Weeknotes 286

Photo of the week:

Full moon over the south Wales coast. I was a perfectly calm evening.

This week I did:

Continuous improvement

A big focus for me this week has been on building up a process for the continuous improvement of products as the number of products increases without having a big impact on the team’s capacity to work on new products or overwhelming them. It’s been interesting to think about how it requires a different approach, one that it’s based on the deep qualitative user research we do when developing a new product or service, but instead

Ethical product decision-making collection

I wrote up a collection of articles, reports and tools for applying ethical thinking to product decisions at ethicalproduct.info. Over time I’d like to develop it further so it becomes more than just a collection and more useful for product teams to use in their decision-making.

Ethical Product is one of three new products I’ve launched so far this year. I didn’t set out with that as a goal (in fact, quite the opposite, I had intended to work on getting FutureSkills.info live) but I’m going to see if I can do another two by the end of January.


This week was the 75th anniversary of the Doomsday Clock, which was created as a symbolic warning of how close humanity is to destroying itself. Today, the clock is at 100 seconds to midnight, the closest it’s ever been to the end. This fascinates me so much that I made a (currently tongue-in-cheek) website about whether the world has been taken over by AI, which is our most likely technological threat, and wrote about it for the Irregular Ideas newsletter.


This week I reached 250 places visited and I was briefly the most westerly person on mainland Wales. These unique little milestones keep me entertained.

And I read:

How Complex Systems Fail

Richard Cook writes on the nature of failure, and has eighteen principles that help us think about what is going on in complex systems when they fail. He says that even though complex systems develop defenses against failure over time they are often run in a broken state and are close to failure.

I also listened again to the episode of Cautionary Tales that talks about how accidents happen and how we always look for someone to blame rather than designing better systems. Systems are vulnerable to failure when they are tightly coupled and complex, meaning the components interact in unexpected ways. The complexity of the systems means there will be surprises and then tight coupling meas there is no time to deal with the surprise.

Loosely coupled simple systems FTW.

Road Ahead

NCVO’s Road Ahead 2022 report provides an analysis of the biggest trends, opportunities and events that will impact charities and volunteering. It’s interesting to consider such a wide range of factors affecting the charity sector over such a short time period.


This list of Charity APIs is full of possibility. I wonder how much they are used.

I thought about:

Cause-and-effect and Networks

I summed up some of my thinking about how product managers can use two modes of thinking; networks and cause-and-effect to think strategically. In network thinking, tactical deals with the parts and strategic considers the connections between the parts. And in cause-and-effect thinking, tactical deals with things in isolation and strategic connections things in a causal chain of logic.

Systems solutions

I had a really good great chat with another charity sector product manager this week, and we talked about a product they were working on to tackle a pretty complicated problem. It got my thinking about how system-shifting product management approach might solve the problem differently to a user-centred design approach. Whereas a UCD approach starts with the user experiencing the problem and assumes the solution is in acting upon the user to change their behaviour, a system-shifting approach looks to act on the surrounding systems and change them


I had a chat this week about remote working and how different it is getting to know someone only over video versus in real life. It made me think about whether we present ourselves differently virtually, does it make it easier for introverts and those with social anxiety. And it made me think about how I come across online versus ow I see myself in real life. My Big Five scores are Openness to experience: 96 out of 100, Agreeableness: 75 out of 100, Conscientiousness: 96 out of 100, Negative emotionality: 0 out of 100 and Extraversion: 42 out of 100. I wonder what that means.

Continuous improvement throughout the whole process

Washing up has five stages:

1. Eating on clean plates
2. Stacking dirty plates next to the sink
3. Washing the plates
4. Stacking clean plates on the draining board for drying
5. Putting away the clean plates

At stage 5, putting away the clean plates effectively depends on how the plates are stacked for drying. If all of the same types of items are placed together then it’s easier to put them away without having to go through an in-between stage of sorting them. These in-between stages activities that creep in appear to be adding to the efficiency but don’t actually tackle the underlying issues that are causing the inefficiency.

At stage 4, stacking the clean plates on the draining board in the right way depends on how you wash them. Efficiency can be improved within the stage to ensure the items dry quickly, such as stacking saucepans upside down with larger ones on top of smaller ones to save space, but just gaining efficiency within the stage could lead to less efficiency across the entire process so its important to take feedback from outside the stage.

At stage 3, washing the plates in the most efficient way depends on how they were stacked before washing. If all the plates will be washed together then they should be stacked together. And groups of items should be washed in a particular order, with cleaner items washed before dirtier items to maximise the cleanliness of the water.

And at stage 2, stacking dirty plates next to the sink and making them ready for washing depends on knowing how they are going to be washed at stage 3. So, sharp knives are kept separate for safety, plates are cleared and rinsed, and types of items are stacked together.

Processes can only be efficient as a whole if each part of the process is efficient. If one part doesn’t receive feedback from the other parts it can be organised efficiently for itself but reduce efficiency across the whole system.