Weeknotes #230

This week I did:

Service blueprinting

I reworked our service blueprint to take account of a new programme design. I’ve been thinking about where our knowledge and information resides. How do we effectively develop shared understanding of user needs and business requirements across scope definition documents, service blueprints, user stories, etc., and how do we help each other understand how they all fit together. One of the interesting stances we’ve taken is the the user journey within the service blueprint is our single source of truth about what to build. It shifts the focus away from business requirements and what stakeholders want to what experience the user has and how all the parts fit coherently together.

Some thoughts on digital project management

Inspired by Be More Digital‘s post on Simple project management I wrote some of my own far less useful thoughts on managing digital projects, including why digital project management is different from non-digital project management, what is actually managed by project management, and why prioritisation leads to uncertainty.

The Ultimate Digital Tools List

I put my Digital Tools List on Gumroad. I expect the list to be up to a thousand products and tools over the next few weeks. I haven’t made any sales but that’s not surprising because I haven’t promoted (and I have no intention of becoming ‘the digital tools guy’ on Twitter), but the process of writing a product description helped me figure out the usefulness of the list. The Digital Tools List can be used to create a unique tech stack for an indie business. So, for each side-project or maker business someone decides to set up, they can either do it the way everyone else is doing it, or they can think more strategically about what tools to use to help make Twitter be an effective main promo channel, or to stream their video to multiple platforms at the same time. Productising this process was the idea behind Build Better Systems. It would help makers figure out their business model.

Why charities tackle wicked problems

I wrote up some of my ideas on why charities choose to tackle wicked problems rather than tame, solvable problems. The post veered off from what I intended it to be and went on more about my idea of the three spheres of societal life and how they can or can’t respond to wicked problems. My intention was to write about how charities are actually pretty well equipped for tackling wicked problems but maybe that’ll be another post.

2021 Goals

I started writing my goals for next year, which are mostly continuing with what I was working on this year (doubling-down, as they say). As part of ‘Know What You Bring’, one of my side projects, I was working on a method for identifying things like that are you interested in, how those areas of interest intersect, how you develop expertise at that intersection, how you communicate that expertise, and who will find it useful. The process lead me to conclude that I want to spend more time on the intersection of charity, digital and innovation than I do on indie maker side-projects, so I want to try to spend more time writing blog posts about digital charity and innovation than I do working on side-projects.

I also updated my Now page. It’s still a mess but I like the idea and want to try to find a way to make better use of it.


I read:

Learning attitude

I read A Summary of Growth and Fixed Mindsets and I assume I’m below average, both of which deal with having a learning attitude. Derek Sivers says, “To assume you’re below average is to admit you’re still learning.” and Carol Dweck says “There’s another mindset in which these traits are not simply a hand you’re dealt and have to live with, always trying to convince yourself and others that you have a royal flush when you’re secretly worried it’s a pair of tens. In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.”

A foray into Online Film Clubs – a peek into the future of community building

I read Paulina Stachnik’s article talking about how “digital leaders, we have a unique opportunity to create this sense of community for our supporters.” Digital communities isn’t something I know very much about, but as Paulina says, they are more important now than they ever have been. What the article shows is that things that could be done without considering community can also be done with community in mind. That’s really interesting and opens up lots of possibilities. It basically says that anything and everything can be a community-building activity.

Why should community building be important? Well, there is some research that says that it’s intrinsic goals (like feeling a sense of belonging to a community) that improve our well-being, so how we create things that help people achieve intrinsic goals (being part of a community) whilst achieving extrinsic goals (watching a film) matters.

Moving Beyond Command And Control

I read Moving beyond command and control* by Paul Taylor. He talks about different assumptions and perspectives people hold on centralised control and localised communities, and how both are needed in national crisis situations like a pandemic. He goes on to talk about the different narratives around communities and how they shifted from celebrating the ingenuity of communities when they seemed to be abiding by the wants of centralised control to criticising communities for breaking the rules when they seemed to take too much of their own power. He ends with, “In 2021 we all need to get off the fence and state which one we truly believe in, and make that world a reality.” Do we believe that communities can hold their own power and make their own decisions, or do we believe that should not have power communities and so need central command and control in order to make decisions.

Out of context, but it made me think about loosely-coupled systems again. The issue I see with the either/or approach to where the power lies is that it is built on hierarchical structures from previous centuries. If we were building something new today with modern information networks (and what we’ve learned from how a global pandemic disrupted tightly-coupled systems) the available options might look quite different.


Thought about:

Learning from the past

The problem with learning from the past is that it assumes we’re facing the same problem in the present. Often it’s easier to assume we’re facing the same problem, and ignore the differences as inconsequential. Sometimes, saying that we’re learning from the past is a shortcut to conclusions even if the context is different. I don’t know how to resolve this, to tell the difference between when learning from the past is a good idea and when it isn’t. The only sense that I get is that the level of abstraction matters for the relevance of the learning. Too detailed and the differences between the past and the now means there is nothing to learn, too generalised and the lesson becomes so vague as to be useless.

User stories

There’s lots written about how to write User Stories, but I don’t think I’ve ever read anything about how to interpret user stories. Do designers think of user stories differently to developers? How are user stories useful for stakeholders, and for testers? User stories have a form and function, and a language of their own. Without a shared understanding of those how can we expect to understand user stories?

Posthuman charities

I’ve been thinking about writing a blogpost about how charities might work differently in a posthuman society. If we “reject both human exceptionalism (the idea that humans are unique creatures) and human instrumentalism (that humans have a right to control the natural world)” then how might we think about charities and for-good organisations that have their thinking rooted in humanist ideals?


Tweets:

Fake it till you make it

James Heywood tweeted, “Another problem with “fake it until your make it” is that you know you’ve faked it. That can trigger anxiety even as you succeed.” It made me think about how the phrase can be interpreted in a number of different ways. Faking it could be seen negatively as hiding inadequacies or incompetencies. Or it could be seen more positively as demonstrating a growth mindset and courage to go outside your comfort zone. It could be seen in different ways by different people, leading to confusion about how well-equipped a person is and where they might have development needs. I guess that’s the things about short phrases like this, they are purposely ambiguous, which can be a good thing when it leads to conversations to uncover and improve understanding.

Strategy for information products

David Vassallo tweeted, “A reliable info product strategy:

  1. Find something you know very well.
  2. Share what you know on the internet.
  3. Wait until people start asking for more.
  4. Do a brain dump of everything you know about the topic.
  5. Edit for high info density.
  6. Self-publish.”

It implies the idea that well communicated expertise can be part of overcoming the information product paradox, where customers don’t buy because the don’t know what they’ll be getting, but if they are given two much of the information then they don’t buy because they already have most of the value. Expertise signals value. If you’re known to be an expert in a topic then there is the expectation that what you produce will be valuable even without knowing what you’ll be getting.

Select who to serve first

Natalie Furness tweeted, “How to assess product market fit, while generating traction without spending money. A thread based on my experiences on scrappy startup go-to-market strategy.” She goes to offer lots of advice to indie makers including, “Product Market Fit : Select who you want to serve first. Try and make your test audience as narrow as you can to start with. Remember, this can change as your product develops.” The idea that indie makers start by building an audience around their area of interest before they even know what product they’ll be building is opposite to the usual approach of a business where they develop a product that fits their capabilities and then go looking for an audience. Its interesting to see these difference as the majority of business business models have grown out of industrial thinking whilst indie maker business models have grown out of internet-era thinking. I’ve said before that the maker movement will come of age when a single maker disrupts an established incumbent business, but perhaps another measure of success for the maker movement will be when businesses begin adopting their strategies (like they did with startups and software development).

*I don’t normally tag my links, just this once for fun.

Setting strategic-level goals for ecommerce

Setting goals is essential for an ecommerce business, and of course they should be SMART goals, but I’m also interested in how the goals can be meaningfully aligned to the strategic priorities of the business and be balanced across all the activities of the business. I think the strategic priorities and strategic goals should be developed together rather than one coming from the other, and should have both quantitative and qualitative measures.

 Internal-looking GoalExternal-facing Goal
Quantitative measure X
Qualitative measure  

Let’s take ‘Increasing revenue’ as a goal, as making more money is probably a pretty good goal for most ecommerce businesses to have. It would be an external-facing goal that is measured quantitatively, so it would go in the top right box above.

If all of the business goals fit in this box then I would suggest that the business doesn’t have a balanced approach to a) setting goals, and b) growing the business as a whole. Having a broader set of strategic goals that are spread across all four boxes would better represent the business as a whole.