Weeknotes #249

This week I:

Digital safety

Work this week has mostly been about digital safeguarding, getting the platform set up and tested, and double checking that all the processes are in place. Next week I’ll be training our new moderation team and getting the platform live so young people can join.

I’ve also been working on a few other projects where I’ve tried to be bring more focus on knowing what we want to achieve and how we’re going measure the objectives. It’s too easy to get into conversations about doing things without a shared understanding about why we’re doing it or how we’ll know if we’ve succeeded. We should always start with what problem we’re trying to solve, I hope I can bring some robustness in that kind of thinking.

Danger close, kids

Teenagers and trains don’t mix. I saw some standing on train tracks, waiting for trains to approach and then running off the tracks. I called 999, the police came and went off looking for the kids. I carried on with my walk thinking about the behaviours of teenagers, teenage boys trying to impress teenage girls, how we judge risk and whether the risk is worth it.

Slow start

Got the first response to my survey about the effects of lockdown on people who live in vans. There aren’t many true vanlifers, and they aren’t easy to find, and even when you’ve found them they aren’t that interested in taking part in research. Turns out that maybe vanlifers mostly just want to be left alone.

Milestone

I reached 250 stiles in my collection. I’ve thought about creating an NFT for all the stile.style images but I don’t know yet if you can do that with a collection of images that are added to over time. Something to learn more about.

Collecting innovators

I’ve been looking for people who work in innovation in charities to be research subjects for my dissertation. But it made me wonder what percentage of the UK charity workforce works in innovation, and how that compares to other sectors.


Thought about:

Thinking about thinking

I’ve been thinking about how much I think and how connected it is to how much space I feel like I have in my world. The past couple of weeks have been really busy at work, I’m back out on the road, and I’ve started studying a module on Blockchain for my masters, and I’m doing a lot of reading and organising for my dissertation. All this knowledge logistics doesn’t leave any room for exploring ideas. I miss that.

Show, don’t tell

‘Show, don’t tell’, the phrase that prompts so many ‘show and tells’ and demos of work in progress, seems to have an obvious purpose. People understand better when they see something rather than when that same thing is explained to them. But it also goes deeper. There is a qualitative difference between telling someone things and doing things that demonstrate it. They are understood in different ways. Being told requires an intellectual understanding and acceptance whereas being shown reaches some other mode of understanding, somehow un-verbal. I think I see similar differences in lots of things, where one side is tangible, measurable, explainable, and the other is, well… the opposite. Job titles and descriptions vs. all the skills, experience, opinions and ideas someone has, is a good example. We use the measurable as a proxy for the immeasurable.

Less coordination

I listened to a podcast with a guy who worked at Amazon, about his book called ‘Work backwards’, and which he talks about some of the management techniques they use at Amazon. They referred to a memo Jeff Bezos wrote about how to reorganise the company for growth, and that it relied on teams communicating via API’s rather than meetings. I’ve been thinking about coordination and alignment challenges, and how from the Amazon point-of-view, the answer lies in making teams independent and decoupled so that they don’t have to coordinate people’s time in order to pass information effectively. The usual approach is that as organisations increase in complexity, usually through increasing the number of people, that more coordination is required, but I’m wondering about ways of working that don’t require lots of coordination and how teams can serve as platforms for other teams.

Why weeknote

Weeknotes are part of a reflective practice for increasing agility of thinking. They are about writing about some of the things that happened over the last seven days, and reflecting on what you thought, felt and learned. Weeknotes offer a time-boxed regularity and predictability to how much stuff there is to reflect on, and shorter cycles and faster feedback increases agility of thinking.


And read:

Agnostic Agile principles

I read the Agnostic Agile principles. I like principles (defined as: “a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behaviour or for a chain of reasoning.” in case you’re wondering like I was). I refer, almost daily, to the Modern Agile principles, which are less explanatory that the Agnostic Agile principles, but not necessarily better or worse. Agile seems pretty unique in how much consideration is put into it’s principles (does digital marketing have principles, or brick-laying?) which is interesting in itself.

What is civil society?

The Law Family Commission on Civil Society published a report describe what they mean when they talk about civil society. There are lots of interesting things to consider in the report, including the blurred boundaries between civil space and personal space (the example of an online group discussing a local litter issue seems clearly civil to me, but anyway), the definitions of civil space (which range from whether individuals are creating social value to participating in spaces of shared value). The concept of civil society is particularly important in these times of society trying to figure out how the individual relates to the collective, but although much of that discussion might take place in the civic space we must also include the State and the Market in those discussions (the Basecamp thing is part of the same discussion; its about whether a company exists for the benefit of individuals (shareholders in Friedman’s point-of-view) or for the benefit of the collective (employees and wider society)).

Power and ethics in tech

Cat Swetel’s post about power and ethics in tech is amazing. She talks about power-over, power-with and power-to, about how even some actions which looks like they come from a good place can be done in a power-over way, and how people who approach with a power-over mindset struggle to see that power-with or power-to “is an effort to grow the total amount of power available rather than a grab for a greater percentage of a fixed power pool.” Understanding power is a fundamental skill in the modern world.

4 Modes of Thinking

A colleague mentioned Adam Grant’s work on the Preacher, Prosecutor, Politician, and Scientist modes of thinking so I read a bit about it. He talks about how we view our’s and others opinions, whether we assume we’re right or whether we go looking for information to prove or disapprove a hypothesis. I guess there’s a value subtext suggesting that we should try to be more like scientists but of course in practice all modes are required in different situations, so maybe the self awareness comes in knowing which mode to choose.

What is the true nature of reality?

In case you were wondering…


Wisdom to end the week:

I make a journey, you make a journey, we make a journey together

Jerry, Sphere

Weeknotes #242

What I did this week:

Rescope and replan

Another change. Such is the nature of offering a service that has many dependent and tight-coupled aspects. We re-scoped and re-planned to come up with a version of the product that still meets the user needs but it much simpler to build in the time we have available. Thinking about the changes over the past few weeks has helped me realise that a product being minimal and viable isn’t enough. It also needs to be acceptable. It needs to meet some stakeholder’s expectations to continue to get support. One of the positives of the changes and increased pressure is that it seems to be forcing us to work more closely as a team, especially design and development. It has also helped me see more clearly where we have mis-alignments that need to be resolved.

Agile Project Management

I wrote up some of my thoughts about agile project management not being the project management of agile software development but about how project management can adopt some of the ideas of agile to produce iterative project plans that help to identify gaps in the schedule.

Revising convergence

I’ve been revising the concepts from the New Media and Digital Creativity module I’ve been studying, including the idea of convergence which describes how media used to be in separate forms, for example print on paper and music on radio waves, but through digitisation technologies has converged into a single media of 1’s and 0’s. McMullan talks about how this digitisation creates the ‘proto-affordance’ of computability that fundamentally shapes our culture. There’s no going back.

Writing day notes

I’m still writing a short pre-formatted status post every day as part of an experiment in reflective learning. I think it needs some form of review trigger that makes me look back over the week, or to this time two weeks, etc., to reflect on whether things have improved, are issues persisting, what am I learning, etc.

A few things I thought about this week:

Charities shouldn’t be trying to put themselves out of existence

Do businesses try to put themselves out of existence? Do they ever say, ‘We’ve made enough money now, lets stop.’? Do governments try to put themselves out of existence? Do they look for ways of devolving power to the people? No. Why not? Because both businesses and governments have a place in society. They serve a role larger they just the benefits they seek for themselves.

Charities are the same. I know our assumptions about charities as organisations are closely tied to the cause they are tackling, and that’s why it’s easy to fall into the idea that if the cause didn’t exist then charities wouldn’t need to either, but I say this is false logic. A charity builds up lots of expertise in some fairly unique capabilities and to throw all that away because they we’re so good they achieved their mission would seem to me to be very wasteful and a great loss of all the other benefits charities create for our society, like volunteering and prompting people to make change.

Oblique strategies for alertness

Brian Eno’s oblique strategies, random instructions printed on playing cards, are reputed to have been responsible for some very cool music. Following the instructions forced musicians out of their comfort zone and made them pay attention. They disrupted the complacency of expertise. I’m interested in what the benefits of this kind of thinking might be in digital work, whether it might help us deal with uncertainty better. So many of the tools and techniques we use convince us that they are all we need to have certainty about things, and I’m not convinced that’s a good thing.

What does it mean to be a product-led charity

What might a product-led charity look like? How might it differ from a non-product-led charity, and how would you tell the difference? To be clear, when I talk about ‘product’ in this sense I don’t mean the technology. It’s very likely that a product-led charity would make use of technology in their products but a product is more than the tech. A simple example is Hullo. Their product is the offer of a conversation with a friendly stranger, not the phones they use to have those conversations.

I think it might require a move away from idea of charities providing value as one-way stream (from funders, through the charity, to service users). Being truly product-led might mean recognisjng a mutually reciprocal value exchange along the lines of how service-dominant logic explain it. I’m pretty sure it means repositioning the IT/Technology department to no longer be seen as a support function for fixing your laptop. And I’m certain it’ll bring all kinds of funding challenges where income is usually associated with delivering projects.

Some stuff I read this week

Where do good ideas come from

Chance favours the connected mind.

New product development body of knowledge

All the right answers.

OCVA Digital Needs Survey

I read the results of the OCVA Digital Needs Survey. Apart from the very un-digitalness of embedding a pdf on the webpage, it’s a interesting survey. Some of the responses includes things like how to better meet the needs of people who are digitally excluded, procure digital products, make the most of Microsoft 365 and use video meetings software better. These are all things that large charities seem to struggle with too, so it seems it’s a general lack of digital knowledge across the sector rather than being specific to a certain size of organisation.

A while ago I started a blog post on how small charities can assess and procure digital products so maybe I should finish that, but I also had a quick look around for ideas about how I might be able to help small charities improve their digital skills. I found a charity mentoring organisation but as all of their mentors were white, middle-class and middle-aged it didn’t look like somewhere I would fit in. I wonder how oblivious organisations are to this kind of stuff of if it’s implicitly intentional.

Daily stand-ups

Why have daily stand-ups?

Alignment

Accountability

Focus

Information sharing

It’s Not Just Standing Up: Patterns for Daily Standup Meetings

Daily Meeting

Async Stand-ups, Reports, and Insights for Teams | Status Hero

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Daily Standup Meetings: Everything You Need to Know (Standup Agenda, Purpose, Common Pitfalls, and More!)

The complete guide to the daily standup meeting agenda

Goodbye to strategic planning. Hello to ‘agile’ strategy!

Traditional strategic planning is dying.  In today’s dynamic world fewer and fewer organisations practise the conventional process of ‘forecast ahead, prepare 3-year plan, then get staff to implement’.  This rigid, top-down approach is in complete contrast to the approach used today by, for instance, leading tech companies where, using the context of a visionary framework they have defined, goals and actions are decided and reviewed every few months for staff teams, and strategy emerges from their ongoing innovations and tactical decisions.  In effect, strategy merges with tactics.