Week notes #186

This week I’ve been doing:

Product/market fit for non-profits

I’ve been working on an analysis of the organisations that have products and services in the young people’s employment space. The offers seem to fall into two distinct groups; commercial organisations with a strong online presence that don’t work with disadvantaged young people, and charity/not-for-profit organisations that work with disadvantaged young people but don’t have a digital offer. I think this gap is where we can provide a well blended experience-focused offer with digital products and services that meet the needs of disadvantaged young people. Of course the high quality face-to-face work will always be where young people get the most value but we can offer always-on, easy-to-access, and most importantly useful ways for young people to make their lives better.

Balancing user experience with data compliance

We’ve been working through wireframes and doing lots of thinking about how to ensure we’re giving young people control and choices about their data and meeting our compliance obligations whilst also giving young people a good user experience that helps them make contact and take the next step in opening up opportunities for themselves.

Design thinking in product development 

I went to a ProductTank Oxford meetup about Design Thinking. It was an interesting talk but I left wondering if I could have learned just as much by watching a few YouTube videos. Going to meetups was part of my personal OKRs to participate in the digital charities community but I’m not sure I’m getting much value out of them. I have a few more meetups over the next few weeks so I’ll see how they go and then decide whether to adjust my key results.

CAST Techforgood’s Coffee Connections

I signed up for CAST Techforgood’s Coffee Connections. Every two months we’ll be matched with someone else from the charity sector and we’ll arrange to meet up and chat about things. Maybe this will be a better way for me to participate in the digital charities community.

Product teams

Completed John Cutler’s survey. Interesting that my answers suggested different levels of maturity/advancement for different things. I guess I had assumed that a high performing team was high scoring in all aspects of their practice but John’s questions suggest to me that teams can be good at some things and not so good at others. 

User manual for me

I finished writing my user manual for me and added to my website. Next I need to find time to add it to RogBot.

This week I’ve been studying:

Profiting from innovation in the knowledge economy

Strategies to profit from innovation:

  • Choosing the appropriate supply chain structure
  • Choosing the appropriate intellectual property protection strategy

In the most complex situations, the innovators that profit the most are those who are able to organize their supply chain most effectively.

Intellectual property rights includes legal instruments that protect innovation from imitation.

Innovation at Amazon 

I’ve also been working on my assignment about how Amazon approaches innovation which I think can be broadly summed up in three parts:

  • Large investments and acquisitions in software and hardware across multiple sectors and industries, spreading their bets and putting Amazon in control of the value chain.
  • Use the new technology that is produced to develop products and services in a wide and diverse range of sectors, ensuring competitive advantage  in almost every sector they enter.
  • Commercialise those products and services, allowing other companies to leverage them, generating revenue and creating network effects.

This week I’ve been thinking about:

Strategic questions about charities

“If a charity could significantly reduce the number of people suffering from an issue by doing something different, but risk no longer having any reason to exist because not many people have that issue anymore, would they do it?” One side of the argument says that charities should always be working to make themselves obsolete by removing the issue they were set up to tackle, but I’m not sure that recognises the additional value charities bring to society other than by tackling issues, things like offering volunteering opportunities. But for me, the point is that if a charity has been so effective as to remove an issue that people facing then they’re likely to have built up a lot of skills, knowledge, influence, etc., and it would be wasteful to disband such a high-performing organisation. It would be better if they changed mission and worked on another issue.

“Can charity’s create truly scalable ‘business’ (for want of a better term) models?” Amazon talks about building ‘flywheels’ within its business that once spinning generate more momentum for other parts of the organisation and are scalable. Uber’s now-infamous virtuous circle napkin diagram of how to make a geographically dense, hyperlocal marketplace work for travel shows how they get each part of the business to drive other parts. Many charities already have these various ‘engines’; volunteers and supporters, customers and stock donors for charity shops, increasingly digital platforms that enable their work (such as the recently launched Dementia Connect) but these are often thought of and managed in very separate ways. Even when people in charities talk about ‘scaling’ services they usually actually mean replicating the service, growing it by adding more of the same so that it increases at a linear rate of 1,2,3,4,5. When a service is truly scaled (by a factor of 2 in this example) it increases non-linearly as 1,2,4,8,16. I think, if a charity ever figures out how to apply this mindset and connect all of the things it does so that they all support the growth of all the other aspects, it will signal an exciting shift for how charities work in the 21st century.

“Do charities look outwardly enough when thinking about strategy?” Most of the strategy work I’ve ever seen from charities has been internally focused. It’s usually about what they’ll do to be the best organisation they can and how they’ll go about doing the work they exist to do. Looking internally is an important part of thinking strategically as strategy is essentially an action plan to achieve long term goals, but if they don’t understand what is going on not only in their sector or area of expertise but also in the lives of the people they are trying to help, then they risk becoming ineffectual and irrelevant. Whilst I’m on the topic, my opinion of the ‘five year strategy’ is, don’t do it. Things will change so much within five years (that’s why charities need to get better at looking outwards at what’s going on around them) that trying to stick to a plan that was written years ago makes very little sense. The argument I’ve heard that having a long term strategy gives stakeholders (staff, beneficiaries, funders, etc.) a sense of stability might have made sense in the past but in the future it’s just putting blinkers on and pretending that you can be the one stable thing in a world of constant change. Better, I think, to say that we recognise that things are going to change, that they are going to keep changing, and that we are going to get good at keeping pace with change.

This week people I follow on Twitter have been talking about:


Andrea Saez tweeted about prioritising backlogs by what objectives are to be met, what problems are to be solved, what information sits outside, such as market, qualitative feedback & product vision.

Remote retros

Gitte Klitgaard asked what tools people use for remote retrospectives and there were lots of suggestions. I’ve added lots of them into the Compendium of Ideas I’m working on.

Hinton’s Law

Andrew Hinton came up with Hinton’s Law: Any multi-user system that makes it easier to create new information than it is to consume that information will eventually overwhelm its users. He was referring to Slack, but it applies to all communication tools and channels. It’s definitely a challenge for turning the intangible asset of tacit knowledge into codief knowledge that can be used for competitive advantage.