Changes in thinking for the future of charity ecommerce

Not using short-term thinking about the organisation making money, but rather having vision and understanding of what problems we should be solving for our supporters.

Not starting with ‘what things can we sell’, but rather ‘what value do our customers want from us’.

Not following traditional/industrial/Talyorist thinking of putting lots of the same types of people in the same building and giving them fixed processes to follow, but rather than modern thinking of diverse and remote teams focused on solving a problem (imagine a workforce that is truly representative of our supporters and our society because we can employ someone with a heart condition from a South-East Asian background who lives in a small town somewhere but can login and work as a customer service agent for a few hours every Sunday afternoon).

Not longer applying the old charity mindset of value flowing one-way from supporters to the organisation, but rather applying a two-way value exchange model to thinking so that everyone gets the benefits.

Not being all about pipeline value delivery where the value of a thing moves through the business step-by-step until it reaches the customer (but not joined-up because of the organisational hierarchy constraints), but rather platform value delivery where we create things that customers use to derive their own value because we’re with our supporters every step throughout their life, from cradle to grave (and building services that can be sold to other charities).

Not looking inwards but rather having an appreciation of the trend in modern business of moving from ‘optimised-for-production’ (doing what is efficient for the business) to ‘optimised-for-consumption’ (doing what is effective for the customer) and how that shift will affect charity/retail/ecommerce.

An experiment in focused-working

The problem

Too many things that need to be done right now. Too many emails. Too many meetings. Too many distractions. Not enough time to do the bigger pieces of work. Not enough focus on the important outcomes.

As a team we want to deliver more value and do so more continuously, But, as I’ve learned about Modern Agile principles, you can’t do one without all the others. In order to be able to deliver value continuously we need to be able to experiment rapidly, but in order to experiment we have to be willing to make people awesome, and provide psychological safety. People need to feel like they aren’t going to get in trouble by deviating from normal working practices, they need to feel like they’ll be able to achieve more and show the results of their efforts. So we needed an experiment,

The hypothesis

We can be innovative about how we work. We can find ways to focus better on doing things that make the most difference and achieve the best outcomes. We can figure out how to make the team more autonomous. We can focus on achieving outcomes rather than ticking off a to do list.

The experiment

For fours days in a row, the team decided what work they wanted to focus on. We tried to avoid talking about to-do lists and focus on the outcomes we could achieve for our customers.

We agreed that we could work when, where and how we wanted to. No need to work 9 to 5 if we didn’t want to. We won’t measure our work by hours spent but instead by outcomes achieved. We wanted our measures to be qualitative rather than quantitative. We agreed to go wherever we wanted in order to be able to focus. No need to be in the office if we didn’t want to.

We switched on our out-of-office emails and tried to avoid distractions to focus on deep work. And then we got on with it.

The retro

After our four day focused-working experiment we shared our thoughts on how it went for us.

What worked well

“I wrote a list of things I wanted to work on this week beforehand. This really helped keep me on track. I tried to work on only things on the list or things relating to the list.”

“Working from home/office split – working in different locations helps you stay in touch with what is going on but also gives you time to focus on what you are doing. There were a lot of email exchanges , which in an ordinary week would probably have been strung out for a week or so but as it was my number 1 priority I had time to work on it, respond quickly and get it pushed through quicker.”

“Focusing on a product worked well. Already we can see the traffic/sales are up from work we are doing so we can see that this week as had an impact.”

“Prioritised what needed to be focused on by creating to-do lists.”

“Setting a task that was completely self-driven – i.e. I wasn’t waiting for anything from anybody else.”

“9-5 still works for me as the children are around ALL of the other hours in the day. 7 days a week. 365 days a year. Repeat. Forever.”

“As a team, we are starting to think differently about ways of working, how to focus and be effective.”

“No has yet told me that we can’t work this way.”

“Being in an office felt like I had to respond to emails because I felt more visible, but on the days I worked at home I definitely completed bigger tasks.”

“I wonder if perhaps a different way to do focused work is to alternate people on the team doing it so that someone takes care of customer service enquiries, etc., whilst the others focus and then swap the next week.”

What didn’t work

“I didn’t really veer away from my 9-5 hours. Perhaps that is what works for me, but I couldn’t get out of that mind set.”

“I didn’t get everything completed on my list.”

“A lot of what I do still relies on emails back and forth from externals or internals – how smoothly or quickly this goes impacts the speed and focus of the task. Two tasks I had down didn’t get done due to lack of or slow response from others.”

“I worked mostly usual office hours. If that’s what works for us then that’s fine. I think the point of it isn’t to say don’t work usual hours, but that the more we think of measuring our work by the outcomes we achieve rather than the hours we work, the better. It’s about measuring quality rather than quantity.”

“I think I’d like to try working outside of office as then I wouldn’t get so distracted by emails. Even if it was working the standard seven hours a day, starting at 4pm to handle emails for the day and then working on something bigger till 11pm.”

“Can’t say that the work I did had any impact, so perhaps I chose the wrong things to focus on.”

Biggest distractions

“For me these were customer service enquiries and things from other teams that needed to be actioned. Both took me away from what I was working on at various points throughout the week and both I couldn’t really leave for the following week.

“Due to the nature of the job, responses to emails can still distract me as I am used to having to deal with emails very quickly. I find it really, really hard to ignore them, especially if I know I can answer them or help.”

“Many emails felt like they had to answered right away. I’m not sure how to ever get away from this, other than perhaps more notice to people the week before rather than just OOO emails (Although I still maintain that nothing bad happens when we’re on leave for a week).”

Other questions to think about…

How did it feel? Was it uncomfortable in any way or did it feel better than usual working?

Would you do it again? Should it become a usual way of working?

What else or different would you do to work in a more focused way? Should we run different experiments to find other ways to work in a more focused way?

What we learned

We can most definitely achieve bigger and better things by working in this way.

Saying that we were going to work in a different, more focused way helped us to do so. Being out of the office and having OOO emails on helped, but making the conscious effort to be focused had the biggest effect.

Being more disciplined with ourselves to choose work that was self-contained and could be completed within the given focus period helped to achieve things.

Getting away from the usual working mindsets of 9 to 5 and answering emails is hard. It’s really drummed into us that this is how we should work.

The future

In the near future we need to decide whether to make this way of working (four focus days every two weeks) a part of our usual working practice.

If we do move away from the 9 to 5 I hope the team gets better at listening to their minds and bodies about when and how to work, rather than looking at the clock, but we’ll need to make sure the team don’t overwork.

Even if we continue to work office hours, four days of focused-working every two weeks will help us achieve better outcomes and make the team more autonomous.

In the longer-term future, this is about moving away from ‘command and control’ management to ‘decentralised, distributed, and diverse’ leadership.

What does the team of the future look like?

They’ll be diverse by default, and without even thinking about it as they’ll all be from different places, different backgrounds, different skills, different ages, etc., just like their customers

They’ll be motivated by achieving outcomes and making a difference rather than being incentivised to look busy and fill hours.

They’ll be self-organising and self-managing, choosing distributed and decentralised leadership over command and control management.

They’ll optimise for consumption rather optimising for production, and they’ll do the hard work to make things easy for their customers over making things convenient for themselves.

They’ll forego fixed process that everyone follows without any opportunity to change for shared knowledge among intelligent people who make good decisions in a safe-to-fail environment where everyone learns, adapts and improves.

I want to work with that team.

Why businesses need greater agility

Agile businesses respond to change quickly

How it used to be

The rate of change customers experienced was constant so businesses could go through a period of change to catch up with their customers and plateau for a while before going into the next period of change.

How it is now

The rate of change that customers experience grows exponentially, but businesses still implement change in the old way which means they get further behind the needs of their customers.

How it should be

Businesses change at an exponential rate to keep up with their customers and better serve their needs.

How businesses deliver value to customers

Business 1

Customer: I’d like to buy a spade please.

Business: Ok, here’s a spade.

Customer: Thanks, bye.

Or

Business 2

Customer: I’d like to buy a spade please.

Business: Why do you want a spade?

Customer: To dig a hole.

Business: Why do you want to dig a hole?

Customer: To set a post for a fence.

Business: Why do you want a fence.

Customer: To make my garden more secure.

Business: Why do you want your garden to be more secure?

Customer: So I can feel safer when I’m at home and protect my property.

Business: These are the products and services we provide: Spades, fencing panels, fence building service, tree planting service, CCTV installation, security patrols.

Customer: Wow, I’ll have…

Velocity as a measure for products not teams

I’ve been thinking about velocity as a measure for teams and products. The definition of the word is ‘the speed of something in a given direction‘, not just speed as we often think.

Scrum measures velocity, defined as “the amount of work a Team can tackle during a single Sprint … is calculated at the end of the Sprint by totaling the Points for all fully completed User Stories”, as speed alone. USpS is the MpH of the team, it is ‘output velocity’.

So, in this way of thinking, velocity is a team performance metric. It’s narrow, used to understand only the speed of the team, and doesn’t include the direction element from our dictionary definition. The issues that we see with using USpS to measure team speed alone is that the team could easily be moving quickly in the wrong direction (I guess the assumption in Scrum is that direction is provided in other ways), and that measuring human beings in such a mechanistic way is fraught with all kinds of inequalities, assumptions, and biases to the point where it becomes more damaging to the team than it is helpful.

But that doesn’t mean we have to abandon velocity all together. There are other ways of thinking about it as a useful measure. We could define velocity more broadly as ‘speed in the right direction’. Then, this ‘impact velocity’ could be used more to understanding the performance of the Product as it advances towards its goal state, rather than the team as in Scrum. The same team can measure impact velocity across multiple Products, and compare them, and learn from each other.
So, why measure impact velocity at all? If ‘velocity = speed in the right direction’, then the reasons to measure it are to check direction and course correct, and the sooner this is done because there is pace in achieving goals the more likely the team are to achieve mission.

Quality has to be part of our definition of impact velocity, and something that Scrum seems to be criticised for lacking and the resultant shipping of bugs just to get as many user stories completed in that sprint. Velocity is speed in the right direction, not just speed, so quality along the way; quality thinking, quality customer insight, quality deciding, quality building, quality shipping, quality feedback, provide the team with the ability to correct the course of the products and head in the right direction with more speed.

At least now I have a bit of a working definition that I can use to think about and test was of measuring impact velocity on real products.

Your job is to deliver value to our customers

A colleague asked me a question about a customer query she was dealing with, and went on to explain that it wasn’t our teams customer but that she couldn’t let go of it and wanted to resolve it. It was almost like she felt that she had to explain why she was spending time doing something that ‘isn’t her job’ and that I might criticise her choice.

Her job, just like my job, is to deliver value to our customers. I trust her to use her intelligence to decide what is the best way to do that. I don’t care which organisational silo a customer interacted with initially, if they speak to us we’ll do the best we can to help them. I don’t want us to do things that reinforce those silos and reduce the value we provide for our customers. If we’re the best people to help that customer then we absolutely will accept that responsibility and do everything we can to resolve their query.

Testing the hypothesis for lifestyle fundraising

I’ve been learning about how to implement geolocation in chatbots and had an idea about tracking walks, which made me think about Just Walk, a BHF fundarising product, and whether it would be possible get supporters into ‘lifestyle fundraising’ where they don’t have to organise anything special but include their fundraising in their daily routine.

Problem

How do we encourage supporters to enter into long-term small-value recurring fundraising?

Product

Just Walk, a participant-lead fundraising campaign where a supporter commits to walking and gets sponsorship. Usually supporters are encouraged to organise a significant distance walk but short distance walks, e.g. on the way to work, could become fundraising opportunities.

Challenge

Digitaising the Just Walk product to validate the hypothesis that dedicated supporters can collect ongoing small value sponsorship from their sponsors, rather than a one-off fundraising, by integrating their Just Walk activities into their daily routine.

What might it look like

When the supporter registers for Just Walk they are encouraged to download the app or start a conversation with the chatbot or visit a mobile optimsed web page with geolocation functionality. Registration generates a link that they send to their potential sponsors and ask them to register on the website, where they enter they payment details into Stripe/Changebee or some other recurring payments provider.

When a supporter decides to go for a walk they record their start location and when they have finished they record their end location in the app, chatbot or web page, which calculates how many miles they walked and asks them if they’d like to ask their sponsors for the same number of pounds or save the walk to add up for the week. If they say yes, their sponsors receive an email with a link to a pre-populated payment web page where the payment is taken. To prompt them into going for more walks the app could include notifications such as ‘It’s Sunday morning, great time to go for a walk’, a chatbot could do the same with messages, and automated emails could be used for the website.

The sponsor can unregister from the supporters Just Walk at any time and their payment details will be deleted. And supporters can unregister at any time and delete the app/stop the conversation with the chatbot/close their account on the website.

Metrics

I think the metrics around supporters recording their walks would be interesting but most interesting thing will be to see how often a sponsor would pay those small amounts before they stop supporting as this would help tell us what people think about ‘lifestyle fundraising’.

Potential issues

Per transaction costs exceeding the value of the donations.

Methods for working together

A few years almost every meeting I went to was face-to-face with only a few phones as rare exceptions. This year it feels like at least half my meetings are group Skype calls. Although the technology isn’t always perfect being able to work with someone who isn’t in the same place has meant we’ve been able to get more things done more quickly.

So whereas before we only had one method for working together, now we have two. I think we need more. We need more clearly defined methods of working together that make it easier to people to know what is expected of them

Workshops

Workshops follow a step by step approach to achieve a clear output. They need to stick to the structure, e.g. Design Sprint, and not vere off track. They are all about action and production, if by the end of the workshop the group hasn’t actually produced something useable (not just useful) then the workshop was a waste of time. They might involve blank sheets of paper, wipeboards and post it notes.

Discussion

Discussions are more informal and less structured. They are about collective information gathering. Everyone talks freely about the topic, sharing their experiences, knowledge and opinions. They require strong leadership and good listening skills from everyone, but they are great for uncovering stuff and getting it all in the same space. The output of a discussion should be shared understanding.

Interview

Interviews are likely to be one to one or two to one. They are about getting answers. They require that the person holding the interview comes prepared with questions that they want answers to. The person being interviewed brings their knowledge and tries to frame it as answers not discussion points. The output of an interview should be documented specific answers to questions.

So far, all of these are synchronous methods, that is they require everyone to be working at the same time but I think we need some asynchronous methods too that enable people to still work together when they can’t be together at the same time. We all work asynchronously most of the time, but this is about trying to formalise some methods for asynchronous collaboration.

Review

Reviews require a number of people to read a document, consider it in light of their knowledge, assumptions and experience, and then feedback comments, questions and any concerns. Reviews are best conducted by people on their own at a time they can concentrate and not be distracted. The output from a review should be the collated feedback from however many people were involved into a single source.

Optimising for production

There’s nothing wrong with meetings. They have their place. Meetings are fine for talking about things but meetings aren’t the right format for producing things. If the expected outcome of getting a group of people together is to produce something then a workshop is a better format. An assumption for meetings should be that no production will be attempted in the meeting. The discussion will most likely generate the need for work to be done but it should be done outside the meeting.

Why are meetings so bad for production? Meetings are usually for a short period of time, an hour say, and may be at regular intervals, maybe weakly or monthly. So, that’s two things that make meetings bad for production; such a small amount of time to work in, and such a large amount of time between the sessions. Meetings are like trying to write a book by writing one sentence a week. Obviously it’s going to take ages. Writing a chapter in one go will get the book written far more quickly, but that requires a workshop.