Weeknotes #260

What I did this week (and didn’t do):

What do I require?

I spent a lot of time working on (and even more time thinking about) what some people might call requirements. I regularly get my thoughts tied up in knots trying to understand what we mean by ‘requirements’, ‘goals’, ‘objectives’, etc., but using ‘This is what we want to achieve’ and ‘These are the things we’re going to try’ seems much less ambiguous, so I tried . The problem I have, especially with ambiguous jargon but in general when defining or explaining anything, is the coastline problem. That is, how the problem looks depends on your measure. A circle drawn with only four big straight lines looks a lot like a square, but a circle drawn with a thousand small lines looks pretty circular. So, a requirement or goal specified at one level looks very different from another level. And then levels of what? My bottom-up answer would be, ‘levels of abstraction from the user behaviour’, but that opens up a whole load of other questions.

Why do charities use the innovation processes that they do?

I submitted my draft literature review and research methodology. I had originally thought that my research should be able how charities are using innovation processes, but I’ve realised I’m much more interested in why they are using them the ways they are. This creates more of a challenge as it requires qualitative interviews, but I just need to get out of my comfort zone and get on with it.

Embedding a theory of change in your learning

I signed-up for NPC Labs user research session on theory of change (which I’m interested in) and learning (which I’m really interested in). I’m not sure why, but I’m really looking forward to it.

Swimming with seals

I’ve went swimming in the sea almost every day this week. The best one was around sunset and I was alone on the beach. As I lay floating in the water a seal surfaced, looked at me for a few seconds, I looked at it, and then it swam away.

Didn’t get feedback

Listening to One Knight In Product with Teresa Torres made me realise that I haven’t done any of the discovery work I set myself for July. So, if anyone reads this and wants to do me a favour: sign-up for my charity product management emails and tell me what you think about them.


What I read this week:

Mobile traffic to charity websites is rising…

…but only a third of charities pass Google’s ‘Core Web Vitals’Mobile traffic to charity websites is rising, but only a third of charities pass Google’s ‘Core Web Vitals’

Why? Because it depends how you measure. And if you’re in the business of measuring and judging websites in order to rank them in search results then maybe you want some level of influence over how websites send you signals that you can judge them by.

Why? Because it’s easier to focus on frontend/visible aspects of technology and think that if the website is responsive then it must be optimised for mobile, which isn’t the case but many website platforms don’t get that stuff right by default.

Why? Because not all ‘Jobs To Be Done’ can or should be done on mobile devices (and with mobile behaviours). Sometimes, friction, intentional or unintentional, is good for getting people to stop and think. Convenience isn’t everything.

Why not? If your user research shows that the people that need your services find you through organic search results, need a highly-performant online experience, and only have mobile phones. The points is; do what your users need you to do, not what a search engine says.

Digital adoption within the NHS

Shock treatment: can the pandemic turn the NHS digital?, asks whether the NHS can maintain the level and pace of digital transformation that came about as a result of the pandemic, and also raises the ‘fix the plumbing or fund the future’ investment question, which I think is very closely connected. These are the questions facing every sector and organisation. Charities included. I feel like the answer is obvious; yes and no. Do organisations realise how important digital transformation is for them? Yes, at least a bit more than they did. Will organisations maintain the pace of change we saw from the pandemic? No, not without the huge external pressure making digital an existential question.

Decoupling time spent from value produced

James Plunkett’s article on the four-day week was shared around Twitter this week. It talks about the Iceland experiment and how it resulted in increased productivity, and more interestingly, predicts that, based on the historical data trend of reducing working hours, the four day working week will be generally adopted in the early 2030’s. If that’s the case, we might have a few more decades to go before society is ready to make the shift to decoupling the value we produce from the time we spend doing it. Stuart said it best, “Being at work never equated to doing work“.


What I thought about:

A diamond and a tree

Speaking of how we judge value, I had an interesting conversion about why different jobs are paid different amounts and how the job market values uniqueness of skill over what the role achieves. My analogy was ‘a diamond and a tree’. A diamond is considered to have high value because of how rare it is. Trees aren’t considered all that valuable but have an important impact on the environment and life (being able to breath, mostly). Maybe we’ve got our values round the wrong way.

Accepting responsibility

There’s lots said about blame culture and how toxic it is but I hardly ever see anything about the flip side; responsibility culture (if it’s even a thing). I think taking responsibility is one of those underlying amorphous parts of a product managers job. Obviously, everyone should take responsibility for their actions, but product managers are often the ones to be most aware of the trade-offs that exist when decisions are made (even if not actually making the decision), and that knowledge comes with responsibility. Taking responsibility for knowledge, not just actions, is an interesting responsibility to take.

Do charities need innovation?

Does any organisation, in fact? An amalgamation of ideas from a conversation on Twitter, Ann Mei Chang, and some of the stuff I’ve been thinking about for my dissertation takes my thinking towards this: If the problem is unknown and the solution is unknown, then innovation is an approach, a mindset, a skillset, a method that can help to make both known. If the problem is known and/or the solution is known, then innovation isn’t needed.

Weeknotes #259

This week I did:

Next

We’ve learned a lot from the product we launched three months ago. We learned what it takes to work quickly and where the balance lies with quality, we learned how to create more problems and solve them too, and we learned about how much change is the right amount of change. But part of maturing a product is how well integrated it is into the rest of the organisation, and that’s our next challenge. It’s going to take a lot of time, a lot of talking to people, a lot of thinking from everyone, but it’ll bring new perspectives and create new knowledge. Maybe some people think we’re just improving a product, making it bigger and better. I think it’s so much more. Our little baby is growing up.

Pressure is on

I had a chat with my dissertation supervisor and got some useful direction for writing the research methodology and literature review, the drafts of which have to be in this weekend. Submission deadline is two months away so the pressure is on to spend as much time as I can on it. The next thing is finalising my research questions and arranging interviews. It’s going to be really important to get the right questions and the right answers, otherwise the whole thing kind of falls over. But no pressure.

This is stile

Stiles.style has reached 300. So, that must make it the greatest collection of stile on the internet, as if it wasn’t before.


This week I thought about:

Uncomfortable learning

Operationalising a new product and taking a test and learn approach with it at the same time is going to cause some conflict. One wants to get on using the product to meet targets. The other wants to understand how well things are working. Different goals drive different behaviours. But, I don’t think they are conflicting behaviours. I think the realities of using the product provide the lessons to learn. I don’t know who said it first, but I’ve repeated it numerous times, “Users won’t use a product how we think they will”. A good product has enough wiggle room to allow people to figure out their own ways of doing things to achieve the things they want, and seeing how that happens in real life shows us the unknown unknowns, it tells us about the questions we didn’t think to ask. This kind of thing isn’t really conflict, it’s uncomfortable learning.

Goals

Nothing to do with football, but reading Ann Mei Chang on how big tech firms are happy to set big goals and charities and social enterprises feel really cautious about doing so, I recalled some of my old thinking about goals and methods for setting and achieving them. My current thinking is that in order to make goals achievable they should be written in conjunction with the investment necessary to achieve them, otherwise they are just aspirations or ambitions, not goals. The other school of thought I subscribe too is that the best method for achieving a goal is to start with a broad and uncertain goal, take a step towards it and get the feedback as to whether you are closer to goal and that the goal has become slightly more certain and defined. If either of those two are true, repeat, until you have a very certain goal and a well-defined path for achieving it. The usual approach for setting goals, which I’m very much against, is to set a goal with no idea how to achieve it, and then put more work into figuring out how to achieve it than actually achieving it.

NPD Processes

It occurred to me that most organisations, and certainly pretty much all charities, don’t need a well-optimised innovation or new product development process because they just don’t develop enough new products to warrant the time and effort in figuring out the right process for them. Whatever they may learn from trying a particular process won’t be relevant by the time they use the process again. Obviously this is not the conclusion that I intend to reach with my dissertation, which is all about how charities use innovation processes.


This week I read:

Charity Digital Skills Report 2021

The 2021 Charity Digital Skills Report is out and makes for very interesting reading. Particularly, two of the insights about digital inclusion, “digital inclusion has proven a challenge for digital service delivery, with over 1 in 5 (22%) cancelling services because their users don’t have the skills or tech to use them. That is up from 15% at the start of the pandemic, showing how digital inclusion is still a pressing issue for the sector and a real area of concern when reaching beneficiaries.”, and “Digital inclusion has proved to be the biggest challenge faced this year. Just over half (52%) are worried about excluding some people or groups and 24% are concerned that their audience is not online. 12% of charities themselves have struggled with basic tech access.”. Obviously digital inclusion (which is really just social inclusion in the 21st century) is a complex problem that requires solutions from multiple angles; people having devices and the skills and confidence to use them, but also ensuring that services are designed to be as simple as possible. Oh, and I’m choosing to take it as an ironic statement about the state of digital in charities that in 2021 the report is a pdf.

Problem Solving Machine

Paul always writes good interesting stuff, and I completely agree, “if you’re disciplined enough to be able to live with that ambiguity for a while, you usually end up with a better answer to your problem“. Understanding problems is the biggest change we should make in solving problems. It’s one of the main points I talk about in my charity product product management emails. There are two problems with understanding problems, the ‘understanding’ part, and the ‘problem’ part.

Weeknotes ‘258

This week I did:

Understanding problems

I was only at work two days this week due to exams but I was trying to be disciplined with myself about understanding problems before jumping to solutions. It made me stop and step back a few times. And it meant asking more questions, which even though I tried to explain why, I think some people found it annoying. Something to work on.

Last exam

Did my last exam. So that’s all of the modules for my MSc finished. And I got 76 on the last assignment I submitted. It puts me right on the borderline between distinction and merit, so depending on what result I get for my exam, it should push me over the line.

Productising services

Started some more product advisor work. It’s interesting to see organisations thinking about how to productise their services. My sense at the moment is that the majority will settle on a kind of business-process-as-a-service type model that gives some flexibility around people performing processes and the automation of other aspects. The charity and social good sector doesn’t feel quite ready for fully product business models.

Innovation processes in charities

Had a good chat with my dissertation supervisor about the literature review and research methodology I’ve been working on. I have a better structure in mind for the research and feel like I’ll soon be in a good position to finalise my research questions and send out the questionnaire.

Interface Integrate Iterate

I had my first sign-up and I pinned a tweet about my four email series about some of my ideas about the role product management can play in charities. Hopefully I get some feedback on the ideas that helps with my thinking about what makes good product management in charities.

And thought about:

What good product management in charities looks like

How to get the value of product management into charities that don’t value product management? That’s the question. That’s the challenge.

Microloans

As part of my revision for my exam I read about blockchain being used to provide credit to the four billion of unbanked people in the world. It made me thinking about microloans as a funding mechanism for charities. So, a charity could launch a campaign to secure zero interest loans rather than (or in addition to) donations, use the money to fund recruiting a fundraiser, who then raises enough money to pay back the loans, pay their salary, and fund other work for the charity. I’m sure in reality managing loans is massively complicated, but in my head it all makes sense and seems like a good opportunity (this why I don’t work in finance).

Public roadmaps

I’m a bit smitten with public roadmaps. It isn’t the roadmap itself, whatever it’s format (lets not get into that discussion again), it’s the courage and commitment to publicly state what you’ve achieved recently and will be working on in the future. Organisations that have public roadmaps are up there with remote-first organisations.

And read;

Value creation 101

Jelmer tweeted an interesting thread about value. Although I don’t agree with everything in the thread, for example about value being connected to scarcity and supply & demand, I think concepts like this are important to think about.

Product Management Handbook

I’ve started reading Scot Colfer’s Product Management Handbook, and Lauren Crichton’s Q&A with Scott. I love this quote, “Product managers don’t do anything. We listen. We think. And we talk. We understand other people’s perspectives and find value in the sweet spot where those perspectives converge. Product management is a role based on the power of conversations.” I wonder if its why some organisations, delivery-focused organisations perhaps, struggle with product management, because it doesn’t look like it delivers anything in the way designers and developers do. So the showing value in other ways becomes important, often through tangible artifacts, documentation, etc.

Principles vs. rules

The BetaCodex Network looks really interesting. If you’re into that kind of thing.

Weeknotes #257

This week I did:

Blueprinting

I spent quite a bit of time creating blueprints for how parts of products might interact as a way of exploring the translation from programme design into product development.

Service blueprint

In some ways, it was a week of visual working. We’ve been talking about how we do documentation better so that it’s quick to produce and easy to understand, and settled on screenshots being a good place to start. And one of the project teams is using Trello to track their work. I think, at the back of my mind, I’m taking onboard a comment someone made in the DigiScot talk about async working when we we’re talking about how we replace meetings, that drawing and visually representing ideas is a useful alternative to writing, so although I still write a lot, I’m trying to also work more visually so that more people can be involved.

Digital governance and risk management

I joined a really good talk by BeMoreDigital & Beyond Profit about managing digital risk and governance. I’ve been thinking for a while about how things like governance and risk management in charities, which are done in traditional non-digital ways, so it was really helpful to see others thinking about it. Governance is part of the business model of charities so as those business models become increasingly influenced by the internet, its important that we think about different ways of doing things like risk management.

Charity product management emails

I finished the first iteration of my ‘Interface – Integrate – Iterate‘ emails series about why charities need good product management. Next thing on the list is to get some feedback and figure out what improvements I can make. My aim (at the moment at least) is that this might develop into a project for after my dissertation about how to get good product thinking into charities.

June retro

End of the month. Time to look at the delivery plan I set at the beginning of the month and see how much I achieved and plan for what I want to achieve next month. Although this is only the second month of following a monthly process of reviewing progress and setting new goals for next month, it seems to be working really well.

And I thought about:

Influence

All a product manager has to get things done is their influence. And when something happens that damages that influence, even if it was out of the PM’s control, the thing to do is get to work on building up that influence. Vaguely connected, at least in my mind, is how this shows as a micro version of internet economics with attention and reputation being the currency. No one on the internet has authority over anyone else, but lots of people have more influence than others. So, for digital ways of working, whether on the internet of within an organisation, building and managing influence is important.

Consequences

I’ve been thinking about linear processes for product development (since that’s kind of what my dissertation is about) and how communication works throughout the process. I think there is a kind of entropy at play where well-ordered ideas and become more disordered at each stage as they become designs and then code. It’s a bit like playing a game of consequences where each time there is a hand-off to a different team, what was produced is hidden from the next and they only have the contextual rules of the game to guide what they then add. So, I’ve been thinking about how to reduce the entropy that occurs throughout the product development process.

Competition on the internet

My Twitter is made up of three ‘worlds’; charities, product management, and creator economy & nocode types. I see myself, one day, contributing to bringing those worlds closer together, but in the meantime I learn a lot from being part of these worlds. The lessons I learn from how the creator economy understands how to use the internet help me think about how the charity sector uses it internet (not really a spoiler but its way behind and doesn’t understand nearly as much). ‘Competition’ is a good example of that. The creator economy people know that they aren’t in competition with each other, even if they are doing very similar things, because they have an abundance mindset (something the internet has enabled). The charity sector, on the other hand, still has a scarcity mindset that drives competition. Competition works fine for usual market dynamics because the forces that drive it are mostly hidden, so everyone expects to be in competition but no one really knows who wins what. The problems occur when competition takes place in internet spaces which are more public, because then it’s easily taken as an attack.

And read:

Assemblage Space

I read John Willshire’s email newsletter Artefact 229 where he talks about his idea of Assemblage Space as a tool for thinking about the future and where our ideas about what the future might hold come from in our past. I was particularly interested in ‘the narrow now’ as the gateway through which how we remember the past and how we think about the future goes through. It helps us be aware that we are coming from a particular perspective, but it doesn’t help us see that the narrow now is always moving towards the future. Its the metaphysical conundrum of whether we conceive of time as a continuum or a series of fixed moments, but as John says in the video about A Spaces, the cone isn’t really the thing to focus on: the thing to focus on is the groupings of the things in the cone and how they relate to other things.

Lean impact

I read some of Ann Mei Chang’s Lean Impact which talks about whether/how innovation methods such as build-measure-learn loops can be used in the not-for-profit and social good space. There are some unique and obvious challenges about how impact projects are funded which make learning and scaling impact more difficult, but as Brid Brosnan from the British Red Cross shows, it is possible and it is changing.

Andragogy

I stumbled across the concept of andragogy, which is the theory of how adults learn from Macolm Knowles. Knowles said that when adults learn they should be self-directed and take responsibility for their decisions. “Andragogy makes the following assumptions about the design of learning: (1) Adults need to know why they need to learn something (2) Adults need to learn experientially, (3) Adults approach learning as problem-solving, and (4) Adults learn best when the topic is of immediate value.” So, adult learning programs should take these things into account.

Retrospective June 2021

Contributing to the digital transformation of the charity sector

I didn’t completely create a formalised processes and practices for discovery, definition and design, but I did make some progress on some aspects of the discovery activities and learned lots about how the process can be more successful in the future.

We didn’t deliver a safe and secure video meetings platform. We tried but there were too many technical issues so we reverted to our backup plan (always have a backup plan).

I contributed to the 2021-2023 organisational strategy for Bucks Mind but haven’t caught up on how the overall setting of the strategy is going.

I wrote three emails for Interface – Integrate – Iterate, and set up the subscription functionality on my website. I prioritised writing these over my dissertation and it feels good to have formalised some of my ideas about the roles good product management can play in a charity. I also thought a bit about creating a more accessible email course (my triple I ideas aren’t exactly introductory) to get product thinking into more smaller charities.

Learning about innovation, technology, product and design

I didn’t revise and complete the Blockchain Technology and it’s impact on innovation, management & policy exam because the exam, and time I’ve allocated for revision is in July so I’m moving this to next month.

I wrote some of the first draft of my dissertation literature review but didn’t finish it as I prioritised other stuff. The progress I did make on it has given my some good direction and plenty of content to analyse and review.

I wrote weeknotes #253, #254, #255, #256. Even after four years I still find them useful for reflecting on things I’ve done, read and thought about so no intention to stop.

Leading an intentional life

I continue to live a digital nomad life and roadtrip around the coast of England, Wales and Scotland. I spent June in Devon and Cornwall, visited some beaches, stuck to the mini goal of moving on every day, and thought about the essay ‘Waking up in beautiful places’ that I want to finish one day.

I aimed to reach 285 stiles on stiles.style but got 292. It’s interesting for me to reflect on the types of projects I keep going with (exploring, collecting, collating, doesn’t involve other people) and those I drop (require speaking to people). I wonder about this and ideas I have about a project to create training courses and how reliant they are on personal connections to get traction.

I currently have a 25 month runway, which means I could live comfortably for two years without any income.

Weeknotes #256

Things I did this week:

Took some time off

I sat by the river and watched the fish swimming slowly among the rocks. I knew I didn’t need to be anywhere else doing anything else. I had no Internet connection. No one else was around. It is only by the peacefulness of these places that we know the chaos and conflicts of the other places.

Game plan

I did do a bit of work this week. I’ve been thinking about how to create a game plan that allows us to join Programmes, Projects and Product, and the various teams and stakeholders. It represents the people involved, the value creation steps they’ll take, the outputs they produce, etc. So my next step is to find someone to present it to and validate it’s usefulness.

Product management in charities

I didn’t get as much done on my Interface, Integrate, Iterate emails about the roles and benefits of product management in charities as I would have like to have done, but I am making progress. I don’t think I’ll hit my target of completing them by the end of the month, but I’m still trying. Then I need some charity digital/product people to test them with and see if they make sense.

The end of blockchain

Not the technology, just the module I’ve been studying. We had our final lecture and I’ve started revising for the exam. Once that’s over I’ll have finished all the module study for my masters and achieved 40% of my grade, so now just the other 60% from my dissertation.


Some stuff I thought about:

Simple services

I saw a poster for Citizen’s Advice in Torpoint which explained how in simple, clear language the one and only way to get in touch to get help. Send a text message (the simplest and most prevalent channel available) and they’ll call you back to arrange an appointment. The poster could of also had a phone number, and an email address, and QR code, and a web address, but none of that is necessary. Rather than offering lots of ways to get in touch, which could confuse people and then requires all those different systems to be joined up, much better to offer a single simple way into the service. I’d love to see the metrics on the SMS booking service.

Citizen’s Advice’s vision states “You won’t ever struggle to get help from us. Our services will be available when you need them in a way that works for you”, and this poster is a great example of how the vision a charity holds can work on the ground, in a real life situation.

What do charities compete with?

Wayne Murray tweeted about how charities are in competition with Netflix and pubs when trying to engage people. There are so many ways to look at this. It’s undeniably true that we all only have a limited amount of time and attention so if we spend it at the pub we can’t also spend it volunteering with a charity. If people consider supporting a charity as on par with watching TV and socialising, then maybe there is direct competition. But if donating time and/or money to a charity is an extraordinary act for most people, then maybe it doesn’t compete with ordinary activities. And if you look at it as ‘doing good for myself’ (relaxing, socialising) and ‘doing good for others’ (supporting a charity), then maybe they are both worthy activities that have their place, which may or may not be in competition.

Can a charity live without a website?

James Heywood tweeted an interesting question about whether a charity can live without a website, and what some of the positives and negatives of doing so might be. It made me think how interesting it would be to take two similar small charities and create different digital strategies with the same objectives, where one strategy uses a website and the other doesn’t, and see which performs best.


A few things I read:

Is product management in continuous discovery?

I read a few posts by Teresa Torres, ‘The Best Continuous Discovery Teams Cultivate These Mindsets‘, ‘The Path to Better Product Decisions‘, and ‘Stop Validating & Start Co-Creating‘. They made me think about the function and discipline of Product Management and whether it’s definition is too fixed, not defined well enough, or the kind of role that should be in continuous discovery to figure out how it solves the right organisational problems within a range of scope.

The Computer for the 21st Century

Mark Weiser wrote The Computer for the 21st Century thirty years ago. In it he predicts the success of wearable tech as a means of collecting and presenting data, and explains why Virtual Reality never really took off. His premise is that in order for computers to be fully adopted they need to become unnoticeable, to “weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.”. Virtual reality takes people into the computer’s world rather than the computer coming into our world, so for all it’s usefulness it can never be as widely used as wearable devices which as easy to forget about but continue to do their computational work. Why does it matter? If he’s right, then maybe the idea serves as a guide for new and emerging technologies such as Voice, automated vehicles, blockchain, etc., and our adoption and response to it. The more a technologies blends into everyday life, the more it we be adopted.

Skills for the 21st Century

Online courses that that teach how to do something, e.g., take notes, write, produce newsletters, etc., are great but really what we need is learning opportunities for developing the top twenty skills for the 21st century.

  1. Judgment and Decision Making
  2. Fluency of Ideas
  3. Active Learning
  4. Learning Strategies
  5. Originality
  6. Systems Evaluation
  7. Deductive Reasoning
  8. Complex Problem Solving
  9. Systems Analysis
  10. Monitoring
  11. Critical Thinking
  12. Instructing
  13. Education and Training
  14. Management of Personnel Resources
  15. Coordination
  16. Inductive Reasoning
  17. Problem Sensitivity
  18. Information Ordering
  19. Active Listening
  20. Administration and Management

I think there might be a new project in there somewhere to figure out how to learn these kinds of skills…

Weeknotes #255

This week I did:

Programmes, products, projects

I spent a some thinking thinking through how we translate what our programme teams are developing for future courses into what we need to build into our products to enable the courses. It really does feel like a translation as there’s lots of different language and understanding that is important to get right.

One of our teams have adopted goal-based Now/Next/Later roadmaps for their projects. I was so impressed I messaged the project manager to tell them how happy I was to see it Ok, I’m a roadmap geek and I can admit it. Something I’ve realised about roadmaps is that the approaches, models and tools only work for a small number of elements. I wonder if the idea that roadmaps shouldn’t have too many things on them comes from the tools and models not being able to effectively represent lots of elements, or if it’s the idea drives the existence of the models. Maybe the limitations of the models is what keeps people using Gantt charts.

III

I had a few hours of inspiration about some of the things I want to include in my product management in charities email series so I made some notes will spend some of my time off work next week on writing the emails, setting-up the automation and sign-up form. It’s on my delivery plan to just get the emails written in June so if I can get the whole thing set up then I’ll be well ahead of schedule.

Escape form Bigbury

I went to beach last weekend a d found a nice spot to read a couple of innovation books for a few hours. During that time the tide came in and cut me off from the walking out the way I came in. I put my clothes and books into my bag, held it above my head and swam across a river, climbed up a small cliff, broke my sandals, and walked eight miles back to my car barefoot. I love these little adventures. It’s like being a kid again, getting myself into trouble and relying on myself to get out.

Blockchain in entrepreneurship

This week’s lecture was about the use of Blockchain in entrepreneurial business models, including the use of ICO‘s, which is an interesting way for start-ups to raise investment. ICO’s follow a standard approach of demonstrating that the start-up has four things that will lead to it’s success; human capital, quality of business model, social media activity, and a project elaboration whitepaper. The whitepaper is an organisational strategy document that aims to attract investors by expressing the business model. Tech start-ups often fail because they are more focused on building their solution than on validating the market needs and strategy for meeting it, so it’s interesting to see whitepapers as a mechanism for pulling them towards a more holistic approach.


And thought about:

What are we trying to achieve?

I’ve had various conversations this week, in various contexts, where trying to decide what action to take was hampered by a lack of clarity about what was trying to be achieved. Knowing the end goal becomes a guide for decision making, along with principle stacks in more complicated situations. So many of our tools and mental models are at the task level (see defining our unit of analysis below) which make it easier for us to get on with doing something, and make it harder for us to decide and remain focused on the goal.

Projects within projects

How do projects relate to each other? A project can be:

  • Building block – not dependent on other projects but with others dependent on it.
  • Chain – dependent on another with others dependent on it.
  • Standalone – no projects are dependent on it and it isn’t dependent on any.
  • Destination – dependent on other projects but with nothing dependent on it.

But that’s a pretty two-dimensional cause-and-effect view of how projects relate to each other. What about a ‘Russian doll’ relational model of project within project within project? Do we assume that projects are standalone entities when really they aren’t? What issues does this cause within organisations?

Define your unit of analysis

One of the difficult things about talking about innovation, or maybe anything that lacks an agreed definition, is being clear about what level you’re referring to. Are you talking about innovation as an activity within a company or an industry or a nation? In each of those cases the ‘unit of analysis’ is different and so the conversation is different, and confusing if different people are referring to different units of analysis without realising it.

Harmonic wave

I love a completely spurious and unconnected analogy. So, on that note, here’s why harmonic waves pendulums explain why keeping people aligned at work is so hard. The pendulums are made of a line of weights each hanging on a string of a different length. This means that even when they all start swinging together they swing at different speeds. In a harmonic wave pendulum it produces interesting patterns but at work people working at different speeds, because they have different tasks, different priorities, etc., produces dependencies, blockers, repetition and all the other things that make work inefficient. So, what’s the answer? Artificial constraints to keep everyone moving at the same speed? Redistributing work so those who are faster do more? Slice work into smaller pieces to make it easier? Yes. No. Depends.


And read:

The Power of Creative Destruction

Since reading about Schumpeter and the ideas he had about how innovation relies on creative destruction, that is one innovation destroying and replacing another, I thought he was wrong. It seems more likely that innovation builds on what went before. The Power of Creative Destruction: Economic Upheaval and the Wealth of Nations by Philippe Aghion, Céline Antonin and Simon Bunel reconsiders Schumpeter and what effect his ideas have had on how we approach innovation.

Work from Home & Productivity

This research showed that during a period of pandemic-enforced working from home (context is important but not really recognised enough) IT professionals spent more time doing less work. Productivity fell by 20% because although the study’s participants were working longer hours, more of that time was in meetings. What can we take from this, other than meetings are bad? Two things, I think. More meetings happen because organisations don’t have effective ways to coordinate work asynchronously (arguably they don’t have synchronous means to coordinate effectively either, but hey…) and so default to more meetings in an attempt to achieve coordination. And then, secondly, the visibility of workers in meetings serves as replacement for trust in workers.

A Manifesto For A New Way Of Work

Written in 2015, A Manifesto For A New Way Of Work describes the old versus new, which I like as a way of helping to make clear the unknown unknowns of the new way of work and draw lines of distinction. I’ve been thinking a bit about ‘operating systems’ for work, how we define the basic rules that create the behaviours we want to see at higher levels. Boyd’s manifesto helps with a far-off vision of what work could be like, rather than a realistic current model, but it’s interesting nonetheless from a ‘it’s a systems problem not a people problem‘ point of view.

Bigbury-on-sea

I got stranded on the wrong side of the beach, swam across the river, and broke my sandals, hiked 8 miles, mostly barefoot, 3/4 mile of forded road, lots of up hill.

It’s the little adventures like this that make it all worthwhile.