Retrospective November 2021

Lesson of the month is ‘simplicity’. However big and complicated something is, pulling out the simplest small part of it is the fastest way to progress. Sometimes things like complicated just because they aren’t well coordinated. Simplification makes coordination easier too.

Contributing to the digital transformation of the charity sector

It’s been a interesting month of moving from definition to the development work. I always know that the transition is never straightforward and clean cut like all the models show but I still get slightly surprised by it. Project phases are an illusion.

I didn’t get onto the work I was expecting/hoping to do around the continuous improvement model for the product but I did progress the decision around the use of virtual meetings platform. And as always, I did lots of other things.

I resigned from my role at the Prince’s Trust and am joining RNID as a Product Lead.

Learning about innovation, technology, product and design

I’ve pretty much given up on the idea of is a more interesting idea with better defined audience and at least some idea for a potential marketing plan, and I’ve already made more progress than I ever did with writing a hundred essays about innovation.

I’ve enjoyed writing the Irregular Ideas newsletter for the past five weeks. Being a newsletter rather than blog posts adds some constraints which I think/hope are improving my writing and I like that it has a broad topic.

I didn’t add any more stiles as NFT’s. Just wasn’t a priority. It would be nice to get all of my stiles on Opensea but it’s very time-consuming I don’t know what I’ll do with them once they’re on there.

I did a bit of research into DAO’s for but not enough to really progress the idea. There is still something really interesting to explore there but it’s big and messy and amorphous and very uncertain.

I wrote quite a few blog posts for NoBloPoMo but not the full thirty I was intending too. I decided to refocus on other projects.

Didn’t do any work on Adjacencies and losing a bit of interest in it.

I finished the Foundations of Humane Technology course. I want to try to embed some of the stuff I learned in my product thinking so I might write a blog post about it as a way to start to collect together some thinking about humane tech.

I wrote weeknotes on schedule every week.

Leading an intentional life

My nomadic life along the coastline continued. The weather and dark evenings haven’t stopped me from visiting beautiful places each day.

Research on how charities approach innovation and new product development processes

Innovation is a challenge in the charity sector. Not only are charities stuck between constraints on funding innovation and the need to create new value and better ways of operating, but all of the innovation methodologies are aimed at commercial organisations. So, how do charities innovate? How do they take a good idea and create social good?

I interviewed four charities with innovation teams in order to try to find out. We discussed their innovation processes, their motivations for innovating and how they judge the success of innovations.

From an analysis of research I built a theory for innovation in charities and develop the ‘charity innovation model’ which plots the approach a charity takes towards innovation on a two-by-two matrix by assessing common characteristics in motivation to innovate, implementation of innovation process and the judging of innovation success to indicate whether the innovations produced are likely to be incremental or radical innovation and strategic or social innovation.

The research concludes that charities do not use their innovation teams to develop radical new solutions to tackle social issues which contributes to answering the question often raised about charity innovation; ‘if charities are innovating, why are there still so many social issues?’

The full research write-up is here.

Foundations of Humane Technology: the course all product managers should take

The Center for Human Technology offers an online course aimed at people working in tech to encourage us to consider how we can make technologies more humane.

Foundations of Humane Technology will prepare product teams to create technology that treats attention and intention as sacred, protects well-being, minimizes unforeseen consequences, and ultimately builds our collective capacity to address the most urgent challenges facing humanity.

It’s easy to tell ourselves that if we don’t work on large scale social platforms that our products have no means to cause harm and so we don’t need to think about these things, but in fact unless we understand and amplify the message that all technology should be humane, how can we ever make any technology better?

The course consists of eight self-paced modules.

  • Setting the Stage – What challenges define this moment in history and how can the technology we build help to address them?
  • Creating Shared Understanding – How can technology engender the trust and understanding we need to solve complex problems together?
  • Respecting Human Nature – How can technology work in harmony with the vulnerabilities and biases with which all humans have evolved?
  • Narrowing the Gap – How can technology address inequity and practically integrate voices of people who experience harm?
  • Minimizing Harmful Consequences – What economic forces affect products, and how can product teams help address and reduce harmful externalities?
  • Helping People Thrive – How can products help people act in alignment with their deeper intentions, rather than optimizing for engagement?
  • Centering Values – How do the conditions of our lives shape our values? How might product development be informed by metrics but centered on values?
  • Ready To Act – How can we create a culture of humane technology inside of our workplaces and broader industry?

All product teams teams should do the course, ideally together so they can talk about the issues and ideas the course raises. If you’re interested, sign-up now.

Charity Service/Product Model Canvas – iteration 2

Charity Service Model Canvas – iteration 2

Users at the centre.

Understanding needs and problems on one side and outcomes on the other.

Acquisition and Solutions intersect the Users to show that equal consideration needs to be given to getting people using the product as building it.

Below the line of user interaction is Costs, Partners, Resources and Funding.

Doesn’t have Activities like iteration 1 did. Should it?

What good product management in charities looks like

I don’t have the answer. But I’m pretty sure that it is rooted in compassion, kindness, integrity, justice and inclusiveness before it even thinks about product practices or applying them in the context of a charity. That’s the hard stuff to get right. Without that it’s easy to go astray and with that the rest of it looks easy.

The challenge of digital transformation

A colleague of someone’s, perhaps yours, woke up this morning to the alarm clock on their mobile phone. They traveled to work on the Tube or bus and their ticket was in an app. As they traveled they streamed music or a podcast and they didn’t need training or guidance in how to do it. Then they got to work, stepped over that imaginary boundary between work and life, and they stopped being digital.

The challenge of digital transformation is to integrate the organisation into the society-wide digital ecosystem so that people continue to be as ‘digital’ at work as they are in the rest of their lives, not to bring ‘digital’ into the organisation and make people do work in digital ways.

Then, they stepped back over the boundary and went back into their digital lives of watching videos, shopping online, getting a taxi, do their banking, turning up the heating.

Brilliant blockchain ideas

Blockchains offer a means of creating an immutable record of transactions on a peer-to-peer network of computers. Here are some brilliant ideas of things we could use blockchain for:

  • Record the usage of toilet paper in public toilets – As each square of toilet paper is dispensed a transaction is added to the blockchain so that an everlasting and never changing record of how many squares of toilet paper were used in each visit is maintained.
  • A single pixel of a famous photo – If you’re NASA and you own the rights to iconic images such as the Blue Marble from the 1972 Apollo mission, why sell the image as a whole as a single NFT when you can sell each individual pixel and create a unique and finite community of Blue Marblers.
  • Every tin of beans – In fact every piece of food produced is recorded on a blockchain, with transactions added each time it changes location, from manufacturer to wholesaler to supermarket to your kitchen. Your smart kitchen communicates via bluetooth with every piece of food within it so when you open the tin (or your robot butler does) that too is added to the blockchain so that everyone knows beyond a doubt that that tin of beans has been consumed.
  • Blockchain of blockchains – Create a blockchain that records that every transaction that happens on every other blockchain so that there is an immutable record of all the blockchains. Just in case.
  • Santa’s list of naughty and nice children – Every child in the world is added to the blockchain , and every time each of them does something naughty or nice another block is added, enabling Santa (or more probably Elves with PhD’s in data science) to maintain an unarguable list of which children are getting presents this year. Santa could sell licenses to enable apps to be built that show the data for convincing children to behave or marketing toys to them.

If you’re looking for something more helpful, this demo of how a blockchain works is great.

Dream team: twelve domains of knowledge for modern product teams

Gone are the days of the product team triad of product, design and engineering. Today’s product teams require skills and knowledge across twelve domains of knowledge.

  • Analysis – depending on the context might be business analysis or data analysis and reporting.
  • Architecture – Tech stack and architectural design and decisions.
  • Content – designing and creating content for product and marketing.
  • Customer success – supporting users to make best use of the product, collecting feedback.
  • Delivery – support development/engineering, remove barriers, schedule and facilitate software development.
  • Development/engineering – Developing and managing software packages for websites and applications.
  • Interaction design – Generate interaction concepts that enable seamless and relevant experiences for users.
  • Marketing- Identify target audience, promote products and services.
  • Product – Align product vision and strategy to organisational goals, user needs, technical capabilities.
  • Project – Manages scope, schedule, finance, risk, quality and resources.
  • Research – plan, design and carry out user and market research activities to get a deep understanding of the users.
  • Service design – Design the end-to-end journey of a service to help users complete their goal

A Leverage Points Framework for Systems-shifting product management

Systems-shifting product management builds on the work of systems-shifting design which moves away from user centred practices in order to affect change by effecting systems.

How might product management use a Leverage Points Framework

Based on the Center for Humane Technology’s Leverage Points Framework, which is based on Donella Meadows ‘12 Leverage Points to Intervene in a System‘, here is version 0.1 of the Systems-shifting product management Leverage Points Framework.

A Leverage Points Framework for Systems-shifting product management

The core concept of a leverage framework is to illustrate that there are multiple points at which leverage can be applied to achieve an outcome, that depending on where on the lever the leverage point is the more or less effect it will have on the outcome, and that multiple leverage points can be used together to increase achieving the outcome.

1 – User action. Leverage applied here is about providing the means for a user to perform an action.

2 – Feature. Leverage at this point involves change to existing or new features in an attempt to achieve the outcome.

3 – Product. Product-wide changes or new products utilise leverage at this level.

4 – Business model. Changing business models applies leverage at this point on the lever.

5 – Organisation. Changes within an organisation can have high leverage on outcomes.

6 – Culture. Changing the culture has the highest leverage in achieving an outcome.

What might that look like in practice?

Example: Let’s saying we’re looking for ways to reduce misinformation on Twitter.

The lowest leverage change that could be made would be to introduce something that relies on a user action for achieving the outcome. That could be something like displaying a message asking the user if they want to read an article before they retweet it. Low leverage changes are quick to introduce but find it extremely difficult to achieve the outcome alone.

The second point on the framework is to introduce a feature that aims to achieve the outcome. This is higher leverage than point one as it is always available for all users and doesn’t rely on a user action. For our example this could be changing the algorithm to reduce the reach of retweets with links so that fewer people then click on and read the article.

Point three is at the product level. This means either wholesale changes to an existing product or a new product. For the purposes of this example lets imagine a very different Twitter where the algorithm tries to keep users in bubbles, reduces the number tweets in users’ timeline that are counter to views they’ve shared, or anonymises content to expose users to different perspectives but prevents the originator from being attacked for expressing them.

Point four is about how changing the business model can achieve the outcome. Twitter relies on driving user engagement in order to create ad spend in order to generate revenue. If social media sites over a certain size were considered a public good and part of the essential infrastructure of countries there could be an argument for governments contributing to revenue in return for Twitter reducing the need for increasing user engagement with certain types of content.

Five is leverage at the organisational level and could include changes to the company structure, incentives that drive behaviours, success measures, the diversity of people working there, how inclusive open to different points-of-view the corporate culture is.

The sixth and highest level point of leverage is to change the culture. This means changing what society considers acceptable behaviour, legislating against certain organisations and public figures to prevent misinformation, or putting memes to work against misinformation.

Or a simpler example: increase revenue.

  1. Send a user more emails, so they click more links, and buy more stuff.
  2. Introduce a feature that users pay more for.
  3. Introduce a product that solves a different problem, and which users pay for.
  4. Change the business model. Move upstream in the value chain, e.g. from buying something from another business to producing that thing that other businesses buy from you.
  5. Restructure the organisation to downsize departments with higher costs.
  6. Change the culture, create a trend so that more people desire what you produce.

Why do product managers struggle to achieve outcomes?

Because they almost always work at the lower levels of the lever. Why do product managers work at the lower levels? Because organisations often really don’t want to change in order to achieve outcomes, especially if they feel they are succeeding with their current features, products, business models, organisational structures and cultural view of the world.

Not only is is hard to do, it’s also difficult to be sure you’ll achieve the desired outcome. Any action in a complex system will have unintended consequences, but higher leverage changes are more likely to have vastly disconnected consequences which are impossible to tie back to the change.