Retrospective December 2021

This month’s lesson was that I like exploring. This leaves me torn between trying to have more focus on fewer things (product management) and having the freedom to do new things. Perhaps I can find a way to divide my time between the two ways but I’ll need to be disciplined as otherwise the exciting new stuff will always take over the more long-term stuff.

Contributing to the digital transformation of the charity sector

I had my first week at RNID. I’m excited by the work, the ways of working, the team, the charity’s mission. I’m really looking forward to getting into the work and figuring out where I can contribute the most.

I’ve been considering whether to try digital volunteering. I haven’t looked into it much yet as I want to more certain about the time I have available and where I want to focus my energy, but it’s on the list.

Learning about innovation, technology, product and design

I received a Distinction for my MSc, so that’s nice. Reflecting back on the two years I really enjoyed the learning and writing the essays, and especially my dissertation, which improved my critical thinking, but Birkbeck University was really badly organised and provided a poor student experience. Given that I decided to do the course for the experience of doing it rather than for any benefit having the qualification might bring, I’d say I’m definitely glad I did it.

Started the British Sign Language online course and completed a few modules from Microsoft Learn. I’m finding the sign language easier to remember than I thought I would but expect the course to get harder as we get into sentences and it become harder to remember over time. The Microsoft courses are basic introductions particular products and I’ve been focusing on Dynamics 365 CRM and customer service stuff at the moment.

Wrote a few more emails for FutureSkills.info. I have fourteen more to write, and although it’s taking much longer to write them than I thought I’m still enjoying getting into each topic. Although it’s a product that doesn’t really align with where I think I want to be exploring it feels like it’s one I can complete and launch and learn from.

I’m up to ten Irregular Ideas emails. I need to decide whether to continue with it next year or focus on product management stuff and other platforms. I enjoy writing the little essays but I don’t really have an plan in mind for the newsletter so need to consider whether it’s really where I should be focusing my energy.

I wrote weeknotes on schedule every week.

Leading an intentional life

My nomadic life along the coastline continued and I visited lots of cool places. My financial measures are doing well but I need a strong concerted effort on improving my physical health. That should be my focus.

Retrospective October 2021

This month’s lesson is that my interest in things follows a power law distribution. I’m really interested in exploring new ideas but the level of interest quickly drops off. Some things, like writing weeknotes, I maintain over time so it isn’t a problem of not being able to follow through, but perhaps one of enjoying the initial exploration more than the building. Maybe the answer is in finding ways to identify and drop bad ideas more quickly.

Contributing to the digital transformation of the charity sector

We’ve been focused on completing the definition stage to get ready to start development, and its all going to schedule. One of the interesting things I found was in how we group up work in different ways and how this can cause confusion. For example, in discussing work with stakeholders we talk about the different things a user does, but when the developers talk about the work they group up all the APIs that are required into one. There doesn’t seem to be a way to talk about complicated things in a consistent way.

Learning about innovation, technology, product and design

Didn’t do any work on Adjacencies but still think there’s a vaguely worthwhile idea there about learning about the skills of those you work with on cross-functional teams. I think the thing that stopped me working on it, other than my usual thing about going onto the next idea, is the conflict between providing training that is about work but asking people to pay for it themselves.

My tweet100 tweets about innovat100n.com aren’t getting any interest, and I’m losing interest in the idea of writing a hundred essays about innovation. It’s looking likely that I’ll be dropping this idea by the end of the year.

Completed a few more Foundations of Humane Technology course. I slightly lost interest, which I tried to renew a bit by taking notes on the module I was studying, but I still intend to finish it.

I continued to write weeknotes on schedule every week.

Leading an intentional life

I continued to wander around the coastline, which is really nice.

I reached my financial target for the year two months early, which is nice.

I’ve been ill so didn’t get out running, which wasn’t nice.

Retrospective September 2021

This month’s lesson: good relationships are just as important for doing good work as good thinking (that’s not a new lesson but this month has shown me how important it is again).

Contributing to the digital transformation of the charity sector

Happy with the work I did on Identity Verification. It has some solid thinking behind it based on the Gov standards, achieves a good balance between the needs of the organisation and what will work for young people, and involved some good stakeholder engagement that has been built up over the last year.

The solution design I’ve been working on this month is in really good shape and is on schedule. I’ve been refining our product discovery, definition and design process using a deductive approach where we start with big things and break them down into smaller things. I’m not yet at the smallest user story level yet, that’s for next month, but it has proved a reliable way to show the causal rationale from the goals to how we’ll achieve them, which makes it easier to bring people along on such a complex project.

Learning about innovation, technology, product and design

My testing of interest in innovat100n.com started with using Tweet100. After 8 out of 100 tweets it has achieved nothing. I’ll let it continue until the end of the year and see if it picks up any subscribers but so far the project isn’t looking like one to be investing time in.

Adjacencies is the other project I was supposed to be testing this month but haven’t done much on. I’ve received some weak signals about how discipline-specific individual silos could be a problem in cross-functional teams, but nothing about whether learning about other disciplines would help to resolve the problems.

I started a Foundations on Humane Technology, which wasn’t on the plan but I’ve found really engaging. It’s got me interested in doing courses regularly so I’m going to try to ensure I’ve always got one on my delivery plan.

I continued to write weeknotes on schedule every week.

Leading an intentional life

I’m still living as a digital nomad and enjoying it everyday. I’ve been thinking a little about how I feel comfortable talking about my weird lifestyle at work. I wonder if it’s a combination of the lifestyle making me care less about things like what impact it might have on my working relationships (I’d certainly have been aware of that in other places) and the team environment I work in feeling safe enough to be open about it.

Weeknotes #266

Photo of the week:

I took this photo just after going for swim in the sea. It’s always such a real experience but even more so as the sea of getting colder.

This week I did:

The undesigned path

We’ve been doing quite a bit of work on a service blueprint and it’s made us consider the things that shouldn’t happen but probably will. These are the undesigned paths, the things users might do that takes them away from our designed paths. It would be impossible for us the think of all the different things users could do as they try to accomplish a task, and we can’t always prevent them from taking these paths, but we can try to make it as easy as possible to get back on to the designed path.

If your name’s not down

Identity verification is complicated thing. I’ve been working on a framework for reaching levels of confidence that a person is who they say they are. It’s a really interesting problem to solve because there are so many different real life scenarios that we need to cater for, but we also need have a means of codifying and recording that a person’s identity has been verified. Personally, I love this kind of complex problem solving that connects messy real life to digital systems, and professionally I hope it helps contribute to a workable solution. It’s part of what I love about being a product manager in a charity.

From good ideas to social good

I finished my dissertation about innovation processes in charities, which means I’ve finished my masters. It felt good to move it from the Now column on my roadmap, where it’s been for two years, to the Done column. But what next? What am I going to do with all the time I’ll have?

Retro

Another new month, another retro to look back at what I’ve been doing to achieve my goals. My two big lessons were that focusing on fewer things makes it easier to achieve them on schedule (like dissertations) and that adding things to my delivery plan that don’t actually require any effort to achieve is kind of pointless.

Build upon or replace

I wrote about the difference between building upon things to improve them over time against building new things to replace them. I think making more conscious choices about building things in ways that they can built upon might help us create a more sustainable future.

I thought about:

Visual communications

I’ve been thinking, and want to write about, using visual communication more effectively for asynchronous working. It’s much harder to get right than written communication because it doesn’t have such a well established language. Most of us don’t implicitly understand things like the difference between a diagram and map (a map has spatial relationships whereas a diagram doesn’t), and being limited to two-dimensions can limit and constrain complex thing. I’m not even sure how to approach figuring this out other than starting by uncovering the problems with visual communication and see where it takes me.

Digital gardens and networked thoughts

I’ve been thinking about digital gardens and their use in creating a network of thoughts to evolve ideas over time. The usual approach to this seems to be to use a digital note-taking system where if an idea that has previously been added in mentioned again that it has a hyperlink to the original. I think it’s meant to help show how the same idea gets reused in different posts but all the examples I’ve seen look too neat and clean to be in any real use. My notes are all over the place, including sketched onto a window, in a notebook, added to Notion, shared onto my website, dropped onto Miro, added to my weeknotes, and all without being able to connect them other than through memory, which is against the point of using a digital garden.

The other issue I struggle to understand with networking thoughts and ideas in this way is that as a conceptual model, networks don’t show time. So, if the point of a digital garden is to be able to help thought evolving over time, how does having connecting relationships between thoughts help achieve this? I wonder if it’s try to show ideas on a kind of evolution diagrams that shows the point-in-time state of an idea at multiple intervals, like how primates came from fish, and that’s just got the visual wrong, or whether the fundamental concept is flawed.

Either way, I’ll continue to explore note-taking as a thinking tool even if it’s just to help me understand the problem better, which I don’t really have a good grasp on yet.

Adjacency

I was chatting to someone about job skills and it made me think about how expanding our professional skill sets into adjacent fields would have lots of benefits. For me, my adjacencies might be service design, user experience, business analysis, maybe even a bit programming, and I think it should create better understanding across the team as there would be a more common language, mean that different team members can fill gaps and work together more effectively.

A charity’s purpose

I’m still reading Sarah Mitchell’s Charity Management, and this passage caught my attention, “the aim of a charity is to fulfill their mission”. Sarah is writing abut how charities might benefit from having more focus on doing only the things that contribute to achieving their mission and stopping doing things that don’t. In general, I agree that focus is a good thing, but I also wonder if too much focus negates the possibility of the positive second and third order effects that charities have. Charities provide so much more value to society that just that which comes from serving their beneficiaries to achieve their mission. Having volunteers doesn’t just benefit the charity, the volunteers also get lots of good from it too. If it’s a charity that supports children with learning difficulties, for example, then the families of those children also get benefits. If the charity forms relationships and partnerships with other organisations then the network that results can share knowledge and create improvements. The good charities have in the world extends much further than just in achieving their mission.

Maybe it’s a similar question to the idea that if a charity achieves its purpose it should shut down. I say no, because that is such a waste of all the expertise, infrastructure, systems and relationships that have been built over time and could be directed at other social issues. The problem isn’t that the charity that has achieved mission isn’t needed anymore, the problem is that a charity can only work on a narrowly defined mission.

And my growth area this week:

Confident communication

I’m not a natural communicator. As an introvert who gets easily obsessed with analysing things I usually forget to take people with me when I’m thinking through a problem. I try really hard to communicate clearly, but it doesn’t come easily. This week I received some nice feedback from a colleague who said that I did really well in getting their thoughts onto paper (or Miro) and helping them understand things. But I feel like there is still lots to improve in how I communicate, so this week I’ve been more conscious in considering what the audience might want or need to know, what existing knowledge they do or don’t have, how the visuals, written words and spoken words are all telling the same story. The test will be next week when I’m presenting on a complicated topic. Hopefully I’ll get some sense of whether the slides are pitched at the right level and whether I can explain the topic clearly enough to get to the answers we want.

Retrospective August 2021

This month’s lessons: focusing on fewer things makes it much easier to to stay on schedule (who knew) and having things on a delivery plan that just happen without any focus is kind of missing the point.

Contributing to the digital transformation of the charity sector

I got where I needed to with product requirements for two of the three projects. The third project has a more extended timeline and a slower pace, so will come in time. Also did a little bit of strategy work using Wardley mapping, which has got me thinking.

Learning about innovation, technology, product and design

Finished my dissertation. Which means I’ve finished my masters. It feels weird. Partly because it’s been a big part of my life for two years and now all that pressure is suddenly gone. It’s going to leave a big gap. And partly because I can’t do anything more about the final grade I get. It’s out of my hands now. A lesson I need to take into whatever I choose to spend my time doing next is that in order to get me to focus, that thing needs to have some external commitment (for my masters that was the money I’d paid) and some future benefit to achieve (which is getting the masters). Other projects I’ve started before haven’t had either of those and I quickly lose interest when I have a new idea.

Wrote weeknotes on schedule every week. I’ve been mixing them up a bit by adding a photo of the week, things I’m grateful for, and what my growth area for the week has been. They continue to be a really good prompt to looking back over the week.

Leading an intentional life

I reached a new level of appreciation for my digital nomad life this month. I started a map to keep track of the places I’ve visited. I saw dolphins, seals and a lizard.

I completely smashed my purposely low target for stiles. I have 348 on stiles.style whereas my target for this month was 315.

I achieved the increase in runway I was aiming for.

All three of these targets are starting to feel out of place on my delivery plan. They just happen without me needing to give them any focus so I think I might drop them and think about whether I should add something else. I still think of them as being part of the goal of leading an intentional life so they should be on my roadmap, but not on the delivery plan.

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 #212

This week I did:

Affecting the most important measure

We’ve been doing some user research guided by a kind-of North star of ‘effective skill learning’ to understand how much of effective skill learning is contributed to by the contents of the course, the method of delivery, and the relationship with the instructor. My sense at this stage is that the relationship accounts for about 60% of the outcome, the course content about 30%, and the technology only about 10%. If I’m right this will help us ensure we make decisions that maximise the relationship element and reduce anything that damages that.

Retros & reviews

I had some interesting discussions about how piloting new technologies and operating procedures should be used to uncover issues and weak points before rolling out to a larger audience, and not have the expectation that pilots are going to run perfectly. Things going wrong in a pilot makes the pilot a success because then you can fix them so they don’t happen in real scenarios.

Blended learning

I’ve thinking about what we build next and how our concept of ‘blended learning’ works. I’m not sure that defining the ‘blend’ by channel. i.e. digital and physical is helpful in creating the learning experience. I prefer to think of us as providing a blend of synchronous and asynchronous delivery, so that young people can access a programme that is presented live (be that in person or via video) and they are access it at times suited to them (be that by watching video in the evening or working through tasks at the weekend). How this looks will come out of our understanding of what aspect (as above, content, delivery method or relationship) matters most in effective learning. So, if the relationship has the biggest impact on effective learning then we can prioritise the part of the blend that enable relationships, but if delivery method matters most then we’ll focus our efforts on improving that. We can then decide how the blend of synchronous and asynchronous apply on different levels, so should each step in the journey and module have a way of being taken synchronously and asynchronously, or are some parts only available as one or the other but overall the programme is synchronous and asynchronous?

The ethics of moderation

I’ve been writing a discussion paper on the ethics of decision-making technologies in charities. I hope to finish it this weekend and share it with our Safeguarding Board and other stakeholders to start the discussions about ethics next week. It’s a really hard thing to write but I feel like I have a responsibility to push for the ethical use of data, technology and products.

Work in progress

I started using Notion more and got my workspace set up. I add to my library, tidied my tasks list and roadmap (which used to be in Trello), and wrote this blog post in Notion (I used to use Google Docs). I’m hoping it will improve my workflow, help me collect ideas and references more effectively as i’ll have everything in one place.

I looked at using Airtable but it didn’t have any easy way to create records from sharing on my phone, and as I do quite a lot of writing, didn’t seem like the right solution.

I have my ideas database where I record ideas and concepts that I get interested in so that I can find the info I’ve previously researched easily. I’m still using the notes section of my website for more public sharing of things I find on the internet so I need to decide whether moving them to Notion will make it easier to access previous research or just over-complicate it. I also need to get better at noting my own thoughts and ideas.

Introduction to tech ethics

I went to an online workshop with philosopher Alice Thwaite on tech ethics. We talked about freedom and how it’s more important than freedom of speech, how technology amplifies speech, Foucault and how anonymity creates power, how design is a process of changing from the current state to a desired state, normative and descriptive statements, the UN declaration of Human Rights, deontological and consequentialist ethics for handling information and making decisions, creating an ethical framework and how ethical considerations should be criteria of success for the products we build. Quite a lot for two hours.

Ethics of AI & algorithms

And I went to another of Alice’s workshops on the ethics of artificial intelligence and algorithms and talked about how power is a better way to talk about AI rather than bias because it elevates the discussion from about the tech to its affects on society, theories of power and ways power can be held over others legitimately or not, and creating a target goal, model, training data and algorithm for an AI system.

Product Management and the public interest

Kathy Pham from Harvard Kennedy School convened 300 product mangers to meet online to listen to lots of three minute lightning talks on the topics of “how product is different in mission focused organizations and companies, and what public interest tech means at this point in time”. With people from the UK, US, Canada and Philippines working in all kinds of different public interest spaces from government to parenting and housing to advice. Three minutes isn’t very long (I guess unless you’re the one doing the talking) but it gave a really wide range of the different problems products people are tackling. It made me wonder, if I was going to do a talk, what would it be about?


Thought about this week:

Tech ethics, tech ethics, tech ethics

Most of my thinking this week has been about tech ethics. From two workshops with the philosopher Alice Thwaite, reading Future Ethics by Cennydd Bowles, listening to podcasts Kate O’Neill, and Rachel Coldicutt sharing some of her thoughts in answer to my long list of questions about tech ethics in the charity sector, I feel like I have lots of different perspectives that I need to figure out and fit together.

Tech ethics is a really interesting topic to learn about, and something I want to include my essay about AI, and use as the basis for a blog post about guidance for charities introducing decision-making technologies, and write a discussion paper for work, so I need to take the time to make sure I’m taking in all the stuff I’ve learned.

Posthumanism & Actor-Network Theory

Posthumanism offers an idea to redefine humans beyond the humanist ideas that were defined in the middle ages by white men (and probably contributed to lots of discrimination throughout history) and into the future of our species as we become more connected with technology.

Actor-network theory uses the principle of generalized symmetry to say that all of the elements of a network have equal agency, including the human and non-human actors such as the systems that form a network. To me this starts to form a different approach to ethics for the future.

These both seem to be quite future-looking theories with some focus on the interaction between humans and technology so they are also interesting to think about and frame some of the thinking I have for my essay about the effects AI will have on our society.

Building an accessibility business

Jonathan sent me some documents on his thoughts about strategy for A11y.space. I really enjoyed reading them and thinking about business strategy. It’s one of those complicated real world things where no matter what model you apply nothing ever fits. It’s been a while since I had to think that way and its so easy to get tied up in knots that lead to inaction. Anyway, the internet needs to become more accessible and I’m sure A11y.space can contribute to it.


Tweets from this week:

How did Uber grow so quickly?

Scott Gorlick tweeted about how Uber approached growing. One of the fascinating things is how offline all the methods they used are. It shows how the myth around internet businesses and being purely digital are so wrong.

Digital job competencies

Dan Barker tweeted “Here’s a list of competencies that people use in ‘digital’ jobs. Which of these would you say are most important for your job/area? What is missing from the list / what doesn’t fit?”

With things like ‘analytical thinking’, ‘influencing others’, and ‘objective analysis’, the list is interesting for not mentioning words like ‘digital’, ‘data’, ‘design’. Instead it focuses on the core competencies of modern work that enable people to solve complex problems in fast changing environments rather than the traditional factory-like concept of work where workers are expected to do what the manager told them (a simplistic contrast, I know, but there does seem to be qualitative differences between the modern workplace and management approach and its older version).

Let the people learn

Hermanni Hyytiälä tweeted “If organisations want to get better at what they do, then their people have to be able to learn. Working within a rigid operating model that is designed on outdated management assumptions and related structures makes it almost impossible for employees to reflect and learn.”

Like I’ve said before, you have two jobs: learn and integrate that learning into the organisation. Employee knowledge is an intellectual asset that organisations should utilise as a competitive advantage.