Weeknotes 286

Photo of the week:

Full moon over the south Wales coast. I was a perfectly calm evening.

This week I did:

Continuous improvement

A big focus for me this week has been on building up a process for the continuous improvement of products as the number of products increases without having a big impact on the team’s capacity to work on new products or overwhelming them. It’s been interesting to think about how it requires a different approach, one that it’s based on the deep qualitative user research we do when developing a new product or service, but instead

Ethical product decision-making collection

I wrote up a collection of articles, reports and tools for applying ethical thinking to product decisions at ethicalproduct.info. Over time I’d like to develop it further so it becomes more than just a collection and more useful for product teams to use in their decision-making.

Ethical Product is one of three new products I’ve launched so far this year. I didn’t set out with that as a goal (in fact, quite the opposite, I had intended to work on getting FutureSkills.info live) but I’m going to see if I can do another two by the end of January.


This week was the 75th anniversary of the Doomsday Clock, which was created as a symbolic warning of how close humanity is to destroying itself. Today, the clock is at 100 seconds to midnight, the closest it’s ever been to the end. This fascinates me so much that I made a (currently tongue-in-cheek) website about whether the world has been taken over by AI, which is our most likely technological threat, and wrote about it for the Irregular Ideas newsletter.


This week I reached 250 places visited and I was briefly the most westerly person on mainland Wales. These unique little milestones keep me entertained.

And I read:

How Complex Systems Fail

Richard Cook writes on the nature of failure, and has eighteen principles that help us think about what is going on in complex systems when they fail. He says that even though complex systems develop defenses against failure over time they are often run in a broken state and are close to failure.

I also listened again to the episode of Cautionary Tales that talks about how accidents happen and how we always look for someone to blame rather than designing better systems. Systems are vulnerable to failure when they are tightly coupled and complex, meaning the components interact in unexpected ways. The complexity of the systems means there will be surprises and then tight coupling meas there is no time to deal with the surprise.

Loosely coupled simple systems FTW.

Road Ahead

NCVO’s Road Ahead 2022 report provides an analysis of the biggest trends, opportunities and events that will impact charities and volunteering. It’s interesting to consider such a wide range of factors affecting the charity sector over such a short time period.


This list of Charity APIs is full of possibility. I wonder how much they are used.

I thought about:

Cause-and-effect and Networks

I summed up some of my thinking about how product managers can use two modes of thinking; networks and cause-and-effect to think strategically. In network thinking, tactical deals with the parts and strategic considers the connections between the parts. And in cause-and-effect thinking, tactical deals with things in isolation and strategic connections things in a causal chain of logic.

Systems solutions

I had a really good great chat with another charity sector product manager this week, and we talked about a product they were working on to tackle a pretty complicated problem. It got my thinking about how system-shifting product management approach might solve the problem differently to a user-centred design approach. Whereas a UCD approach starts with the user experiencing the problem and assumes the solution is in acting upon the user to change their behaviour, a system-shifting approach looks to act on the surrounding systems and change them


I had a chat this week about remote working and how different it is getting to know someone only over video versus in real life. It made me think about whether we present ourselves differently virtually, does it make it easier for introverts and those with social anxiety. And it made me think about how I come across online versus ow I see myself in real life. My Big Five scores are Openness to experience: 96 out of 100, Agreeableness: 75 out of 100, Conscientiousness: 96 out of 100, Negative emotionality: 0 out of 100 and Extraversion: 42 out of 100. I wonder what that means.

Four Stories of Systems Change

I spent August — December 2019 working with The Children’s Society to prototype how they might operate differently to better achieve their strategy, which includes being systems-led. I have struggled with the academic nature of a lot of systems change writing. Like everyone, I’ve personally experienced broken systems, but I haven’t seen (or perhaps haven’t noticed) many examples of tangible systems change and how it was implemented. Until I worked with The Children’s Society.

Weeknotes #202

This week I did:

Product configuration for online mentoring

We launched the MVP of the platform to enable online mentoring and deliver courses and workshops to young people so I defined the policy settings that control how four user types will behave, wrote six hundred test cases, wrote a user guide, and helped design the feedback loop for support and improvements. It was another fast-paced busy week with lots of individual pieces of the jigsaw being fitted into place and lots to hold in my head and make sure we understand the impact a change in one place affects all the connected parts. 

A non-service-designers guide to service design

I published my ‘work in progress’ collection of information, blogs, resources, books, podcasts, and people to follow about Service Design. My tweet about it received more attention than I was expecting, especially as it was late on Sunday evening, but I’m keen to add more to it and take it out of it’s ‘work in progress’ state to where it feels like a complete set of resources. Then I can leave it for a while to work on other sets of resources for things like user story mapping. Anyway, it’s number three on my list of writings to finish this weekend so I’ll see how far I get.

Charities need better technology

I’ve been working on a blog post about how a number of charities were struggling with identifying and using the right platforms for communicating and providing digital services with their service users from The Catalyst’s article ‘The top ten digital challenges facing the charity sector‘. I’m trying to make the point that the digital communication technologies that charities are using aren’t fit for purpose as they are designed either as enterprise tools for communicating between colleagues or consumer tools for communicating with friends and family, and that what charities need is a different type of product, one that is built privacy-first, has enterprise-level security, and enables people within an organisation to talk to people outside the organisation. Hopefully I’ll get it finished soon.

And I studied:

Digital collaborative platforms

This week’s lecture discussed the “crucial change brought by digital technologies in the way we collaborate in organisations and beyond. The topic discusses changes in the business environment, in which organisations become more collaborative. It explores some trends in digital collaborative platforms, using mainly the examples from social media, and building the arguments to expand the logic to proprietary tools such as Microsoft SharePoint and IBM Connections. Finally, the lecture discusses the economics and motivation of collaboration, drawing upon examples.”

It was a really interesting topic and one of the better lectures of the module, probably because I’m interested in collaborative platforms (Go MS Teams!) but especially for the parts about people’s motivations for using or not using these organisational knowledge management tools.

And thought about:

It hasn’t been a great week for thinking, too much stuff requiring immediate attention and not enough space to go deep, but…

Building in the open

Oikos Digital launched their new website, which is cool anyway, but is being built in the open, which is way cooler. I love the approach. I’d love to build a site entirely in the open that starts with a feedback tool and performance dashboard so that people can be involved in the entire build, from thoughts on the design and layout, co-creating content, testing on different devices and scenarios.

Solidarity and widening our ‘us’.

I’ve listened to a few podcasts on the multiple-order effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the structural racism in our society that is being highlighted and tackled by the Black Live Matter movement, utilitarianism and effective altruism’s approach to doing the most good. The theme I see running through all of them is ideas of solidarity (defined as: unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group.). We humans tend to have solidarity with those we feel we have something in common. For some people, this commonality is narrowly defined (only men in a certain age group, of certain wealth, with certain education, etc., etc.) and for others it’s widely defined (the majority of people from a nation, a race, or even the entire species). The inequalities in our society come about from a clash of these solidarities. I think diversity of solidarities is probably a good thing, so the solution isn’t about saying everyone should have the same sense of solidarity, but instead if everyone widened the group of people they consider themselves to have commonalities with, widening the number and groups of people they consider to be ‘us’ rather than ‘them, then perhaps the exponential effects could tackle some of the inequalities and make for a fairer world.

And read tweets about:

Systems thinking in context of internet-era approaches to service design and delivery

Tom Loose more tweeted “Hunting an accessible* intro to systems thinking in context of internet-era approaches to service design and delivery.”

That’s one of those fascinating intersecting-worlds moments. 

One reply included a link to Design 4 Services for thoughts on system thinking in services,

“This dynamic complexity requires a new way of thinking. It is no longer enough to simply examine and act upon each part of a system in isolation.  It is necessary to examine how each part interacts with each other; and work on the system as a whole.” and a reply from Tom, “a good primer… Just need to inject the notion that internet-era agility & analysis let’s you speed up and improve quality of feedback loop”

Another reply had a link to the Systems Innovation’s YouTube Playlist, some of which I’ve watched before (they’re really good and I should watch more).

But still the question, how to apply system thinking to internet-era ways of working? How to create useful crossover between two sets of ideas, take parts of one and apply to another?