Weeknotes #254

This week I did

How information flows

We moved onto a new platform for delivering virtual courses this week, so I’ve spent a lot of time supporting the teams that will be using it and the teams that will be supporting them. There’s lots of new stuff for everyone to learn and I’m keen to spread and embed the knowledge as much as possible. A task or job role might need specific skills and a dedicated owner, but information and knowledge doesn’t work that way. Lots of people can have the same information, regardless of their role. Understanding why the whole system works the way it does, what some of the underlying assumptions are, what tasks others in the team perform, how processes work, etc., . Knowledge shouldn’t be on a need-to-know only basis. The idea that someone only knows what they need to know to do their job will always create gaps in knowledge. I’ve been thinking a bit about how we understand work as flows of information rather than as discrete tasks to be completed., partly from a digital transformation point of view about moving away from a factory mindset of work being about progressing widgets along a production conveyor belt, and partly from reading Galbraith on how the more uncertainty there is about a project, the more information has to be processed in order to complete a task.

Tech Ethics

It’s been a week of tech ethics. I went to a Social Tech Meetup hosted by Rachel Coldicutt and Anna Dent and this week’s lecture was on the ethics of emerging technology.

Tech ethics is a problem of pace. Different things move at different speeds. Implementing laws take time. Ethics progresses faster than laws. But new technologies and the data collection that enables them happens faster than the ethical discussions and positioning. This is why we see things like bias in algorithms, because the tech races ahead of the checks and balances catching up. Although we are more aware of the bias in what is being built, it has also been there. Crash test dummies are based on the male body which meant that for many years cars were designed to protect men better than women. That’s decades old tech ethics, but it’s still the same problem. Different things move at different speeds.

Interface, Integrate, Iterate

I’ve been writing up some of my ideas about how product management creates an interface between customer and organisation, integrates strategy with tactics and teams with the work, and iterates on everything to drive continuous improvement into a short email series. It’s part of some of my ideas about helping more charities understand and use product management thinking to improve their service proposition and delivery.

And I thought about:

What does it mean to deliver?

What does it mean to deliver something, to achieve, to complete something? Its surely more than just completing tasks. Delivering a project should enable the continued realisation of value, it creates something of ongoing usefulness, facilitates other accomplishments. It should be more than the sum of it’s parts. If you deliver enough deliverables, and even the right deliverables, does that mean they’ll add up to create something good? Are good outcomes assumed to be a natural result of a well delivered project? Or is there more to do to connect those outputs and deliverables, fit them into relationships, create flows of information? Does delivering mean delivering an output, an outcome, a project, a change?

Defining hybrid working

I thought a bit more about how to define and understand hybrid working, and how it’s less about location and more about the numbers of people in the same or different locations, and so the relationship dynamics that creates. One person in the office and nine in other locations doesn’t really bring hybrid working dynamics into play. But two in the office and eight in other locations starts to introduce different dynamics because now the two in the office are dealing with one type of interaction between themselves and a different type of interaction with those in other locations. But those in the other locations aren’t involved it the relationship between those in the office. It seems to me that its the dealing with the different forms of interaction that is the underlying problem-to-solve for hybrid working.

Digital transformation is everywhere

An hours walk from the nearest plug socket, even a notice board with tide times is going on a digital transformation journey. QR codes are a start to connecting the physical and digital worlds, maybe in the future every beach will have IoT sensors measure tide height, water quality, etc., and broadcast that information to your phone as you walk into the area. Everything in our world is undergoing digital transformation, some things are further ahead than others, but nothing will be left behind (except, maybe, hopefully, stiles).

And read:

100 Moments

I listen to the new podcast about 100 moments the rocked computer science by professors Sue Black OBE and Gordon Love. This episode talked about search engines and organising information on the internet, and included an interview with Alan Emtage, the inventor of Archie, the first search engine, and some mind-blowing stats about the amount of data we’re creating. With all this data, search, as a concept, becomes about making all that data interpretable and readable by humans, rather than just being about finding things other humans have written on the internet. So search moves upstream in creating value from data and information.

The Hacker Way

The hacker way, “believes that a good solution today is better than a great solution tomorrow. It does not believe that done is better than perfect so much as it believes that being done sooner is the best path to eventual perfection, though it is also skeptical that perfection exists.”. This mindset underpins so much of modern digital and agile thinking (and anarchy beneath that, but I won’t get into that now). Understanding the hacker mindset, and how it informs the ideas a practices of digital people and teams, might help us understand the difficulties and conflicts that occur within organisations as they go through their digital transformation. Maybe there is a fundamental difference in worldview between the digital people and the (for want of a better term) corporate people. Both struggle to understand how the other sees the world, and neither would be willing to adopt the other’s worldview.

Ditch the Solution-First Mindset and Start by Defining the Problem

Both in life and at work, we tend to come up with solutions before defining the problem they solve.” If I had a pound for every time I’ve gone on about understanding the problem…

Weeknotes #250

This week I:

So close

We were very close to launching a new product. We’ve been working really hard on it but it’s just not ready, and neither are our people. Some times that’s how it goes. The thing I’ve learned over the past few weeks is that product development codifies organisational complexity. It’s Conway’s Law on another level. The strengths, weaknesses, gaps and skills of the organisation will show in the product. I wonder whether it’s even avoidable.

Every organisation is going through digital transformation

Every organisation is going through digital transformation, some just don’t know it yet. I attended a board meeting where we discussed the strategy for Bucks Mind for the next two years. We’re at an interesting stage in the growth of the organisation where technology is becoming essential to it’s success. It’s a big step to take, and quite an unknown for many people in the organisation. The idea that technology solves problems, takes care of itself, increases efficiency, etc., when in fact technology increases complexity, dependency, demands more formalised skills, etc.

How and if to educate users

I had an interesting chat about educating users of a product. On one side of the argument; if you have to explain how to use the product maybe it’s too complicated, but on the other side, people don’t have time to explore every piece of functionality. Can education be a barrier for some and an enabler for others? Maybe education should help the user know what they can achieve, but then the product should help them achieve it without having to think about how to do it. Maybe it’s ‘educate for outcomes, self-explanatory for outputs’.

What is the role of DLT and blockchain in the future of work?

I picked the essay question for my assignment for the Blockchain module I’m studying. I had thirty to choose from, which I filtered down to:

  • How can blockchain technology change the structure and the operations of organisations?
  • Discuss how blockchain can have a positive impact on the UN Sustainable Goals.
  • Assessing the concept of Decentralised Autonomous Organisation (DAO) as a new corporate structure highlighting benefits and downsides.
  • What is the role of DLT and blockchain in the future of work?

…but I think I’m going to do “What is the role of DLT and blockchain in the future of work?” There should be some interesting things to think about around how smart contracts are and can be used, how necessary trust and transparency across supplier networks, and how organisations profit from digital asset ownership.


Thought about:

Solving interesting problems

The problem with not having any slack time at work is it stops us from tackling interesting problems. When faced with barriers and no time, we pick up the easier work instead in order to get stuff done rather do the tangential work to remove the barrier. This completion bias keeps us doing shallow work, work that needs to be done, but at the ultimate expense of creative work. So, more slack time at work. More slack thinking.

Who measures impact?

Funder gives charity money, charity uses money to help people (or animals, environment, whatever), charity measures impact of helping, charity reports impact to funder. That’s how it usually works, I guess. But what if funders didn’t ask charities to report on their impact but instead to enable to funder to measure the impact directly with those who received the help. Or, what if there were organisations that specialise in measuring and reporting impact that act as intermediaries between funder, charity and beneficiary? Why should it be that charities measure their own impact? Apart from any ‘marking your own homework’ issues, it probably isn’t the core capability of most charities and maybe they’d benefit more if their measurement efforts were focused on service delivery improvements.


I read:

Useful things for privacy and ethics in tech innovation

A list of agile sessions, tools, frameworks, blog posts and other useful things for considering privacy and ethics in tech innovation, from Steve Messer.

Blockchain’s role in the future of work and organisations

Digital transformation

A broad strategy for digital transformation of the charity sector using six questions

Where are we now and why can’t we stay here?

Behind the curve

The charity sector’s use of digital is far behind the curve of society.

The blue line represents the diffusion of innovation (Everett, 1962) across society. To the far left are the early adopters of new technologies, with the majority of people in the middle, and the laggards to the right where the blue line meets the black zero line. This includes the adoption of all kinds of innovation, but mostly those we refer to as ‘digital’, from using Uber to watching Netflix to buying the latest iPhone. All of these innovations go through this adoption curve.

The green line represents the charity sector’s adoption of ‘digital’. It follows the same curve as the blue line and shows how some charities are early adopters and some are laggards. If we wanted an example we could look at charity sector websites using responsive design. When responsive design first became a possibility businesses with customers that were beginning to adopt multi- device behaviors would have been the first to redesign their websites so that it could be viewed on any device. Some time later the first few charity sector organisations would have redesigned their websites to be responsive, then more until the majority were responsive, and to today where the laggards are still yet to make their websites responsive to different devices.

The orange area represents the people in society that are adopting the innovation at the same time the charity sector is using it. The further behind the curve of society that the charity sector is, the fewer people there are to engage with. 

The white area within the green line represents the total lost opportunity from the charity sector using that innovation. 

A risk-averse approach of waiting for a dominant design to emerge (Utterback and Abernathy, 1975) and be adopted by the majority before using the innovation reduces the overall number of people that can be engaged with.

Given the increasing pace (McGrath, 2019) at which new innovations are introduced it’s likely that the charity sector will fall further behind over time.

Where do we want to get to and why is it the right place to go?

Keeping pace with change

The charity sector needs to get to the position where it can keep pace with the rate of innovation adoption in society.

The orange area shows the increased number of people (compared to the diagram above) available for the charity sector to engage with through newly adopted innovations if the charity sector is closer to the adoption curve of society.

The adoption curve shows that not every organisation in the charity sector has to adopt new innovations at the same time. Individual organisations can make reasoned decisions about if and when to adopt a particular digital technology or practice as long as the sector as a whole has some early adopters exploring the new innovations shortly after wider society begins to.

If we accept the assumption that the charity sector serves the needs of society through connecting people, essentially acting as a resource distribution mechanism, then the more people that can be engaged to provide resources (money, time, skills, etc.) and the more people that can be engaged to utilise those resources to improve their lives, the better our society becomes. Keeping pace with change in society enables the charity sector to better serve society.

How are we going to get there and why is this the right way to do it?

From investing in capital to investing in knowledge

Capital investment and return involves large upfront investment with diminishing returns over time. Knowledge investment requires ongoing investment with increasing returns over time.

The red line shows investment and return in capital resources such as buildings and purchased technologies which require considerable upfront spend with diminishing returns over time. The pink line shows the investment and returns for investment in knowledge, including regular formal training and informal upskilling which require more constant (and probably increasing) investment with increasing returns as the knowledge is applied. For illustrative purposes, both the investment and return are shown as single lines.

As has been demonstrated (Goldin and Katz, 1998) technology adoption (in an organisation and a sector) usually results in the distribution of ‘number of people’ and ‘level of digital skill’ shifting from more people with lower skill levels to fewer people with higher levels of skills.

Knowledge can only be held within people, hence an investment in knowledge is an investment in people. Some tacit knowledge can be codified as transmissible information to pass onto others. People with more knowledge about digital innovation are better able to respond to changes and ensure the sector keeps pace with society.

From being tied to technology to using loosely coupled products

Being constrained to enterprise technologies offered by well-established companies because of the presumed reliability they provide will shift as confidence in the security, reliability, usability, speed of deployment and interconnectivity of new consumer-focused products grows.

Charity sector organisations have often struggled to make technology choices that allow them to use new innovations in microservices architecture, jamstack principles and no-code products. As an example, the dream of having one large CRM to enable better data-driven fundraising only works if data quality is a reality. The shift away from ‘one big system’ could allow fundraising teams to adopt their own lightweight CRM products knowing that when a better product is launched next year there will be an API that can pass data between them and enable the fundraising team to quickly adopt a new product. As a new breed of products begins to appear that are designed to allow organisations to cross the boundaries into the digital spaces of people outside the organisation, charity sector organisations will expand their thinking about how they use technology products.

Charity sector organisations will become more comfortable with the low commitment ‘sign-up quickly and throwaway when a replacement comes along’ approach to using technology products just as consumers across society are.

From delivering projects, products and services to developing business models

From optimised-for-production pipelines of projects, products and services charity sector organisations will move to developing optimised-for-consumption platform business models that facilitate self-reinforcing value exchanges.

These platform business models will be part of open innovation ecosystems that share resources and make the boundaries of organisations more permeable in the pursuit of keeping pace with the innovation adoption in society.

References

Everett, M. R. (1962) Diffusion of Innovation. The Free Press. A Division of Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. 866 Third Avenue, New York.

Goldin, C. & Katz, L. (1995) The Decline of Non-Competing Groups: Changes in the Premium to Education, 1890 to 1940. NBER, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Utterback J. M. & Abernathy W. J. (1975) A dynamic Model of Process and Product Innovation. The Journal of Management Science.

McGrath, R. G. (2013 UPDATED 2019) The Pace of Technology Adoption is Speeding Up. Harvard Business Review.