Weeknotes #232

This week I did:


This week has been one of my most most fun weeks at work for a long time. The team was set the challenge of rethinking the product we’ve been working on and coming up with a minimal viable version that can be launched more quickly. We worked asynchronously in a single shared document and Miro board and it feels like we’ve made more progress in the last three days than the last three weeks. Of course we wouldn’t have been able to work so quickly without all that background work, but it’s good to experience what we can do as a team when we focus.

For me personally, it’s been interesting to move so quickly between what we need to do strategically to achieve objectives and what we need to do technically to build a solution that works now and gives us a foundation for the future. This what I mean when I talk about how good product management ‘integrates’. It connects the heights of strategy to the low details of how the software works, the past to the present to the future, and the different teams across the organisation to all work together. When I hear product managers say that they’re operating a strategic level like it’s some ego-trip or status-signalling I immediately see how ineffective they are being. Getting better at that ‘integration’ work is one of my professional development goals.

Met the neighbours

As a digital nomad I never thought I’d have neighbours. One of the places I’ve been parking seems to be a well-known spot for those living in vans so I did the neighbourly thing and said, ‘Hi’. One of my neighbours is living in a camper while he waits to be able to return to China to teach English. We talked about American politics, the nomadic lifestyle and other good places to park in the area.

And I thought about:


With numerous X-As-A-Service business models, and the blurring of work and life from more people working at home, the natural evolution seems to be selling X-As-A-Lifestyle. Are you a ‘successful’ work-from-home parent? Write a newsletter about it, build an online following and monetize your experience. Did you suffer from stress and then learn how to cope? Create an online community and sell your wellbeing coaching services. In times of uncertainty people look to others even more for guidance, not just in how to do one thing but in how to live a new life.

Do charities need product management?

I’ve been thinking about product management in charities and what benefits that type of thinking brings to a charity. There doesn’t seem to be a great deal written about product management in charities but given that it’s a function that serves other organisations in other sectors well, and that charities are becoming more reliant on digital technology (not that product management is exclusively about tech) it seems something worth exploring. I’ll get around to turning my thoughts into a blog post one day.

Skill development models

You should specialise. No, you should be a generalist. No, you should be a T shaped person, or I or X shaped. No, you should be star-shaped. The diversity of sectors, careers and careers paths surely makes it impossible to say that a single model fits all situations, perhaps to the point of uselessness. Identifying what skills you should develop, especially given the world we live in today, seems like it should be a bottom-up exercise that is capable of changing quickly rather than one that fits a particular model or system.

And read:

No Meetings, No Deadlines, No Full-Time Employees

Sahil Lavingia writes about how work is organised at Gumroad. It is a glimpse at how one company has evolved to be completely remote, asynchronous, low overhead cost, and transparent about things like wages. Obviously the model fits a very particular type of organisation, and has reached this place through crisis rather than intelligent design from the outset. And the post has none of the, ‘This is how we succeeded and you should copy us’ tone that some organisations have when they write about their working culture and comes from a humble place of sharing how it worked for them. For those organisations trying to get back to the normal working of everyone in the same office at the same time it offers an interesting contrast.

Ideas That Changed My Life

Morgan Housel wrote about the ideas that changed his life. I was particularly interested in the parts on sustainable sources of competitive advantage and the quote by Historian Niall Ferguson who dais that “The dead outnumber the living 14 to 1, and we ignore the accumulated experience of such a huge majority of mankind at our peril.”. One of the ideas that I’ve been thinking about and feel has changed my life is around the balance of benefit and cost, and how I think everything has more cost than benefit, which is right in that what is a cost to me is probably a benefit to someone else, and that’s how a complex society works, but also how continually incurred costs seems like another way to talk about entropy and the eventually consumption of all finite resources.

Remember the Chinese Bamboo Tree

Charles Burdett wrote, “When it feels like you’re not making progress, remember the Chinese Bamboo Tree.”, where the growth of bamboo is used as a metaphor for continuing to work towards success even when there is no visible growth at beginning. For me it illustrates that we all have mental models that don’t match the reality of how systems perform. We expect growth and success to be linear, but in fact it almost never is. Getting our understanding of the world closer to the realities of the world seems like a essential, albeit probably impossible, challenge.

And some people tweeted:

2 ways to teach.

Craig Burgess tweeted about two different relationship models for teaching, one where the teacher is seen as an authority passing on best practice from an existing body of knowledge and one where the teacher is exploring and learning at the same time as sharing their new knowledge. We had a short discussion on Twitter about whether one way is better than the other or could be used for different situations. Perhaps the first way of teaching works better for established bodies of knowledge where students need stability in what information will be transferred, and the second works better where the knowledge hasn’t been codified for transmission and is still emerging.

Building an online audience online is developing social capital

I tweeted a short essay about how the things people write nowadays about building an online audience are based upon thinking around developing social capital that is almost a hundred years old. In a way it relates to my chat with Craig about how established and emerging knowledge affect each other. How much do those who are creating emerging knowledge in a particular field, such as building an audience for an online business, build upon, knowingly or unknowingly, the body of existing knowledge? If there are no new ideas then is everyone wasting their time discovering their own emerging knowledge? I think not, because existing knowledge is codified as information and can only be turned into knowledge by someone else if they go through a learning process.

Personal blogs and RSS feeds

Terence Eden tweeted about reading blogs via his RSS feed setup and Luca Hammer tweeted his very cool tool for identifying the feeds of websites that people link to in the Twitter bios. I’ve been trying different ways of building a horizon-scanner using RSS for ages, and with tools like IFFTT and Tentacle having limits to the number of feeds I hadn’t got very far. Then I found out that Slack has an RSS app so I set up a channel to receive notifications from different websites across the charity sector. Now I get a notification when a new article is posted on any of those websites. I’ve never been a big fan of Slack, probably because of my leaning towards asynchronous communication and having never worked in an organisation where it had been allowed, but it actually has more uses for an individual than I previously thought. I’m starting to think of it as less of a communication tool and more of a stream of stuff going on that I’m interested in.

Weeknotes #201

This week I did:

Another whirlwind week

I worked quickly to take high level business requirements for online mentoring into detailed implementation requirements and onto a defined scope for the MVP. One of the things I found interesting about defining the MVP was to stick to what we are certain about. If we had any questions or doubts about a feature it was taken out of scope. It’s a good principle for being able to meet the launch date. Next week we’ll be working through configuration and testing so we can launch the week after. It feels great to be working at pace and focused on delivering something useful so quickly.

And I studied:

Disrupted by digitisation

This week’s lecture was about Digital Marketing. 

“Marketing is the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably. Digital marketing is the process of achieving marketing objectives through applying digital technologies.”

Chartered Institute of Marketing

We broadly discussed tools & techniques, benefits, models and growth. Mostly obvious stuff, but interesting to think about how marketing has been at the forefront of the digitisation of business. 

And thought about:

Waking up in beautiful places

I have a few essays that I’ve been thinking about for a while, some of which I’ve started, and none of which I’ve finished. I want them to be more interesting than just reading what I think and so they’ll include videos, links, quotes, etc. to create a fuller and richer picture of the topic than if it was purely written. The one I’ve been working on this week is about designing an intentional life, art, stoicism, minimalism, being a bit of a hermit and living in a car.

Service design for non-service-designers

In addition to essays, I’ve also been thinking about ‘collections’ as a different way to group content about a particular thing, kind of following on from my Compendium Of Ideas project that never went anywhere. The first collection is about Service Design, because it’s something I’m interested in and have been doing a bit of research on. My collections will be single pages of multimedia (is that still a term?) content around a particular topic, so that could include tweets, videos, podcasts, a list of links, quotes, books, etc. The hypothesis is that people who don’t know about a topic need somewhere to start, and I need a means of putting my research together in a considered and reflective way.

Approaches to validation

I was looking around on Product Hunt, a website where product creators list products they are working on to get feedback from visitors. It’s always interesting to see the wide diversity of how different people approach the same problems (again and again, there are only a certain number of problems to solve) and the product process they go through. Three of the products I looked at seemed to be at different stages of validating their hypothesis. Better Wiki – The ultimate people operations wiki on the internet – are using Notion as a public site, perhaps to validate their product/market fit without having to develop a site (wiki’s a tough thing to get right in my opinion). Mental Models by Edvo – Tools to navigate life better – is an iPhone app only, so the website just directs visitors to download the app, and Tools for better thinking – Collection of thinking tools and frameworks to help you solve problems, make decisions and understand systems – have the most most polished website. There are all working on similar problems; how to present information in ways the drive behaviour change through thinking change, 

Product management in a non-product organisation

I feel like most of the information and rhetoric around being a product manager is underpinned by the assumption that all product managers work at product-orientated organisations. There is a big difference in how to approach product management when the product is core to the business and when the product is a tool used by a small section of the business to achieve a particular outcome. The idea that product managers should be ‘leaders’ (whatever that means) only works if the entire organisation values product enough to consider that leadership as key to success for the organisation. I guess design, innovation, etc. all suffer from the same problem. More traditional functions like marketing and finance have earned their place in the leadership circle, but the newer functions are yet to establish their value. I feel like the ‘what kind of organisation are we?’ question is a big part of this. If the core business model is service orientated, then trying to product-ised the thinking and discussions can unintentionally disrupt the business and cause negative consequences. If the goal of a product manager is to deliver value for the organisation then sometimes the strategic thing to do would be to let Product take a back seat in the organisation.

And people tweeted about:

Tuning out ‘Digital’

John Cutler tweeted about tuning out the word ‘digital’, which spurred me on to write my ‘In defence of digital’ post about why we can’t dismiss digital in our lives, organisations and society.

The Charity Digital Code of Practice

The COVID-19 digital checklist for charity trustees and leaders from the Charity Digital Code looks really interesting. It was developed from research done by The Catalyst. It’s also great to see more charities contributing to The Catalyst Service Recipes. I wonder if anyone is using any of these resources?

Top 100 Nonprofit Blogs

I tweeted a link to the Top 100 Nonprofit Blogs. The most noticeable thing is the lack of charities on the list. Obviously, many of the organisations on the list are using their blog as part of their content marketing for lead generation so it makes sense that they post more often. Compared to the amount of open working and transparency in government digital teams expressed through blogs, the charity sector seems very quiet. 

GiftBot – Our Product Management Training Project

As part of the Product Management training at General Assembly I worked with two other Product Managers to go through the product process of identifying a problem, doing user research to understand and define the problem, identify our riskiest assumptions and run an experiment to test it, create an MVP to test whether we can solve the customers problem, and iterate upon the feedback.

The Problem

Busy people forget or run out of time to buy gifts for friends and family.

Lean canvas

We used a Lean canvas to record our assumptions to help us identify the riskiest for validation.


After undertaking research with 18 people we grouped their responses together to allow us to create personas.


The first version of GiftBot:

This version received an NPS score of 5.9.

GiftBot after user testing received feedback that it wasn’t very friendly and returned too many results. This version scored 7.2.

Final presentation

GiftBot Presentation