Weeknotes #268

Photo of the week:

This week I did:

Age Appropriate Design Code

I spent some time this week learning and interpreting the ICO’s Age Appropriate Design Code, which is essentially GDPR for children. It’s raising lots of questions and making us think more rigorously about the solution design decisions we make, which of course is very much the point.

Backwards hypothesis

I’ve started some data analysis of one of the processes that makes up part of one of our services. I have a hypothesis that the process isn’t working very well for two reasons and the analysis should prove it. I realise that technically that hypothesis is backwards and I should be trying to disprove it, but it’s much harder to talk to other people about it that way round. It’s interesting how what is often the right way to do things isn’t the intuitive way to do things, and when working with others you have to do the translation work between the two.

Tweet100

I set-up ready for the Tweet100 Challenge. I want to use it to tweet specifically about innovation from a slightly more academic perspective than most innovation tweets, blog posts, podcasts, etc., are based upon. Each tweet will include a link to innovat100n so I can try testing whether there is any interest in innovation from this perspective before I write the one hundred email mini-lectures that I’ve been thinking about. I’ve written the one hundred tweets and scheduled them for the last one hundred days of the year, which means they start on the 23rd Sept.

And thought about:

A system for everything

I realised that I can’t just do something, anything in fact. I have to have a system for it before I start. Write a document? No, I’ll create a template and check with the intended audience that it has what they’ll need. Sign-up for a hundred tweet challenge? No, I’ll use it to test interest in a build and audience for innovat100n. Go to the shop to buy Diet Coke? No, I’ll buy four because I’ve already measured how many cans I drink a day and estimated when I’ll next be able to get to another shop.

Digital thinking

How to teach a digital mindset has been on my mind this week. There’s the Essential Digital Skills Framework, which might provide a basis for developing on but is very functional. I’m more interested in how you could teach a digital mindset that appreciates why each of those essential skills matters and understands some of the context around it. So, for example the framework says someone should be able to search for information but there’s nothing about how to critically evaluate the information and test it for bias or falsehood, because to be able to do that requires a deeper understand about the nature of information on the internet, the business model of search engines, and how we are affected by things like confirmation bias. How to even go about listing what should be part of a digital mindset feels disorganised and too amorphous to get a grip of.

Fractal tasks

I started using my notion roadmap more this week to organise the work I want to do on various projects, and it has made me think a bit about how we group tasks and what view of that work we want to see. My roadmap uses kanban boards within kanban boards. It means each piece of work operates to the same way, regardless of it’s level within the roadmap/project and that there is no overall big picture view of all the work that is in progress. I’m testing out this way of working for a few months to try to understand how useful that big picture actually is. How much coordination does there need to be between projects? Does the system need awareness of all the in-progress work? Or is being only able to see one project better for focus? But then, if you can’t compare one project to another, how do you prioritise one piece of work over another. Hopefully I can get to some answers as I try out this fractal task management approach.

I listened/watched/read:

Proximal learning

I heard about proximal learning on the Farnam Street podcast so looked into it a little bit more. It’s the idea that every person has a zone of what they know, and a zone of stuff that they could know if only they had some help to learn it. In some ways it goes against the idea of self-learning and makes education a far more social endeavour. This makes some sense to me when we think about knowledge transfer and how only that which can be codified into information can be transmitted. So, without someone to learn from, a person would be limited in what they could learn. This applies in a micro-sense within organisations. Most learning is expected to be done through online video course platforms because that makes the learning ‘scalable’, but it limits hat can be learned to what can be codified. So, how do we create ways to learn the uncodifable things at work?

The Difference between Engineering and Design Thinking

This is useful in helping to explain a design thinking approach by contrast the engineering thinking approach.

Don’t Build It. A Guide for Practitioners in Civic Tech

The guide says:

  • If you can avoiding building it, don’t; if you have to build it,
  • hire a chief technology officer (CTO),
  • ship early, and mature long; and if you can’t do that (or even if you can),
  • draw on a trusted crew,
  • build lean and fast, and
  • get close to and build with your users as fast as possible.

Sounds like good advice.

A Constellation of Possible Futures

“The working hypothesis is that the Observatory will gather weak signals from across civil society to create a Foresight Commons, bringing to life civil-society foresight and creating a shared evidence base that helps: Funders fund different futures Civil society organisations anticipate and adapt more quickly” This looks like an amazing piece of work.

And my growth area this week was:

Making connections

I wanted to try connecting more people and more work together this week. I found a few opportunities but I didn’t really feel like the connections achieved much.

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.

Weeknotes #265

Photo of the week

Great Wheal Charlotte

All that’s left of a now abandoned tin and copper mine on the Cornish coast.

This week I did:

Turning dreams into reality

I think a product managers job is to turn dreams into reality, ideas into things, abstract concepts into real understanding. Usually that means bringing those dreams crashing down. In reality, things take longer and are more complicated than people’s ideas and expectations. I’ve spent quite a lot of time this week trying to let people down gently as I smash their dreams of a perfect product that automates all the boring work, achieves operational efficiencies, and provides mind-blowing user experience. Such is the process of gathering and refining requirements, distilling and filtering them down into a manageable scope of work.

The end is nigh

I’ve been working on the introduction and conclusion for my dissertation, and hope to put all the sections together and finish it this weekend. I’ve learned a lot from it and reached conclusions I didn’t think I would. I will be glad when it’s done but I’m also going to miss studying and the pressure it puts on me so I’ll definitely need to think carefully about what I focus on in the coming months.

I thought about:

The future of influence at work

Gaining influence at work used to be about people getting to know people, and it’s still very much that way in meeting-orientated organisations, but as remote work shifts towards more asynchronous communications methods the way we build our influence at work will change. Influence will come from written and pictorial communication rather than spoken. People will demonstrate the quality of their thinking in how they create diagrams or write convincingly, rather than ow they talk in meetings. It starts to make influence somehow more evidence-based than using relying on social cues. Written language, although still completely open to interpretation and misunderstanding, has more of an agreed understanding, but visual communication requires learning a new language. All the concepts of design; information architecture, use of space, size, proportion, etc., it all becomes necessary to understand into to understand the diagrams. So, influence through visual work isn’t as easy as just using images, diagrams and maps.

Selection mechanisms

I could call this a ‘prioritisation method’, but the word prioritisation is so overused that it’s lost meaning, so I prefer to call the stuff I’ve been thinking about ‘selection mechanisms’. It’s basically about choosing the right criteria to judge something by and how you get information for each criteria to make the judgement. The three criteria for the selection mechanism I’ve been using this week were: How essential is it? How complex is it? How certain is it? So, for example, if a requirement is essential, doesn’t have lots of variation to make it complex, and is well understood to make it certain, then we’ll put it in scope. Why three? Because we usually have two criteria, e.g., the Impact Effort matrix, because it makes it easier to represent in a diagram, and I want to explore how having three dimensions leads to better more nuanced decisions.

Game theory for project planning

What if, rather than project planning being able coming up with ‘the one and only plan for how things are supposed to work out’, we used game theory scenario planning to explore multiple ways projects could work out. What if, all the people who are on the project and a few others to play external actors, played out hypothetical scenarios for different ways the project could happen. And what if our understanding of project plans was based on possibilities and potential outcomes rather than things being fixed and changes being considered deviations?

And read:

Charity management

I started reading Charity Management: Leadership, Evolution, and Change by Sarah Mitchell. It is full of challenging questions, like ‘are charities making a significant difference?’ and ‘can they do better?’,and interesting ideas like charities as innovators for the state (I may have mentioned that idea before), how the diversity of the sector is a strength and a weakness, and how market mechanisms do or don’t work for charities. So far, it’s a really good book.

Developing Mastery in a Digital Age

Kenneth Mikkelsen writes about how leaders need to use learning to lead successfully. I like the idea of ‘Seek, sense, share’, and have previously read about leadership as sense-making, which seems to fit into what Mikkelsen talks about. It’s an ‘input-process-output’ approach and perhaps doesn’t seem to consider connecting and compounding as parts of the process, but it’s very interesting nonetheless. I think I’ve decided, for the moment at least, that I’m interested in leadership from the perspective of someone who is lead. Almost everything I read on leadership is from the perspective of helping people become better leaders, perhaps with the assumption that good leaders automatically create followers. I wonder why there isn’t much written about being a good ‘leadee’?

This week I’m grateful for:

Seeing dolphins

I went to beach one evening. I took my laptop and notebook but forgot my short and diving mask. As I sat there writing random ideas and staring out to sea I saw dolphins arcing out of the water a few hundred metres away. I’m so appreciative of the life I lead and I hope I never lose that.

Weeknotes #264

This week I did:

Solutions principles

I’ve been working with lots of stakeholders to get a deeper understanding of all of their problems and looking for commonalities to create principles and models for solutions. One example is four different teams who all need to use the data our product collects but for different things. The solution model provides a way to think about the data sets together and how making a change in one place affects other processes elsewhere. I really enjoy getting into these kinds of complex modelling problems and abstracting them to simple principles.

Charity innovation model

I’m onto the theory building stage of my dissertation and fours weeks away from the submission deadline. I’m developing a theoretical model that describes how charities approach innovation by placing them in a matrix of incremental to radical and organisational to social innovation.

Top-down or bottom-up?

I wrote some of my thoughts about top-down and bottom-up planning and the use of the right reasoning behind both of them.

Hitting bottom

I made it to Land’s End, so now I’m heading up the other side of the country. And I started adding the places I visit to a map, not in any way to track progress because it’s not meant to be a mission but just so I can look back on it later.

333

I’ve collected 333 stiles on stiles.style. But what makes it the greatest collection of styles on the internet? Is it quantity, the sheer number of stiles? Or is it the gleeful grin I have on my face as I run up to a newly found stile with my phone out to take the photo? I’ll let you decide.

And this week thought about:

How far upstream should charities operate?

It seems to me that most charities act on problems at a down-stream point closest to the impact, and not many take solutions up-steam to prevent the problem form happening. The reasons why are multiple and complex, but maybe social innovation offers some thoughts about whether charities should be involved in creating bigger solutions to wicked problems.

Value Chain Mapping

John Cutler tweeted about ‘the product’ being the value chain that takes the value an organisation produces out into the world for the customer. There is a truism that clear deep thinking seems obvious when you look back at it, and this idea is one of those, but it slightly blew my mind. It seems like an important part of the definition of a product that isn’t talked about much. I also watched Introduction to Value Chain Mapping by Simon Wardley to help me think through a bit about how value chain mapping applies to product strategy.

So far I’ve been thinking about how it helps to identify the uniqueness of the product which helps to understand the UPS, competitive advantage and how to make decisions. For example, the unique thing about our courses is how much support we offer for those doing the courses, so that’s quite far to the left in the Genesis section (which I also interpret as unique/specialist). Because each of our courses is different we need to develop a website that can handle the variation rather than use an off-the-shelf elearning product, so that goes somewhere in the middle-to-left. We don’t need unique website hosting so that goes over to the right.

I’ve also been thinking about where to add intangible parts of the value chain such as the skills and knowledge of the people who manage the training to help us answer questions like, ‘if we improve the skills and knowledge of the trainers, how much will that improve the quality of the product?’.

Big things beat little things

FIST (Fast, Inexpensive, Simple, Tiny) is used to “describe a particular pattern of decision making that supports rapid, low-cost innovation“, but it is often counter to enterprise IT strategies that see the benefits in only having a few large systems to maintain. Maybe Agile is an attempt to move the FIST characteristics out of the technology and into the processes, and so realise the benefits of working quickly with small things within enterprise technology stacks and large organisation strategies. Will it work? Probably not. Big things beat little things.

On the theme of big and small, Paul Taylor wrote a post about how we usually think (especially in organisations) that change has to be a big thing but maybe we underestimate the small changes.

Responsibility, given and taken

When you put litter in the bin you are making it someone else’s responsibility, but someone who has chosen to take on that responsibility. If you throw litter on the ground you are abdicating responsibility for it, and it still becomes someone else’s responsibility but there’s less of a socially acceptable agreement there, but it’s not that different. Responsibility is the currency that defines how people operate in groups. It isn’t the distribution of labour, or power and authority. Giving, taking, accepting, refusing responsibility, these are the interesting dynamics of groups.

My growth area this week:

Not causing chaos

This week I’ve been trying to be more conscious in how I frame information and communicate about uncertain things in ways that don’t cause chaos and confusion. It’s difficult to know how well I’m doing, but just not communicating isn’t an option so at least trying to do so intentionally is hopefully a little better.

Weeknotes #263

This week I did:

Show me the data

Spent some time this week working on data processes and understanding how and where data is collected, processed and stored to see if there is anything we can do to improve the consistency of collection and efficiency of processing without disrupting any existing processes that rely on the data. It could be someone’s life’s work to understand every piece of data from where it starts, where it goes, how it’s used. But not mine. I’ve developed a framework for how we understand different types of data and how the usage of the data defines how generic or specific it is, which helps us understand the best way to collect, process and store it. Given that it’s business critical data this whole piece of work needs greater robustness and consideration, so testing out my thinking by how well the framework (which is really just a visual representation of my thinking) communicates the context for what we design next is important.

Ahead of schedule and on target

I finished analysing the information I collected for my dissertation which puts me a week ahead of schedule. Next is writing a case study from the analysis that ‘builds theory’ around the innovation processes used in charities. And I scored 80 on my last exam (who knew I knew so much about Blockchain) which puts my overall score for the modules (which make up 40% of the overall grade) at 70.1. Right on target. Distinction with the least amount of effort.

Read and listened to this week:

Rethinking your position

The Knowledge Project podcast episode with Adam Grant is the kind of podcast episode you can listen to again and again to get the most out of it.

Charity innovation stuff

I’ve found lots of interesting papers on innovation and the charity sector which don’t fit with my dissertation but which I might come back to, so I’ve added them to the notes section of my website.

And thought about:

Top-down or bottom up?

What’s the best way to plan lots of pieces of work? Should you start at the top with a goal and work down defining the things you need to do to achieve the goal? Or should you start at the bottom with all the work you know about and build up into the categories where things naturally fit? Top-down applies a structure, bottom-up is more emergent. Top-down seems better for planning against external constraints like deadlines, bottom-up seems less likely to miss things and better at spotting connections and dependencies. Anyway, this is the planning tool I want.

How to compare things

We usually leap to doing the thing we need to do rather than figuring out the mental model or thinking process that we need to apply in order to do the thing effectively. Comparing things is an obvious case. We know we need to compare five similar things in order to pick the ‘best’, and we might have a vague, intuitive idea of what ‘best’ might look like based on experience, but we don’t really have any means to judge what makes one nearer to ‘best’ than another. Luckily, there are only two types of comparison to choose from: absolute or relative. Absolute has preset criteria to judge against. Relative compares one thing to another. If you were comparing dogs to see which was the most intelligent you would need an absolute definition for intelligence, and then whichever dog got closest would be the most intelligent. If you were comparing dogs to see which was the biggest, you would compare them relative to each other, you wouldn’t have an external criteria to judge them against. Choosing how to compare things before comparing helps to compare them in the right way.

Q4

My masters will be finished in September. Then what? What shall I do with everything I learned about innovation and how it’s used in the charity sector?

This week I’m grateful for:

Open-mindedness

The open and creative thinking of some of my colleagues as we’ve explored the way forward for projects. They’ve given me the space to work through my thinking about things rather than requiring the single right answer.

My growth area this week:

Always being right

I’ve started to realise how much I try to prove that I’m right. So, personal kaizen, what 1% improvement can I make on this? I’m going to start by trying to build my self-awareness of it, try to catch myself doing it, and maybe keep a note of the situations it occurs in, asking myself ‘What problem am I solving for this person?’, to help me understand if the stuff I’m saying is for them or for me.

Weeknotes #262

What I did this week:

Bootstrap problems

My focus this week has been around shaping up plans for the rest of the year to ensure we’re able to develop and deliver the changes to the products that we want. There are all the practicalities budgets, availability, timelines, etc., to consider and coordinate with the ideas that are shaping up for what the products should achieve. How these two intertwine and affect each other as they move towards having the people and time to deliver the scope of work is an interesting [bootstrap problem](https://jonathanweisberg.org/publication/2012 The Bootstrapping Problem/#:~:text=Bootstrapping is a suspicious form,problem and surveys potential solutions.) where all assumptions are based on assumptions. The idea of fixed product teams removes the need for figuring out the complexities of logistics and gives a more solid grounding to base assumptions about the work that can be done. But where product teams are project based, none of that grounding exists. This problem is as old as software, and yet is still very much a real problem for the majority of charities that rely on funding for specific projects.

Change of theory

I took part in a user research workshop on a tool for working with Theory of Change. I found it a really interesting idea and have been thinking about it ever since. Being able to validate some of the assumptions in a Theory of Change to figure out what impact the activities and mechanisms are having and then make decision about whether to change the activities to achieve the intended impact or accept the activities and change the impact to be achieved would be really useful. It could introduce a level of rigor as the data that informs the model builds up over time rather than remaining a hypothesis. The challenge for many social good organisations will be whether they really want to get to that depth of understanding.

Innovation in charities

I’ve pretty much finished the research phase of my dissertation so am moving onto analysis. I’ve already got lots of interesting insights about innovation in charities and I’m intrigued to see what theory I can build as the case studies develop.

Notes

I’ve been experimenting with using my website as a notebook to add some of my thoughts more regularly and try to see if it helps me build and develop ideas. I’ve occasionally used Twitter, Notion and paper for this but never with any real usefulness.

What I read this week:

Digital maturity in the not for profit sector

This report is full of insight about “the organisational journey towards improvement and increased capability in using data” and includes findings like “The cost of data is huge, hidden, and often wasted. Most leaders don’t see the value of data. There’s lots of counting but not enough meaningful analysis.”. I wonder how the not for profit sector compares to other sectors.

Talent is evenly distributed, opportunity isn’t

Rand Fishkin, talking on the One Knight In Product podcast about alternative ways to build software startups, says “talent is evenly distributed, opportunity isn’t”. How companies recruit, organise work, incentivise, etc., makes a big difference in how opportunity becomes more evenly distributed.

What I thought about this week:

The future of digital nomadism and off-grid developers

At the extreme of remote working are people who earn their living on the internet and live their lives away from the conventions of mainstream society. Kevin Kelly talks about the right to mobility and how that affects our notion of what a digital nomad is (not just twenty-somethings living in Thailand and setting up drop-shipping websites and affiliate marketing). Alex Standiford is a good example. He’s an off-grid developer, living in a RV in New Mexico. In my thinking about the 21st century Outsider, for the book I’ll never write, the off-grid developer looks like one of the archetypes of a digital nomad, where it isn’t so much about ‘nomad’ meaning ‘always moving’ but more about not being tied to a particular location and being able to make the choice about where to live and work because the internet has decoupled those two.

Contracts and covenants

I had an interesting chat with Ross that started out about type 1 and 2 decisions but moved onto the more interesting topic of contracts and covenants. In trying to understand the difference between the two, I think we’d say that the logic of a contract is , ‘you agree to do what I want and I agree to do what you want, and we both have recourse if either of us doesn’t’, whereas a covenant is more, ‘this is what I’ll do for you regardless of what you do for me’. So many of our interactions with people and organisations are based on contracts, either implicit or explicit, but this seems based on zero sum thinking where one person is only willing to give if they get something in return. The relationship between natural and legal rights and responsibilities that are expressed in contracts are, obviously, very complex, but maybe the idea of covenants, which consider giving as non-zero sum game, where you don’t always need to get something in return, adds another perspective.

Perhaps we are all myth-makers

Ashley tweeted, “perhaps we are all myth-makers rather than truth-seekers, and our real quest is not to figure out what is Real but to steer ourselves towards Good“. Perhaps in a post-truth world we can be more open to Heraclitus’ ontological position that reality is ever-changing rather than Parmenides notion that all being is fixed and static. Arguably, without the notion of the world around us having some underlying static structure to it humans would never have made the scientific breakthroughs that we have, it’s really hard to study something unless you believe it to be the same as when you observed it yesterday, but without adopting that stance we could never have reached our definition of truth, and therefore become truth-seekers.

Of course, it isn’t one or the other, both notions about the nature of reality have existed together for a very long time, and allow us to see the world in complex ways, but we do have a tendency to think that there is an objective ‘truth’ about things for which there really isn’t. The example of this that’s on my mind this week is conversations with colleagues that were full of discussions about misunderstandings around language and how we and others were interpreting what had been said. I wonder if the misunderstanding of misunderstanding is that there is a single truth to be understood. When people discuss things they are making meaning as they go, not explaining a scientific fact, and yet we attempt to understand what they said as if it was.

The Futures Cone helps think about possible, probable, plausible futures. Perhaps we need a Meanings Cone that helps us think of our interpretations as possible, likely, unlikely, impossible to help us understand each other better because we consciously don’t base our understanding on the assumption that there is a single truth in what someone says.

What I’m grateful for this week

Feedback begets feedback

The more feedback I give the more I seem to get. Or may I just notice it more. Either way I’m grateful for being able to give feedback and for receiving it.

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 #259

This week I did:

Next

We’ve learned a lot from the product we launched three months ago. We learned what it takes to work quickly and where the balance lies with quality, we learned how to create more problems and solve them too, and we learned about how much change is the right amount of change. But part of maturing a product is how well integrated it is into the rest of the organisation, and that’s our next challenge. It’s going to take a lot of time, a lot of talking to people, a lot of thinking from everyone, but it’ll bring new perspectives and create new knowledge. Maybe some people think we’re just improving a product, making it bigger and better. I think it’s so much more. Our little baby is growing up.

Pressure is on

I had a chat with my dissertation supervisor and got some useful direction for writing the research methodology and literature review, the drafts of which have to be in this weekend. Submission deadline is two months away so the pressure is on to spend as much time as I can on it. The next thing is finalising my research questions and arranging interviews. It’s going to be really important to get the right questions and the right answers, otherwise the whole thing kind of falls over. But no pressure.

This is stile

Stiles.style has reached 300. So, that must make it the greatest collection of stile on the internet, as if it wasn’t before.


This week I thought about:

Uncomfortable learning

Operationalising a new product and taking a test and learn approach with it at the same time is going to cause some conflict. One wants to get on using the product to meet targets. The other wants to understand how well things are working. Different goals drive different behaviours. But, I don’t think they are conflicting behaviours. I think the realities of using the product provide the lessons to learn. I don’t know who said it first, but I’ve repeated it numerous times, “Users won’t use a product how we think they will”. A good product has enough wiggle room to allow people to figure out their own ways of doing things to achieve the things they want, and seeing how that happens in real life shows us the unknown unknowns, it tells us about the questions we didn’t think to ask. This kind of thing isn’t really conflict, it’s uncomfortable learning.

Goals

Nothing to do with football, but reading Ann Mei Chang on how big tech firms are happy to set big goals and charities and social enterprises feel really cautious about doing so, I recalled some of my old thinking about goals and methods for setting and achieving them. My current thinking is that in order to make goals achievable they should be written in conjunction with the investment necessary to achieve them, otherwise they are just aspirations or ambitions, not goals. The other school of thought I subscribe too is that the best method for achieving a goal is to start with a broad and uncertain goal, take a step towards it and get the feedback as to whether you are closer to goal and that the goal has become slightly more certain and defined. If either of those two are true, repeat, until you have a very certain goal and a well-defined path for achieving it. The usual approach for setting goals, which I’m very much against, is to set a goal with no idea how to achieve it, and then put more work into figuring out how to achieve it than actually achieving it.

NPD Processes

It occurred to me that most organisations, and certainly pretty much all charities, don’t need a well-optimised innovation or new product development process because they just don’t develop enough new products to warrant the time and effort in figuring out the right process for them. Whatever they may learn from trying a particular process won’t be relevant by the time they use the process again. Obviously this is not the conclusion that I intend to reach with my dissertation, which is all about how charities use innovation processes.


This week I read:

Charity Digital Skills Report 2021

The 2021 Charity Digital Skills Report is out and makes for very interesting reading. Particularly, two of the insights about digital inclusion, “digital inclusion has proven a challenge for digital service delivery, with over 1 in 5 (22%) cancelling services because their users don’t have the skills or tech to use them. That is up from 15% at the start of the pandemic, showing how digital inclusion is still a pressing issue for the sector and a real area of concern when reaching beneficiaries.”, and “Digital inclusion has proved to be the biggest challenge faced this year. Just over half (52%) are worried about excluding some people or groups and 24% are concerned that their audience is not online. 12% of charities themselves have struggled with basic tech access.”. Obviously digital inclusion (which is really just social inclusion in the 21st century) is a complex problem that requires solutions from multiple angles; people having devices and the skills and confidence to use them, but also ensuring that services are designed to be as simple as possible. Oh, and I’m choosing to take it as an ironic statement about the state of digital in charities that in 2021 the report is a pdf.

Problem Solving Machine

Paul always writes good interesting stuff, and I completely agree, “if you’re disciplined enough to be able to live with that ambiguity for a while, you usually end up with a better answer to your problem“. Understanding problems is the biggest change we should make in solving problems. It’s one of the main points I talk about in my charity product product management emails. There are two problems with understanding problems, the ‘understanding’ part, and the ‘problem’ part.

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.