Weeknotes #259

This week I did:

Next

We’ve learned a lot from the product we launched three months ago. We learned what it takes to work quickly and where the balance lies with quality, we learned how to create more problems and solve them too, and we learned about how much change is the right amount of change. But part of maturing a product is how well integrated it is into the rest of the organisation, and that’s our next challenge. It’s going to take a lot of time, a lot of talking to people, a lot of thinking from everyone, but it’ll bring new perspectives and create new knowledge. Maybe some people think we’re just improving a product, making it bigger and better. I think it’s so much more. Our little baby is growing up.

Pressure is on

I had a chat with my dissertation supervisor and got some useful direction for writing the research methodology and literature review, the drafts of which have to be in this weekend. Submission deadline is two months away so the pressure is on to spend as much time as I can on it. The next thing is finalising my research questions and arranging interviews. It’s going to be really important to get the right questions and the right answers, otherwise the whole thing kind of falls over. But no pressure.

This is stile

Stiles.style has reached 300. So, that must make it the greatest collection of stile on the internet, as if it wasn’t before.


This week I thought about:

Uncomfortable learning

Operationalising a new product and taking a test and learn approach with it at the same time is going to cause some conflict. One wants to get on using the product to meet targets. The other wants to understand how well things are working. Different goals drive different behaviours. But, I don’t think they are conflicting behaviours. I think the realities of using the product provide the lessons to learn. I don’t know who said it first, but I’ve repeated it numerous times, “Users won’t use a product how we think they will”. A good product has enough wiggle room to allow people to figure out their own ways of doing things to achieve the things they want, and seeing how that happens in real life shows us the unknown unknowns, it tells us about the questions we didn’t think to ask. This kind of thing isn’t really conflict, it’s uncomfortable learning.

Goals

Nothing to do with football, but reading Ann Mei Chang on how big tech firms are happy to set big goals and charities and social enterprises feel really cautious about doing so, I recalled some of my old thinking about goals and methods for setting and achieving them. My current thinking is that in order to make goals achievable they should be written in conjunction with the investment necessary to achieve them, otherwise they are just aspirations or ambitions, not goals. The other school of thought I subscribe too is that the best method for achieving a goal is to start with a broad and uncertain goal, take a step towards it and get the feedback as to whether you are closer to goal and that the goal has become slightly more certain and defined. If either of those two are true, repeat, until you have a very certain goal and a well-defined path for achieving it. The usual approach for setting goals, which I’m very much against, is to set a goal with no idea how to achieve it, and then put more work into figuring out how to achieve it than actually achieving it.

NPD Processes

It occurred to me that most organisations, and certainly pretty much all charities, don’t need a well-optimised innovation or new product development process because they just don’t develop enough new products to warrant the time and effort in figuring out the right process for them. Whatever they may learn from trying a particular process won’t be relevant by the time they use the process again. Obviously this is not the conclusion that I intend to reach with my dissertation, which is all about how charities use innovation processes.


This week I read:

Charity Digital Skills Report 2021

The 2021 Charity Digital Skills Report is out and makes for very interesting reading. Particularly, two of the insights about digital inclusion, “digital inclusion has proven a challenge for digital service delivery, with over 1 in 5 (22%) cancelling services because their users don’t have the skills or tech to use them. That is up from 15% at the start of the pandemic, showing how digital inclusion is still a pressing issue for the sector and a real area of concern when reaching beneficiaries.”, and “Digital inclusion has proved to be the biggest challenge faced this year. Just over half (52%) are worried about excluding some people or groups and 24% are concerned that their audience is not online. 12% of charities themselves have struggled with basic tech access.”. Obviously digital inclusion (which is really just social inclusion in the 21st century) is a complex problem that requires solutions from multiple angles; people having devices and the skills and confidence to use them, but also ensuring that services are designed to be as simple as possible. Oh, and I’m choosing to take it as an ironic statement about the state of digital in charities that in 2021 the report is a pdf.

Problem Solving Machine

Paul always writes good interesting stuff, and I completely agree, “if you’re disciplined enough to be able to live with that ambiguity for a while, you usually end up with a better answer to your problem“. Understanding problems is the biggest change we should make in solving problems. It’s one of the main points I talk about in my charity product product management emails. There are two problems with understanding problems, the ‘understanding’ part, and the ‘problem’ part.

Weeknotes #255

This week I did:

Programmes, products, projects

I spent a some thinking thinking through how we translate what our programme teams are developing for future courses into what we need to build into our products to enable the courses. It really does feel like a translation as there’s lots of different language and understanding that is important to get right.

One of our teams have adopted goal-based Now/Next/Later roadmaps for their projects. I was so impressed I messaged the project manager to tell them how happy I was to see it Ok, I’m a roadmap geek and I can admit it. Something I’ve realised about roadmaps is that the approaches, models and tools only work for a small number of elements. I wonder if the idea that roadmaps shouldn’t have too many things on them comes from the tools and models not being able to effectively represent lots of elements, or if it’s the idea drives the existence of the models. Maybe the limitations of the models is what keeps people using Gantt charts.

III

I had a few hours of inspiration about some of the things I want to include in my product management in charities email series so I made some notes will spend some of my time off work next week on writing the emails, setting-up the automation and sign-up form. It’s on my delivery plan to just get the emails written in June so if I can get the whole thing set up then I’ll be well ahead of schedule.

Escape form Bigbury

I went to beach last weekend a d found a nice spot to read a couple of innovation books for a few hours. During that time the tide came in and cut me off from the walking out the way I came in. I put my clothes and books into my bag, held it above my head and swam across a river, climbed up a small cliff, broke my sandals, and walked eight miles back to my car barefoot. I love these little adventures. It’s like being a kid again, getting myself into trouble and relying on myself to get out.

Blockchain in entrepreneurship

This week’s lecture was about the use of Blockchain in entrepreneurial business models, including the use of ICO‘s, which is an interesting way for start-ups to raise investment. ICO’s follow a standard approach of demonstrating that the start-up has four things that will lead to it’s success; human capital, quality of business model, social media activity, and a project elaboration whitepaper. The whitepaper is an organisational strategy document that aims to attract investors by expressing the business model. Tech start-ups often fail because they are more focused on building their solution than on validating the market needs and strategy for meeting it, so it’s interesting to see whitepapers as a mechanism for pulling them towards a more holistic approach.


And thought about:

What are we trying to achieve?

I’ve had various conversations this week, in various contexts, where trying to decide what action to take was hampered by a lack of clarity about what was trying to be achieved. Knowing the end goal becomes a guide for decision making, along with principle stacks in more complicated situations. So many of our tools and mental models are at the task level (see defining our unit of analysis below) which make it easier for us to get on with doing something, and make it harder for us to decide and remain focused on the goal.

Projects within projects

How do projects relate to each other? A project can be:

  • Building block – not dependent on other projects but with others dependent on it.
  • Chain – dependent on another with others dependent on it.
  • Standalone – no projects are dependent on it and it isn’t dependent on any.
  • Destination – dependent on other projects but with nothing dependent on it.

But that’s a pretty two-dimensional cause-and-effect view of how projects relate to each other. What about a ‘Russian doll’ relational model of project within project within project? Do we assume that projects are standalone entities when really they aren’t? What issues does this cause within organisations?

Define your unit of analysis

One of the difficult things about talking about innovation, or maybe anything that lacks an agreed definition, is being clear about what level you’re referring to. Are you talking about innovation as an activity within a company or an industry or a nation? In each of those cases the ‘unit of analysis’ is different and so the conversation is different, and confusing if different people are referring to different units of analysis without realising it.

Harmonic wave

I love a completely spurious and unconnected analogy. So, on that note, here’s why harmonic waves pendulums explain why keeping people aligned at work is so hard. The pendulums are made of a line of weights each hanging on a string of a different length. This means that even when they all start swinging together they swing at different speeds. In a harmonic wave pendulum it produces interesting patterns but at work people working at different speeds, because they have different tasks, different priorities, etc., produces dependencies, blockers, repetition and all the other things that make work inefficient. So, what’s the answer? Artificial constraints to keep everyone moving at the same speed? Redistributing work so those who are faster do more? Slice work into smaller pieces to make it easier? Yes. No. Depends.


And read:

The Power of Creative Destruction

Since reading about Schumpeter and the ideas he had about how innovation relies on creative destruction, that is one innovation destroying and replacing another, I thought he was wrong. It seems more likely that innovation builds on what went before. The Power of Creative Destruction: Economic Upheaval and the Wealth of Nations by Philippe Aghion, Céline Antonin and Simon Bunel reconsiders Schumpeter and what effect his ideas have had on how we approach innovation.

Work from Home & Productivity

This research showed that during a period of pandemic-enforced working from home (context is important but not really recognised enough) IT professionals spent more time doing less work. Productivity fell by 20% because although the study’s participants were working longer hours, more of that time was in meetings. What can we take from this, other than meetings are bad? Two things, I think. More meetings happen because organisations don’t have effective ways to coordinate work asynchronously (arguably they don’t have synchronous means to coordinate effectively either, but hey…) and so default to more meetings in an attempt to achieve coordination. And then, secondly, the visibility of workers in meetings serves as replacement for trust in workers.

A Manifesto For A New Way Of Work

Written in 2015, A Manifesto For A New Way Of Work describes the old versus new, which I like as a way of helping to make clear the unknown unknowns of the new way of work and draw lines of distinction. I’ve been thinking a bit about ‘operating systems’ for work, how we define the basic rules that create the behaviours we want to see at higher levels. Boyd’s manifesto helps with a far-off vision of what work could be like, rather than a realistic current model, but it’s interesting nonetheless from a ‘it’s a systems problem not a people problem‘ point of view.

What is innovation?

Innovation means ‘create new value’.

Create, because ideas have to be turned into a reality.

New, because it involves novelty.

Value, because what gets made has to be valuable.

The Open Paradigm in Design Research

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/282772798_The_Open_Paradigm_in_Design_Research

The shift from closed to open paradigms in new product development is seen as an emergence of new forms of production, innovation, and design. Innovation processes are shifting from open source software to open source hardware design. Emulating open source software, design information for open source hardware is shared publicly to enhance the development of physical products, machines, and systems.Similarly, the rise of the “maker culture” enhances product tinkering,while the do-it-yourself (DIY) movement embraces “the open” in design.Users participate in design via crowdsourcing and co-creation on platforms such as OpenIdeo and Quirky and by joining proliferating open innovation challenges. At the back end of the design process, customers are invited to participate in mass customization and personalization to personalize products.The open paradigm has received scholarly attention through studies of open source software and open source hard- ware. Moreover, user engagement in the design process has been studied as user-centric innovation,participatory design,and co-design, as well as customer co-creation and crowdsourcing. However, the “open” landscape in design lacks consensus regarding a unified definition for open design practices. This lack of agreement partially results from the gap in approaches to design. Studies of innovation and new product development are focused on user-centric approaches and customer engagement in several stages of the design process, whereas current definitions of open design are focused on openness of technical design information and largely exclude, in particular, the early stages of the design process. The open design definitions also lack the commercial aspects of openness. Thus, the existing definitions are too narrow to holistically represent the shift from a closed paradigm to an open paradigm in design. Moreover, the lack of clarity and consistency in definitions is hindering the development of open design as a design approach. To fully advance the research on methods and practices, a more comprehensive perception of openness in the design process is needed.