Weeknotes #268

Photo of the week:

This week I did:

Age Appropriate Design Code

I spent some time this week learning and interpreting the ICO’s Age Appropriate Design Code, which is essentially GDPR for children. It’s raising lots of questions and making us think more rigorously about the solution design decisions we make, which of course is very much the point.

Backwards hypothesis

I’ve started some data analysis of one of the processes that makes up part of one of our services. I have a hypothesis that the process isn’t working very well for two reasons and the analysis should prove it. I realise that technically that hypothesis is backwards and I should be trying to disprove it, but it’s much harder to talk to other people about it that way round. It’s interesting how what is often the right way to do things isn’t the intuitive way to do things, and when working with others you have to do the translation work between the two.

Tweet100

I set-up ready for the Tweet100 Challenge. I want to use it to tweet specifically about innovation from a slightly more academic perspective than most innovation tweets, blog posts, podcasts, etc., are based upon. Each tweet will include a link to innovat100n so I can try testing whether there is any interest in innovation from this perspective before I write the one hundred email mini-lectures that I’ve been thinking about. I’ve written the one hundred tweets and scheduled them for the last one hundred days of the year, which means they start on the 23rd Sept.

And thought about:

A system for everything

I realised that I can’t just do something, anything in fact. I have to have a system for it before I start. Write a document? No, I’ll create a template and check with the intended audience that it has what they’ll need. Sign-up for a hundred tweet challenge? No, I’ll use it to test interest in a build and audience for innovat100n. Go to the shop to buy Diet Coke? No, I’ll buy four because I’ve already measured how many cans I drink a day and estimated when I’ll next be able to get to another shop.

Digital thinking

How to teach a digital mindset has been on my mind this week. There’s the Essential Digital Skills Framework, which might provide a basis for developing on but is very functional. I’m more interested in how you could teach a digital mindset that appreciates why each of those essential skills matters and understands some of the context around it. So, for example the framework says someone should be able to search for information but there’s nothing about how to critically evaluate the information and test it for bias or falsehood, because to be able to do that requires a deeper understand about the nature of information on the internet, the business model of search engines, and how we are affected by things like confirmation bias. How to even go about listing what should be part of a digital mindset feels disorganised and too amorphous to get a grip of.

Fractal tasks

I started using my notion roadmap more this week to organise the work I want to do on various projects, and it has made me think a bit about how we group tasks and what view of that work we want to see. My roadmap uses kanban boards within kanban boards. It means each piece of work operates to the same way, regardless of it’s level within the roadmap/project and that there is no overall big picture view of all the work that is in progress. I’m testing out this way of working for a few months to try to understand how useful that big picture actually is. How much coordination does there need to be between projects? Does the system need awareness of all the in-progress work? Or is being only able to see one project better for focus? But then, if you can’t compare one project to another, how do you prioritise one piece of work over another. Hopefully I can get to some answers as I try out this fractal task management approach.

I listened/watched/read:

Proximal learning

I heard about proximal learning on the Farnam Street podcast so looked into it a little bit more. It’s the idea that every person has a zone of what they know, and a zone of stuff that they could know if only they had some help to learn it. In some ways it goes against the idea of self-learning and makes education a far more social endeavour. This makes some sense to me when we think about knowledge transfer and how only that which can be codified into information can be transmitted. So, without someone to learn from, a person would be limited in what they could learn. This applies in a micro-sense within organisations. Most learning is expected to be done through online video course platforms because that makes the learning ‘scalable’, but it limits hat can be learned to what can be codified. So, how do we create ways to learn the uncodifable things at work?

The Difference between Engineering and Design Thinking

This is useful in helping to explain a design thinking approach by contrast the engineering thinking approach.

Don’t Build It. A Guide for Practitioners in Civic Tech

The guide says:

  • If you can avoiding building it, don’t; if you have to build it,
  • hire a chief technology officer (CTO),
  • ship early, and mature long; and if you can’t do that (or even if you can),
  • draw on a trusted crew,
  • build lean and fast, and
  • get close to and build with your users as fast as possible.

Sounds like good advice.

A Constellation of Possible Futures

“The working hypothesis is that the Observatory will gather weak signals from across civil society to create a Foresight Commons, bringing to life civil-society foresight and creating a shared evidence base that helps: Funders fund different futures Civil society organisations anticipate and adapt more quickly” This looks like an amazing piece of work.

And my growth area this week was:

Making connections

I wanted to try connecting more people and more work together this week. I found a few opportunities but I didn’t really feel like the connections achieved much.

Weeknotes #267

Photo of the week:

What I did this week:

A gateway or a ladder

Neuroscience tells us that what makes human minds special is our sense of narrative and being able to sequence events. It’s what allowed us grasp complex cause and effect relationships which are the foundation for science and rational logic. Telling stories and using metaphors to explain concepts is a useful and well-accepted method of communication, but perhaps less so within organisations. My writing is usually quite technical and concrete, but this is changing as I explore other ways to help people understand my work, and make better decisions from it.

I’ve been working on ways of making identity verification better. It has quite a bit of complexity to it, with the user experience of having to provide documents with personal information, the technicalities of managing the systems that store the document files and record progress as they are check and verified, and the processes that collect, validate and verify a person’s identity. So, to communicate the different ways we could approach identity verification I used the metaphors of a gateway and a ladder. The gateway is the same for everyone, once their identity is verified they can pass through. The ladder has different steps that someone can be on if their identity is verified to different degrees. Hopefully the metaphor can be used as shortcuts to discuss both options.

Designing for privacy and protection

I’ve been working on how we might implement the Age Appropriate Design Code. It requires some quite critical questioning of the code and our systems and processes. As we progress with this work I’m keen that rather than designing for the most likely and usual, and then designing other processes that deal with the deviations, we take the approach of designing ways that work for everyone. Those product managers who spend their time trying to push the needle on user retention don’t know they’re born. Charity product management is where it’s at. It’s the extreme sport of product management.

Breaking down hierarchies

I went to a really good virtual meetup about hierarchies and networks by the Barnardo’s Innovation Team. Apart from being a really good idea to get people together to share ideas it also opened my eyes to different ways of thinking about hierarchies and networks.

Work together better by knowing more about how others work

I have a hypothesis that multi-disciplinary and cross-functional teams aren’t as effective as they could be because thy create mini silos of specialisms within the team. I think if every role had some understanding of each of the adjacent roles, the team would have better shared language, more effective conversations and make more considered decisions. In an attempt to do something about this I’m trying out the idea of users guides for digital roles for those who aren’t specialists in those roles, which I’m calling Adjacencies.

Thought about this week:

Transitional states

A colleague set me a link to a video about ‘transitional safeguarding‘, a phrase used to describe the problem of thinking in binary ways about childhood and adulthood and the gap it creates in the way young people receive support as they transition from childhood to adulthood. This made me think about two things; 1) how I’m really interesting in digital safeguarding as a foundation for all online interactions but that it’s really broad and complicated area to understand, and 2) that thinking about how people interact with digital services as in-flux transitions rather than beginning or ending fixed states opens more possibilities to meet people where they are but is also really complicated. Our language doesn’t lend itself to describing things that are changing, so then how do we even talk about it, let alone develop the mental models to understand transitions deeply. Every user interface shows the fixed states between the transitions (however temporary they may be). I don’t even know how to start thinking about this.

Creating a writing habit

I write quite a lot. I write documents at work, weeknotes every week, and occasional blog posts. These are quite formalised, so I wanted to try to create more of a habit of writing more freely and spontaneously. So I decided I’m going to try to write a blog post every day throughout October. Of course, in my usual way I started planning what I would write about each day, collecting research, making notes, and completely missing the point of building a habit of writing spontaneously. Anyway, we’ll see how it goes.

And read about:

Liberating structures

I’ve reading through the Liberating Structures menu to think more about how virtual meetings might be better, if they can’t be done asynchronously, of course.

Digital nomads

As I’ve been considering starting up my Digital Nomad Newsletter again I’ve been reading other digital nomad newsletters, including Playing with ideas, Wayward Wayfarer, Nomad Hacker, The History of Digital Nomading and Diary of a Digital Nomad.

My growth area:

Giving feedback

I was asked to give feedback for a colleague. I thought about it for a couple of days, I looked at this, and thought more about number ten: understanding what they value, and then wrote my feedback. I couldn’t provide feedback that helps them improve in their discipline. I could only help them apply their discipline towards making a better product. But this is my objective. It might not be theirs, but they didn’t tell me what there’s is. I’m left thinking that my feedback is less than useful because I don’t have any context in which to provide it. So, my growth area this week is to try to understand what the point of providing feedback is, what is it suppose to achieve.

Adjacencies: work together better by knowing more about how others work

I have a hypothesis: the more you understand other disciplines the better you can collaborate with people from those disciplines. Working in multidisciplinary teams assumes the team has all the skills it needs to get the job, but by creating silos of skills within the team. If everyone on the team had some skills from all the disciplines they work with there would bean overlap effect that help everyone understand each other better. Shared knowledge creates shared understanding and a more effective team.

So I want to test this hypothesis in a vary unscientific way by doing courses in adjacent skill sets to mine, writing a guide about that jobs skill set, and try to get people to read them and learn a how bunch of adjacent skills to see if it does help work better with their colleagues.

Since it’s an area I know, I’ll start with digital jobs:

  • Product manager
  • Service designer
  • Delivery manager
  • Content editor
  • Project manager
  • Business analyst
  • User Interface/Interaction Designer
  • Developer
  • Data scientist

First, because I’ve already done the course, is Service Design. I need to write some kind of guide to service design for non service designers, including the history of the discipline, tools and techniques, methods, applications and limitations.

I don’t know how long this is going to take me, but maybe once I’ve done all of these I can think about even more adjacent jobs and expand outwards.

Weeknotes #266

Photo of the week:

I took this photo just after going for swim in the sea. It’s always such a real experience but even more so as the sea of getting colder.

This week I did:

The undesigned path

We’ve been doing quite a bit of work on a service blueprint and it’s made us consider the things that shouldn’t happen but probably will. These are the undesigned paths, the things users might do that takes them away from our designed paths. It would be impossible for us the think of all the different things users could do as they try to accomplish a task, and we can’t always prevent them from taking these paths, but we can try to make it as easy as possible to get back on to the designed path.

If your name’s not down

Identity verification is complicated thing. I’ve been working on a framework for reaching levels of confidence that a person is who they say they are. It’s a really interesting problem to solve because there are so many different real life scenarios that we need to cater for, but we also need have a means of codifying and recording that a person’s identity has been verified. Personally, I love this kind of complex problem solving that connects messy real life to digital systems, and professionally I hope it helps contribute to a workable solution. It’s part of what I love about being a product manager in a charity.

From good ideas to social good

I finished my dissertation about innovation processes in charities, which means I’ve finished my masters. It felt good to move it from the Now column on my roadmap, where it’s been for two years, to the Done column. But what next? What am I going to do with all the time I’ll have?

Retro

Another new month, another retro to look back at what I’ve been doing to achieve my goals. My two big lessons were that focusing on fewer things makes it easier to achieve them on schedule (like dissertations) and that adding things to my delivery plan that don’t actually require any effort to achieve is kind of pointless.

Build upon or replace

I wrote about the difference between building upon things to improve them over time against building new things to replace them. I think making more conscious choices about building things in ways that they can built upon might help us create a more sustainable future.

I thought about:

Visual communications

I’ve been thinking, and want to write about, using visual communication more effectively for asynchronous working. It’s much harder to get right than written communication because it doesn’t have such a well established language. Most of us don’t implicitly understand things like the difference between a diagram and map (a map has spatial relationships whereas a diagram doesn’t), and being limited to two-dimensions can limit and constrain complex thing. I’m not even sure how to approach figuring this out other than starting by uncovering the problems with visual communication and see where it takes me.

Digital gardens and networked thoughts

I’ve been thinking about digital gardens and their use in creating a network of thoughts to evolve ideas over time. The usual approach to this seems to be to use a digital note-taking system where if an idea that has previously been added in mentioned again that it has a hyperlink to the original. I think it’s meant to help show how the same idea gets reused in different posts but all the examples I’ve seen look too neat and clean to be in any real use. My notes are all over the place, including sketched onto a window, in a notebook, added to Notion, shared onto my website, dropped onto Miro, added to my weeknotes, and all without being able to connect them other than through memory, which is against the point of using a digital garden.

The other issue I struggle to understand with networking thoughts and ideas in this way is that as a conceptual model, networks don’t show time. So, if the point of a digital garden is to be able to help thought evolving over time, how does having connecting relationships between thoughts help achieve this? I wonder if it’s try to show ideas on a kind of evolution diagrams that shows the point-in-time state of an idea at multiple intervals, like how primates came from fish, and that’s just got the visual wrong, or whether the fundamental concept is flawed.

Either way, I’ll continue to explore note-taking as a thinking tool even if it’s just to help me understand the problem better, which I don’t really have a good grasp on yet.

Adjacency

I was chatting to someone about job skills and it made me think about how expanding our professional skill sets into adjacent fields would have lots of benefits. For me, my adjacencies might be service design, user experience, business analysis, maybe even a bit programming, and I think it should create better understanding across the team as there would be a more common language, mean that different team members can fill gaps and work together more effectively.

A charity’s purpose

I’m still reading Sarah Mitchell’s Charity Management, and this passage caught my attention, “the aim of a charity is to fulfill their mission”. Sarah is writing abut how charities might benefit from having more focus on doing only the things that contribute to achieving their mission and stopping doing things that don’t. In general, I agree that focus is a good thing, but I also wonder if too much focus negates the possibility of the positive second and third order effects that charities have. Charities provide so much more value to society that just that which comes from serving their beneficiaries to achieve their mission. Having volunteers doesn’t just benefit the charity, the volunteers also get lots of good from it too. If it’s a charity that supports children with learning difficulties, for example, then the families of those children also get benefits. If the charity forms relationships and partnerships with other organisations then the network that results can share knowledge and create improvements. The good charities have in the world extends much further than just in achieving their mission.

Maybe it’s a similar question to the idea that if a charity achieves its purpose it should shut down. I say no, because that is such a waste of all the expertise, infrastructure, systems and relationships that have been built over time and could be directed at other social issues. The problem isn’t that the charity that has achieved mission isn’t needed anymore, the problem is that a charity can only work on a narrowly defined mission.

And my growth area this week:

Confident communication

I’m not a natural communicator. As an introvert who gets easily obsessed with analysing things I usually forget to take people with me when I’m thinking through a problem. I try really hard to communicate clearly, but it doesn’t come easily. This week I received some nice feedback from a colleague who said that I did really well in getting their thoughts onto paper (or Miro) and helping them understand things. But I feel like there is still lots to improve in how I communicate, so this week I’ve been more conscious in considering what the audience might want or need to know, what existing knowledge they do or don’t have, how the visuals, written words and spoken words are all telling the same story. The test will be next week when I’m presenting on a complicated topic. Hopefully I’ll get some sense of whether the slides are pitched at the right level and whether I can explain the topic clearly enough to get to the answers we want.

Weeknotes #265

Photo of the week

Great Wheal Charlotte

All that’s left of a now abandoned tin and copper mine on the Cornish coast.

This week I did:

Turning dreams into reality

I think a product managers job is to turn dreams into reality, ideas into things, abstract concepts into real understanding. Usually that means bringing those dreams crashing down. In reality, things take longer and are more complicated than people’s ideas and expectations. I’ve spent quite a lot of time this week trying to let people down gently as I smash their dreams of a perfect product that automates all the boring work, achieves operational efficiencies, and provides mind-blowing user experience. Such is the process of gathering and refining requirements, distilling and filtering them down into a manageable scope of work.

The end is nigh

I’ve been working on the introduction and conclusion for my dissertation, and hope to put all the sections together and finish it this weekend. I’ve learned a lot from it and reached conclusions I didn’t think I would. I will be glad when it’s done but I’m also going to miss studying and the pressure it puts on me so I’ll definitely need to think carefully about what I focus on in the coming months.

I thought about:

The future of influence at work

Gaining influence at work used to be about people getting to know people, and it’s still very much that way in meeting-orientated organisations, but as remote work shifts towards more asynchronous communications methods the way we build our influence at work will change. Influence will come from written and pictorial communication rather than spoken. People will demonstrate the quality of their thinking in how they create diagrams or write convincingly, rather than ow they talk in meetings. It starts to make influence somehow more evidence-based than using relying on social cues. Written language, although still completely open to interpretation and misunderstanding, has more of an agreed understanding, but visual communication requires learning a new language. All the concepts of design; information architecture, use of space, size, proportion, etc., it all becomes necessary to understand into to understand the diagrams. So, influence through visual work isn’t as easy as just using images, diagrams and maps.

Selection mechanisms

I could call this a ‘prioritisation method’, but the word prioritisation is so overused that it’s lost meaning, so I prefer to call the stuff I’ve been thinking about ‘selection mechanisms’. It’s basically about choosing the right criteria to judge something by and how you get information for each criteria to make the judgement. The three criteria for the selection mechanism I’ve been using this week were: How essential is it? How complex is it? How certain is it? So, for example, if a requirement is essential, doesn’t have lots of variation to make it complex, and is well understood to make it certain, then we’ll put it in scope. Why three? Because we usually have two criteria, e.g., the Impact Effort matrix, because it makes it easier to represent in a diagram, and I want to explore how having three dimensions leads to better more nuanced decisions.

Game theory for project planning

What if, rather than project planning being able coming up with ‘the one and only plan for how things are supposed to work out’, we used game theory scenario planning to explore multiple ways projects could work out. What if, all the people who are on the project and a few others to play external actors, played out hypothetical scenarios for different ways the project could happen. And what if our understanding of project plans was based on possibilities and potential outcomes rather than things being fixed and changes being considered deviations?

And read:

Charity management

I started reading Charity Management: Leadership, Evolution, and Change by Sarah Mitchell. It is full of challenging questions, like ‘are charities making a significant difference?’ and ‘can they do better?’,and interesting ideas like charities as innovators for the state (I may have mentioned that idea before), how the diversity of the sector is a strength and a weakness, and how market mechanisms do or don’t work for charities. So far, it’s a really good book.

Developing Mastery in a Digital Age

Kenneth Mikkelsen writes about how leaders need to use learning to lead successfully. I like the idea of ‘Seek, sense, share’, and have previously read about leadership as sense-making, which seems to fit into what Mikkelsen talks about. It’s an ‘input-process-output’ approach and perhaps doesn’t seem to consider connecting and compounding as parts of the process, but it’s very interesting nonetheless. I think I’ve decided, for the moment at least, that I’m interested in leadership from the perspective of someone who is lead. Almost everything I read on leadership is from the perspective of helping people become better leaders, perhaps with the assumption that good leaders automatically create followers. I wonder why there isn’t much written about being a good ‘leadee’?

This week I’m grateful for:

Seeing dolphins

I went to beach one evening. I took my laptop and notebook but forgot my short and diving mask. As I sat there writing random ideas and staring out to sea I saw dolphins arcing out of the water a few hundred metres away. I’m so appreciative of the life I lead and I hope I never lose that.

Weeknotes #261

What I did this week:

Wider learning

Our team did presentations of our work to others across the organisation. It’s an important part of communicating and embedding the changes that we’re introducing but the really interesting part was all the comments that hinted at questions we haven’t answered and questions we didn’t even know to ask. There’s so much experience and expertise for us to absorb into our work and I hope that if we get that right it will help us create a better product that doesn’t repeat old mistakes our ignore old learning. If continuous discovery is a mindset was well as a practice, then looking out for these opportunities to uncover more unknowns is exactly what we should be doing.

I’ve been thinking about the complexity of the situations that the product we’re building interacts with across the organisation. My conclusion so far is that it’s important not to down play the complexity and try to create a simplified (and probably false) view. That would risk creating simplified solutions that don’t really solve problems. Some of the questions I’ve been asking myself is, ‘where is the right point to intersect with existing systems and processes without causing disruption or unintended consequences?’ and ‘how can we help other teams improve how they do things in ways that don’t cause downstream problems for others?’.

Innovation interviews

My interviewees have started returning their answers to my research questions. I’m still hoping for more but I can begin collating the answers I have so far ready for analysis next weekend. Those that I read so far have been really interesting and make me wish I could have long chats with people about their understanding and approach to innovation in charities.

20,000 views

My website hit 20,000 views this week. That’s not many in the grand (or even not so grand) scheme of things but it still amazes me that people visit the site. I’m sure most of it is by accident or when looking for something that isn’t there, but it’s interesting how the traffic has increased over the last five years from averaging 1 view a day in 2016 to 8 in 2019, 26 a day in 2020, and so far in 2021 32 a day.


What I thought about this week:

Causal chain

I’ve been thinking about and trying to learn more about Theory of Change. The part that interests me at the moment is the how the causal logic of ‘c’ will lead to ‘b’ and ‘b’ will lead to ‘a’ is built up. If ‘a’ is the ultimate change, the larger impact on society, then ‘b’ is what needs to be true in order for that change to be realised, and ‘c’ needs to be true in order for ‘b’ to happen. So, the thing I’m struggling with in this backwards logic is how it can be anything other than a pyramid of hypotheses which could all just as likely be untrue and true. I guess that’s why it’s a theory of change rather than a plan for change, but I wonder how clearly that aspect of ToC’s are communicated. They basically say, ‘here’s lots of guesses that may or may not lead to the change we’d like to see, and those guesses are based on lots of assumptions and biases, any of which could prevent the causal chain logic from having the desired or expected effect’, but they are often presented as a more certain plan for achieving change.

Bottlenecks

Bottlenecks are designed to be just that. They are designed to reduce flow, or to put it another way, to control flow. It wouldn’t be quite so easy to pour the wine into your glass if all of the wine bottle was the same width all the way up. So why do we refer to bottlenecks in systems and processes as a negative thing? Perhaps we’re better off accepting and understanding bottlenecks as essential and necessary to any system design. Maybe constant and continuous flow at the maximum rate in the wrong places causes floods.

Product Octagon

If you believe everything you read on the internet then most products are driven by the triad of Product Manager, Engineering Manager and Design Manager. The product I work on is driven by the octagon of programme, project, product, technical, content, design, delivery and impact. I’ve only just started to think about how these eight roles interact, where each of their responsibilities lay, and how they can all be aligned to work effectively together, but as part of my ‘charities need good product management‘ thing I’m keen to explore other models of developing products and what effective product management looks like in different contexts.


And what I read this week:

Digital exclusion

Digital exclusion: a growing threat to your charitable impact, strategic objectives and funding, looks at digital transformation in the voluntary sector and what impact it might have on the digital exclusion of those the voluntary sector organisations are trying to help. The article suggests three ways that can contribute to tackling digital exclusion, which is really just social exclusion; grassroots action, funding, and campaigning. Including people in society, which is very much digital, requires a far bigger approach. So whilst tackling digital exclusion is undoubtedly a good thing, it seems to me like an impossible problem to solve. The use of digital in society is going to increase and it won’t be long until all cars are computers on wheels, money is a virtual number on our phones, and accessing any service will require digital literacy. As these changes, which are predicated on a certain level of wealth accelerate, more people will become digitally excluded than can be caught up. The argument that as digital technologies become more ubiquitous and every one alive has grown up with them is like assuming that everyone knows how to fix an internal combustion engine because they’ve been around for a while, or that everyone knows how to drive because there is an infrastructure in place to teach (some) people. I don’t know what the solution is, but it’s good that more organisations are recognising digital exclusion as an issue and looking for ways to contribute.

14 habits

I really liked this Twitter thread, 14 habits of highly effective Product Managers, from Lenny Rachitsky. My top three are ‘quality of thinking’, ‘hunting for misalignment;, and ‘sending good vibes’. Lenny says that quality of thinking shows in the quality of documentation PMs produce. I think high quality documents are essential for good asynchronous working but they depend on having the time (among other things like practicing writing well) to do the thinking. Hunting for misalignment and getting things into alignment is so important for effective working, but is so hard to achieve. There are so many contextual and points-of-view barriers that we don’t even recognise well enough as misalignments, as well as the obvious and known misalignments. Good vibes make all the difference. Anything that can be approached with a negative, defeatist attitude and can be approached with a positive attitude.

Weeknotes #260

What I did this week (and didn’t do):

What do I require?

I spent a lot of time working on (and even more time thinking about) what some people might call requirements. I regularly get my thoughts tied up in knots trying to understand what we mean by ‘requirements’, ‘goals’, ‘objectives’, etc., but using ‘This is what we want to achieve’ and ‘These are the things we’re going to try’ seems much less ambiguous, so I tried . The problem I have, especially with ambiguous jargon but in general when defining or explaining anything, is the coastline problem. That is, how the problem looks depends on your measure. A circle drawn with only four big straight lines looks a lot like a square, but a circle drawn with a thousand small lines looks pretty circular. So, a requirement or goal specified at one level looks very different from another level. And then levels of what? My bottom-up answer would be, ‘levels of abstraction from the user behaviour’, but that opens up a whole load of other questions.

Why do charities use the innovation processes that they do?

I submitted my draft literature review and research methodology. I had originally thought that my research should be able how charities are using innovation processes, but I’ve realised I’m much more interested in why they are using them the ways they are. This creates more of a challenge as it requires qualitative interviews, but I just need to get out of my comfort zone and get on with it.

Embedding a theory of change in your learning

I signed-up for NPC Labs user research session on theory of change (which I’m interested in) and learning (which I’m really interested in). I’m not sure why, but I’m really looking forward to it.

Swimming with seals

I’ve went swimming in the sea almost every day this week. The best one was around sunset and I was alone on the beach. As I lay floating in the water a seal surfaced, looked at me for a few seconds, I looked at it, and then it swam away.

Didn’t get feedback

Listening to One Knight In Product with Teresa Torres made me realise that I haven’t done any of the discovery work I set myself for July. So, if anyone reads this and wants to do me a favour: sign-up for my charity product management emails and tell me what you think about them.


What I read this week:

Mobile traffic to charity websites is rising…

…but only a third of charities pass Google’s ‘Core Web Vitals’Mobile traffic to charity websites is rising, but only a third of charities pass Google’s ‘Core Web Vitals’

Why? Because it depends how you measure. And if you’re in the business of measuring and judging websites in order to rank them in search results then maybe you want some level of influence over how websites send you signals that you can judge them by.

Why? Because it’s easier to focus on frontend/visible aspects of technology and think that if the website is responsive then it must be optimised for mobile, which isn’t the case but many website platforms don’t get that stuff right by default.

Why? Because not all ‘Jobs To Be Done’ can or should be done on mobile devices (and with mobile behaviours). Sometimes, friction, intentional or unintentional, is good for getting people to stop and think. Convenience isn’t everything.

Why not? If your user research shows that the people that need your services find you through organic search results, need a highly-performant online experience, and only have mobile phones. The points is; do what your users need you to do, not what a search engine says.

Digital adoption within the NHS

Shock treatment: can the pandemic turn the NHS digital?, asks whether the NHS can maintain the level and pace of digital transformation that came about as a result of the pandemic, and also raises the ‘fix the plumbing or fund the future’ investment question, which I think is very closely connected. These are the questions facing every sector and organisation. Charities included. I feel like the answer is obvious; yes and no. Do organisations realise how important digital transformation is for them? Yes, at least a bit more than they did. Will organisations maintain the pace of change we saw from the pandemic? No, not without the huge external pressure making digital an existential question.

Decoupling time spent from value produced

James Plunkett’s article on the four-day week was shared around Twitter this week. It talks about the Iceland experiment and how it resulted in increased productivity, and more interestingly, predicts that, based on the historical data trend of reducing working hours, the four day working week will be generally adopted in the early 2030’s. If that’s the case, we might have a few more decades to go before society is ready to make the shift to decoupling the value we produce from the time we spend doing it. Stuart said it best, “Being at work never equated to doing work“.


What I thought about:

A diamond and a tree

Speaking of how we judge value, I had an interesting conversion about why different jobs are paid different amounts and how the job market values uniqueness of skill over what the role achieves. My analogy was ‘a diamond and a tree’. A diamond is considered to have high value because of how rare it is. Trees aren’t considered all that valuable but have an important impact on the environment and life (being able to breath, mostly). Maybe we’ve got our values round the wrong way.

Accepting responsibility

There’s lots said about blame culture and how toxic it is but I hardly ever see anything about the flip side; responsibility culture (if it’s even a thing). I think taking responsibility is one of those underlying amorphous parts of a product managers job. Obviously, everyone should take responsibility for their actions, but product managers are often the ones to be most aware of the trade-offs that exist when decisions are made (even if not actually making the decision), and that knowledge comes with responsibility. Taking responsibility for knowledge, not just actions, is an interesting responsibility to take.

Do charities need innovation?

Does any organisation, in fact? An amalgamation of ideas from a conversation on Twitter, Ann Mei Chang, and some of the stuff I’ve been thinking about for my dissertation takes my thinking towards this: If the problem is unknown and the solution is unknown, then innovation is an approach, a mindset, a skillset, a method that can help to make both known. If the problem is known and/or the solution is known, then innovation isn’t needed.

Weeknotes #257

This week I did:

Blueprinting

I spent quite a bit of time creating blueprints for how parts of products might interact as a way of exploring the translation from programme design into product development.

Service blueprint

In some ways, it was a week of visual working. We’ve been talking about how we do documentation better so that it’s quick to produce and easy to understand, and settled on screenshots being a good place to start. And one of the project teams is using Trello to track their work. I think, at the back of my mind, I’m taking onboard a comment someone made in the DigiScot talk about async working when we we’re talking about how we replace meetings, that drawing and visually representing ideas is a useful alternative to writing, so although I still write a lot, I’m trying to also work more visually so that more people can be involved.

Digital governance and risk management

I joined a really good talk by BeMoreDigital & Beyond Profit about managing digital risk and governance. I’ve been thinking for a while about how things like governance and risk management in charities, which are done in traditional non-digital ways, so it was really helpful to see others thinking about it. Governance is part of the business model of charities so as those business models become increasingly influenced by the internet, its important that we think about different ways of doing things like risk management.

Charity product management emails

I finished the first iteration of my ‘Interface – Integrate – Iterate‘ emails series about why charities need good product management. Next thing on the list is to get some feedback and figure out what improvements I can make. My aim (at the moment at least) is that this might develop into a project for after my dissertation about how to get good product thinking into charities.

June retro

End of the month. Time to look at the delivery plan I set at the beginning of the month and see how much I achieved and plan for what I want to achieve next month. Although this is only the second month of following a monthly process of reviewing progress and setting new goals for next month, it seems to be working really well.

And I thought about:

Influence

All a product manager has to get things done is their influence. And when something happens that damages that influence, even if it was out of the PM’s control, the thing to do is get to work on building up that influence. Vaguely connected, at least in my mind, is how this shows as a micro version of internet economics with attention and reputation being the currency. No one on the internet has authority over anyone else, but lots of people have more influence than others. So, for digital ways of working, whether on the internet of within an organisation, building and managing influence is important.

Consequences

I’ve been thinking about linear processes for product development (since that’s kind of what my dissertation is about) and how communication works throughout the process. I think there is a kind of entropy at play where well-ordered ideas and become more disordered at each stage as they become designs and then code. It’s a bit like playing a game of consequences where each time there is a hand-off to a different team, what was produced is hidden from the next and they only have the contextual rules of the game to guide what they then add. So, I’ve been thinking about how to reduce the entropy that occurs throughout the product development process.

Competition on the internet

My Twitter is made up of three ‘worlds’; charities, product management, and creator economy & nocode types. I see myself, one day, contributing to bringing those worlds closer together, but in the meantime I learn a lot from being part of these worlds. The lessons I learn from how the creator economy understands how to use the internet help me think about how the charity sector uses it internet (not really a spoiler but its way behind and doesn’t understand nearly as much). ‘Competition’ is a good example of that. The creator economy people know that they aren’t in competition with each other, even if they are doing very similar things, because they have an abundance mindset (something the internet has enabled). The charity sector, on the other hand, still has a scarcity mindset that drives competition. Competition works fine for usual market dynamics because the forces that drive it are mostly hidden, so everyone expects to be in competition but no one really knows who wins what. The problems occur when competition takes place in internet spaces which are more public, because then it’s easily taken as an attack.

And read:

Assemblage Space

I read John Willshire’s email newsletter Artefact 229 where he talks about his idea of Assemblage Space as a tool for thinking about the future and where our ideas about what the future might hold come from in our past. I was particularly interested in ‘the narrow now’ as the gateway through which how we remember the past and how we think about the future goes through. It helps us be aware that we are coming from a particular perspective, but it doesn’t help us see that the narrow now is always moving towards the future. Its the metaphysical conundrum of whether we conceive of time as a continuum or a series of fixed moments, but as John says in the video about A Spaces, the cone isn’t really the thing to focus on: the thing to focus on is the groupings of the things in the cone and how they relate to other things.

Lean impact

I read some of Ann Mei Chang’s Lean Impact which talks about whether/how innovation methods such as build-measure-learn loops can be used in the not-for-profit and social good space. There are some unique and obvious challenges about how impact projects are funded which make learning and scaling impact more difficult, but as Brid Brosnan from the British Red Cross shows, it is possible and it is changing.

Andragogy

I stumbled across the concept of andragogy, which is the theory of how adults learn from Macolm Knowles. Knowles said that when adults learn they should be self-directed and take responsibility for their decisions. “Andragogy makes the following assumptions about the design of learning: (1) Adults need to know why they need to learn something (2) Adults need to learn experientially, (3) Adults approach learning as problem-solving, and (4) Adults learn best when the topic is of immediate value.” So, adult learning programs should take these things into account.

Weeknotes #256

Things I did this week:

Took some time off

I sat by the river and watched the fish swimming slowly among the rocks. I knew I didn’t need to be anywhere else doing anything else. I had no Internet connection. No one else was around. It is only by the peacefulness of these places that we know the chaos and conflicts of the other places.

Game plan

I did do a bit of work this week. I’ve been thinking about how to create a game plan that allows us to join Programmes, Projects and Product, and the various teams and stakeholders. It represents the people involved, the value creation steps they’ll take, the outputs they produce, etc. So my next step is to find someone to present it to and validate it’s usefulness.

Product management in charities

I didn’t get as much done on my Interface, Integrate, Iterate emails about the roles and benefits of product management in charities as I would have like to have done, but I am making progress. I don’t think I’ll hit my target of completing them by the end of the month, but I’m still trying. Then I need some charity digital/product people to test them with and see if they make sense.

The end of blockchain

Not the technology, just the module I’ve been studying. We had our final lecture and I’ve started revising for the exam. Once that’s over I’ll have finished all the module study for my masters and achieved 40% of my grade, so now just the other 60% from my dissertation.


Some stuff I thought about:

Simple services

I saw a poster for Citizen’s Advice in Torpoint which explained how in simple, clear language the one and only way to get in touch to get help. Send a text message (the simplest and most prevalent channel available) and they’ll call you back to arrange an appointment. The poster could of also had a phone number, and an email address, and QR code, and a web address, but none of that is necessary. Rather than offering lots of ways to get in touch, which could confuse people and then requires all those different systems to be joined up, much better to offer a single simple way into the service. I’d love to see the metrics on the SMS booking service.

Citizen’s Advice’s vision states “You won’t ever struggle to get help from us. Our services will be available when you need them in a way that works for you”, and this poster is a great example of how the vision a charity holds can work on the ground, in a real life situation.

What do charities compete with?

Wayne Murray tweeted about how charities are in competition with Netflix and pubs when trying to engage people. There are so many ways to look at this. It’s undeniably true that we all only have a limited amount of time and attention so if we spend it at the pub we can’t also spend it volunteering with a charity. If people consider supporting a charity as on par with watching TV and socialising, then maybe there is direct competition. But if donating time and/or money to a charity is an extraordinary act for most people, then maybe it doesn’t compete with ordinary activities. And if you look at it as ‘doing good for myself’ (relaxing, socialising) and ‘doing good for others’ (supporting a charity), then maybe they are both worthy activities that have their place, which may or may not be in competition.

Can a charity live without a website?

James Heywood tweeted an interesting question about whether a charity can live without a website, and what some of the positives and negatives of doing so might be. It made me think how interesting it would be to take two similar small charities and create different digital strategies with the same objectives, where one strategy uses a website and the other doesn’t, and see which performs best.


A few things I read:

Is product management in continuous discovery?

I read a few posts by Teresa Torres, ‘The Best Continuous Discovery Teams Cultivate These Mindsets‘, ‘The Path to Better Product Decisions‘, and ‘Stop Validating & Start Co-Creating‘. They made me think about the function and discipline of Product Management and whether it’s definition is too fixed, not defined well enough, or the kind of role that should be in continuous discovery to figure out how it solves the right organisational problems within a range of scope.

The Computer for the 21st Century

Mark Weiser wrote The Computer for the 21st Century thirty years ago. In it he predicts the success of wearable tech as a means of collecting and presenting data, and explains why Virtual Reality never really took off. His premise is that in order for computers to be fully adopted they need to become unnoticeable, to “weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.”. Virtual reality takes people into the computer’s world rather than the computer coming into our world, so for all it’s usefulness it can never be as widely used as wearable devices which as easy to forget about but continue to do their computational work. Why does it matter? If he’s right, then maybe the idea serves as a guide for new and emerging technologies such as Voice, automated vehicles, blockchain, etc., and our adoption and response to it. The more a technologies blends into everyday life, the more it we be adopted.

Skills for the 21st Century

Online courses that that teach how to do something, e.g., take notes, write, produce newsletters, etc., are great but really what we need is learning opportunities for developing the top twenty skills for the 21st century.

  1. Judgment and Decision Making
  2. Fluency of Ideas
  3. Active Learning
  4. Learning Strategies
  5. Originality
  6. Systems Evaluation
  7. Deductive Reasoning
  8. Complex Problem Solving
  9. Systems Analysis
  10. Monitoring
  11. Critical Thinking
  12. Instructing
  13. Education and Training
  14. Management of Personnel Resources
  15. Coordination
  16. Inductive Reasoning
  17. Problem Sensitivity
  18. Information Ordering
  19. Active Listening
  20. Administration and Management

I think there might be a new project in there somewhere to figure out how to learn these kinds of skills…