Week notes #205

This week I did:

Crystal clear

I tried Wayne Murray’s crystal clear strategy for delivery instead of the scrum-style standup questions that I haven’t been having much success with.

What non-essential things am I stripping out?

  • Not going to meetings that don’t require my input because I know I can rely on the people in the meetings. – Varied success with this. The problem with meetings is that you only know if you being there was of value after the meeting. 
  • Not spending more time on a piece of work just to make it look ‘finished’ if it’s creating the understanding it needs to. – Still think this is a good approach. I think it also helps to communicate the idea that everything changes and nothing is ever truly finished. 

What have I learned from yesterday?

  • Clear definitions of the ideas and words we use matter. – It matters and doesn’t matter. The understanding matters but what we call things doesn’t matter. 
  • Not learning from existing problems means they’ll repeat again and again. – Not sure about this. It remains true but I’m not sure how to make sure I’ve actually learned it.
  • Reaching understanding requires time and effort. – It definitely does, and feels like it will be an ongoing challenge. 

What will I achieve today?

  • Get my thinking into a form that clearly expresses direction-setting questions, so that we can have focused discussions. – Feel like this failed. We don’t ask enough questions; we don’t have enough time. 

What do I hope to achieve this week?

  • A shared understanding about the proposition, assumptions, and tech choices for a new product. – I made some progress on this but don’t think I achieved it. I had the idea that the shared understanding is the balance between what the tech is capable of, how the Ops team deliver digitally, and the safeguarding of young people in an online space. 

How did it go? Well, I was hoping to take time each morning to think about each question again but always jumped straight into work without taking that time, which shows that I need more discipline. I also wonder how to approach answering the questions. Am I being too philosophical in my answers, or not specific enough, do they need to be more measurable? 

Why data will be so valuable in the future

I collected together some of my thoughts on data including how data is and isn’t the new oil, how all data is conceptually connected, and how Data Trusts can level the playing field for businesses and consumers.

Transitional on/offboarding for knowledge transfer

After reading Alex Danco’s email newsletter about how Silicon Valley was able to become so innovative in software development because the of the laws in California don’t prevent an employee from taking knowledge from one employer to another (an example of systems thinking about creating the conditions for emergence), I decided to write about my ideas about knowledge transfer between charities as employees on and off-board, and how it could be a mechanism for sharing practices and so drive improvement across the sector.


I signed up for Honeycode, Amazon’s app builder, but haven’t had time to do anything with it yet. The three use cases they mention on the website (team task tracker, budget approval and event planner) are all internal business apps, which seems to communicate Honeycode’s proposition, but until I play with it I won’t know 

Do you think they wanted to call it Honeycomb but then someone said, Google already used that, so they went with Honeycode?

Existence is self-evident. Until it isn’t.

Beth Crackles podcast with Wayne Murray was really good. They talked about organisational strategy, how charities are institutional and inward looking, and how they have to keep asking ‘why’ to get to understand their relevance. The question of the relevance of charities (rather than an individual charity), of what is the purpose of charities in society, is really interesting to me. I see the concept of a charity as a type of organisation that achieves social good as facing pressures on two sides; from decentralised social movements on one side and businesses adopting purpose on the other side. Charities will find themselves more and more in a squeezed middle of social impact as more people realise that there are far more ways to do something good.

And I learned:

Shared understanding and collaborative working is hard

Especially when deadlines are approaching. Especially when short term goals matter. Especially when it feels easier not to. 

Does it do what it shouldn’t do?

When you build a product from scratch you know if it does what it should do, that’s why we have Show & Tells and usually the discussion ends there as there isn’t any need to ask if it does something it shouldn’t do. But when working with an off-the-shelf product and then configuring it to work in ways it isn’t designed to, that question becomes very important. 

Most popular

My most popular blog post of all time is ‘Microsoft Planner Vs. Trello’ with 10.85% of page views, with ‘Learning a framework for playing Go Fish’ coming in second with 10.01%. I don’t have any more analytics than that but my assumption is that the MS Planner post gets shown in searches on Bing, but I have no idea why people come to the Go Fish post.

And thought about:

Note taking and expanding on ideas

I’ve become a bit obsessed with Andy Matuschak’s thoughts on note taking. I make lots of notes, but they are mostly functional such as things we talk about in a meeting or things I don’t want to forget. I don’t yet have a means of making notes that makes them easier to join up. I’ve got lots of ideas about digital, innovation and the future of charities but I can’t quite get them all together in any kind of coherent way to be able to build on them. The idea below about ‘the charity sector as innovator for the state’, which came back to me after reading a tweet, actually started months ago when I was reading Stephen Bubb’s history of charities, but I lost it because I didn’t have a system of note taking that makes it easy to connect and expand on ideas. 

I’ve looked at a few other approaches to organising knowledge including lightweight ontologies and Gherkin documentation but I haven’t made any progress and iIt’s frustrating me and my efforts to improve my writing workflow and get on with some of the essays I want to write.

What questions are we asking?

Words like ‘requirements’ and ‘functional specification’ mean different things to different people. So we can either carry on using them to look clever and be confused, or we can use real language. Business requirements = what do we want to do? Functional specifications = how are we going to do it? Apart from the humanness of saying what we mean, using questions opens up space for exploration whereas using terms that require definition closes down discussion. Asking the right questions helps us reach shared understanding. 

And saw on Twitter:

Third sector and public sector

Mike Chitty tweeted about the relationship between the third sector and the public sector, which gave me an opportunity to reply about how the third sector could operate almost as an innovation lab, uncovering problems, figuring out solutions and then handing over the solutions to the public sector to scale and improve society. I see precedent in how lots of charity hospices were taken over by the state when the NHS was created, and the benefits of charities and voluntary organisations. One of the more obvious ways these types of organisations play the role of innovator for the state is in advocating for changes to laws but it could also apply to service delivery. It could be that as more commercial businesses adopt for-good purposes that blur the boundaries between business and charity organisations that the third sector shifts even more towards experimenting with innovative solutions for society.

Accessible LMS

Nicolas Steenhout tweeted, “The field of accessible LMS is thin. That is, there are nearly no learning management systems that I can find that are WCAG 2.1 AA conformant.” Why would you build a Learning Management System that isn’t accessible?

Let’s talk about High Agency

Shreyas Doshi tweeted about how high agency is a prerequisite for making a profound impact in one’s life & work. He defines agency as ‘finding a way to get what you want, without waiting for conditions to be perfect or otherwise blaming the circumstances’. I don’t disagree. High agency, and the internal locus of control that it comes from, probably is an important prerequisite for making an impact but it seems very simplistic. It doesn’t recognise any other factors that affect making a profound impact or that they might be ways of making an impact for people with low agency. Simplistic models of complex things do more harm than good.

The future of education looks like Y Combinator

David Perell tweeted a thread about the future of education, and what I find most interesting about it is not whether the future of education does or doesn’t look like Y Combinator, but that in developing the future of education, the past of education isn’t the place to look for inspiration and that there are other ways of doing things in other sectors that offer some interesting alternatives to just trying to take the old ways of educating and trying to make them work online.

Transitional on/offboarding for knowledge transfer

Alex Danco explained in his newsletter how one of things that drove innovation in Silicon Valley was that when people changed jobs they were allowed to share their knowledge about their previous companies processes and practices.

The expectation was that this sharing would be bad for competition in the tech industry and for companies as it would make it harder to compete with other companies that knew how they did things.

Actually, it was a good thing for competition as people could improve their skills more quickly and companies could benefit from those skills. They were all in the same boat riding a rising tide.

It might not seem like it, but this is an inspiration for improving onboarding and offboarding of people in UK companies, and most especially charities and the charity sector, which has so much to gain from better knowledge sharing.

Instead of the current way, where someone hands in their notice and works for month or three before leaving their previous organisation, and then starting at their new job, the notice period could become a transition period.

Week 1 of the notice period would see them working 4 days at their current job and 1 day at their new job. Week 2 would be a 2/3 day split, and by week 4 they’d be working 1 day a week at their current job and 4 at the new one.

This would be underpinned by a knowledge sharing agreement between the two organisations so they can feel confident that they will get the benefits of this two-way knowledge transfer.

It would make the move from one job to another easier for the person doing it, and spread ideas and practices across the sector with a speed and scale never seen before.

If we want more innovative charities and a sector that can utilise knowledge more effectively and more quickly, then innovative practices like on/offboarding knowledge transfer partnerships could be a useful technique.

Week notes #204

Some things I did this week:

Digital Safeguarding

I’ve been working on digital safeguarding, which like so many digital things, is a little about the technology and a lot about the attitudes, assumptions, behaviours and expectations of people. A big part of the shift in mindset is to understand that people behave differently online than they do in real life due to the online disinhibition effect and moving from ‘assumed safety’ which comes naturally to us when we’re in groups in real-life, to ‘assumed risk’ which helps put us on our guard when in digital spaces. Digital safeguarding needs technology, training, policy and practice as part of the solution but the mindset stuff underpins all of that, and can’t be successful without it. Wider than safeguarding, the digital mindset seems like the big gap in the digital transformation. Living in an online world but using the thinking we learned in the real world causes such a lack of awareness and understanding about how that online world operates.

And then The Catalyst launched DigiSafe, which has some really helpful guidance (and is cool because it’s in Gitbook). I don’t want to seem like I’m bashing it because I think it’s a really good resource for charities but I feel like it falls into the ‘digital is just another channel’ trap and implies that safeguarding on the web can be approached in the same way as safeguarding in real life without taking account of the behaviour change that happens online and the scale and complexity of it. I worry it would be easy for charities to become complacent because they have a policy in place and have had some training.  

Teams support

I’ve been doing some work to support teams and users new to Teams. It’s been really useful to see the challenges people have with using a new product so I hope I get to do more of it, and it was interesting to see where other organisations are in rolling out Teams. I think I’m starting to understand how Teams and all the infrastructure behind it is such a different product to the likes of Word and Excel, and is on a whole other level of complexity.

Defining product experience 

I’ve been working on a way to quickly and iteratively develop and capture the understanding of people from different teams with different skills and perspectives as we define new products. One of the problems I see is that people produce good work which if we could all absorb would help us understand the product better, but that work is scattered across different documents and folders and formats, which means we’re likely to look at it once and not fully absorb it.

Five levels of understanding of product experience

So, this process, and the single shared document that we work in, structures and records our understanding. It uses five layers with progressively finer fidelity of understanding. The first layer helps to paint the big picture about ‘why’ we should be building this new product. The second layer is ‘who’ we are building it for. That breaks down into ‘what’ those users want. The even more detailed level describes ‘how’ we are going to do it. And ‘when’ introduces an element of time and knits all the parts together to create the entire product experience.

We’ve had people from different teams working together in a single shared document, using calls to discuss things quickly, chat to discuss things together, and comments in the document to raise questions that we should answer later. People join in when they are available and drop out when they have other things to do but the work flows on. 

It’s an interesting way of working synchronously and asynchronously, and it provides an undercurrent of shifting the focus away from hierarchical decision-making structures towards collaborative decision-evolving. Where there is uncertainty we have lots of activity as people work through questions, and as certainty emerges the activity reduces to the point where no more changes are being made because everyone feels settled on their understanding and how it is expressed. This is what I mean by decision-evolving, rather than someone working in isolation to create a document that is reviewed and approved by a single decision-maker.

I’m going to blog about it at some point.

Joined YourStack

I’m on the waitlist for YourStack, where people post about what products they use. I’m not quite sure why it exists yet but I’m keen to see if it can be part of my thinking about opening my workflows so I guess I’ll see once the 17,193 people who are ahead of me on the waitlist have been given access.

This week I studied:

Revising previous lectures

No lecture this week, exams in a couple of weeks, and then I’ll have finished the first year of my masters. I’ve really enjoyed learning so much but I’m also looking forward to not having the added pressure of lectures, reading, assignments, etc. for a few months.

I thought about this week:

A platform business model for a charity

I realised where I’ve been going wrong in my thinking about platform business models for charities for the past couple of years. I’ve been trying to see it at the level of how products and services, or various functions like fundraising and volunteering, interact, but that is too close to the reality of an operating model in order to really understand how a platform business model would change how all those things work. The platform business model needed a deeper layer of abstraction.

The model describes how data, information and knowledge flow through an organisation so that value is added by turning data into information and information into knowledge, and how if any part of the system experiences an increase it drives an increase in the entire system. It utilises internet-era thinking including the law of increasing returns, network effects, and positive feedback loops. The opposite model of a pipeline drives value in one direction which makes it really difficult for a change in a later part of the pipeline to affect anything earlier (in fact there is maths to prove it).

Platform business model for charities

I started a blog post about it but I couldn’t figure how to structure the post in a way that would make sense. But I do intend to finish it some time soon and explain what I’m talking about in much more detail.

My workflow

I tried to hold daily standups with myself in order to be clear with myself what I’m focusing on but it didn’t go very well. I only remembered to do it once and even then I didn’t do the things I told myself I was going to.

I haven’t used my workflow Trello board very much this week because I haven’t had time to do very much of this kind of work.

My workflow trello board for 16th June 2020

I’m keen to keep trying to improve how I do this kind of work to achieve the right balance between inputs (reading books, listening to podcasts, etc.), processing (thinking and making notes about the inputs to improve my learning and understanding), and outputs (writing blog posts, improving my digital practice. And eventually to think more about a model for platform-ising my workflow.

Cybersecurity charity 

When bad stuff happens in the real world, things like bereavement, debt or mental health crisis there are charities to turn to for help. What about when bad stuff happens online? Stuff like identity theft, online reputation damage, fraud and financial theft, and inaccurate personal data affecting life opportunities like getting a mortgage. I wonder when we’ll see a digital–first charity that supports people affected by things that happen online?

How employers see digital skills

Perhaps now as never before it’s actually conceivable that a child could go through their entire education digitally; that is, never having sat in a classroom with other children, never having attended a lecture in person, and never having had any work experience outside of their home. But they could have still learned lots of very useful skills. I wonder how potential employers would look upon this person. Would they consider them as employable as someone who did go to school, go to university, and get experience in an actual workplace? 

Think global, act individually

I wondered what, as an individual, I could do to contribute to the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals? With things like ‘No poverty’ and ‘Clean water and sanitation’ the goals seem like such big things, which of course they need to be, but what if individuals could contribute to them? The GoodLifeGoals website and Pack of Actions include some suggestions around educating ourselves about the cause of poverty and buying from ethical companies, for example, which is a really useful start. I want to spend some time figuring out how I might align my life and the choices I make with the goals and perhaps how they can provide some kind of ‘framework’ (for want of a better word) for what a good life looks like in practice.

Some people tweeted:

The Good Service Scale

A few people tweeted about Lou Downe’s Good Service Scale, which looks like a really interesting way to assess services. I wonder if there is a way to rephrase and reframe the questions to be able to ask the service users what they think and compare to what the people from within the organisation 

Impactful books

Brianne Kimmel asked “What has been the most impactful book, blog post or podcast episode for your personal growth?” and received hundreds of answers, which one day I’ll add to my reading list.

Change is an air war and a ground war

Jason Yip tweeted about his preferred models and strategies for facilitating large-scale change. It contains a lot to think about.

Reduced hours not reduced value

When the lockdown started lots of organisations rapidly changed their working practices, and charities were no different. Charities recognised that the coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic crash was going to drastically affect their ability to help people and to fundraise. The need for many charity’s services increased at the same time the money needed to pay for those services decreased. Charities responded to the massively reduced income by attempting to reduce one of their largest expenditures; salary. Some people were put on furlough, and others were offered reduced working hours along with the reduced salary to match.

Those who went to reduced working hours, of which I was one, accepted working four days a week for eighty percent of the original salary. And for a while I tried to stick to that. I’m not sure why, probably because that is what I was told to do and I hadn’t yet questioned the logic. And the logic is interesting, because at face value it makes perfect logical sense. You are going to be paid 20% less so you should work 20% fewer hours. But only makes sense if you are using an industrial mindset that associates value to time spent doing something. As if human beings are machines with a hours counter that clicks on as we are busy working and stops when we stop. This carries the underlying assumption that every hour has the same value as any other hour. But humans aren’t machines, and valuing human being by the time they spend doing something isn’t the only logic that can be applied here.

Instead of rewarding someone for the hours they spend at work, we could reward them because they bring value to the organisation. Not, and this is an important point, for the individual units of value they deliver, but more generally because them being a part of the organisation makes it better in all of the hard-to-define ways that people do. People bring ideas, and personalities, and jokes, and smiles, and a listening ear, and knowledge, and experience, and something they read in a book, and their ability to form relationships with other people that make it possible to communicate and collaborate. These are the things we actually value in people so these are the things our organisations should pay for. Divorcing units of work (be that hours spent or widgets made) from reward confines the industrial mindset to a previous point in history where perhaps it made sense for a little while, and elevates new thinking about rewarding people in ways that better fits the knowledge economy that we all increasingly operating in.

The charity I work for is a knowledge organisation. It takes the knowledge that one group of people hold and gives it to another group of people for them to utilise to improve their opportunities and make their lives better. We’re not a service organisation or a product organisation, they are just the means with which we deliver that knowledge. Tesco doesn’t call itself a van company just because that’s the means with which they deliver groceries. In the reward-by-hours-spent way, its easy to see why so few people spend time learning and developing their knowledge, because why would they if they are being paid for their time rather than their knowledge. But in the reward-by-value future, the knowledge worker is going to be measured by the all the characteristics that they hold as a person that are worth something to the organisation, and being able to learn new things will be an important one. Charities understanding that they are knowledge organisations might be the first step to creating a platform business model for charities, but that’s a thought for another time. For now, we’re talking about how we should break the connection between work and reward and instead establish a connection between reward and human characteristics like knowledge, ethics, personality, etc.

Personally, separating the reward I receive from the time I spend is easy, but that’s because I’m a bit weird. I am intrinsically motivated to achieve things, hopefully good things. I am not motivated by extrinsic things like pay or peer pressure. I take the pay because I need it to live, but if I didn’t I would do the work for free. I get to spend my time thinking about how to solve complex problems for people that need help. I think that is awesome.

So, if the reward I get from the organisation I work for is no longer tied to the time I spend doing that work, either because of my particular motivations or because in some alternate-reality organisations see sense in what I’m suggesting, then working reduced hours for reduced salary makes no sense. I should continue to contribute the value I can to the organisation, which will be different each day and will change over time as I learn more, and the organisation will continue to reward me based on the overall value I bring and with the monetary amount that equals being based on the realities of the situation we find ourselves in. I’m not suggesting I should be paid the full amount of my salary just because I am contributing my full value. I want my reduced salary to be part of the greater good, following from the many examples of solidarity we’ve seen throughout the pandemic, if we all take a hit we can all get through it together.

Week notes #203

This week I did:

Changing the rules of the game for charities

Reuben Turner from Good Innovation wrote an article about the need for a change in how charities approach fundraising to think more about engagement over efficiency and flourishing over formulas, and I wrote a response about how Friedman’s ‘rules of game’ for an organisation (including a charity) being to maximise profit is a narrow view that doesn’t take into account of human behaviour, and that profit, whilst a good measure, might not be the best target.

Schmenner’s Service Process Matrix – but for charities

Schmenner’s Service Process Matrix classifies services by the amount of in-person support is required from employees to enable the service to function, and by the amount of customer contact and/or customisation the service requires. I looked at a way to apply the model to identifying the type of service a charity might develop based on its available resources and the needs of its users.

Charities need better digital technology for communicating with their service users

I wrote about the things I’ve learned recently about digital communication technologies used by charities based on The Catalyst’s article ‘The top ten digital challenges facing the charity sector‘ which showed how a number of charities were struggling with identifying and using the right platforms for communicating and providing digital services with their service users (number 2). I think charities are facing this struggle because the products on the market are not designed to meet their needs. They need a different kind of digital communication technology, one that is built with privacy and security in mind that allows people from within the organisation to talk to people outside.

How the COVID-19 crisis is changing the debate on digital transformation strategies

I watched the online seminar from Birkbeck about the effects of a crisis on the digital transformation of businesses. It concluded with the obvious, that there will be winner and loser businesses and industries, and that the crisis will accelerate the transformation (not just digital transformation) of businesses that do survive.

The steps of a service

I applied some of the thinking I learned from Good Services to helping us articulate the steps we were putting into a service and the language we used to describe and refer to those parts of the service. I put the ten steps that we settled on into a single document and all of the people involved inputted their knowledge about each of the steps so that we could be clear about what happens for each. It was a really good example of collaborative working that progressed us towards the next step in designing the service. I would what we’d see if we had a separate service design team investigating how we go about developing services?

This week I studied:

Digital enterprise

“How digital technologies have changed the way organisations collaborate and network. It explains how digital social platforms have enabled new ways of organising and building relational networks. Based in industry research, the lecture shows how different corporate departments are benefiting from the advance in digital technologies for collaboration and communication, becoming networked enterprises. It also discusses how to engage the workforce and customers in these transformations, and how to explore new forms of organising (such as open innovation and crowdsourcing).”

The most interesting idea we discussed was that these social platform technologies have enabled the creation of organic networks and social ties in contrast and in addition to the hierarchies of an organisation. The weak ties between people in different teams become channels of information and innovation in ways that fixed structural information flows never can.

This week I thoughts about:

Working in the open

Following on from Oikos Digital’s building in the open approach, I’ve been thinking about my workflow for learning and writing, and making it more open. My public Trello board includes a column for what I intend to do this week, which gets filled with things from the other columns such as books to read, lectures to listen to, blog posts to write, etc., and then are moved to the Done column. It occurred to me that my three objectives map quite nicely to a pipeline of inputting, processing, and outputting. ‘Getting an effective education’ brings information into me, ‘Live an intentional life’ fits what I do with the information, how I learn from it, being focused, etc., and ‘Have an impactful career in digital charity’ fits the outputting of the knowledge I develop. Next I want to think about how I turn my workflow from a pipeline into a platform, and why I would/should do that.

Good Service

I’ve been reading Lou Downe’s Good Services – How to design services that work. It’s a fantastic book and I’ve learned things that I’ve been able to apply successfully at work the next day. To me, that’s a sign of a good book. It has so many good ideas, even if your job isn’t building services (good or otherwise) like mine. The idea that I’ve been thinking most recently is about how a team is only as strong as the weakest link, and it seems to me that specialists create more risk of weak links and generalists reduce the weaknesses. So maybe delivering something that relies on a chain of specialists probably has less chance of being successful than generalists who can overlap their skills and abilities.

How products and services work together

I’m still thinking a lot about how products and services fit together. My latest idea is that they should fit together like a zip, with the customer journey coming together and running through the middle. This means that we can still define differences between what a product is and what a service is, that they can be separate things, but that they rely on each other in order for the customer to be successful. I think maybe that the parts in the customer journey where the user has to stop and do something they use the product, and that when the user has to move onto the next step, to know where to go and how to get there, then they are using the service. This means that product and service need each other to succeed. Still struggling to explain the difference between them though.

This week people tweeted about:

Working in public

Nadia tweeted about her book ‘Working in Public: The Making and Maintenance of Open Source Software’. The open source movement is interesting to me, a little bit because I’ve studied it (and feel a little frustrated with the irony of a university teaching about open source with copyrighted lecture materials that I would get in trouble if I made publicly available) but also because I think of it as a model for more than just developing software. So, this book is on my list.

New to digital ways of working

What would you recommend someone reads if they are new to digital ways of working? Steve recommended the Product Management learning list for government and The UX Coach suggested Books Vs People and What does being digital actually mean?

The cozy web

Maggie Appleton tweeted about the dark forest and the cozy web which makes so much sense. It explains many experiences of using the web, with the dark forest being the big public bits of the web like Twitter and ads on websites, and the cozy web emerging in response to that, which we see with the rise of enclaved communities of like-minded people writing email newsletters and communicating in WhatsApp groups.

Changing the rules of the game for charities

Reuben‘s call to change how charities approach fundraising to think more about engagement over efficiency and flourishing over formulas must strike a chord with so many people who work in charities and feel torn between wanting to do good work and wanting to do good for the cause. We might like to think that these two are one and the same but more often than not they feel like very different things.

Reuben talks about how fundraising is approached in a mechanistic way with a focus on maximising efficiency and the outputting of fundraising collateral, and suggests a better approach:

My view is that engagement, for want of a better word, isn’t just a more palatable word for acquisition, but an opportunity to prize human flourishing. It’s an opportunity for us, as agents of change, to bring more of our selves to work. To think beyond the optimised formulas of fundraising and access our empathy, our ingenuity, our humanity.

Reuben Turner

I’ve seen a similar situation in Product Management. The product-isation of production of product. What John Cutler calls the feature factory. Developing new features knowing that they will not make any difference to the success of the product, not increase the value the customer gets out of the product, and not increase the revenue the organisation gets from the product, all continued and repeated because that’s the way its always been done.

It is that way because every organisation, whether a commercial business or a charity, is built on the same paradigm. If Taylor is the grandfather of maximising efficient production, Friedman is the father of maximising profit.

Friedman said “there is one and only one social responsibility of business–to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game.” Friedman’s opinion has been a guiding principle for almost every organisation, whether for-profit or not-for-profit since he expressed it more than fifty years ago. The leaders of the organisation believe that their purpose is to maximum profit for shareholders in the case of a business and for the cause in the case of charities.

It’s hard to argue with that. If you’re a charity, why wouldn’t you want to increase profits for the cause?

The answer is, that you would and should, but of course there is a bigger picture. That question does not exist in isolation. There are lots of other things to consider, lines not to be crossed, decisions to be made about how, moral choices about the right and wrong way to increase profits. These are the ‘rules of game’, as Friedman put it. And those rules affect our thinking without us even being aware of them. Standard business logic says that profit is maximised by increasing revenue and reducing costs, often through efficiency measures (back to Reuben’s point about approaching fundraising as though it was manufacturing).

The profit a charity makes; how much money is left over for the cause after costs, should be a measure of success for a charity. But following Goodhart’s law, “when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure” we realise where we went wrong. Profit has become the target. Targets drive behaviours, and often those behaviours have unintended consequences. The Taylor & Friedman -inspired mechanistic mindset drives organisational behaviours that cause people to feel like feel like “a cog in a fundraising machine designed for optimisation”, to quote Reuben again, rather than human beings doing good work that makes them feel like they are bringing value to those who engage with the charity.

Perhaps more ‘charitable’ targets are human-centred things like ‘how many lives touched’, and ‘how deeply affected’ over financial targets like ‘cost-to-serve’ and ‘revenue-per-visitor’. Of course charities will have to have uncomfortable discussions with themselves about the value of their impact on a human life, and how many human lives affected is sufficient for them to justify their size, funding and even existence. Such is nature of changing the rules of the game.

Schmenner’s Service Process Matrix – but for charities


Developing services for charities is no easy task, especially as the need for their services increases and the available funding reduces. What approach can charities use to help select the most appropriate type of service? Perhaps we can learn from research from the commercial services sector, with some adaption for the charity sector, to better understand how to make strategic choices about service types.

Service Process Matrix

Schmenner’s Service Process Matrix (Schmenner, 1986) classifies services by the amount of in-person support is required from employees to enable the service to function, and by the amount of customer contact and/or customisation the service requires.

Source: Verma & Boyer, 2000

We could apply the same thinking to charity services, but change the language to help us move away from the commercial mindset and towards a greater focus on the needs of the beneficiaries of the charity services.

‘Customer contact/Customization’ refers to whether the service is offered in the same way to all customers or is customised for each customer. It could be renamed ‘Service-user’s need’ in our charity adaption of the model with more complex needs in the right hand column of the diagram and less complex needs to the left. This axis tells us that there is a notional threshold point at which a charity designing a service needs to decide whether the complexity of the service-user’s needs are sufficient to suggest the service should use a model in the right hand column, or simple enough for a model in the left hand column to apply.

Schmenner talks about ‘Labor intensity’ as a ratio between people and machinery, so a low-intensive labor business uses more technology than people in delivering its services (the top row of the diagram) whilst the opposite is true for a high-intensive labor business (the bottom row of the diagram). For our charity adaption we should keep this definition of labor intensity as it gives us a sense of the balance between people and their time and the technology used, but expand it to include other available resources such as funding and skills as these greatly affect a charity’s ability to deliver services. We can rename it ‘Available resources’. This axis tells us that there is a decision to be made about whether to use a model from the top or bottom row based on an understanding of the resources the charity has to implement the service.

Service Factory

Schmenner gives the examples of airlines and hotels as Service Factory services because of the low customer contact & customization – everyone gets the same service, and low labor intensity – the ratio of effort by people in delivering the service is less than the equipment, buildings and aeroplanes in this example.

An example for a charity might be a website with information about self-examination for testicular cancer or self-service web portal that allows the booking of a counselling session. These require little human effort and utilise a greater degree of technology to deliver the service.

This type of service works well where the service-user’s needs are less complex, such as needing to source simple information, and where technology can be implemented to meet that need.

Service Shop

Services with low labor intensity / resource needs but high customer customization / service-user’s need are classified as Service Shops. Service Shops can provide various types of customized services for the service-users but rely on more technology/capital resources than human effort to deliver the service.

Charities might use a Service Shop model to deliver individualised support pathways for young people getting into training. Each young person using the service receives support, mentoring and training that meets their needs, and the majority of the service is provided through technology such as a Learning Management System for training courses and video calls for mentoring.

Mass Service

Mass Services have low customer contact/customization in combination with high labor intensity, meaning that everyone gets the same service but it requires people to provide the majority of it. Schools use this model, providing every student with the same curriculum which is predominantly delivered by lots of in-person contact with the teacher delivering the service.

Charities use the Mass Service model to deliver services that are difficult to deliver using technology but don’t require a great deal of customisation in order to meet the needs of the service-user. Charity shops fit this model (although existing to generate income rather than meet the needs of service-users) as they require employees and volunteers to sort stock, serve customers, etc., all tasks that could not easily be automated. Charity shops offer the same service to all customers – buying stuff – and don’t change that based on the customer’s needs.

The Mass Service model is often used where a service needs to grow through replication, that is, in our charity shop example, opening another charity shop that works in the same way as every other charity shop. This is because recruiting more people to run the same service in a different location.

Professional Service

These services have both high customer contact/customization and a high degree of labor intensity, and tend to be highly customized according to the particular situation/need of each customer.

Charities providing expert legal advice for people experiencing domestic abuse or facing homelessness are utilising the Professional Services model. The high degree of education, skill and time required to deliver the service explain why this is high in ‘Available Resources’, and the high complexity of the need, including dealing with landlords, benefits system, courts, etc., explain why this service requires greater customisation in order to met the specific needs of each individual.

How to use this in designing a charity service

Choosing an appropriate service model

When initially designing a service the most appropriate model should be selected from the four types. To design and attempt to deliver a service that uses the Professional Service model when a charity doesn’t have the necessary resources will result in the service only meeting the needs of a few. And to provide a service built on a Service Factory or Mass Service model when the needs of those using the service are highly complex will result in the needs of those service users not being fully met by the service.

Multiple service models to make up a service

The complete service doesn’t have of only use one type, in fact a service could be designed with different parts of the service using different models where the complexity of need differs throughout the entirety of the service and where some parts could use technology to a greater degree than others.

Trading off needs and resources

In reality, there is always a trade off. The service user needs might be highly complex, for example a family dealing with a parent with terminal cancer, and requiring a high degree of resourcing, for example many hours of one-to-one care by a specialist nurse, but the charity simply does not have enough nurses to meet the needs of patient and family members. The charity then needs to decide whether to continue to offer the Professional Service model of support, either to fewer people or for fewer hours, or to redesign the service using a different model. Or sometimes, the difficult decision to decide that they are not the right charity to be providing the service.

Shifting service type with changing needs and resources

Designing a service of one type doesn’t necessarily mean that it should continue to use that type. If there is a change in the needs of the service users (becoming more or less complex over time), or a change in the available resources (introduction of better technology, more time and funding, improved skills) then charities should be able to shift the service to a different model.

If a service is delivered using a Service Factory model because that was appropriate at the time of initially building the service, but then the needs of the service-users become more complex then the service could be moved to utilising a Service Shop model to achieve better outcomes. Similarly, if a charity was providing a service using the Professional Services model but then experienced a reduction in funding that meant they no longer had the resources available to deliver the service in that way, then they should be able to redesign the service using a Service Shop model to ensure a service can still be delivered.


Schmenner’s Service Process Matrix, with some adaption, offers an interesting model to conceptualise the types of services designed and delivered by charities. It provides some practical direction in choosing a service type based on the resources the charity has available and the complexity of needs of the service-users, and guidance on responding the changing needs, both within the charity and from the people who benefit from the service.

Perhaps the important realisation here is that increasing the capacity of an existing service is not the only way to respond to changing needs, and reducing the capacity of a existing service is not the only way to respond to a reduction in funding, and/or employee and volunteer availability. Charities can respond to change by shifting service model.


Verma, R., & Boyer, K. K. (2000). Service classification and management challenges [Electronic version].
Journal of Business Strategies, 17(1), 5-24. Retrieved [insert date], from Cornell University, School of
Hospitality Administration site: http://scholarship.sha.cornell.edu/articles/59/

Schmenner, Roger W., How Can Service Businesses Survive and Prosper?, Sloan Management Review, 27:3 (1986:Spring) p.21