within an organisation there are three elements at play; the individual, the team and the organisation. So there’s relationships between individuals and other individuals, both in and outside of the team. Then there’s a relationship between the individuals and the team, and other teams, and the organisation. And teams have a relationship to other teams, and to the organisation. There’s a lot going on there. And all of those entities have rights, which differ depending on which other entity they are interacting with, and duties towards all the other entities too. Citizenship requires rights and duties, but it also needs a public space, “a shared space for discussion of values and ideas, and development of public opinion” (Habermas, 1964). I wonder if that kind of space can exist within organisations, which makes me wonder if citizenship can exist at work.

What is value?

I’m gradually reaching the conclusion that ‘value’ is purely a construct and doesn’t exist outside of that contextual agreement. Anything that someone says is ‘value’ (revenue, cost saving, time, knowledge) is just a representation of something else that they consider valuable, but that thing thing is just another representation, until the value disappears into nothing. So, what then, do we mean when we talk about organisational value? Maybe we mean it to mean outcomes but we talk about it in terms of outputs. I’m not sure. More thinking to be done.


This week I read:

Standups

The idea of standups as short regular meetings that help teams stay coordinated is a ritual that has grown out of Scrum and adopted by all kinds of teams. Jason Yip’s Patterns for Daily Standup Meetings is the ultimate reference material for everything you could want to know.

Rise of the humans

I think lots of the bigger charities are thinking about how automation how help them be more efficient (some of my work involves automation solutions for things like updating our CRM, setting up meetings, communicating with people). Ben Holt’s post on whether the British Red Cross make people happier and deliver better services by working with machines provides some interesting insight into

Responsible Use of Technology: The Microsoft Case Study

This whitepaper from the World Economic Forum on the responsible use of technology goes into how Microsoft uses tools and processes that facilitate responsible technology product design and development.

Building a copy collaboration workflow

Content is always where websites (and website build projects) fall down. This post from Ditto has some useful advice on creating a workflow for website copy.


And some people tweeted:

Digital skills change

Think Social Tech tweeted, “A thread 1/10: A brief review of research/literature on digital skills and support needs in social sector“. This is now the go-to thread for all the resources on digital change in the charity sector, including this report on Charity Digital Journeys. It’s so important that information like this is collected together and shared because those charities would would probably benefit from it the most are the least likely to even know it exists.

Digital isn’t (just) a channel

Daniel Fluskey tweeted, “Fundraising will need a mix of events – virtual, real, digital, traditional.

  1. Start with what your supporters want
  2. Choose the right event for the right audience – square pegs in round holes don’t fit
  3. Don’t get overwhelmed, you don’t have to do everything!”

Could there be a more digital-thinking tweet that isn’t about digital? I read that as, ‘start with user, meet their needs, work in small batches. That is as fantastic example of digital thinking applied to fundraising.

The 3 A’s of professional learning

John Miller tweeted, “Professional learning should hit all 3 A’s :

  1. Actual – relate to the real world. Practicality.
  2. Academic – theory and research behind the learning.
  3. Aspirational – what could be better by applying the learning. Inspire positive change.”

This seems like a better approach than the 70/20/10 thing, which I think assumes too much about knowledge existing and being shared. John’s approach . The Actual part says to me, ‘learn by doing’, which is essential when in new and changeable situations. Including an academic aspect is important. This doesn’t have to mean ‘scholarly’, it just means ‘read books and take notice of all the existing knowledge from people who have done it before’. Aspirational closes the loop (and I’m a big fan of loops). It says that we should learn about learning in order to improve how we learn and what we apply to the practical learning opportunities.

Reading list

I tweeted, “30 things I’ve read recently about AI, business value, design, remote work, resilience, leadership, innovation, maps, product teams, personas, digital media, cyber security, purposeful careers, organisational change, literacy & complexity.” It followed on from a few discussions about learning digital skills so I thought I’d try to get into the habit of sharing my reading list for the week. As I don’t have any knowledge of my own, maybe people can benefit from me sharing other people’s knowledge.

Weeknotes #238

This week I did

Problem-focused

It’s easy to leap to solutions without understanding what the problem is that you’re trying to solve. This week was busy with trying to get an understanding of what problems we’re actually trying to solve with the products we’re being asked to build quickly for projects with tight timelines. I heard someone say (on a podcast, I think) ‘make the right things to make things right’, and it stuck with me. I also talked quite a bit about us trialing products purely with the intention of learning. I feel like we have lots to learn, so the sooner we start the quicker we’ll figure out the things we need to in order to help young people get effective training online.

Does digital creativity differ from non-digital creativity?

I finished my assignment ‘Does digital creativity differ from non-digital creativity?’ Spoiler: It does. I’ve learned about lots of interesting things in this module, and for this essay, about digital media. I’d really like to have time to go back over some of the ideas and write blog posts about them but that’s going to have to wait until after my dissertation is finished.


I read:

Digital Scotland Service Standard

The service standard aims to make sure that services in Scotland are continually improving and that users are always the focus. I like the idea of service standards. Although they seem quite aspirational and a little immature at the moment with few real-life examples of how standards have been implemented effectively, they are a great way to help others understand what it means to be ‘digital’. I know it’s a very different thing, but the standard that explains how to manufacture a bolt is very specific about measurements, tolerances, etc., but maybe it that’s just my understanding of the word ‘standard’, which isn’t the point here. The point is that even though some of the standards in the Digital Scotland Service Standard feel a bit context specific, overall it’s brilliant.

Climate impact of digital

Don’t watch this video 😉

Our digital world

I feel Like, Swipe, Click, Repeat & Change by Peter Trainor and New Public – For Better Digital Public Spaces complement each other and should be read together. One is about the effects social media sites have on us and the other is a about creating better digital spaces.

Reading list

My notes contains lots other things I’ve read this week.


And thought about:

Measures of influence

I had a thought that maybe a measure of influence is how many times someone has to say something for people to take notice of it. I could repeat the same message time and time again and no one would take any notice, because I have low influence. Seth Godin says something once and thousands of people listen to it, because he has high influence. On a smaller scale, it might be an interesting way to measure your influence at work.

Play jazz

After some conversations with Jonathan Holden on Twitter, I’ve been thinking a bit about how our use of militaristic (and so masculine) language relates to our mental models about work and groups of people organised to achieve common goals. Do creative/artistic endeavors offer a better way to think about it? Musicians can play alone, in perfectly in-sync large orchestras, and improvising in jazz bands.

Affordances and proto-affordances

I’m intrigued by the idea of affordances. An affordance is an object’s sensory characteristics which imply its functionality and use. The idea allows designers to “design for usefulness by creating affordances (the possibilities for action in the design) that match the goals of the user“. It seems like the missing gap between what a product is intended to achieve for a user and the design of the user interface.


Some people tweeted:

Positioning product management

Scott Colfer tweeted, “What do product managers like? No, not Venn diagrams. Quadrants! This one shows the range of what product management can look like (in my experience). Helps me when someone asks ‘how do I become a PM?” It’s a really useful way to think about how product managers move around in there role on the axis between tactical and strategic, and between generalist and specialist. So at the daily stand-up a PM might be a tactical generalist talking about UX decisions for a web page and later that day might be acting as a strategic specialist on the digital safeguarding.

Tweet-Syllabus: Prioritization 101 ⏱

Nick deWilde tweeted, “The most successful people I’ve met aren’t the ones who work the hardest. They are the ones who prioritize the right things to work on. These 7 concepts & resources will help you decide what to prioritize in your work and life” I found this interesting because I’ve been thinking about what we really mean when we casually talk about prioritisation for a few weeks. I’m not convinced by some of the tweets, for example that value is only measured by money, but the one about how every system has constraints and that when projects put pressure on a constraint it causes chaos is interesting. Considering bottlenecks in that way helps us think about the knock-on effects rather than just that one constraint in isolation.

Remote work research

Eat Sleep Work Repeat tweeted, “A lot of people saw that viral thread about remote work last week, chock full of unattributed opinion claiming that the office ‘was over’. Let’s try and use some evidence… what does published research tell us about what’s going to happen to our workplaces?” It’s interesting how the pendulum of remote working has swung between ‘the end of the office’ and ‘get back to normal’ and is finding the middle position between home and office. It’s also interesting how much of the discussion about the future of work centres around the location of people. Is that really the most important aspect about effective working, or is it just because its the most obvious and easiest thing to talk about it?

Weeknotes #237

This week I did:

Three teams together

I’m working with three different development teams to build the product we’re working on. The web application dev team using Kanban to mange their work as they have a lot of uncertainty to deal with, the CRM dev team use Scrum as it gives predictability, and the infrastructure dev team are more waterfall as they need to fit our work in with other work, and yet we’re all working well together. It shows for me how little the framework actually matters, and that what’s important is the principles that all the frameworks try to achieve; coordination and communication. Whether that is achieved through talking to each other or writing documents, the end result is the same.

Charity reserves

Our first Finance & Risk board meeting of the year with Bucks Mind focused on investment and updating our reserves policy so that it’s fit-for-purpose as the organisation grows. We also discussed trustee responsibility for charity assets, the biggest and most important of which is the reserves. Debra Allcock Taylor tweeted about how important but difficult it is for charities to build up reserves and make investments. Investment is an area I know very little about so need to figure out what I need to learn and how to learn it.

Media convergence and sharing economy

This week’s lecture was on how media convergence led to the sharing economy, the ideological foundation of collaborative consumption, the drivers for the growth of large sharing economy firms, and the impact of the sharing economy on society, cities and work. It’s interesting to see just how different the sharing economy is from the traditional economic approaches and to think about how it could be better leveraged by charities.

Result

I received the results of the two modules I studied last term. I scored 73 and 70, which puts me on target for getting a distinction with the least amount of effort. Two more modules and dissertation to go.

People-centred design process

Signed up for this Service Design course. A lot of the solution work I do is figuring out how to make product and service work together so hopefully this will help me understand service design better and bring better practice to our work.


I read:

Leadership in a time of crisis

This article lays out what the charity sector needs from its leaders during this time of crisis. There is nothing to disagree with in that Leesa has written, there is some good advice for leaders, but I wonder if we still tie up leadership too closely with seniority and authority. I wonder if the senior authoritative figures of the sector are the ones to solve this crisis. And I wonder if distributed power networks might offer a better chance. Slightly connected, I read Three Problems of Power which talks about how relying on leaders to solve problems often stops others from doing so.

How to be a good stakeholder

Andy Tabberer wrote this fantastic piece for anyone who is a stakeholder (which is everyone, we’re all somebodies stakeholder). It offers helpful tips for anyone who has some responsibility and accountability for a thing being successful but doesn’t actually directly contribute to its success, but it does a lot more than that. It flips the idea of stakeholders as those who should be served and have their expectations managed, into being more a collaborative and cooperative part of team. It says that in order for whatever is being built, and those building it, to be successful, the power relationship between the owner (for want of a better term) and the maker should be one trust, empathy, interest and challenge, among many other things. And stakeholders should develop this as a holistic mindset rather than as atomistic behaviours.

Edgar Schein’s Anxiety & Assumptions: Powerful Ideas On Culture

This is a really interesting essay on organisational culture, how it’s often talked about but not often thought about critically. It talks about how Schein said that the culture of a company emerges and solidifies in two ways: Positive problem-solving processes and anxiety avoidance, Understanding organisational culture seems like a prerequisite for understanding an organisation’s culture. Which, in an ‘optimise globally rather than locally’ vein is important for how a team fits and works within an organisation. I’m inclined to think that organisational culture that holds capabilities is a good thing in stable times but that in times a change an organisation needs to be able to shift the focus of its capabilities to its people in order to transform. So, one of my focuses is building up the team I’m part of so we are really high-functioning so that the organisation is able to change.


And I thought about:

Measures incentivises behaviour

Bullying is being highlighted as an issue in the charity sector that indicates further the crisis the sector is in. It’s a complex problem. People make their own choices about how they behave and how they treat others, but their choices are a result of the systems they exist in and the measures that incentivise their behaviour within those systems. This applies as much to the cultural systems that affect how we perceive masculinity, leadership, authority, seniority, etc., as much as it does to work systems and organisational cultures If we want to fix problems like this we need to improve the system, and we do that by changing the measures.

Prioritisation vs sequencing

Prioritisation is ‘this not that’. Sequencing is ‘this then that’. We often say we need to prioritise work when really we mean we need to sequence the work.


And some people tweeted:

You and me both

Joe Jenkins tweeted, “Love this idea of ubuntu – how can one he happy when others are sad It is here we find the core of humanity – let us never be fooled that people are inevitably selfish or individualistic; we are social animals, built for connection, collaboration and compassion“. The neoliberal idea of the individual as always prioritising their own needs first is very limited and limiting. Other ways of considering people as part of a community

Discovery Alpha Beta Live

Richard Pope tweeted, “Who’s been working on what eventually replaces discovery-alpha-beta-live process in digital gov? Much that it is good for, and much good that has been done, but feels increasingly dated. Inability to identify shared capabilities, data, standards and system change needs examining.” The point he makes, and many of the replies discuss, are that processes that rely on understanding the problem up front aren’t always appropriate for solving complex and emerging problems.

What is a user story?

Karri Saarinen tweeted, “We don’t write user stories. They’re unnecessary and slow down the team.” Whenever anything gets ‘named’ it gets confused. Using the term ‘User Story’ can mean many things to many people. For some it’s only a user story if it adheres to the ‘As a..’ structure. We’ve had discussions at work about what level user stories should be written at. Should they be at the task level as Karri does or at the level of distinct value for the user? Ultimately, whatever the format, the purpose is to communicate asynchronously, which means they need to be interpretable.

Weeknotes #236

What I did this week:

New development team

We were joined this week by a new team to support some product development work. It’s been great seeing them quickly learn about what we’re trying to achieve and what progress we’ve made so far, and I’m really looking forward to working with them as they accelerate over the next few months. It’s an interesting skill set for a team to have.

Crossing boundaries

Products built to be used within the boundaries of an organisation don’t work well when they are used to cross those boundaries and allow people from within to communicate with those outside. I wrote abut it a while ago, and the same challenge rose again this week. Products like Microsoft Teams have lots of assumptions built into them about how users are related, and most of those assumption include that everyone knows who everyone else is, that they are bound by the same rules, and that collaborative working relies of openness and transparency. This kind of still holds true for Teams Education where it’s used in schools as the teachers and the students still all belong to one organisation, but the assumptions break down from there and really doesn’t work when some of the people are part of the organisation and some aren’t. It’s an interesting problem.

Innovation management

I’ve been working on my dissertation proposal around how charities approach innovation management. The proposal is only two thousand words but it has required many days worth of reading to get to a point of being able to write a few paragraphs. It’s interesting how helpful it has been in structuring my thinking and I see parallels with things internet writers say about note-taking and how writing is just an expression of the thinking. And it’s interesting how the purpose of the proposal isn’t communicated like that but rather as task to be completed with the suggestion that those that don’t will most likely fail their dissertation.

A capabilities approach to digital transformation

I often think that digital transformation efforts in organisations often fail because they are treated as projects and so utilise the usual processes, whereas what is really needed is to break away from existing process and develop new capabilities in people.


Some things I read this week:

Retrospective and reflection

This is a fantastic write-up on a charity digital team and work.

How digital in the charity sector has changed over the last 20 years

A brilliant look back over what’s changed in digital at charities over the last twenty years.

Building an Idea Factory

Economic theory and its capacity to comprehensively explain the presence of non-profit organisations in society

Although the non-profit sector may seem like an area which defies analysis by the field of economics, there are in reality a wide range of insights which economic theory can offer to explain why a multi-billion dollar third sector has sprung-up and flourished in today‟s global economy.


Some things I thought about:

Neo-liberalism and individualism in a post-COVID world

How society became as individualistic as it is through the influence of a neo-liberal ideology, which depending on what you choose to believe may have been because it’s easier to control individuals than it is a coordinated collective, and how the pandemic may or may not have caused some upset in the notion that individualism is the desirable state for everyone and that perhaps more collective ways of acting in society seems like a fascinating topic to me. I wish I had time to study into it.

How YouTube changed video as a cultural expression

It used to be that watching videos or movies had narrative, they told a story, and held certain cultural significance because of it. Now we regard videos as separate but related objects in a database of videos. These items lack the same narrative. You can go from watching someone playing a video game to watching a music video to watching a compilation of clips from a TV show, all without any cohesiveness to your experience. This is big change in how moving pictures express our culture. There is less cohesion but more diversity. Less of a dominant archetype to story telling and more interjections and immediacy.

What it means to be a product manager

I have a few different ways I try to explain what I do as a product manager depending on who I’m speaking to. Sometimes it’s about problems and solutions, sometimes its about interface, integrate, iterate, sometimes it’s rambling about technologically mediated relationships between people in need and people with something to give. Anyway, I started trying to map all the things that make up the role of a Product Manager, the skills, characteristics, qualities, tools, techniques and methods. I have no idea why, other than to try to improve my own understanding, and I have no idea what sense it might make or not, but sometimes just the act of trying to map something reveals what you couldn’t see before.


Some tweets I saw:

How did you get started working in the charity sector?

Richard Berks tweeted, “Charity folks – how did you get started working in the sector? What was your first job? Did you fall into it or was it always part of the plan?” The stories of people now working in the charity sector, the different jobs they’ve done, the paths they took to end where they are, are just amazing. We did a quick team-working exercise earlier in the week that had people revealing stuff about themselves that they normally never would have. How we be more human in remote digital work is something important to figure out.

Getting into public speaking

Lesley Pinder tweeted “Planning at the very last minute an impromptu session on Monday for colleagues who might be interested in speaking at a sector event or conference but don’t know where to start or if they’ll have anything interesting to say. What would your tips be for people to new to speaking?“. Lots of useful advice about doing talks. It’s also interesting to me because I’ve been thinking about bringing lessons in public speaking, how successful YouTubers edit videos, and emerging practices from online education together to see how we might be able to change the way we deliver training sessions. I’m pretty certain that sitting down and staring at a camera isn’t very engaging. There must be more to online learning than this.

Dealing With Complexity

I found this via a tweet from someone but I can’t remember who. The six ways to make sense of complexity: be curious, deal with ambiguity, see with several lens, experiment, broaden your knowledge circles and share your work, and see these essential thinking skills for the 21st century. The post has links to more really interesting posts about leadership, learning and sense-making.

A capabilities approach to digital transformation

The challenge of digital transformation; to build capabilities in people whilst at the same time moving away from the capabilities that the organisation holds in its processes and values in order to deal with new problems.

Christensen & Overdorf said,

“As successful companies mature, employees gradually come to assume that the processes and priorities they’ve used so successfully so often are the right way to do their work. Once that happens and employees begin to follow processes and decide priorities by assumption rather than by conscious choice, those processes and values come to constitute the organization’s culture. As companies grow from a few employees to hundreds and thousands of them, the challenge of getting all employees to agree on what needs to be done and how can be daunting for even the best managers. Culture is a powerful management tool in those situations. It enables employees to act autonomously but causes them to act consistently. Hence, the factors that define an organization’s capabilities and disabilities evolve over time-they start in resources; then move to visible, articulated processes and values,- and migrate finally to culture. As long as the organization continues to face the same sorts of problems that its processes and values were designed to address, managing the organization can be straightforward. But because those factors also define what an organization cannot do, they constitute disabilities when the problems facing the company change fundamentally. When the organization’s capabilities reside primarily in its people, changing capabilities to address the new problems is relatively simple. But when the capabilities have come to reside in processes and values, and especially when they have become embedded in culture, change can be extraordinarily difficult.”

The processes organisations use are designed to be repeatable with minimal variation, the values organisations hold show themselves in the assumptions decisions are based on, and the culture that organisations promote becomes mono-culture, preventing counter-culture, and holding back change.

What capabilities do organisations need their people to have in order to respond effectively to new problems? Broadly speaking the answer is obvious. They need more digital capabilities. To be ‘digital’ means to be user-focused first and foremost, to utilise internet-era ways of working and thinking, to build on the known success of others. But how do organisations get more digital capabilities?

The usual approach to learning and development is based on some variation of the 70-20-10 model of organisational learning where 70% of learning is experiential or on-the-job. This relies on the assumption that there is sufficient knowledge and experience within the organisation, but in many cases there isn’t and in the cases where there is it is prevented from being utilised by the existing values and culture. Of course, very few organisations are completely lacking in digital capabilities. They have good people everywhere who outside of work are probably as digital at home as the organisation wish they were at work, but when they sign-in each morning they adopt those organisational values and processes that prevent them from using those capabilities.

There is no perfect organisational structure, but there is a lot to be said for decoupling how power flows through the organisation from how information (and so learning) flows. Power flows through hierarchies and traditional org structures and it will for a long time to come. Many organisations have tried flat, holocratic and matrix structures and it never works, so let power and authority flow through the hierarchies. Focus on creating networks for the information to flow. The more people that feel able to share more information and learning the more they all benefit. The more learning opportunities people create the faster people can learn.

Transforming an organisation into a 21st century fit, digital organisation requires breaking down those existing processes and values to put people first.

Weeknotes #235

This week I did

Stop everything, I’ve got an idea

We kick off development on a new product next week. We’ve been really busy getting everything ready for the development and testing teams. We’re on schedule and things are looking good. But I have a concern that one of our tech choices is taking down the wrong route. When a product choice causes as many problems as it solves it’s time to consider not using it. Especially as solving all those problems requires even more technology and cost. I have an idea of how to fix it, so we’ll see how well that goes down next week.

Start some more

We started three new projects this week. One is about using an existing product in a different way to get some more value out of it, another is moving an old product onto new infrastructure and integrating it with a newer product to get the benefits of both, and the third is a big one that will allow us to provide opportunities to young people in ways we’ve never done before. It’s going to be a busy year.

Digital for charities in a post-digital world

We live in a post-digital world, a world where digital is so much a part of our everyday life that it is no longer viewed as extraordinary. Charities have a long way to go to be keeping pace in a post digital world, but that shouldn’t stop them from developing their

Innovation management in charities

I’ve been refining my dissertation proposal and have shifted from innovation models used to charities and charity sector agencies to innovation management practices in charities. It feels more focused and there is more established literature to compare how charities manage innovation activities.


This week I read

Humanitarian Innovation

I read this really interesting Literature Review for the Humanitarian Innovation Ecosystem. Well, it’s interesting if you’re a charity innovation geek like me, otherwise it’s probably a bit boring.

How will AI affect charities and digital?

This brilliant piece by Rhodri Davies about how artificial intelligence will affect charities is a great intro for starting to consider how charities might use AI and how the use of AI might affect a charity’s beneficiaries. I think more charities should be doing that kind of future thinking.

Consider charging for your services, charities urged

This piece from nfpSynergy suggests that charities should consider charging for their services. The article acknowledges that it’s a controversial suggestion, but really, should it be controversial? The article says, “It is a false dichotomy to assume that doing good has to be paid for by somebody other than the recipient of that good”, and perhaps actually feeds into the savior-complex that assumes that people who need help are poor. But the other side is that many charities do or could offer services in a commercial way to people that could afford to pay, who wouldn’t normally be the beneficiaries who use the service for free.

Charities and politics

The Tech For Good Live podcast this week had an interesting chat about how charities should be involved in politics. One of the points made is that in a perfect world charities wouldn’t need to exist because the state would look after everyone (which I’m not sure is actually true because charities bring far more value to society that just through tackling issues, but that aside…) but given we aren’t living in a perfect world, why wouldn’t the government want to support the charity sector to deal with societal issues rather than having to do it? The point that even different political parties when in power have never made it easy for charities suggests to me that what Weisbrod says about how the charity sector deals with the market failures of the state and that governments always focus on the mean voter that can keep them in power makes a lot of sense.


This week I thought about

Product assessment framework

I’ve been thinking some more about a framework for assessing products, partly because I’ve been doing it a bit at work, but also because it’s something I’d like to develop for charities. There are lots of things that can be considered about a product, and I think the usual ‘compare it to a wishlist of functional and non-functional requirements’ approach isn’t very effective. I’ve been playing around with a kind of ‘zones’ approach where we could start with a PESTLE analysis to consider the big picture of impacts and then moving onto zones that get closer to the specifics of the charity. An example for the Legal part of PESTLE might be, ‘What laws apply?’ ‘What regulations apply?’ ‘What industry standards and best practices apply?’, and then ‘What policies and procedures apply?’. Anyway, it’s another thing I’ll probably never finish.

Journaling

I’ve tried journaling a few times but I never stick with it. It seems to work in helping me feel like I’m proactively reflecting on immediate problems but then I drop it once over that problem and so don’t get any long-term benefits. My latest try involved answering three questions: What went well today? What didn’t go well today? What can I do differently tomorrow? I managed three days.

Measuring for feedback loops

Most measures are linear. Better I think to measure in ways that generate signals when something is changing, which trigger actions to respond to the change. Measuring for the sake of measuring doesn’t achieve very much.


This week people tweeted

Micropayments

Andy Matuschak tweeted, “No one’s yet made a workable solution for web micropayments, but one aspirational design metaphor I like is an electricity meter. I don’t think about running my dishwasher as a transaction with a price and a receipt: I just do things, and I get a bill at the end of the month.” It’s an interesting economic model, to treat access to information as a paid-for utility like electricity. It’s definitely a problem that needs to be solved for the internet but I wonder what consequences it might have, perhaps an information-poverty gap where those that pay for get different information than those that don’t.

Having a strategy

Frank Bach, Lead Product Designer at Headspace tweeted, “What does “having a strategy” mean to you? Is it a vision, roadmap, clear path on how you get from X to Z?” The replies are interesting as you might expect. I have a particularly contrarian opinion about strategy, that the modern would is far to complex and changes far to quickly for any kind of plan that says ‘we’re going to do this and that to get from here to there’. I favour the idea of stigmergy. It suggests that the sending, receiving and responding to signals in the environment might be a better way to respond quickly to change and achieve goals without the need for a centralised plan to follow. Timpson’s offers an interesting example of how it might look in a business context.

Man gets respect on Twitter

In a conversation on Twitter about whether charity staff should be paid well for their work a man who originally thought that giving to charity where the staff were paid more than him felt like he wasn’t giving to the needy, changed his mind and accepted expertise should be rewarded regardless of sector. This is interesting on many levels, first that someone changed their mind on Twitter and received respect for it, including a retweet from Dan Pallotta, and as part of the ongoing conversation about how people view the cost of running charities and paying people who work in charities, and also because of how it connects to other current issues around wages in the charity sector.

Digital for charities in a post-digital world

We live in a post-digital world. We’ve been heading that way since the term was first used over ten years ago, but following the digital reality we all lived through last year and are living through today, we can well and truly say that today we are living in a post-digital world. And charities are too.

To say our world and lives are post-digital is not to imply digital is over, that it is to be replaced with something else, but instead it means that digital is now so embedded and intertwined into our lives that it ceases to be extraordinary. Digital is just expected now. We don’t meet or call, we Zoom or Whatsapp. We don’t go to the bank to withdraw cash, we pay with NFC-enabled smart phones. If we want to know something we google it without a second thought. If ‘digital’ is “Applying the culture, processes, business models & technologies of the internet-era to respond to people’s raised expectations.”, then perhaps post-digital is recognising that those expectations aren’t considered raised anymore, they just the usual experience.

What does this mean for charities? It creates even more impetus for charities to digitise in order to keep pace with the rest of a digitised society. The design of that new website isn’t going to impress anyone, even less so if the systems and processes behind it don’t meet basic user needs. Having live chat doesn’t help if it can’t be used to access the same support that is available by phone.

As technology sinks further into the background of experience, and the online/offline distinction disappears, the everyday expectation of charities will be that their services and products are user-focused: simple, easy to use, solving a problem for people, safe, secure & private, and continuously improving.

For charities, at a time when many are stretched and squeezed, the added pressure of having to digitise to meet the everyday expectations may seem like an impossible task. But it doesn’t have to. Digital doesn’t have to mean new technology infrastructure, new websites, more systems. Start with digital thinking. Understand what it really means to be operating in a digital society. For example, artificial intelligence is more and more a part of our lives, but for charities keeping pace doesn’t mean implementing AI, it means thinking about how AI might affect beneficiaries and then how the charity could counter those affects. In a post-digital world, where digital experience and interaction is everyday, digital thinking is essential.

Other stuff to read about post-digital

_____ is a team sport

Communication is a team sport. Teams should work together to communicate a consistent message about their work.

Prioritisation is a team sport. Teams should work together to set goals and decide what is the most important work to achieve those goals.

Coordination is a team sport. Teams should work together to plan the work and decide how that work should be delegated.

Accountability is a team sport. Teams should work together to share responsibility for the work.

Disagreeing is a team sport. Teams should work together to positively challenge their assumptions and understandings.

Everything is a team sport.