Week notes #187

This week I’ve been doing:

How things fit together

I had another fantastic week at work. I’m still in ‘discovery’ phase and spent time at the Job Centre to understand how the referral process works, spoke to our CEO about the potential for digital products to  spoke to an Operations Manager to find out more about how programmes are delivered, and listened to the story of a young person who set up her own business with the help of the Prince’s Trust. This, plus all the research reports I’ve read and market analysis I’ve worked on to understand other players in the space of youth training and employment are making progress towards understanding our product/market fit. 

I’m beginning to conceptualise how the Prince’s Trust acts as a ‘connector’ between young people, referral organisations, volunteers, and delivery partner organisations, and how we might think about a product that performs this same role digitally, essentially a ‘marketplace of opportunities’ where young people can be matched to a mentor, volunteers can be matched to schools, and programmes can be matched to delivery partners. The key to this matching is in understanding and meeting the needs of each party to allow them to get the most out of the opportunities. If we think of it as a one-way value exchange with just the young person benefiting we’ll misunderstand the mechanics necessary to make the product achieve scalable, sustainable and impactful results.

This week I’ve been studying:

McKinsey’s disruptive technologies 

No lectures as the lecturers are on strike, but I’ve been progressing my assignment and learning lots about Amazon’s innovation strategy. 

A gallery of disruptive technologies from McKinsey

I’ve looked at how Amazon is involved in eight of McKinsey’s disruptive technologies, from the obvious of AWS in cloud to Bezos’ investments in nuclear fusion and next-generation genomics. Apart from the ‘you really can do pretty much whatever you want when you have that much money’ realisation this brings, I think the most interesting thing I’ve learned is that by contrast, pretty much every other organisation in the world has no idea how to innovate like Amazon. I wonder what we could achieve if we applied a similar approach to innovation in the charity sector?

Some stuff I read this week

  • Changing the NEET mindset – This report from 2014 is about achieving more effective transitions between education and work for young people, especially those that don’t have a clear path. It’s interesting that more than five years later there still isn’t an agreed definition of this segment of young people and that even the classification of NEET starts with what they are ‘not’ rather than what they are.
  • The Basecamp Guide to Internal Communication – Basecamp is one of companies people either love or hate, but regardless they are good at walking their talk, and their guide to how they communicate includes things asynchronous communication methods as a first choice, writing rather than chatting (I’m really interested in this one as I think how organisations manage information and convert tacit knowledge into codified information is increasingly important), and considering how communication interrupts, leads to misunderstanding and needs to be in right place at the right time.
  • Opportunity Mapping Project – The Othering & Belonging Institute’s article on Opportunity Mapping seems to have some interesting overlaps with place-based strategies and thinking about how people are affected by the systems they interact with. 

This week I’ve been thinking about:


I’ve been looking into personas and how to use them to guide some product development decisions. Some personas for the young people that we work with were produced as part of the research for a programme we’re delivering, but I’m having trouble turning the information in the personas into useful actionable goal-orientated insights. Sophie Dennis from NHS Digital helped loads by explaining more about personas and that I should look into reinterpreting the research. One of the interesting things I picked out was that personas differentiate actual user behaviour, which I take to mean in the case of young people that if persona A is unemployed and persona B is under-employed, but for the purposes of our product they both behave in the same way (which could be looking for a job) then they are really the same persona. I want to learn much more about personas as they are clearly far more complicated than I thought.

I didn’t choose the inequality-systems life, the inequality-systems life chose me.

The Mayday Trust wrote about the current state of homelessness services and how they really aren’t person-led. I think the same challenge exists wherever people interact with systems in society, including charities and health services. The article talks about changing the narratives from systems like these so that people have the freedom to write their own stories. For me, this means moving away from the history that thinks of people that our society consider as non-contributors (mentally ill, homeless, unemployed, etc.) should be subject to control through these systems, and the structural behaviours of those systems that try to ensure people are ‘maintained’ in their state of need and control to ensure the status quo of the system. Removing the control mechanisms, thinking of and treating people as adults with the right to freedom and self-determination, allowing people to develop the self-belief, confidence, resilience, aspirations, etc., that mean they can imagine and create a different future for themselves, all this and more, has to be part of a future society that supports people without controlling them.

Faster Feedback Learning Loops

I watched a video about Strategic Doing which mentioned the 30/30 technique, a way of looking back over the last thirty days to review what you’ve learned and using it to plan what you are going to do for the next thirty days. I’ve been thinking about how to create faster feedback loops for learning (faster than every thirty days) so this seems interesting. Although I like to fluid discovery-type learning that I do, and enjoy the reflective practice of writing week notes, I want to get more disciplined about learning specific things so that I can apply. I’m not sure about the prompts but maybe something like: “What did I learn today/this week? How am I going to apply this learning tomorrow/next week/in the future? What do I need to learn next/tomorrow/next week?” I also feel like I need a system for managing this and making it enforceable, but I haven’t got that far in my thinking yet so I might just try it out in a less formal way for a while.

Things people I follow on Twitter have been saying:

A different way of recruiting

Janet Thorne, CEO of Reach Volunteering, tweeted about experimenting with a different way of recruiting, a way that didn’t ask candidates for a CV or to complete an application, but instead answer three questions. Not having information about where a candidate went to school or which companies they had previously worked for prevented all kinds of unconscious bias on the part of the recruiters and resulted in selecting people better suited to the role and organisation. She didn’t say what three questions she asked, but it left me thinking about what three questions I’d ask.

The future of education

David Perell tweeted about his visions of the future of education, including how course production will have huge budgets and teachers will command huge income, but that education will be cheap and available to any self-motivated learner with an internet connection. I agree that education needs a massive shake-up. Having been a student for a few months I’ve experienced the frustratingly old and un-user-focused way knowledge is protected within inward-looking traditional institutions and education is delivered in achingly non-twenty-first-century ways. The current education could never disrupt itself in ways anywhere near close to what David is talking about. They could take their old mindsets onto the internet but it will take a new mindset to really provide something that meets the needs of users, offers fast feedback loops so users can iterate on their learning rather than being graded on an assignment they wrote months before, co-creating the course content as interesting topics emerge rather than following a curriculum chosen by a single lecturer based solely on what they know, and encouraging variability of points-of-view and ways of learning rather than standardisation and comparison between learners.

Tying product success to user success

Tim Herbig tweeted about measuring changes in user behaviour to understand the success of a product. Measuring the success of changes to a product by whether it changes user behaviour rather than by company KPI’s tells us whether our product is helping user to succeed in what they are trying to do. Tying measurement closely to user behavior in this way, rather than through proxies, helps product managers get a much better understanding of whether the changes they are making to the product are impactful.

Needs and capabilities

In response to the tweet ““Requirements” is my least favorite word in product development. What’s a better one for that clarity around what matters to users?”, Ryan P. McGarvey tweeted about thinking of requirements as “as two sides of the coin as “needs” and “capabilities”.” He explains it as “The user needs to be able to do X. The system is capable of providing Y and Z which satisfy X.” I like this. It seems to parallel on a different level my opinion that product management is about balancing risks and opportunities.