Weeknotes #254

This week I did

How information flows

We moved onto a new platform for delivering virtual courses this week, so I’ve spent a lot of time supporting the teams that will be using it and the teams that will be supporting them. There’s lots of new stuff for everyone to learn and I’m keen to spread and embed the knowledge as much as possible. A task or job role might need specific skills and a dedicated owner, but information and knowledge doesn’t work that way. Lots of people can have the same information, regardless of their role. Understanding why the whole system works the way it does, what some of the underlying assumptions are, what tasks others in the team perform, how processes work, etc., . Knowledge shouldn’t be on a need-to-know only basis. The idea that someone only knows what they need to know to do their job will always create gaps in knowledge. I’ve been thinking a bit about how we understand work as flows of information rather than as discrete tasks to be completed., partly from a digital transformation point of view about moving away from a factory mindset of work being about progressing widgets along a production conveyor belt, and partly from reading Galbraith on how the more uncertainty there is about a project, the more information has to be processed in order to complete a task.

Tech Ethics

It’s been a week of tech ethics. I went to a Social Tech Meetup hosted by Rachel Coldicutt and Anna Dent and this week’s lecture was on the ethics of emerging technology.

Tech ethics is a problem of pace. Different things move at different speeds. Implementing laws take time. Ethics progresses faster than laws. But new technologies and the data collection that enables them happens faster than the ethical discussions and positioning. This is why we see things like bias in algorithms, because the tech races ahead of the checks and balances catching up. Although we are more aware of the bias in what is being built, it has also been there. Crash test dummies are based on the male body which meant that for many years cars were designed to protect men better than women. That’s decades old tech ethics, but it’s still the same problem. Different things move at different speeds.

Interface, Integrate, Iterate

I’ve been writing up some of my ideas about how product management creates an interface between customer and organisation, integrates strategy with tactics and teams with the work, and iterates on everything to drive continuous improvement into a short email series. It’s part of some of my ideas about helping more charities understand and use product management thinking to improve their service proposition and delivery.

And I thought about:

What does it mean to deliver?

What does it mean to deliver something, to achieve, to complete something? Its surely more than just completing tasks. Delivering a project should enable the continued realisation of value, it creates something of ongoing usefulness, facilitates other accomplishments. It should be more than the sum of it’s parts. If you deliver enough deliverables, and even the right deliverables, does that mean they’ll add up to create something good? Are good outcomes assumed to be a natural result of a well delivered project? Or is there more to do to connect those outputs and deliverables, fit them into relationships, create flows of information? Does delivering mean delivering an output, an outcome, a project, a change?

Defining hybrid working

I thought a bit more about how to define and understand hybrid working, and how it’s less about location and more about the numbers of people in the same or different locations, and so the relationship dynamics that creates. One person in the office and nine in other locations doesn’t really bring hybrid working dynamics into play. But two in the office and eight in other locations starts to introduce different dynamics because now the two in the office are dealing with one type of interaction between themselves and a different type of interaction with those in other locations. But those in the other locations aren’t involved it the relationship between those in the office. It seems to me that its the dealing with the different forms of interaction that is the underlying problem-to-solve for hybrid working.

Digital transformation is everywhere

An hours walk from the nearest plug socket, even a notice board with tide times is going on a digital transformation journey. QR codes are a start to connecting the physical and digital worlds, maybe in the future every beach will have IoT sensors measure tide height, water quality, etc., and broadcast that information to your phone as you walk into the area. Everything in our world is undergoing digital transformation, some things are further ahead than others, but nothing will be left behind (except, maybe, hopefully, stiles).

And read:

100 Moments

I listen to the new podcast about 100 moments the rocked computer science by professors Sue Black OBE and Gordon Love. This episode talked about search engines and organising information on the internet, and included an interview with Alan Emtage, the inventor of Archie, the first search engine, and some mind-blowing stats about the amount of data we’re creating. With all this data, search, as a concept, becomes about making all that data interpretable and readable by humans, rather than just being about finding things other humans have written on the internet. So search moves upstream in creating value from data and information.

The Hacker Way

The hacker way, “believes that a good solution today is better than a great solution tomorrow. It does not believe that done is better than perfect so much as it believes that being done sooner is the best path to eventual perfection, though it is also skeptical that perfection exists.”. This mindset underpins so much of modern digital and agile thinking (and anarchy beneath that, but I won’t get into that now). Understanding the hacker mindset, and how it informs the ideas a practices of digital people and teams, might help us understand the difficulties and conflicts that occur within organisations as they go through their digital transformation. Maybe there is a fundamental difference in worldview between the digital people and the (for want of a better term) corporate people. Both struggle to understand how the other sees the world, and neither would be willing to adopt the other’s worldview.

Ditch the Solution-First Mindset and Start by Defining the Problem

Both in life and at work, we tend to come up with solutions before defining the problem they solve.” If I had a pound for every time I’ve gone on about understanding the problem…

Weeknotes #253

This week I did

New strategy

Our new organisational strategy was released this week. I’m keen to spend some time soon reading it more deeply and thinking about how to interpret it for the work we’re doing. I’ve noticed a few strategic mis-alignments recently between the work our programme design team is doing and the direction I thought the product team was heading, so now is the time to bring together the different perspectives and course correct before we get into the next phase of work.

I also spent a bit of time working on product strategy to develop some guiding principles. One of those is about the ensuring that the speed we introduce change is matched to the speed at which the changes can be adopted. Just going as fast as we can seems like the wrong thing to do, as counter as it is to lots of product development thinking and my personal beliefs, because it’ll cause bottlenecks and futureshock.

Systems training

Delivered training on using some of the new systems we’re putting in place. As part of the thinking for what to include in the training I was imagining the ‘system of systems’ we have. There are lots of distinct systems that have certain data and perform certain processes, and then there are linking processes, automated and manual, that move that data between the systems, and then the human nodes in the system that contain information about how the system works but are very much part of the system. Maybe I should just stick to delivering the training.

Delivery planning

I wrote out my delivery plan (still a work in progress but mostly there) to help me track what I’ve done throughout the year towards the goals on my roadmap and to get into the habit of monthly planning. As part of my monthly planning cycle I did a retro of the things I’d learned in May that had affected my ability to deliver on my goals. I don’t really have a format that works for me yet but it started me thinking about methods for retrospectives and what they should aim to achieve. I think looking back is useful but really retros should be about increasing agency and ownership in order to change the approach which then improves everything you do in the future rather than just individual process improvements.

Vanlife fail

I visited Stonehenge and found a large community of vanlifers. I wanted to hand out my flyers to ask them to do the survey but it felt really uncomfortable intruding into their community as an outsider. There’s a different between vanlifers who live in semi-permanent communities together and those who live more solitary, transient lifestyles. Some outsiders and more outsiders than others.

Blockchain and social good

This week’s lecture was about how blockchain and distributed ledger technologies are being used for social good, and posed the question, ‘should more technological development be focused on making the world a better place?’ The answer is clearly and obviously, yes. The case study was how blockchain was being used to manage commons resources and some of the resources included a sector-specific study from Stanford University and looking at Blockchain for Humanity, which is a not-for-profit foundation with the mission to drive the adoption of emerging technologies that can offer a positive social impact. There is so much possibility.


And thought about:

Hybrid meetings

I had my first hybrid meeting, with some of us in the room and some joining via video. It started me thinking about the pros and cons of hybrid meetings so I collected my thoughts into a blog post. Although I’m certain that remote, virtual, asynchronous work works best for me, that doesn’t mean there isn’t something interesting to try to figure out about hybrid working, especially if it’s likely that we’ll be working with others who do have hybrid ways of working.

Dealing with unknown unknowns

The common wisdom for dealing with unknown unknowns seems to be to adding them to a matrix with the known knowns, unknown knowns and known unknowns so you can (hopefully) identify by contrast the unknown unknowns. This way assumes that all domains of knowledge exist within that matrix, so I wondered about switch it around and putting a matrix within each domain of knowledge. Galbraith talks about how organisations deal with uncertainty and unknowns by processing more information between decision-makers as the way forward is figured out than is processed where decisions can be pre-planned. If unknowns are broken down into smaller and smaller domains of knowledge then perhaps the unknown unknowns become smaller and more specific, which might make them easier to imagine. Dealing with uncertainty and adapting to change is a capability every organisation is going to have to figure out how to build and I’m not sure there is a lot best practice in how to do that yet.

Ukrainian aviators love me

One of my most popular (I mean popular in my terms, which isn’t very popular by most people’s terms) blog posts is Schmenner’s Service Process Matrix – but for charities. It seems to show in Google searches for Schmenner, and weirdly, the Ukrainian National Aviation University link to it in one of their papers about applying the service process matrix to logistics. This amuses me.


And read this:

Maintaining Radical Focus and Staying on Strategy with OKRs

The One Knight In Product podcast episode with Christina Wodtke was really good. It seemed like a really authentic talk about when and how to use OKRs effectively rather just a sales pitch for a book. The best thing I took away was ‘Cadence is everything!’

What is digital ethics?

“No framework can possibly be complete, so it is important for employees in any organisation to examine the digital ethics dimension in any digital project they undertake.” Ethics isn’t about big dramatic decisions. Every single little decision is an ethical decision.

A thread of product management frameworks

Another thread from Shreyas Doshi, this one about product management frameworks.

Weeknotes #252

This week I did:

Global optimisation

I had some time to begin to think about the work our team will be undertaking over the next few quarters. Second to ‘what’ work we do is ‘how’ we do it. The upsteam and downstream coordination is an interesting challenge to ensure that change is introduced at the pace it can be adopted. I have a sense this is going to feel like slowing down from how we’ve been working over the past year but global optimisation is almost always better than local optimisation.

Team stability

There have been a few conversations and situations this week where the underlying theme seemed to be about the stability and change experienced by a group of people. It seems paradoxical but at the same time completely obvious, to say that stability enables change to be accepted and adopted. Too much change, in these cases, in the membership of teams prevents effective and efficient progress. It stops ownership, accountability and responsibility in it’s tracks. I wonder if the need for the stability of teams changes with the number of teams that make up an organisation, so, can an organisation achieve its strategic goals if it has some stable and some unstable teams, and where is the threshold? How much instability can an organisation absorb?


Thought about:

Technological convergence

I’ve been working on my assignment about what role blockchain might play in the future of work, and the one of the conclusions I’ve reached is that blockchain will have a far greater affect where it converges with other emerging technology such as artificial intelligence and Internet of things devices. This feels like a bit of a revelation to me. I see lots of talk about how AI is going to affect is in the future, what self-driving vehicles might do to transportation, etc., but I don’t think I’ve ever read anything about the effects of all these different technologies when they are put together.

Business processes and social structures at work

On one hand, business processes are meant to codify and formalise the way things like decision-making work, to reduce variability and ensure predictability and perhaps even fairness. And on the other hand, social structures are built around influencing people, encouraging cooperation and collaboration to get the right decisions made. How do these two things intersect? Are they both necessary? Do they conflict? I’ve previously thought that hierarchies are good for authority and networks good for information flow, but what structures facilitate decisions?


Read:

Teamwork

I read a bit of this student guide to teamwork. It has some useful references and definitions such as Hughes and Jones (2011) defining “what makes a team something different from any other group of people” as sharing some defining characteristics: a shared collective identity, common goals, interdependence in terms of assigned tasks or outcomes, and distinctive roles within the team. I wonder if work place culture is sometimes anti-intellectual and that we get ideas about things like how teams work from something someone read on a blog post about a book that was based on one person’s experience rather than our understanding being based on research and expertise, so having easy references like this book help my thinking.

The Outsider

I’ve started reading Colin Wilson’s The Outsider. In it Wilson describes the outsider through the works of Kakfa, Camus, Hemmingway and others, as someone alienated from society by their own indifference, as a anti-hero who rejects civilised standards and his duty to society in pursuit of some kind of existential freedom. He says, “freedom is not simply being allowed to do what you like; it is intensity of will, and it appears under any circumstances that limit man and arose his will to live”.

I’m interested in the idea of the outsider in modern digital times. If Wilson was writing today would he still be looking at literature for descriptions of the experience of the outsider or would it be hacker culture, anti-establishment peer-to-peer networks, and social media? How does existential alienation from mainstream culture take place in an always-on inter-connected world? Does it manifest as self-imposed exile to the worlds of games, or absorption in tech-startup fantasies of utopia? So much to think about.

Weeknotes #251

This week I did:

Rethinking risk

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

Rationalising requirements

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

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

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

Simple machines

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


And thought abut:

What problem does Product Management solve?

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

Change isn’t failure

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


And I read about:

Team topologies

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

Rethinking the ‘rainy day’ myths of charity reserves

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

Direct Acyclic Graph

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

Weeknotes #249

This week I:

Digital safety

Work this week has mostly been about digital safeguarding, getting the platform set up and tested, and double checking that all the processes are in place. Next week I’ll be training our new moderation team and getting the platform live so young people can join.

I’ve also been working on a few other projects where I’ve tried to be bring more focus on knowing what we want to achieve and how we’re going measure the objectives. It’s too easy to get into conversations about doing things without a shared understanding about why we’re doing it or how we’ll know if we’ve succeeded. We should always start with what problem we’re trying to solve, I hope I can bring some robustness in that kind of thinking.

Danger close, kids

Teenagers and trains don’t mix. I saw some standing on train tracks, waiting for trains to approach and then running off the tracks. I called 999, the police came and went off looking for the kids. I carried on with my walk thinking about the behaviours of teenagers, teenage boys trying to impress teenage girls, how we judge risk and whether the risk is worth it.

Slow start

Got the first response to my survey about the effects of lockdown on people who live in vans. There aren’t many true vanlifers, and they aren’t easy to find, and even when you’ve found them they aren’t that interested in taking part in research. Turns out that maybe vanlifers mostly just want to be left alone.

Milestone

I reached 250 stiles in my collection. I’ve thought about creating an NFT for all the stile.style images but I don’t know yet if you can do that with a collection of images that are added to over time. Something to learn more about.

Collecting innovators

I’ve been looking for people who work in innovation in charities to be research subjects for my dissertation. But it made me wonder what percentage of the UK charity workforce works in innovation, and how that compares to other sectors.


Thought about:

Thinking about thinking

I’ve been thinking about how much I think and how connected it is to how much space I feel like I have in my world. The past couple of weeks have been really busy at work, I’m back out on the road, and I’ve started studying a module on Blockchain for my masters, and I’m doing a lot of reading and organising for my dissertation. All this knowledge logistics doesn’t leave any room for exploring ideas. I miss that.

Show, don’t tell

‘Show, don’t tell’, the phrase that prompts so many ‘show and tells’ and demos of work in progress, seems to have an obvious purpose. People understand better when they see something rather than when that same thing is explained to them. But it also goes deeper. There is a qualitative difference between telling someone things and doing things that demonstrate it. They are understood in different ways. Being told requires an intellectual understanding and acceptance whereas being shown reaches some other mode of understanding, somehow un-verbal. I think I see similar differences in lots of things, where one side is tangible, measurable, explainable, and the other is, well… the opposite. Job titles and descriptions vs. all the skills, experience, opinions and ideas someone has, is a good example. We use the measurable as a proxy for the immeasurable.

Less coordination

I listened to a podcast with a guy who worked at Amazon, about his book called ‘Work backwards’, and which he talks about some of the management techniques they use at Amazon. They referred to a memo Jeff Bezos wrote about how to reorganise the company for growth, and that it relied on teams communicating via API’s rather than meetings. I’ve been thinking about coordination and alignment challenges, and how from the Amazon point-of-view, the answer lies in making teams independent and decoupled so that they don’t have to coordinate people’s time in order to pass information effectively. The usual approach is that as organisations increase in complexity, usually through increasing the number of people, that more coordination is required, but I’m wondering about ways of working that don’t require lots of coordination and how teams can serve as platforms for other teams.

Why weeknote

Weeknotes are part of a reflective practice for increasing agility of thinking. They are about writing about some of the things that happened over the last seven days, and reflecting on what you thought, felt and learned. Weeknotes offer a time-boxed regularity and predictability to how much stuff there is to reflect on, and shorter cycles and faster feedback increases agility of thinking.


And read:

Agnostic Agile principles

I read the Agnostic Agile principles. I like principles (defined as: “a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behaviour or for a chain of reasoning.” in case you’re wondering like I was). I refer, almost daily, to the Modern Agile principles, which are less explanatory that the Agnostic Agile principles, but not necessarily better or worse. Agile seems pretty unique in how much consideration is put into it’s principles (does digital marketing have principles, or brick-laying?) which is interesting in itself.

What is civil society?

The Law Family Commission on Civil Society published a report describe what they mean when they talk about civil society. There are lots of interesting things to consider in the report, including the blurred boundaries between civil space and personal space (the example of an online group discussing a local litter issue seems clearly civil to me, but anyway), the definitions of civil space (which range from whether individuals are creating social value to participating in spaces of shared value). The concept of civil society is particularly important in these times of society trying to figure out how the individual relates to the collective, but although much of that discussion might take place in the civic space we must also include the State and the Market in those discussions (the Basecamp thing is part of the same discussion; its about whether a company exists for the benefit of individuals (shareholders in Friedman’s point-of-view) or for the benefit of the collective (employees and wider society)).

Power and ethics in tech

Cat Swetel’s post about power and ethics in tech is amazing. She talks about power-over, power-with and power-to, about how even some actions which looks like they come from a good place can be done in a power-over way, and how people who approach with a power-over mindset struggle to see that power-with or power-to “is an effort to grow the total amount of power available rather than a grab for a greater percentage of a fixed power pool.” Understanding power is a fundamental skill in the modern world.

4 Modes of Thinking

A colleague mentioned Adam Grant’s work on the Preacher, Prosecutor, Politician, and Scientist modes of thinking so I read a bit about it. He talks about how we view our’s and others opinions, whether we assume we’re right or whether we go looking for information to prove or disapprove a hypothesis. I guess there’s a value subtext suggesting that we should try to be more like scientists but of course in practice all modes are required in different situations, so maybe the self awareness comes in knowing which mode to choose.

What is the true nature of reality?

In case you were wondering…


Wisdom to end the week:

I make a journey, you make a journey, we make a journey together

Jerry, Sphere

Weeknotes #247

This week I did:

Launch time

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

Vanlife Lockdown Survey

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

Got jabbed

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

Bought some books

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


And thought about:

Five years time

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

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

Product lifecycle

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

Digital upskilling

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

Visual working

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


And read:

Digital Has Killed the Strategic Plan

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

Believing in the Barnum Effect

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

Weeknotes #245

This week I did:

Coordinating information, spotting patterns

This week has been about working through ways and means of coordinating information from different sources to create a single cohesive picture. A big part of that is around bolstering our digital safeguarding response in the short term and figuring how the picture changes into the future to affect a longer term response.

I’ve also put a lot of time into scoping the next version of the product we’re developing, understanding what problems we should be solving and being specific about which problems we aren’t tackling. I’ve approached it in more structured way than how we scoped the current version, partly because I’ve had more time but also because we’ve learned a lot about our capabilities over the last few months so I have a better idea about where to focus my attention.

Why we need a better understanding of problems

I wrote about how sometimes we have a tendency to jump to solutions, and often technology solutions, without truly understanding the problem we need to solve. I wrote it as a talk for a charity meetup that didn’t happen but as its something I believe strongly about I thought I’d add it to my blog so I don’t lose it.

Standapp

I’ve started using Stand-up template in the journal app that Ross has been building. I’ve made various attempts at daily personal stand-up/journaling but it feels different when its a dedicated app. The challenge, regardless of how they are written, is in getting value back out of what was written. I haven’t quite figured that out yet but it’s something I’m thinking about.

1000 digital tools

The Ultimate Digital Tools List reached a thousand entries. I’m still unsure what to do with it, other than my creator tech/business models idea, but I’ll continue to add to it in case it becomes useful one day.

#ThingsIveReadRecently

I posted my fourth Twitter thread of things I’ve read recently. Although each one takes a couple of hours but I find it quite useful to look back over the things I’ve read to remind myself why I was interested in it and I hope they are useful for others too.


This week I thought about:

Bricolage

‘Meaning, ‘constructed or created from a diverse range of available things’, bricolage might be the term that describes an idea I have about mixing methods and techniques together. As a ‘digital bricoleur’ we could bring together daily stand-ups from Scrum, storyboarding from Design Sprints, service safari from Service Design, etc., and so construct working practices made up of elements from a diverse range of frameworks and methodologies, each solving identified problems (which is the hard bit).

Why are strategy and tactics seen as opposites?

Sometimes when I hear people talk about strategy and tactics I sense an implication that strategy, and strategic thinking are seen as impressive important things whereas tactics are dismissed as unimportant and not worthy of consideration. I think the real skill of strategic thinking isn’t just in the big ideas and ambitious aims but in how all things are connected. Good strategic thinking is realistic and integrates the details that will make the strategy happen. I feel like there’s a version of S.M.A.R.T. thinking for creating strategy rather than setting objectives.


This week I read:

A body of knowledge

I’ve become a little enthralled with the Digital Practitioner’s Body of Knowledge, not just it’s really well written (it isn’t) but because of the challenge of what it takes to create such a thing. Where would you start with creating ‘a body of knowledge’? How would you decide what to include and what not to? How would you keep it up to date?

Paradox and conflict

Chaordic organisations are “self-organizing, adaptive, nonlinear complex system, whether physical, biological, or social, the behavior of which exhibits characteristics of both order and chaos or loosely translated to business terminology, cooperation and competition.” So many interesting ideas to get into.

The theory of multiple intelligence’s

The theory of multiple intelligence’s challenges the idea that intelligence can be measure linearly (low to high) by a single metric of logical thinking, and we should approaching understanding our intelligence(s) as mixes of visual, social, spatial, etc., intelligence’s. It seems obvious when you think about, but where I think it becomes interesting is in the ways the digital working methods and techniques can be adopted that make greater use of this mix of ways of thinking an learning.

Weeknotes #244

What I did this week

Roadmaps are hard

I’ve spent quite a lot of time shaping our roadmap for the projects we have coming up this year. Lots of things are still up in the air and working to different time scales so it’s an interesting challenge to get to different degrees of certainty about the goals and work required to achieve them.

Asynchronous working

I took part in the SCVO DigitShift talk about how to share ideas when you don’t share a space. It was my first time doing a talk, and although I really enjoyed it, it’s not something that comes easily to me. I think I’ll work on improving my writing (being as that’s a more async way to communicate) than my speaking.

WDTCCTR V 1.1

I updated the Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road website with the latest version of the story and we chatted through some feedback to improve it for the next version. We’re trying out a rapid prototyping and fast feedback with lots of iterations approach to writing the story, which is something I’ve been thinking about for a while.


What I thought about this week:

Personal API

One type of personal API is about collecting all the data we generate from all the services we use, aggregating it and making it usable and perhaps available for others to use. That’s interesting, and probably has huge commercial potential in the future, but I’m more interested in a conceptual API that allows others to access someone else’s knowledge, ideas, processes, etc. rather than forcing a technical solution.

Hacker News | SoLiD project | A personal API | The API of Me

Doing less

I’m trying to do less. To spend more time sleeping, going for walks without a purpose, and challenge my old ways of being really efficient and effective. Everything has a culture, nothing exists in isolation. There is the culture of productivity with it’s hacks and methods for getting more done. And there is the culture of non-productivity with it’s romantic notions of layabouts and beatniks. It’s impossible to do anything or be anything without cultural referencing.

In Defense of Doing Nothing


What I read this week:

Volunteering technology

This BBC article about volunteering technology (VolTech, if you want to be tech hip) presents a few examples of volunteering apps and services but doesn’t go into any depth of thought about the considerations around decentralising volunteering. The suggestion that charities should adopt should use these kinds of technologies displays the usual lack of understanding about the difference between volunteering as an individual and volunteering through an organisation, and where responsibility lies when an organisation acts as intermediary. Charities are modes of organising people just as social movements are, but they serve very different purposes and so to suggest that tech that matches people who want to volunteer with people or organisations that want volunteers could easily meet that need in any/all circumstances seems very simplified.

Agency and taking control of your situation

If 2021 already has a theme, then for me its the tension between the individual and the collective. Everywhere I look I see that tension playing out; from protests against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to articles about High Agency. It wouldn’t be true to say that agency is a personal trait and so someone either has it or doesn’t regardless of the situation they find themselves in, but its also not true to say systems and structures can’t be affected by individuals. Its all very complex and so much to think about.

Service design glossary

Made Manifests Service Design glossary explains all the words.

Weeknotes #243

This week I did:

Roadmapping

I’ve been working on a developing a process for coordinating a product roadmap and delivery plan with the operations of the teams running the training courses for young people. I haven’t quite got the strategy figured out yet but as it shapes up the biggest challenge is going to continue to be how change and adapt quickly to deliver a good enough product just in time for the course delivery.

We discussed the difference between an operating model which explains how things usually work and a support model that explains how to respond when things go wrong, so now we just need to build out those models and make them work in practice.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

I started collaborating with an old friend on writing a children’s book to answer the question, Why did the chicken cross the road? I hand-coded the website in a couple of hours (it loads in 68ms and gets 99 performance grade) and want to use it to try out ideas around ways of writing a book iteratively. The plan is to not have a plan, but to explore and figure where the project goes at each step. At the moment it’s meant to be a read-along story with an adult reading to the child and the child pressing the buttons (which is why the website needs to fast, to avoid frustration), but it might evolve into a story for older children, or into a game, or something we haven’t even imagined yet.

Digital creativity exam

I did my Digital Creativity exam, which finishes the module and means I only have one module and my dissertation left. I really enjoy studying, even though it takes lots of time I get a lot out of the pressure it applies.

Prototyping

This week’s Service Design course was about prototyping. We talked about rapid prototyping of digital services which involves building only enough to test your idea, and then going right back to make an improved version once you’ve gotten the feedback you need. Quite timely, I think, as it’s pretty much the approach we’re taking with Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road.

Upgraded my office

I bought a wireless keyboard which means I can have my laptop monitor up at eye height rather than looking down and getting neck and back ache. If I was still writing about being a Digital Nomad I think I’d use this to talk about how people adapt their surroundings to fit their needs and what that means when your immediate environment is more limiting and changes regularly.


I read:

Human-Centered Design Considered Harmful

Donald Norma from NN Group writes about how Human-Centred Design can be harmful when it causes designers to create for a single idealised user and so excluded others. I’ve been thinking (a little) about how the approach of designing for the extreme user and so including everyone else might work in practice. And when I say design I don’t mean ‘what a web page looks like’ (although that is part of it also), I mean how we design systems and structures and organisations to work for everyone.

Computers and Creativity

This wonderful essay by Molly Mielke, a product designer at Notion, asks the question, “How can we push digital creative tools to their full potential as co-creators, thus harnessing the full power of creative thought and computational actualization to enable human innovation?” This idea is interesting to me as I’ve been studying digital media and how it affects creativity.

Welcome to the Experience Economy

The experience economy is where commercial activities move to beyond commodities, products and services. Pine says that the difference between service and experience is how the customer regards their time. When they are accessing a service they want it to be convenient so they spend as little on it as possible. But when they engage in experiences the customer wants to make the most of their time, and will pay more for it. I wonder if the same thinking could be applied to how charities approach how services are delivered?

Speed as a habit

I believe in speed. For the advantage it offers in almost all situations, and for the tendency towards taking action and getting fast feedback that it brings. In this article is Dave Girouard talks about how, “All else being equal, the fastest company in any market will win“. Speed of decision-making is the main topic the article covers, including some of those anxieties we tell ourselves exist as reasons not to make decisions, things like dependencies, perfect knowledge, and understanding impact, all things that apply if the default decision is to not make a different decision anyhow, we just choose to ignore it.

Weeknotes #242

What I did this week:

Rescope and replan

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

Agile Project Management

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

Revising convergence

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

Writing day notes

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

A few things I thought about this week:

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

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

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

Oblique strategies for alertness

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

What does it mean to be a product-led charity

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

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

Some stuff I read this week

Where do good ideas come from

Chance favours the connected mind.

New product development body of knowledge

All the right answers.

OCVA Digital Needs Survey

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

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