Weeknotes #261

What I did this week:

Wider learning

Our team did presentations of our work to others across the organisation. It’s an important part of communicating and embedding the changes that we’re introducing but the really interesting part was all the comments that hinted at questions we haven’t answered and questions we didn’t even know to ask. There’s so much experience and expertise for us to absorb into our work and I hope that if we get that right it will help us create a better product that doesn’t repeat old mistakes our ignore old learning. If continuous discovery is a mindset was well as a practice, then looking out for these opportunities to uncover more unknowns is exactly what we should be doing.

I’ve been thinking about the complexity of the situations that the product we’re building interacts with across the organisation. My conclusion so far is that it’s important not to down play the complexity and try to create a simplified (and probably false) view. That would risk creating simplified solutions that don’t really solve problems. Some of the questions I’ve been asking myself is, ‘where is the right point to intersect with existing systems and processes without causing disruption or unintended consequences?’ and ‘how can we help other teams improve how they do things in ways that don’t cause downstream problems for others?’.

Innovation interviews

My interviewees have started returning their answers to my research questions. I’m still hoping for more but I can begin collating the answers I have so far ready for analysis next weekend. Those that I read so far have been really interesting and make me wish I could have long chats with people about their understanding and approach to innovation in charities.

20,000 views

My website hit 20,000 views this week. That’s not many in the grand (or even not so grand) scheme of things but it still amazes me that people visit the site. I’m sure most of it is by accident or when looking for something that isn’t there, but it’s interesting how the traffic has increased over the last five years from averaging 1 view a day in 2016 to 8 in 2019, 26 a day in 2020, and so far in 2021 32 a day.


What I thought about this week:

Causal chain

I’ve been thinking about and trying to learn more about Theory of Change. The part that interests me at the moment is the how the causal logic of ‘c’ will lead to ‘b’ and ‘b’ will lead to ‘a’ is built up. If ‘a’ is the ultimate change, the larger impact on society, then ‘b’ is what needs to be true in order for that change to be realised, and ‘c’ needs to be true in order for ‘b’ to happen. So, the thing I’m struggling with in this backwards logic is how it can be anything other than a pyramid of hypotheses which could all just as likely be untrue and true. I guess that’s why it’s a theory of change rather than a plan for change, but I wonder how clearly that aspect of ToC’s are communicated. They basically say, ‘here’s lots of guesses that may or may not lead to the change we’d like to see, and those guesses are based on lots of assumptions and biases, any of which could prevent the causal chain logic from having the desired or expected effect’, but they are often presented as a more certain plan for achieving change.

Bottlenecks

Bottlenecks are designed to be just that. They are designed to reduce flow, or to put it another way, to control flow. It wouldn’t be quite so easy to pour the wine into your glass if all of the wine bottle was the same width all the way up. So why do we refer to bottlenecks in systems and processes as a negative thing? Perhaps we’re better off accepting and understanding bottlenecks as essential and necessary to any system design. Maybe constant and continuous flow at the maximum rate in the wrong places causes floods.

Product Octagon

If you believe everything you read on the internet then most products are driven by the triad of Product Manager, Engineering Manager and Design Manager. The product I work on is driven by the octagon of programme, project, product, technical, content, design, delivery and impact. I’ve only just started to think about how these eight roles interact, where each of their responsibilities lay, and how they can all be aligned to work effectively together, but as part of my ‘charities need good product management‘ thing I’m keen to explore other models of developing products and what effective product management looks like in different contexts.


And what I read this week:

Digital exclusion

Digital exclusion: a growing threat to your charitable impact, strategic objectives and funding, looks at digital transformation in the voluntary sector and what impact it might have on the digital exclusion of those the voluntary sector organisations are trying to help. The article suggests three ways that can contribute to tackling digital exclusion, which is really just social exclusion; grassroots action, funding, and campaigning. Including people in society, which is very much digital, requires a far bigger approach. So whilst tackling digital exclusion is undoubtedly a good thing, it seems to me like an impossible problem to solve. The use of digital in society is going to increase and it won’t be long until all cars are computers on wheels, money is a virtual number on our phones, and accessing any service will require digital literacy. As these changes, which are predicated on a certain level of wealth accelerate, more people will become digitally excluded than can be caught up. The argument that as digital technologies become more ubiquitous and every one alive has grown up with them is like assuming that everyone knows how to fix an internal combustion engine because they’ve been around for a while, or that everyone knows how to drive because there is an infrastructure in place to teach (some) people. I don’t know what the solution is, but it’s good that more organisations are recognising digital exclusion as an issue and looking for ways to contribute.

14 habits

I really liked this Twitter thread, 14 habits of highly effective Product Managers, from Lenny Rachitsky. My top three are ‘quality of thinking’, ‘hunting for misalignment;, and ‘sending good vibes’. Lenny says that quality of thinking shows in the quality of documentation PMs produce. I think high quality documents are essential for good asynchronous working but they depend on having the time (among other things like practicing writing well) to do the thinking. Hunting for misalignment and getting things into alignment is so important for effective working, but is so hard to achieve. There are so many contextual and points-of-view barriers that we don’t even recognise well enough as misalignments, as well as the obvious and known misalignments. Good vibes make all the difference. Anything that can be approached with a negative, defeatist attitude and can be approached with a positive attitude.

Weeknotes #260

What I did this week (and didn’t do):

What do I require?

I spent a lot of time working on (and even more time thinking about) what some people might call requirements. I regularly get my thoughts tied up in knots trying to understand what we mean by ‘requirements’, ‘goals’, ‘objectives’, etc., but using ‘This is what we want to achieve’ and ‘These are the things we’re going to try’ seems much less ambiguous, so I tried . The problem I have, especially with ambiguous jargon but in general when defining or explaining anything, is the coastline problem. That is, how the problem looks depends on your measure. A circle drawn with only four big straight lines looks a lot like a square, but a circle drawn with a thousand small lines looks pretty circular. So, a requirement or goal specified at one level looks very different from another level. And then levels of what? My bottom-up answer would be, ‘levels of abstraction from the user behaviour’, but that opens up a whole load of other questions.

Why do charities use the innovation processes that they do?

I submitted my draft literature review and research methodology. I had originally thought that my research should be able how charities are using innovation processes, but I’ve realised I’m much more interested in why they are using them the ways they are. This creates more of a challenge as it requires qualitative interviews, but I just need to get out of my comfort zone and get on with it.

Embedding a theory of change in your learning

I signed-up for NPC Labs user research session on theory of change (which I’m interested in) and learning (which I’m really interested in). I’m not sure why, but I’m really looking forward to it.

Swimming with seals

I’ve went swimming in the sea almost every day this week. The best one was around sunset and I was alone on the beach. As I lay floating in the water a seal surfaced, looked at me for a few seconds, I looked at it, and then it swam away.

Didn’t get feedback

Listening to One Knight In Product with Teresa Torres made me realise that I haven’t done any of the discovery work I set myself for July. So, if anyone reads this and wants to do me a favour: sign-up for my charity product management emails and tell me what you think about them.


What I read this week:

Mobile traffic to charity websites is rising…

…but only a third of charities pass Google’s ‘Core Web Vitals’Mobile traffic to charity websites is rising, but only a third of charities pass Google’s ‘Core Web Vitals’

Why? Because it depends how you measure. And if you’re in the business of measuring and judging websites in order to rank them in search results then maybe you want some level of influence over how websites send you signals that you can judge them by.

Why? Because it’s easier to focus on frontend/visible aspects of technology and think that if the website is responsive then it must be optimised for mobile, which isn’t the case but many website platforms don’t get that stuff right by default.

Why? Because not all ‘Jobs To Be Done’ can or should be done on mobile devices (and with mobile behaviours). Sometimes, friction, intentional or unintentional, is good for getting people to stop and think. Convenience isn’t everything.

Why not? If your user research shows that the people that need your services find you through organic search results, need a highly-performant online experience, and only have mobile phones. The points is; do what your users need you to do, not what a search engine says.

Digital adoption within the NHS

Shock treatment: can the pandemic turn the NHS digital?, asks whether the NHS can maintain the level and pace of digital transformation that came about as a result of the pandemic, and also raises the ‘fix the plumbing or fund the future’ investment question, which I think is very closely connected. These are the questions facing every sector and organisation. Charities included. I feel like the answer is obvious; yes and no. Do organisations realise how important digital transformation is for them? Yes, at least a bit more than they did. Will organisations maintain the pace of change we saw from the pandemic? No, not without the huge external pressure making digital an existential question.

Decoupling time spent from value produced

James Plunkett’s article on the four-day week was shared around Twitter this week. It talks about the Iceland experiment and how it resulted in increased productivity, and more interestingly, predicts that, based on the historical data trend of reducing working hours, the four day working week will be generally adopted in the early 2030’s. If that’s the case, we might have a few more decades to go before society is ready to make the shift to decoupling the value we produce from the time we spend doing it. Stuart said it best, “Being at work never equated to doing work“.


What I thought about:

A diamond and a tree

Speaking of how we judge value, I had an interesting conversion about why different jobs are paid different amounts and how the job market values uniqueness of skill over what the role achieves. My analogy was ‘a diamond and a tree’. A diamond is considered to have high value because of how rare it is. Trees aren’t considered all that valuable but have an important impact on the environment and life (being able to breath, mostly). Maybe we’ve got our values round the wrong way.

Accepting responsibility

There’s lots said about blame culture and how toxic it is but I hardly ever see anything about the flip side; responsibility culture (if it’s even a thing). I think taking responsibility is one of those underlying amorphous parts of a product managers job. Obviously, everyone should take responsibility for their actions, but product managers are often the ones to be most aware of the trade-offs that exist when decisions are made (even if not actually making the decision), and that knowledge comes with responsibility. Taking responsibility for knowledge, not just actions, is an interesting responsibility to take.

Do charities need innovation?

Does any organisation, in fact? An amalgamation of ideas from a conversation on Twitter, Ann Mei Chang, and some of the stuff I’ve been thinking about for my dissertation takes my thinking towards this: If the problem is unknown and the solution is unknown, then innovation is an approach, a mindset, a skillset, a method that can help to make both known. If the problem is known and/or the solution is known, then innovation isn’t needed.

Weeknotes ‘258

This week I did:

Understanding problems

I was only at work two days this week due to exams but I was trying to be disciplined with myself about understanding problems before jumping to solutions. It made me stop and step back a few times. And it meant asking more questions, which even though I tried to explain why, I think some people found it annoying. Something to work on.

Last exam

Did my last exam. So that’s all of the modules for my MSc finished. And I got 76 on the last assignment I submitted. It puts me right on the borderline between distinction and merit, so depending on what result I get for my exam, it should push me over the line.

Productising services

Started some more product advisor work. It’s interesting to see organisations thinking about how to productise their services. My sense at the moment is that the majority will settle on a kind of business-process-as-a-service type model that gives some flexibility around people performing processes and the automation of other aspects. The charity and social good sector doesn’t feel quite ready for fully product business models.

Innovation processes in charities

Had a good chat with my dissertation supervisor about the literature review and research methodology I’ve been working on. I have a better structure in mind for the research and feel like I’ll soon be in a good position to finalise my research questions and send out the questionnaire.

Interface Integrate Iterate

I had my first sign-up and I pinned a tweet about my four email series about some of my ideas about the role product management can play in charities. Hopefully I get some feedback on the ideas that helps with my thinking about what makes good product management in charities.

And thought about:

What good product management in charities looks like

How to get the value of product management into charities that don’t value product management? That’s the question. That’s the challenge.

Microloans

As part of my revision for my exam I read about blockchain being used to provide credit to the four billion of unbanked people in the world. It made me thinking about microloans as a funding mechanism for charities. So, a charity could launch a campaign to secure zero interest loans rather than (or in addition to) donations, use the money to fund recruiting a fundraiser, who then raises enough money to pay back the loans, pay their salary, and fund other work for the charity. I’m sure in reality managing loans is massively complicated, but in my head it all makes sense and seems like a good opportunity (this why I don’t work in finance).

Public roadmaps

I’m a bit smitten with public roadmaps. It isn’t the roadmap itself, whatever it’s format (lets not get into that discussion again), it’s the courage and commitment to publicly state what you’ve achieved recently and will be working on in the future. Organisations that have public roadmaps are up there with remote-first organisations.

And read;

Value creation 101

Jelmer tweeted an interesting thread about value. Although I don’t agree with everything in the thread, for example about value being connected to scarcity and supply & demand, I think concepts like this are important to think about.

Product Management Handbook

I’ve started reading Scot Colfer’s Product Management Handbook, and Lauren Crichton’s Q&A with Scott. I love this quote, “Product managers don’t do anything. We listen. We think. And we talk. We understand other people’s perspectives and find value in the sweet spot where those perspectives converge. Product management is a role based on the power of conversations.” I wonder if its why some organisations, delivery-focused organisations perhaps, struggle with product management, because it doesn’t look like it delivers anything in the way designers and developers do. So the showing value in other ways becomes important, often through tangible artifacts, documentation, etc.

Principles vs. rules

The BetaCodex Network looks really interesting. If you’re into that kind of thing.

Weeknotes #257

This week I did:

Blueprinting

I spent quite a bit of time creating blueprints for how parts of products might interact as a way of exploring the translation from programme design into product development.

Service blueprint

In some ways, it was a week of visual working. We’ve been talking about how we do documentation better so that it’s quick to produce and easy to understand, and settled on screenshots being a good place to start. And one of the project teams is using Trello to track their work. I think, at the back of my mind, I’m taking onboard a comment someone made in the DigiScot talk about async working when we we’re talking about how we replace meetings, that drawing and visually representing ideas is a useful alternative to writing, so although I still write a lot, I’m trying to also work more visually so that more people can be involved.

Digital governance and risk management

I joined a really good talk by BeMoreDigital & Beyond Profit about managing digital risk and governance. I’ve been thinking for a while about how things like governance and risk management in charities, which are done in traditional non-digital ways, so it was really helpful to see others thinking about it. Governance is part of the business model of charities so as those business models become increasingly influenced by the internet, its important that we think about different ways of doing things like risk management.

Charity product management emails

I finished the first iteration of my ‘Interface – Integrate – Iterate‘ emails series about why charities need good product management. Next thing on the list is to get some feedback and figure out what improvements I can make. My aim (at the moment at least) is that this might develop into a project for after my dissertation about how to get good product thinking into charities.

June retro

End of the month. Time to look at the delivery plan I set at the beginning of the month and see how much I achieved and plan for what I want to achieve next month. Although this is only the second month of following a monthly process of reviewing progress and setting new goals for next month, it seems to be working really well.

And I thought about:

Influence

All a product manager has to get things done is their influence. And when something happens that damages that influence, even if it was out of the PM’s control, the thing to do is get to work on building up that influence. Vaguely connected, at least in my mind, is how this shows as a micro version of internet economics with attention and reputation being the currency. No one on the internet has authority over anyone else, but lots of people have more influence than others. So, for digital ways of working, whether on the internet of within an organisation, building and managing influence is important.

Consequences

I’ve been thinking about linear processes for product development (since that’s kind of what my dissertation is about) and how communication works throughout the process. I think there is a kind of entropy at play where well-ordered ideas and become more disordered at each stage as they become designs and then code. It’s a bit like playing a game of consequences where each time there is a hand-off to a different team, what was produced is hidden from the next and they only have the contextual rules of the game to guide what they then add. So, I’ve been thinking about how to reduce the entropy that occurs throughout the product development process.

Competition on the internet

My Twitter is made up of three ‘worlds’; charities, product management, and creator economy & nocode types. I see myself, one day, contributing to bringing those worlds closer together, but in the meantime I learn a lot from being part of these worlds. The lessons I learn from how the creator economy understands how to use the internet help me think about how the charity sector uses it internet (not really a spoiler but its way behind and doesn’t understand nearly as much). ‘Competition’ is a good example of that. The creator economy people know that they aren’t in competition with each other, even if they are doing very similar things, because they have an abundance mindset (something the internet has enabled). The charity sector, on the other hand, still has a scarcity mindset that drives competition. Competition works fine for usual market dynamics because the forces that drive it are mostly hidden, so everyone expects to be in competition but no one really knows who wins what. The problems occur when competition takes place in internet spaces which are more public, because then it’s easily taken as an attack.

And read:

Assemblage Space

I read John Willshire’s email newsletter Artefact 229 where he talks about his idea of Assemblage Space as a tool for thinking about the future and where our ideas about what the future might hold come from in our past. I was particularly interested in ‘the narrow now’ as the gateway through which how we remember the past and how we think about the future goes through. It helps us be aware that we are coming from a particular perspective, but it doesn’t help us see that the narrow now is always moving towards the future. Its the metaphysical conundrum of whether we conceive of time as a continuum or a series of fixed moments, but as John says in the video about A Spaces, the cone isn’t really the thing to focus on: the thing to focus on is the groupings of the things in the cone and how they relate to other things.

Lean impact

I read some of Ann Mei Chang’s Lean Impact which talks about whether/how innovation methods such as build-measure-learn loops can be used in the not-for-profit and social good space. There are some unique and obvious challenges about how impact projects are funded which make learning and scaling impact more difficult, but as Brid Brosnan from the British Red Cross shows, it is possible and it is changing.

Andragogy

I stumbled across the concept of andragogy, which is the theory of how adults learn from Macolm Knowles. Knowles said that when adults learn they should be self-directed and take responsibility for their decisions. “Andragogy makes the following assumptions about the design of learning: (1) Adults need to know why they need to learn something (2) Adults need to learn experientially, (3) Adults approach learning as problem-solving, and (4) Adults learn best when the topic is of immediate value.” So, adult learning programs should take these things into account.

Weeknotes #256

Things I did this week:

Took some time off

I sat by the river and watched the fish swimming slowly among the rocks. I knew I didn’t need to be anywhere else doing anything else. I had no Internet connection. No one else was around. It is only by the peacefulness of these places that we know the chaos and conflicts of the other places.

Game plan

I did do a bit of work this week. I’ve been thinking about how to create a game plan that allows us to join Programmes, Projects and Product, and the various teams and stakeholders. It represents the people involved, the value creation steps they’ll take, the outputs they produce, etc. So my next step is to find someone to present it to and validate it’s usefulness.

Product management in charities

I didn’t get as much done on my Interface, Integrate, Iterate emails about the roles and benefits of product management in charities as I would have like to have done, but I am making progress. I don’t think I’ll hit my target of completing them by the end of the month, but I’m still trying. Then I need some charity digital/product people to test them with and see if they make sense.

The end of blockchain

Not the technology, just the module I’ve been studying. We had our final lecture and I’ve started revising for the exam. Once that’s over I’ll have finished all the module study for my masters and achieved 40% of my grade, so now just the other 60% from my dissertation.


Some stuff I thought about:

Simple services

I saw a poster for Citizen’s Advice in Torpoint which explained how in simple, clear language the one and only way to get in touch to get help. Send a text message (the simplest and most prevalent channel available) and they’ll call you back to arrange an appointment. The poster could of also had a phone number, and an email address, and QR code, and a web address, but none of that is necessary. Rather than offering lots of ways to get in touch, which could confuse people and then requires all those different systems to be joined up, much better to offer a single simple way into the service. I’d love to see the metrics on the SMS booking service.

Citizen’s Advice’s vision states “You won’t ever struggle to get help from us. Our services will be available when you need them in a way that works for you”, and this poster is a great example of how the vision a charity holds can work on the ground, in a real life situation.

What do charities compete with?

Wayne Murray tweeted about how charities are in competition with Netflix and pubs when trying to engage people. There are so many ways to look at this. It’s undeniably true that we all only have a limited amount of time and attention so if we spend it at the pub we can’t also spend it volunteering with a charity. If people consider supporting a charity as on par with watching TV and socialising, then maybe there is direct competition. But if donating time and/or money to a charity is an extraordinary act for most people, then maybe it doesn’t compete with ordinary activities. And if you look at it as ‘doing good for myself’ (relaxing, socialising) and ‘doing good for others’ (supporting a charity), then maybe they are both worthy activities that have their place, which may or may not be in competition.

Can a charity live without a website?

James Heywood tweeted an interesting question about whether a charity can live without a website, and what some of the positives and negatives of doing so might be. It made me think how interesting it would be to take two similar small charities and create different digital strategies with the same objectives, where one strategy uses a website and the other doesn’t, and see which performs best.


A few things I read:

Is product management in continuous discovery?

I read a few posts by Teresa Torres, ‘The Best Continuous Discovery Teams Cultivate These Mindsets‘, ‘The Path to Better Product Decisions‘, and ‘Stop Validating & Start Co-Creating‘. They made me think about the function and discipline of Product Management and whether it’s definition is too fixed, not defined well enough, or the kind of role that should be in continuous discovery to figure out how it solves the right organisational problems within a range of scope.

The Computer for the 21st Century

Mark Weiser wrote The Computer for the 21st Century thirty years ago. In it he predicts the success of wearable tech as a means of collecting and presenting data, and explains why Virtual Reality never really took off. His premise is that in order for computers to be fully adopted they need to become unnoticeable, to “weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.”. Virtual reality takes people into the computer’s world rather than the computer coming into our world, so for all it’s usefulness it can never be as widely used as wearable devices which as easy to forget about but continue to do their computational work. Why does it matter? If he’s right, then maybe the idea serves as a guide for new and emerging technologies such as Voice, automated vehicles, blockchain, etc., and our adoption and response to it. The more a technologies blends into everyday life, the more it we be adopted.

Skills for the 21st Century

Online courses that that teach how to do something, e.g., take notes, write, produce newsletters, etc., are great but really what we need is learning opportunities for developing the top twenty skills for the 21st century.

  1. Judgment and Decision Making
  2. Fluency of Ideas
  3. Active Learning
  4. Learning Strategies
  5. Originality
  6. Systems Evaluation
  7. Deductive Reasoning
  8. Complex Problem Solving
  9. Systems Analysis
  10. Monitoring
  11. Critical Thinking
  12. Instructing
  13. Education and Training
  14. Management of Personnel Resources
  15. Coordination
  16. Inductive Reasoning
  17. Problem Sensitivity
  18. Information Ordering
  19. Active Listening
  20. Administration and Management

I think there might be a new project in there somewhere to figure out how to learn these kinds of skills…

Weeknotes #251

This week I did:

Rethinking risk

I spent some time this week working on how we think about risk, and start to recgonise that estimating and quantifying the likelihood of a risk occurring isn’t a very helpful way of thinking about some risks. For some risks, the kind of risks where even a single occurrence is unacceptable, severity is what matters. The tendency of likelihood-focused thinking is to assume that risk can be mitigated to point of being extremely unlikely to occur, and so severity doesn’t matter. But severity-focus thinking assumes the risks of high severity are always high severity, however likely or unlikely they are to occur, and so either need to be accepted or removed entirely.

Rationalising requirements

Of course no product manager should just be taking business requirements and handing them to the development team to build without some rationalisation and validation, but I’ve been spending quite a bit of this week figuring out what a structured rationalisation process might look like with getting caught in a bootstrap problem. Our programme design teams want to add something to the courses we deliver, and that thing requires some costly and complex technical development, which we don’t want to do unless we’re sure it’s going to get used and so we ask questions about how people might be trained in using this new feature, how many people might benefit, what is the total value, but of course those are hard questions to answer with only an idea of something to add. So where to start, that is the question.

A porous membrane for the organisation, and why it matters for product thinking

I’ve been thinking for a while about how and why the boundary between an organisation and society can be made porous to allow for knowledge to flow both ways. Whether this is Friedman’s nonsense about the purpose of a company or Macleod’s ideas about how organisations use blogging and social media, or how technology products act as interfaces between organisations and customers, the nature of the relationship between organisations and society is changing.

Simple machines

I went to a launderette and used a change machine. I’m fascinated by simple machines like these that have a very direct logic about their interface and require the people using them to make the decisions. Most of the software we use is other people’s decisions.


And thought abut:

What problem does Product Management solve?

A colleague asked me about what I do as a product manager, and as usual I struggled to articulate anything more than, “whatever I can to help the product be a success”. Generally, the usual explanation of being at the intersection of technology and what we can do with it, business objectives and how we achieve them, and customer needs and how to meet them, works but doesn’t help anyone understand the what or how of product management in a charity. There’s acceptance that there are lots of overlaps with what other roles do, there’s some business analysis, technical architecture, UX design, customer support, etc., but what does product management do that is unique to product managers? Or to put it another way, what problem does the role of a product manager solve for the organisation?

Change isn’t failure

Making a decision that was right at a point in time but, having learned more since then that makes that decision now look wrong, doesn’t actually make it a wrong decision. It’s better to make a new decision based on new information. Not making a new decision, continuing with the old decision, is more wrong now than the original decision. How we frame learning and making new decisions not as failures and changing minds, but as progress and the mark of good leadership in a digital organisation is a challenge.


And I read about:

Team topologies

I listened to a podcast about Team Topologies and patterns that help organisations achieving a fast flow of change in order to be more successful at software delivery. The three key principles they talked about were: Optimising for faster flow in live systems, using rapid feedback from those live systems so teams can course correct, and limiting team cognitive load. These allow teams to assume end-to-end responsibilities and develop solid practices. I’m definitely going to learn more about this.

Rethinking the ‘rainy day’ myths of charity reserves

Charity reserves are an interesting thing. There’s a lot to rethink and and lot of perspectives to rethink from. In start-up terms, it would be called a runway. It’s how long the organisation can operate before it runs out of money. For a charity, and more so for the people who are helped by the charity, the length of that runway is even more important than for most startups. Thinking around reserves crosses-over with the financial literacy of the trustees running the charity, the appetite for risk vs. interpretations of responsibility for overseeing the correct running of the charity, the types and sources of funding available, how many people are paid employees of the charity. All of these things and more should inform each charities position on reserves. It’s a more complex calculation than blanket guidance of x number of months operating costs can cover.

Direct Acyclic Graph

DAG’s are the latest and coolest implementations of Distributed Ledger Technologies. They tackle many of the issues that the sequential DLT’s such as Blockchain suffer from (although of course have their own downsides). As interesting as the technologies are, and s interesting as the use cases for the technologies are, I think the most interesting thing is how the ideas behind the technologies are going to affect our worldviews. We haven’t even figured out how the technologies of the internet have affected us, and here we already experiencing very different concepts.

Weeknotes #247

This week I did:

Launch time

You know that scene in Apollo 13 where all the NASA people repeat, “Go Flight!” to confirm they are ready for launch? Yeah, product launches aren’t like that. Launch is more of a phase than a point in time, but this week we launched our new young person -facing product that will help young people sign-up to Prince’s Trust courses completely digitally. Our deputy CEO referred to it as “a step change in how we will support young people.”. It’s a complicated beast of a digital service that connects eight systems and we did it in two months. Now the hard work begins.

Vanlife Lockdown Survey

I started a new project (as if I’m not busy enough right now) to conduct research into how lockdowns have affected people who live in vans, campers and cars. I set up an online survey, and used Cloakist to mask the survey website URL with my website domain name (which is actually a world first) in order to make the survey easier to find and so I could put it on the flyers I got printed. So, as lockdown eases and I resume my roadtrip I can ask other vanlifers to complete the survey and build an understanding of this marginal part of society (I have a hypothesis that they were less affected than the general population but we’ll see that the results show).

Got jabbed

I had the first dose of Coronavirus vaccine, and didn’t have any side effects. No flu-like symptoms, no changes to my WiFi, and absolutely no super powers.

Bought some books

I haven’t bought any books for a long time, but this week I bought a few. Most of them were about innovation management for my dissertation and the others were by Colin Wilson and Alan Watts. One day I’d like to write a book, and what that book is about changes depending on what I’m interested in at the time. Right now it would build on Wilson and Watt’s work on ‘the outsider’ and figure out how they apply to the modern digital world.


And thought about:

Five years time

Sometimes I have conversations with myself. And sometimes I ask myself questions like the usual career progression questions, “Where do I want to be in five years?”, to see what answers I come up with. I had three thoughts:

  1. I want to work on hard problems. I thrive on the complexity and constraint of figuring out how to be clear about what problem we’re tackling and then how to build a solution that brings together people, systems and processes. Charities have the kinds of problems I want to be contributing towards, and usually where the solution involves digital thinking and technology.
  2. I want to maintain intrinsic motivation. I want to work because I enjoy what I do and why I do it. I don’t want to be motivated by money or status or anything that depends on others.
  3. I want to widen and deepen my knowledge rather than progressing upwards. There are enough middle-aged white men in management/leadership roles in charities so I don’t want to contribute to that problem. And if there is any truth to the idea that people rise to their level of incompetence then I’d rather stay at and improve upon my current level of competence.

Product lifecycle

I wondered a bit about how Product Managers fit across the entire lifecycle of a product. Should they have more focus on the initial product development phase or equal focus as a product becomes operationalised and eventually closed down. I guess what I’m wondering is how we maintain a position of validation and value delivery throughout the life of a product?

Digital upskilling

I spent some time thinking about how to approach increasing digital skills. The Government Essential Digital Skills framework is an interesting and useful place to start as it defines (quite loosely) what a basic level of skill looks like. From it, I think you could create an intermediate level (where the difference between basic and intermediate is ‘knowing how to use a tool’ and ‘knowing how a tool works’) across the five skills: Communicating, Handling information and content, Transacting, Problem solving, Being safe and legal online. So, an example might where the basic skill is ‘set up an email account’ and the intermediate skill is to ‘set up rules, know how to block a sender, etc.’.

Visual working

I’m a big fan of visual working, whether on a physical wipeboard or virtual canvas, but I’ve become increasingly aware how much easier it is to misunderstand and misinterpret drawings and diagrams. We have a much more developed sense of when writing makes sense or not (I mean, just consider all of these rambling and you’ll know what I mean), than we do for visually communicated work. Does left to right in a diagram always indicate the passage of time? Is something always more important if it’s at the top or in the middle? We just don’t have to critical understanding of diagrams and drawings to know. And this lack of robustness in interpretation makes it harder to ask those clarifying questions about the diagrams, which makes it harder to build up those thinking skills.


And read:

Digital Has Killed the Strategic Plan

This article from 2016 (shared by Ross in his newsletter) on how digital has killed the strategic plan, is five years old now, so it’s interesting to look back at it. I take it to essentially be a call for shorter planning cycles and better feedback loops (two aspects of digital work that have become more familiar in the last five years) to replace long term planning for businesses. It ends with how “strategy in the digital age has become an increasingly interactive process”, which seems to mean that strategy and tactics have become more intertwined (I’d suggest they always have been in the reality of achieving a strategy, just not on PowerPoint presentations and website articles). Perhaps not that much has changed in the last five years.

Believing in the Barnum Effect

I read The Barnum Effect: why we love astrology and personality tests by Anne-Laure Le Cunff, and immediately thought that everything it describes about how we interpret personality tests also applies to the obscure business/life advice tweets that so many ‘creators using Twitter to build an audience’ rely on. Those short, pitchy, out-of-context statements can apply to you personally if that’s how you interpret them. The trick to thinking about personality tests (I think) is the same as how we interpret what we read on Twitter. If it has resonance for us, then it’s a starting point for thinking about what we think of it. You aren’t meant to swallow it hook, line and sinker. If you do, then you are biased and suffering the Barnum Effect, but that isn’t the fault of what someone wrote on Twitter or the personality test. The opposite is equally true if you choose to interpret personality tests and tweets as not holding any meaning for you without some consideration. Personality tests both describe us specifically and are very generalised. And both of those things can be true. They’ve always both been true but we’ve been raised to believe in a single, rational, scientific truth, and it’s only now in a post-truth world that we’re beginning to understand a different perspective.

Weeknotes #242

What I did this week:

Rescope and replan

Another change. Such is the nature of offering a service that has many dependent and tight-coupled aspects. We re-scoped and re-planned to come up with a version of the product that still meets the user needs but it much simpler to build in the time we have available. Thinking about the changes over the past few weeks has helped me realise that a product being minimal and viable isn’t enough. It also needs to be acceptable. It needs to meet some stakeholder’s expectations to continue to get support. One of the positives of the changes and increased pressure is that it seems to be forcing us to work more closely as a team, especially design and development. It has also helped me see more clearly where we have mis-alignments that need to be resolved.

Agile Project Management

I wrote up some of my thoughts about agile project management not being the project management of agile software development but about how project management can adopt some of the ideas of agile to produce iterative project plans that help to identify gaps in the schedule.

Revising convergence

I’ve been revising the concepts from the New Media and Digital Creativity module I’ve been studying, including the idea of convergence which describes how media used to be in separate forms, for example print on paper and music on radio waves, but through digitisation technologies has converged into a single media of 1’s and 0’s. McMullan talks about how this digitisation creates the ‘proto-affordance’ of computability that fundamentally shapes our culture. There’s no going back.

Writing day notes

I’m still writing a short pre-formatted status post every day as part of an experiment in reflective learning. I think it needs some form of review trigger that makes me look back over the week, or to this time two weeks, etc., to reflect on whether things have improved, are issues persisting, what am I learning, etc.

A few things I thought about this week:

Charities shouldn’t be trying to put themselves out of existence

Do businesses try to put themselves out of existence? Do they ever say, ‘We’ve made enough money now, lets stop.’? Do governments try to put themselves out of existence? Do they look for ways of devolving power to the people? No. Why not? Because both businesses and governments have a place in society. They serve a role larger they just the benefits they seek for themselves.

Charities are the same. I know our assumptions about charities as organisations are closely tied to the cause they are tackling, and that’s why it’s easy to fall into the idea that if the cause didn’t exist then charities wouldn’t need to either, but I say this is false logic. A charity builds up lots of expertise in some fairly unique capabilities and to throw all that away because they we’re so good they achieved their mission would seem to me to be very wasteful and a great loss of all the other benefits charities create for our society, like volunteering and prompting people to make change.

Oblique strategies for alertness

Brian Eno’s oblique strategies, random instructions printed on playing cards, are reputed to have been responsible for some very cool music. Following the instructions forced musicians out of their comfort zone and made them pay attention. They disrupted the complacency of expertise. I’m interested in what the benefits of this kind of thinking might be in digital work, whether it might help us deal with uncertainty better. So many of the tools and techniques we use convince us that they are all we need to have certainty about things, and I’m not convinced that’s a good thing.

What does it mean to be a product-led charity

What might a product-led charity look like? How might it differ from a non-product-led charity, and how would you tell the difference? To be clear, when I talk about ‘product’ in this sense I don’t mean the technology. It’s very likely that a product-led charity would make use of technology in their products but a product is more than the tech. A simple example is Hullo. Their product is the offer of a conversation with a friendly stranger, not the phones they use to have those conversations.

I think it might require a move away from idea of charities providing value as one-way stream (from funders, through the charity, to service users). Being truly product-led might mean recognisjng a mutually reciprocal value exchange along the lines of how service-dominant logic explain it. I’m pretty sure it means repositioning the IT/Technology department to no longer be seen as a support function for fixing your laptop. And I’m certain it’ll bring all kinds of funding challenges where income is usually associated with delivering projects.

Some stuff I read this week

Where do good ideas come from

Chance favours the connected mind.

New product development body of knowledge

All the right answers.

OCVA Digital Needs Survey

I read the results of the OCVA Digital Needs Survey. Apart from the very un-digitalness of embedding a pdf on the webpage, it’s a interesting survey. Some of the responses includes things like how to better meet the needs of people who are digitally excluded, procure digital products, make the most of Microsoft 365 and use video meetings software better. These are all things that large charities seem to struggle with too, so it seems it’s a general lack of digital knowledge across the sector rather than being specific to a certain size of organisation.

A while ago I started a blog post on how small charities can assess and procure digital products so maybe I should finish that, but I also had a quick look around for ideas about how I might be able to help small charities improve their digital skills. I found a charity mentoring organisation but as all of their mentors were white, middle-class and middle-aged it didn’t look like somewhere I would fit in. I wonder how oblivious organisations are to this kind of stuff of if it’s implicitly intentional.