Weeknotes #273

Photo of the week:

Moon rise over Exmoor

This week I did:

Bringing together the solutions and the solvers

Two focuses at work this week; expanding the team and how young people can provide documentary evidence for things like address or right to work in the UK.

For the type of work we’re doing we use an in-sourcing approach. This gives us the flexibility to bring people into the team with the skill sets we need at the time we need them. For me, the interesting challenge is the knowledge transfer to all these people. What do they need to know, and what don’t they need to know? How much detail? What can they see that we’ve missed so far? How can I make a year’s worth of thinking feel like a coherent body of information and insight?

The logic of providing documentary evidence goes something like this: We need you to provide documents that prove your name, date of birth, address, right to work in the UK, etc. If you can provide a document that gives us three of those then we only need one more document for the fourth thing, but if the document only gives us two then we need to get the other two from one or two other documents. Codifying all the option for the different documents so that we’re only collecting what we need and giving the young person the most flexibility for how they provide that is what I’ve been working through with other teams to get to a solution that works for everyone.

Non-fungible stiles

I started a collection of NFT stiles on OpenSea and wrote a bit about how NFTs are conceptual art about the ownership of art and the concept of ownership, and how art is the best means for exploring such ambiguous questions. I have thirty NFT stiles so far but intend to build up the collection to the four hundred and one I have at the moment and for it to continue to grow as I find more stiles out there in the real world and connect them to the digital world.

And I thought about:

Ends vs means

There’s a line in The Team That Managed Itself that goes something like, “Service groups worship process, business teams worship results” It got me thinking about ends and means and whether that why the two groups of people, judging success in fundamentally and often deeply implicit ways, always seem difficult to align? One cares more about how the results are achieved, what process is followed, how faithfully followed it is. The other is more concerned about the outcomes that are reached. I wonder if there is a way to get the two points of view to align or whether they can only ever be mutually exclusive?

Autonomous teams are anarchists at heart

I don’t think we can understand how autonomous teams operate at their best unless we understand that they are fundamentally anarchistic. Teams that manage to remove top-down centralised governance of themselves and


I go on about how our mental models and ability to communicate complicated things is limited by our ability to draw in two dimensions. Illustrating the change between two states is no different. We usually show the starting state, the expected end state, and a straight arrow joining the two. We don’t tend to communicate the messy, blurry in-between states.

And read this week:

The team that managed itself

I’ve been reading Christina Wodtke’s The team that managed itself. I think I’m enjoying reading a book from start to finish, something I haven’t done in quite a while, but I’m also not sure I quite ‘get it’ yet. Anyway, I know it’s fictional but the picture it paints about what product managers do in the game industry is really interesting to compare to what product managers do in the charity sector. I had some similar comparative thoughts about Trilly Chatterjee’s post about what product managers do in public health, which I’ll write up some time.

Claim Your Audience

The episode of the Forever employable podcast with Nir Eyal, the author of Hooked, talks about building and owning your audience. I have ethics considerations around the whole building an audience thing and how pervasive it is in the modern creator economy. I’m not suggesting the corporate world is any more ethical but at least it’s more transparent in treating people like customers. Anyway, regardless of that, I thought it was an interesting interview, especially the part about developing domain expertise.


I found this tweet from Chelsea Troy quite interesting. Not because it’s about buses, I’m not that much of a nerd, but because of what it says about understanding problems and what the pattern of solutions look like. If the problem is about how to move people from one place to another, presumably within quite a limited geographic area, in eco-friendly way, then the solution always looks like grouping people together to move them. We can discount counter-solutions, i.e., not moving people, because they don’t fit our understanding and definition of the problem (which is why that part is so important). And we can discount the politics and economics of implementing the solution because that’s a different problem to solve and shouldn’t sway what the best solution to the original problem looks like.

My growth area this week:

Questioning communication

I’ve been questioning how I communicate quite a bit this week. There have been a few times where I’ve tried to be specific about my request without being prescriptive about the output, but then what I received back wasn’t what I needed or thought I had asked for.

Limiting the work in progress for autonomous teams is important for organisational effectiveness

When an individual working alone has too many things to do, doing everything means that everything goes slowly. They can prioritise certain things, spend more time on them at the expense of doing other things, but ultimately everything still moves slowly.

When an individual with too many things to do works with another individuals with too many things to do, the problem is compounded because each has to wait for the other to complete pieces of work before they can work on their things. Two people can talk to each other and coordinate the work and make some efficiencies but it’s still easy to see how having too many things to do impacts these individuals.

When a team has too many things to do it becomes too complex to coordinate even just two teams with simple communication and aligned agreement. People being people tend to drift out of alignment and do their own thing. Even if the teams have someone with the role of specifically coordinating the work of the teams it’s still impossible to know how long each person will take to finish their work and so people get blocked waiting for others.

When all the individuals and teams across an entire organisation have too much to do, the compounded blocking is multipled and it becomes impossible to even figure out the current state of which work is dependent on which other work and which is blocked waiting for which piece of work to be finished. Trying to plot this into the future is a task of so many unknowns and such complexity that it is beyond human comprehension.

This tells us that the problem isn’t actually to do with the work, what is being done or how long it take, the problem is that when so many variables interact in a complex system they have unpredictable effects on each other. But one effect we can all observe is that work takes longer to complete because people get blocked.

How do we make individuals, teams and organisations more effective? How do we reduce the complexity to be more effective? Reduce the work? Reduce the interactions?

Perhaps the answer really is autonomous teams with strict limits on work in progress, but then I think that organisations look at the model and think it would be more cost-effective to slice the teams the other way.