Week notes #195

A week of working, walking and writing

Working

Work has been really busy this week. I’ve been doing quite a lot of what feels like ‘translation’ work, digging into configuration settings of various products and then writing recommendations and guidance on setting up and using the products. I’ve actually really enjoyed it (which is good as I have lots more to do) as I get to build mental models about how a product works, which is something I’m really interested in , and I get to write for other people to understand, which is a skill I want to improve.

We’ve also been building a new website, which will probably launch next week. It would be good to get a BCW (that’s Big Chunk of Work. I saw it on a presentation and it amused me) done before we move to reduced hours.

I’m beginning to recognise some of the differences and effects of our completely distributed way of working. Working in an office has more distractions but those distractions often mean getting up from the chair and going to see people, but working remotely means far more time sitting down. This takes a bit of a physical toll but I find its easier to do more focused deeper thinking work, which on turn has a mental toll. The context-switching and social interactions that used to occur in an office environment actually seem quite refreshing now, but back then I longed for more focused time. Basically, human beings are never satisfied.

Walking

I’ve been getting out for short walks each evening, often in time to see the sun set.

Writing

I’ve been working on my essay about the team of the future. I’m not sure how to explain what it actually is I’m doing, which is why I call it an essay, but it’s kind of an imagining of how a really good team would work effectively in a future where they aren’t constrained by our current outdated thinking. I’ve restructured it a few times, but at the moment there are four sections: practices, policies, principles and philosophies, and each has sub-sections that contrast the outdated thinking with new thoughts in deliberately adversarial ways. The section I’ve been researching and writing about this week is called ‘Distributed, decentralised & diverse vs. Command and control’, and talks about how management and leadership thinking that developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century worked for manufacturing but isn’t effective for managing knowledge work. So the team of the future will utilise thinking of management in distributed, decentralised & diverse ways.

And some other stuff

I haven’t had a much time for Twitter, or reading and post links in the Reading section of my website.

I received a grade of 74 for my case study about Amazon’s approach to innovation, my highest grade so far, and definitely helping me keep my average in the merit range.

Week notes #194

This week I’ve been doing this week:

Security and privacy in video conferencing 

I’ve been getting into the detail settings of video conferencing tools to understand how to make them more secure. The two products I’ve been focusing on are Microsoft Teams and Zoom. In some ways they are the opposites of each other with Teams being more security focus and less about ease of use, and Zoom being more about ease of use and less about security. The commonalities are that with both products (along with ever other product in the world) people sign-up and start using them without really understanding how they work and configuring them to meet their use case. For Teams it’s often the organisation’s IT team that set it up how they think they should without finding out how users want to use it. And for Zoom it’s often the end user who uses it without reviewing the default settings. Zoom has over two hundred settings, many of which affect the security of calls, but I bet very few users know that. I might write ‘A charities guide to setting up Zoom securely’ blog post if I get time over the next week.

I’ve also come to realise that in addition to security, privacy is a far more complicated issue to deal with on video conferencing platforms. Every service I’ve looked at, most of which are aimed at business-to-business customers have built-in assumptions that everyone on the call will want to know who everyone else on the call is. They expect that all users should reveal their identity along with a certain amount of personal information (name, email address, phone number, an image of themselves). None of the platforms are built privacy-first with settings to allow different user types to be able to protect or reveal their personal information in different circumstances. In my line of work this is a problem and leads to us having to think of ways around how the video conferencing platforms are built to ensure individual’s privacy.

Minimum viability

I’ve been writing some more discussion posts for future charity. There are lots of interesting questions about the history and nature of charity in its current paradigm that can help us to question what the charity of the future might look like. I wish I had more time to write more in-depth and thoughtful pieces but in the spirit of minimum viability and iterating later I think it’s more important to get a sufficient number of discussion posts live and get out with something bigger.

The bigger things I need to work on are understanding charity law and the regulations around creating a charity so that I can figure out how to launch a minimum viable charity, and then speaking to some people to get feedback on the concept of future.charity and hopefully recruiting them.

Impromptu half-marathon

On Friday evening I decided to go for a jog. I don’t normally run very much, although I’d really like to do more. This jog turned into a 13 mile cross-country run in the dark. It felt so good to be in such a simple situation. There was just me and the path ahead. All I had to do was keep running.


This week I’ve been studying reading:

Amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk logistics

I haven’t really been studying this week, but I have been reading some interesting papers that have become the background of some future.charity discussion posts. Sir Steven Bubb’s History of Charity and Florence Gaub’s Global Trends to 2030: Challenges and choice for Europe. Both gave me lots to think about, one around where our current paradigm for charity came from, and the other about what issues charities might be dealing with in the not too distant future.


This week I’ve been thinking about:

What does it mean to be strategic?

I watched Sophie Dennis’ presentation for FutureSync20 about what is strategy, why it matters, and what good and bad strategy looks like. The witticism of “Amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk logistics” (which was derived from a longer and more useful statement by a United States Marine Corps General) fits nicely with Sophie’s talk. She talks about strategy not being madlibs buzz words nonsense but being a “coherent plan to achieve a goal that will lead to significant positive change”, which seems very logistics focused to me.

It’s interesting to me because I’ve recently written a product strategy for a piece of work and want to run Spohie’s tests on it, and because some of the work I’ve been doing has required me to get into the details of how a product works, which in the eyes of many people is the opposite to being strategic. I don’t subscribe to the duality of strategy/details but that doesn’t mean others agree. It’s an interesting one…

Theory of change and direction setting as you go

I’ve spent a lot of time this week thinking about future.charity and whether setting it up as a minimum viable charity (rather than just a thought experiment) is the right way to go. I keep coming back to the theory of change I wrote which says about coming up with a workable model that has been developed through experiments. I don’t think this can be achieved by thought experiments alone. And if the only way to register as a charity is to be a traditional type of charity then we’ll have to think about whether having the status of a charity is more important than being able to challenge the current paradigm or whether being a different type of organisation might give us more flexibility.


This week people on Twitter were talking about:

After the honeymoon

Laura Martin tweeted about the Phases of Disaster graph that shows how people react to dramatic situations (such as global pandemics). It’s interesting to think that we are only in the heroic/honeymoon phase and that we have a long way to go before we’ve dealt with the emotions of it all. It seems that we have too much focus on the end of lockdown and the expectation that everything will be back to normal shortly afterwards.

I’ve bin everywhere, man

Harry Trimble tweeted about his project to catalogue all the wheelbins in the UK. Twenty years this would have been an art project, with the blurring of art and life, but nowadays it’s an ‘open-data tech side hustle’. Things move on, but not that much.

Digital service for charities

Chris Thorpe tweeted about Service Recipes for Charities, a project to make it easier/possible for charities to share and use each other’s work. It’s a fantastic idea, very charity-as-a-platform, whereby if a charity wants to implement a digital service, such as providing support through online video conferencing, they can take an established practice with all the learnings from other charities, and create that service far more quickly and with less of a need to learn for themselves.

Week notes #193

This week I did:

Investigated MS Teams for Education

I spent some time learning about Teams for Education and whether it might meet our needs. It is very conceptualised around schools, but that might not be a bad thing, even for less formal education as it brings a certain amount of expectation on the part of the student. They already understand that they will be classes at certain times led by a tutor, for example. I think it’s important that we (all) don’t fall into the trap of thinking that we can easily take things like education and learning and simply deliver them through an online platform and expect the same results as when delivered in-person in physical environments.

Some of the thinking I’ve looked into around online education, includes how Massive Open Online Courses suffer from very low course completion rates, the differences in how people respond to live vs. pre-recorded video, how groups work together in synchronous, semi-synchronous, and asynchronous learning, how much individualised support from someone who cares that the student learns well improves learning, and how the concept of learning as education-as-entertainment where students are spoken to as passive consumers of information rather than engaged active learners affects the outcomes. We need to reboot things like education, not just redeploy them via a different channel.

Online video conferencing 

I spent some time comparing online video platforms. One of the interesting things is how much network data they consume when accessed on a mobile phone. Someone using a £10 32gb Pay-As-You-Go top-up could use up a third of their data on a one hour video call, costing them £3. It’s definitely something charities need to consider if they are pushing people to access support via online video.

Nominet worked with some major internet providers to allow zero-rate access to the NHS website, so that people can access important health information during the pandemic. I wonder if it’s a model that could be rolled out to charities working with disadvantaged people.

Time management

The team discussed moving on to reduced hours and how to manage workload when we do. I also thought about what I’d like to do with those extra hours:

  • Complete the Digital Business module for my Masters. 
  • Write three essays for my website.
  • Figure what I want to do with future.charity

All of these involve writing, which is something I want to do much more of and get better at to improve how I communicate ideas.


This week I studied:

Metamodernism 

One of the essays for my website is called ‘Team of the future’ and is about the shift in thinking that teams will apply to be successful in a digital world. Understanding metamodernism and how it underpins the culture of our times is an important part so I’ve been reading, thinking and writing about it. Some of the key themes seem to be around postmodern thinking making greater use of opposites and certainty, and in contrast metamodern thinking accepts greater uncertainty and more options. Understanding how something so pervasive as a cultural paradigm bubbles up into the behaviors of a team is interesting.

Certification

As MS Teams is becoming the dominant workplace platform for many organisation, central to our IT strategy, and a part of collaborative online working, I thought I might learn more about the technical side of how to set up Teams. Of course the interesting part is always the cultural side of adoption and use, which is something I’d like to figure out more about too.

Platforms

I’ve been reading the Platform Design Toolkit, and as a “framework that one can use to envision, develop and rollout platform strategies that mobilize ecosystems”. Given that platform thinking is, or will be, fundamental to every business model (even if they don’t know it yet) it seems useful to understand some of the thinking.


This week I thought about:

Cause-agnostic charity 

Cause is central to what it means to be charity (under traditional thinking). The Charity Commission regulations require a charity to select what type of cause the charity will be focused on when registering to be a charity. But what if there was such a thing as a cause-agnostic charity, one that could point it’s fundraising, service delivery, etc., skills at whatever issues are facing society at the time? It would diversify funding streams as the charity could apply for cause-related funds for the issue they are tackling at the time, and it would cross-pollinate ideas and techniques from different areas of issues.

Product eco-systems for charities

Product development at charities seems stuck in a descending spiral. Charities can’t reasonably commit the resources to develop products that would better fit their needs when there are commercially available products that come close and have dedicated software development teams. This means that as a sector, lots of money is spent buying the same not-quite-right solution again and again. If charities worked together more to create an ecosystem of products for charities, that any charity (our charitable developer, partner organisation, etc.) to use and contribute to, then the entire sector might benefit from products that are more fit for purpose, and having one place to go for solutions rather than having to go through assessment and tendering processes every time. Maybe it’s an extension of charity-as-a-platform, but it’s a hard spiral to get turning the other way.


This week on Twitter people were tweeting about:

Don’t blow up whales

Doncaster council tweeted about a dead whale that washed up on shore in Oregon and then blown up against the advice of experts, and what this can teach us about responding to coronavirus (basically, listen to the experts and stay at home).

Tips on group management for online video

Will Myddleton tweeted about tips for delivering video sessions which I want to write up and keep as some good guidance.

COVID-19 isn’t a black swan

The centre for the study of existential risk at the University of Cambridge said that the coronavirus is not a black swan event and is not an existential risk to humanity. It’s bad, but it was predicted and what it really shows is how unprepared we are as a hyper-connected society.

Week notes #192

This week I was doing:

Product strategy

I’ve been working on a product strategy for a new product. I’m keen that the strategy aligns on multiple levels; helping the programme achieve its goals, improves capabilities across the organisation (Communication, notification, surveying and reporting), and aligning with the technology strategy and roadmap.

Two of the most interesting things I read around product strategy were ‘What is product strategy? and ‘What is good product strategy?’, from which I particularly like Melissa’s description of having a target state and having to work your way across unknown territory from the current state. It fits with our approach to product strategy of moving towards different target states on different levels.

Content and proposition 

One of the products I’ve been working on has changed proposition from being about showcasing real world activities and encouraging young people to sign-up, to providing supportive messaging about how the Trust can help young people and encouraging them to make contact. The new proposition has required the content to be rewritten to be more authoritative and trustworthy. It’s interesting how important content is for a product like this to succeed. 

future.charity

I set up a website at future.charity. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it but it’s going to be some kind of thought experiment about what a charity of the future might look like.


This week I was studying:

Who holds the power in the labour market?

I finished my last assignment for this term. Although my least favourite it was actually quite interesting. My argument was around how liberal market economies were deregulated as a means of trying to increase firm productivity through introducing supply and demand mechanisms to the labour market but failed, resulting instead in firms adopting more low-road human resource management policies to reduce cost and so increase performance.


This week I was thinking about:

Lockdown

Lockdown has become very much part of life. There’s no going out to beaches at the weekend, even going shopping seems like a major mission, and perhaps the hardest thing is not knowing how long it will last. Thinking about my roadmap for this year seems more difficult under such constraining conditions. There are definitely plenty of things I want to do with my website, but I’m not sure that feels like enough of an achievement for a year.


This week people were tweeting about:

Who knows?

I spent almost no time on Twitter this week. A combination of being busy at work, writing my assignment, stuff in my personal life, and Twitter being all about Coronavirus, just made me not bother with it.

Week notes #191

This week I’ve been doing:

Taking action

This week at work we’ve been mobilising our response to the effects of the coronavirus on young people. We launched our Young People Action Plan. Moving fast, changing priorities. 

I’ve been impressed with our leadership team and the level of response they have taken. They could have taken the approach that the current situation is temporary, made the least change possible to continue to deliver services for young people, and waited for it all to go back to normal. Instead they seem to be taking this as an opportunity to rethink and redesign how the organisation supports young people in a digital world. 

Goodbye cruel world

Lockdown started early this week. I spent the last evening of not-lockdown-ness on the beach.

I wonder how other minimalist digital nomads will cope with having to be stuck inside in one place for the next few weeks?

How to create a life roadmap 

I wrote a short guide to creating a roadmap for your life with the aim of helping someone find some focus and direction. It’s a technique I’ve used with a few people and I wonder if it’s something I should write more about.


This week I’ve been studying:

The effects of deregulation of the labour market on the power balance between firms and employees

This assignment is a tough one. It’s on a topic I’m not very interested in, and is in two parts, one of 500 words and the other of 3500 words. To counter my lack of interest I’m being more organised, breaking the work down into small chunks and scheduling them over the next couple of weeks to make sure I finish it before the deadline.


This week I’ve been thinking about:

My life roadmap 

I’ve been considering the future, what’s important to me, reviewing the five principles I wrote x years ago, and asking myself if they are still relevant. It’s a difficult thing to do in such uncertain times but it feels even more important than usual for focusing and making the most of my time.


This week, people I follow on Twitter have been saying:

National infrastructure

Paul Smith tweeted “I’m biased but seriously, Just how good is http://gov.uk?! – Fixing publishing for government was such a good and wise thing. Can you imagine the disarray of outdated and repeated information on those 100’s of sites before? #nationalnfrastructure” 

Government digital teams ‘fix the plumbing’ approach has proved it’s worth.

Week notes #190

This week I’ve been doing:

Trajectories over alignment 

For obvious reasons, it’s been a week involving lots of things changing at a fast pace. We are all adapting to new ways of working, different pressures, and an uncertain future. In the short term, we still need to find ways to support young people and, for the medium and longer term, we need to think about how to be a more digital charity, to deliver services that young people need in ways that fit the world and times we live in. Getting alignment between individuals, teams, objectives at a time of such flux is futile. Instead we should try to have trajectories that mean we are all aiming at the same goal but expect that we will take different routes to get there, and that if things change for a team they don’t become ‘unaligned’ but just change trajectory. My team has been talking about how we do this so that one part of what we’re doing can change without affecting the other parts.

In control

I’ve had a few discussions this week broadly around the same topic of feeling like you don’t own your own schedule and not letting others to set your priorities and focus. It’s a tough cycle to break out of but it’s important for us to feel in control of the things that we can control. I’d say it’s even more important in times like these. 

Digital nomad

I’ve taken the opportunity of remote working to become nomadic. As I can work anywhere, that anywhere might as well be somewhere nice and be different each day. Luckily for me I have no intention of going where people are so I’m also self-isolating whilst getting lots of fresh air, and getting more focus in my work, study, and writing. 


This week I’ve been thinking about:

Redesign over resilience

The coronavirus seems to have greater second, third and so on order effects every day. Organisations of all types and sizes are either shutting down or trying how to continue to offer their services at-a-distance or online. Some organisations are undoubtedly trying to weather the storm and hope that everything returns to normal soon enough. I think that the organisations that manage to step out of crisis-mode and redesign their business model and reshape what they do to deliver value will be the ones that succeed in a post-coronavirus world. It’s day one for these organisations. If you were starting something completely new, how would you go about it to avoid reliance on past ways whilst not being over swayed by reacting against those ways?

Anti-social distancing

Uubs, restaurants, gyms, etc., are being told to close. The British Heart Foundation shut all it’s shops. Office workers are working from home. ‘Social distancing’ is surely going to be added to the dictionary by the end of  2020. Some people have tried to make the point that the term is inaccurate and we should be using ‘physical distancing’ instead to indicate that we need to physically stay away from each other but socially and emotionally become closer. I’m completely behind the idea of ‘social distancing’ (as a way of life, not just a response to a virus), as a means to flatten the curve of infections. It makes me think of Pirsig’s static quality patterns and how social patterns and behaviours have a moral right to overcome a biological pattern (such as a virus). 


This week, people I follow on Twitter have been saying:

Digital support for charities in times of crisis

Lots of people have been working on how to help charities that are being affected by the coronavirus. It’s really good to see people willing to help and the diversity of things they are developing. I think decentralised, distributed help is a better approach than one organisation trying to own it and organise everyone else.

Kylie Havelock tweeted, “Digital, design, and tech folks @cmmonknowledge needs your skills to help support local COVID-19 Mutual Aid community groups across the U.K.

Ross McCulloch tweeted about his zoom call to “help charities think about how they can deliver information, support and other services online using livechat, video and other tech.

Bobi Robson tweeted asking for anyone “interested in helping to share techniques and skills to help organisations pivot at this time” to sign up 

I wonder what problems they are seeing. And what range of solutions they are coming up with. Kylie also wrote about how crisis massively increases cognitive load and even looking in from the sidelines I can see some of the impact having to deal with a drop in funding, not being able to support service users, having to make people redundant, and all the other difficult things charities are dealing with, and affecting the people having to make those difficult decisions. Whilst I absolutely believe that digital can offer some new ways of doing things, I would if us digital people might be guilty of trying to apply known solutions to unknown problems.

The end of capitalism

A few people on Twitter seem to think that coronavirus spells the end for capitalism. Clearly this isn’t going to be the case. Whether you go by the crisis model or cycles model of capitalism, globalisation was a spatial fix to reduce costs. But globalization has issues, such as aiding the spread of viruses, and Digitization seems like the likely next big fix capitalism will apply to counter these issues. If digitization causes a shift from a ‘move the people to the work’ approach to a ‘move the work to the people’, and along with this organisations shift to measuring people by value delivered rather than hours worked, then perhaps we are moving further away from the wage labour basis of capitalism, but probably not the end of it


Quote of the week

It’s digital’s time to shine

“It’s digital’s time to shine; to help people (who are literally stuck) needing help, entertainment and life-saving information… Our digital delivery has arguably never been so important.” 

Joe Freeman

Week notes #189

Things I’ve been doing this week:

Service mapping 

I’ve started creating a service blueprint to help explain how things will work in our new enquiry process, and to give stakeholders some confidence around what will and won’t change. It’s been really interesting to document my knowledge in this way. The next step is to validate my understanding with others.

Show and tell

We did a show and tell of the site so far to demonstrate how the pages will look on mobile devices and how the enquiry form will work for young people. As is often the case, it caused lots of questions from stakeholders some interesting points about how agile ways of working fit in with other ways and expectations. I think there is lots of education and socialisation work to do, which I think is going to be a very cool thing to do.

Remote

I’ve been preparing for shifting to even more remote working and becoming a digital nomad. I bought a bigger inverter to power both of my laptops and have been thinking about the kinds of places I want to work from. It’s completely coincidental that everyone is having to work from home.


Things I’ve been studying this week:

It’s all about the average 

No lectures this week, and no more until next term.

Finished and submitted my latest assignment.

Got a grade of 73 for my last assignment, taking my average to 71.33.


Things I’ve been thinking about:

The fine line

Dispatches aired a documentary about celebrities accepting large sums of money from charities for endorsements. Note that it wasn’t phrased the other way round, as charities paying large sums of money to celebrities for endorsements, that’s because it doesn’t happen. Dispatches even had to make up a fake charity for the programme because no real charity would take part in their dodgy excuse for a documentary. 

Of course, the charity sector was up in arms on Twitter, but the whole thing made me think about how Charities walk a fine line in the modern age. It’s getting harder and harder to be good at doing good.

On one hand they are held to the highest standards, looked to as the moral compass of society, and expected to always make the right choices. And on the other they are expected to achieve positive impact in a complex world where nothing is ever clear, doing good when all the odds are stacked in the favour of forces that increase hate, inequality and harm in the world.

I wonder what would happen if a charity decided to play dirty, and openly said that they’ll do whatever it takes to accomplish their mission regardless of what people think about how they do it?

Marriage problems

I’ve been thinking about how to think about a piece of work we’ll be doing soon. We want to match young people to programmes or mentors or job opportunities, so I’ve been looking into computer science problems that deal with matching data sets.

The stable marriage problem is described as, “Given n men and n women, where each person has ranked all members of the opposite sex in order of preference, marry the men and women together such that there are no two people of opposite sex who would both rather have each other than their current partners. When there are no such pairs of people, the set of marriages is deemed stable”. This is the kind approach I think we’d take with matching young people to programmes as there is a one to one match, on the part of the young person at least.

The stable marriage with indifference extends the stable marriage problem to be able to accept that “a person may prefer two or more persons as equally favorable partner. Such tied preference is termed as indifference.” Adding indifference allows us to match a young person to two or more mentors and two or more job opportunities. We’d then need a mechanism for choosing between them, but I think that could be handed to the young person to put them in control.

I also had a really interesting discussion with someone about what constitutes effective matching criteria. I realised I had a longstanding assumption that matching could be performed on intrinsic factors such as behaviours and personality traits, but actually wherever any matching goes on, such as in dating app and job applications, it’s always on extrinsic factors such as height and location. In practice both these examples also allow the user to decide which of the factors are important to them in making choices. It fascinates me.

Long form content

I’ve been thinking about writing some of my ideas and experiences in a longer form than I do with blog posts as a way of grouping some ideas together and making them more visually interesting like shorthand stories or Kioken Blocks. Some of the things I want to write about are:

  • My experience of applying entrepreneurial thinking to caring for someone with serious mental illness.
  • Flexible working for knowledge workers, not just more people working from home, but how flexibility changes the labour distribution across society, has intangible benefits for organisations such as creating more permeable boundaries between organisations and society, how becoming more flexible organisations need to shift from measuring people by hours worked and use value delivered.
  • Digital Charity, and how it’s not about getting a new website but about how can charities fight back against the weaponisation of digital in society, and making ethical choices about how dirty charities should play in order to achieve impact.

Things people have been tweeting about:

Some virus is a big deal

Twitter is pretty much full of Coronavirus and not much else (much like the rest of society).

Taylor Pearson wrote an article about it. The Exponent did a podcast about it. The UK government had a strategy based around the idea of achieving ‘herd immunity’, then 200 scientists said it wouldn’t work, then the immunologists and virologists on Twitter said that they’d never heard of those scientists and that they didn’t know what they were talking about. Then someone in Japan tested positive for a second time, which further undermines the herd immunity approach. At this stage the only thing that seems clear is that no one anything for sure. I bet my old Zombie Squad buddies are laughing themselves silly about all of this.


Quote of the week:

#Agile

“I tend to describe agile ways of working as “tendencies” that run counter to what might initially be intuitive (to perfectly rational/sane people). Not hard and fast rules. Not a glorified cure-all. Not something you transform to/be/do. Not something you “certify”.”

John Cutler

Week notes #188

Things I did his week:

Product togetherness

We had our first Product Managers get-together to share what we are working on, insights we’ve reached and where we want to take ‘product’ at the Prince’s Trust. 

We discussed product/market fit in the youth education, training and employment space. It’s a complex space with lots of players and very little coordination. Broadly, the providers seem to fall to two camps. Commercial organisations and government provide digital offerings around employability skills and job search but don’t focus on disadvantaged young people, and charities and community organisations that focus on helping disadvantaged young people but don’t have much of a digital offer. This suggests there is a gap in the market for digital provision for disadvantaged young people, but the next question is, is there a need in the gap?

Problem discovery session

I attended a discovery session for one of our major programmes to try to uncover whether there are any barriers to the success of the programme that a digital product could help to solve.There’s more detailed work to be done to really understand the problems that young people face but I think it’s a good way to work as it gives the Product Team a clear role in supporting the organisation. 


Things I studied this week:

Nothing to see here

I didn’t study very much at all this week. Lectures were cancelled again as the lecturers are still on strike, and I didn’t get very much of my assignment done.


Things I thought about this week:

Digital transformation in charities or of charity 

Lara Burns, Digital Transformation at Scouts, tweeted from the Be More Digital conference a slide from Zoe Amar with a list of barriers and blockers to digital transformation in charities. I wasn’t there so I don’t know the context of the slide, but the list seemed to be focused on micro-level things like needing more skills, more data, pushback from colleagues and a lack of strategy. I get that these are all these things are actually barriers to charities being more digital and I can see how they reflect a sense of settling with the status quo vs. facing the future, and I think that maybe charities have always been that way inclined, responsive rather than proactive, but non-digital-ness is frog boiling, with no immediate need to respond to it’s hard for charities to justify change.

The proposed changes in charities often seem to aim for micro-level change in order to have impact at the meso-level, but ignores impact at the macro-level. Maybe this is because charities traditionally have an inward way of thinking and so apply it to the digital transformation when really it requires new ways of thinking that look outwardly from the organisation at its place in the ecosystem.

Should digital transformation thinking be about solving organisational problems? Is that how you sell it within the organisation? Is that why change programmes focus on such small things, because at least it feels achievable? 

I think, in order to be transformational, the thinking needs to be about new ways of thinking and operating in a digital age, new business models that leverage the network and scale made possible by the internet. It needs to ask bigger, outward facing questions about how the charity sector will level-up against the weaponisation of digital to increase inequalities in society.

How deep should product management thinking go?

How much do Product Managers and Teams think about the concepts that underpin their product? So, if the product is about connecting people, how much do/should they talk about what being connected to other people means, types of connection, sense of belonging and community, social graphs, etc It seems there are so many layers of understanding, not just the practices and policies level, but down into principles and philosophies, the histories of ideas, state and market influences, etc. It could be endless, but it could lead to a deeper understanding of the problems our products attempt to solve. How deep should product management thinking go?

Virtuous circle business models 

I’ve been thinking more about Amazon’s flywheel and virtuous circle business models, and how the same concepts could be applied to the charity sector. Whereas the Amazon flywheel has growth in the middle as the thing that increases as the flywheel spins I think a charity would have ‘impact’ (that’s a concept that needs expanding on later). Amazon’s flywheel is explained as starting with customer experience, the thing that if they get right brings more customers, which brings more sellers to their platform, which increases the selection of items to buy, which improves the customer experience. There are a lot of other elements such as delivery times and pricing which affect customer experience, and which Amazon controls in order to ensure the customer experience is how they want it, but it’s those main elements that drive the flywheel. 

How can this be applied to a charity?

At the Prince’s Trust we have six ‘big parts’ to what would make up our flywheel: young people, volunteers, delivery partners, referral partners, hiring businesses, and funders and donors. Currently, in a non-flywheel business model, each of these parts spins independently rather than one driving the other. The more young people we get, the more volunteers and delivery partners we need, but one doesn’t drive the other in the way that Amazon’s flywheel works. So, how can flywheel thinking be applied to a charity? When I figure it out I’ll let you know, but I feel like charities upping their game is a big part of it.

How can it be applied to achieving good in society?

The problem is that in our society there are forces that benefit from increasing inequality, and those forces apply flywheel thinking to further their aims. When armies of Twitter bots promote anti-climate-change messages they affect the motivations of people going about their lives without them even knowing about it and contribute to maintaining a status quo of focusing on short-term economic thinking. Public opinion is one of the elements of the climate change flywheel, so the more it spins in the direction that undermines taking action, the less people take action. Charities aren’t yet digitally mature enough to a) even recognise the weaponisation of digital in society, and b) act in flywheel ways that would interrupt public opinion and cause it to spin in the other direction. So, how can flywheel thinking be applied to achieving good in society? When I figure it out I’ll let you know, but I feel like charities upping their game is a big part of it.


Things people I follow on Twitter were saying week:

Remote working, save us

The increasing spread of the Coronavirus has resulted in lots of charities hurriedly putting their business continuity plans into action, which essentially means figuring out how more of their people can work remotely. The NCVO tweeted their guide, and lots of people are tweeted their tips on how to work from home better, starting with Nissa Ramsay saying things like “Find a good online ex video, buy a WiFi extender plug, and plan video call space where people can’t see your bed/washing hanging up”, and continuing with Ross suggesting “sorting out your ergonomics: make your chair comfy, get a decent mouse & external keyboard if that helps and finding a community on Twitter or Slack team to chat”.

This is interesting to me on a personal level as I increase my remote-working/digital-nomad-ness, and from a ‘complex systems affecting things in unexpected ways’ point of view. Steve Johnson talks about how English coffee houses played an important role in sparking The Enlightenment, and I wonder if the Coronavirus will be instrumental in changing how we work in more digital ways. 

What do 200 charity professionals think the biggest issue facing the sector is?”

Wayne Murray, strategy director at the fundraising agency Audience, tweeted about the results of a survey with two hundred charity professionals. It revealed that the three biggest issues facing the charity sector are relevance, short-termism, and lack of collaboration. It was also interesting to note that many senior leaders submitted their responses to the survey privately, perhaps indicating that they don’t want to be seen to criticise the state of the sector whilst perhaps also being aware that they contribute to the problem. The survey results raise all kinds of questions about how charities can become more relevant to people, government, businesses and to society; whether charities are able to shift from the responsive nature of traditional charity to a proactive future-facing approach that resolves the short term focus issue; and how charities might work towards an ecosystem model that supports collaborative efforts to tackle issues. It also calls into question how we might go about making a change in a complex system like the charity sector and whether these issues can be affected directly or should be approached obliquely to allow for change to emerge. 

Never finish anything

Ben Holliday tweeted a link to his blog post Some thoughts on how to read for work, and the 80:20 principle. I completely agree with the principle of doing just enough to get the most value out of something and not having to finish it. I hardly ever finish anything.

Do you feel lucky?

Jason Yip, senior agile coach at Spotify, tweeted a quote from James Clear, “The way to attract good luck is to be reliable in a valuable area. The more you repeatedly deliver value, the more people seek you out for that value. Your reputation is a magnet. Once you become known for something, relevant opportunities come to you.” It expresses a pattern I’ve seen and used (and intend to keep using) in my role within organisations.

Thinkers and doers

A catalogue of things that are stopping change” by James Reeve and Rose Mortada talks about some of the conflict in government between policy and delivery. “These are very human problems which will be present in any large organisation.”, they say, and it’s easy to see how the problems of individual incentives over team incentives, making decisions with incomplete information, and friction between groups of people with different ideas and values can be found occurring in any sector. I think these conflicts, and so so many more, are a sign of the times. Our society is going through a massive change as we come out of industrial revolution thinking and we’re going to see more clashes between the old and the new.


This week’s quote 

International Women’s Day

“A diverse system is more stable and less vulnerable to external shock than a uniform system with little diversity”

Donella H. Meadows

Week notes #187

This week I’ve been doing:

How things fit together

I had another fantastic week at work. I’m still in ‘discovery’ phase and spent time at the Job Centre to understand how the referral process works, spoke to our CEO about the potential for digital products to  spoke to an Operations Manager to find out more about how programmes are delivered, and listened to the story of a young person who set up her own business with the help of the Prince’s Trust. This, plus all the research reports I’ve read and market analysis I’ve worked on to understand other players in the space of youth training and employment are making progress towards understanding our product/market fit. 

I’m beginning to conceptualise how the Prince’s Trust acts as a ‘connector’ between young people, referral organisations, volunteers, and delivery partner organisations, and how we might think about a product that performs this same role digitally, essentially a ‘marketplace of opportunities’ where young people can be matched to a mentor, volunteers can be matched to schools, and programmes can be matched to delivery partners. The key to this matching is in understanding and meeting the needs of each party to allow them to get the most out of the opportunities. If we think of it as a one-way value exchange with just the young person benefiting we’ll misunderstand the mechanics necessary to make the product achieve scalable, sustainable and impactful results.


This week I’ve been studying:

McKinsey’s disruptive technologies 

No lectures as the lecturers are on strike, but I’ve been progressing my assignment and learning lots about Amazon’s innovation strategy. 

A gallery of disruptive technologies from McKinsey

I’ve looked at how Amazon is involved in eight of McKinsey’s disruptive technologies, from the obvious of AWS in cloud to Bezos’ investments in nuclear fusion and next-generation genomics. Apart from the ‘you really can do pretty much whatever you want when you have that much money’ realisation this brings, I think the most interesting thing I’ve learned is that by contrast, pretty much every other organisation in the world has no idea how to innovate like Amazon. I wonder what we could achieve if we applied a similar approach to innovation in the charity sector?

Some stuff I read this week

  • Changing the NEET mindset – This report from 2014 is about achieving more effective transitions between education and work for young people, especially those that don’t have a clear path. It’s interesting that more than five years later there still isn’t an agreed definition of this segment of young people and that even the classification of NEET starts with what they are ‘not’ rather than what they are.
  • The Basecamp Guide to Internal Communication – Basecamp is one of companies people either love or hate, but regardless they are good at walking their talk, and their guide to how they communicate includes things asynchronous communication methods as a first choice, writing rather than chatting (I’m really interested in this one as I think how organisations manage information and convert tacit knowledge into codified information is increasingly important), and considering how communication interrupts, leads to misunderstanding and needs to be in right place at the right time.
  • Opportunity Mapping Project – The Othering & Belonging Institute’s article on Opportunity Mapping seems to have some interesting overlaps with place-based strategies and thinking about how people are affected by the systems they interact with. 

This week I’ve been thinking about:

Personas

I’ve been looking into personas and how to use them to guide some product development decisions. Some personas for the young people that we work with were produced as part of the research for a programme we’re delivering, but I’m having trouble turning the information in the personas into useful actionable goal-orientated insights. Sophie Dennis from NHS Digital helped loads by explaining more about personas and that I should look into reinterpreting the research. One of the interesting things I picked out was that personas differentiate actual user behaviour, which I take to mean in the case of young people that if persona A is unemployed and persona B is under-employed, but for the purposes of our product they both behave in the same way (which could be looking for a job) then they are really the same persona. I want to learn much more about personas as they are clearly far more complicated than I thought.

I didn’t choose the inequality-systems life, the inequality-systems life chose me.

The Mayday Trust wrote about the current state of homelessness services and how they really aren’t person-led. I think the same challenge exists wherever people interact with systems in society, including charities and health services. The article talks about changing the narratives from systems like these so that people have the freedom to write their own stories. For me, this means moving away from the history that thinks of people that our society consider as non-contributors (mentally ill, homeless, unemployed, etc.) should be subject to control through these systems, and the structural behaviours of those systems that try to ensure people are ‘maintained’ in their state of need and control to ensure the status quo of the system. Removing the control mechanisms, thinking of and treating people as adults with the right to freedom and self-determination, allowing people to develop the self-belief, confidence, resilience, aspirations, etc., that mean they can imagine and create a different future for themselves, all this and more, has to be part of a future society that supports people without controlling them.

Faster Feedback Learning Loops

I watched a video about Strategic Doing which mentioned the 30/30 technique, a way of looking back over the last thirty days to review what you’ve learned and using it to plan what you are going to do for the next thirty days. I’ve been thinking about how to create faster feedback loops for learning (faster than every thirty days) so this seems interesting. Although I like to fluid discovery-type learning that I do, and enjoy the reflective practice of writing week notes, I want to get more disciplined about learning specific things so that I can apply. I’m not sure about the prompts but maybe something like: “What did I learn today/this week? How am I going to apply this learning tomorrow/next week/in the future? What do I need to learn next/tomorrow/next week?” I also feel like I need a system for managing this and making it enforceable, but I haven’t got that far in my thinking yet so I might just try it out in a less formal way for a while.


Things people I follow on Twitter have been saying:

A different way of recruiting

Janet Thorne, CEO of Reach Volunteering, tweeted about experimenting with a different way of recruiting, a way that didn’t ask candidates for a CV or to complete an application, but instead answer three questions. Not having information about where a candidate went to school or which companies they had previously worked for prevented all kinds of unconscious bias on the part of the recruiters and resulted in selecting people better suited to the role and organisation. She didn’t say what three questions she asked, but it left me thinking about what three questions I’d ask.

The future of education

David Perell tweeted about his visions of the future of education, including how course production will have huge budgets and teachers will command huge income, but that education will be cheap and available to any self-motivated learner with an internet connection. I agree that education needs a massive shake-up. Having been a student for a few months I’ve experienced the frustratingly old and un-user-focused way knowledge is protected within inward-looking traditional institutions and education is delivered in achingly non-twenty-first-century ways. The current education could never disrupt itself in ways anywhere near close to what David is talking about. They could take their old mindsets onto the internet but it will take a new mindset to really provide something that meets the needs of users, offers fast feedback loops so users can iterate on their learning rather than being graded on an assignment they wrote months before, co-creating the course content as interesting topics emerge rather than following a curriculum chosen by a single lecturer based solely on what they know, and encouraging variability of points-of-view and ways of learning rather than standardisation and comparison between learners.

Tying product success to user success

Tim Herbig tweeted about measuring changes in user behaviour to understand the success of a product. Measuring the success of changes to a product by whether it changes user behaviour rather than by company KPI’s tells us whether our product is helping user to succeed in what they are trying to do. Tying measurement closely to user behavior in this way, rather than through proxies, helps product managers get a much better understanding of whether the changes they are making to the product are impactful.

Needs and capabilities

In response to the tweet ““Requirements” is my least favorite word in product development. What’s a better one for that clarity around what matters to users?”, Ryan P. McGarvey tweeted about thinking of requirements as “as two sides of the coin as “needs” and “capabilities”.” He explains it as “The user needs to be able to do X. The system is capable of providing Y and Z which satisfy X.” I like this. It seems to parallel on a different level my opinion that product management is about balancing risks and opportunities.

Week notes #186

This week I’ve been doing:

Product/market fit for non-profits

I’ve been working on an analysis of the organisations that have products and services in the young people’s employment space. The offers seem to fall into two distinct groups; commercial organisations with a strong online presence that don’t work with disadvantaged young people, and charity/not-for-profit organisations that work with disadvantaged young people but don’t have a digital offer. I think this gap is where we can provide a well blended experience-focused offer with digital products and services that meet the needs of disadvantaged young people. Of course the high quality face-to-face work will always be where young people get the most value but we can offer always-on, easy-to-access, and most importantly useful ways for young people to make their lives better.

Balancing user experience with data compliance

We’ve been working through wireframes and doing lots of thinking about how to ensure we’re giving young people control and choices about their data and meeting our compliance obligations whilst also giving young people a good user experience that helps them make contact and take the next step in opening up opportunities for themselves.

Design thinking in product development 

I went to a ProductTank Oxford meetup about Design Thinking. It was an interesting talk but I left wondering if I could have learned just as much by watching a few YouTube videos. Going to meetups was part of my personal OKRs to participate in the digital charities community but I’m not sure I’m getting much value out of them. I have a few more meetups over the next few weeks so I’ll see how they go and then decide whether to adjust my key results.

CAST Techforgood’s Coffee Connections

I signed up for CAST Techforgood’s Coffee Connections. Every two months we’ll be matched with someone else from the charity sector and we’ll arrange to meet up and chat about things. Maybe this will be a better way for me to participate in the digital charities community.

Product teams

Completed John Cutler’s survey. Interesting that my answers suggested different levels of maturity/advancement for different things. I guess I had assumed that a high performing team was high scoring in all aspects of their practice but John’s questions suggest to me that teams can be good at some things and not so good at others. 

User manual for me

I finished writing my user manual for me and added to my website. Next I need to find time to add it to RogBot.


This week I’ve been studying:

Profiting from innovation in the knowledge economy

Strategies to profit from innovation:

  • Choosing the appropriate supply chain structure
  • Choosing the appropriate intellectual property protection strategy

In the most complex situations, the innovators that profit the most are those who are able to organize their supply chain most effectively.

Intellectual property rights includes legal instruments that protect innovation from imitation.

Innovation at Amazon 

I’ve also been working on my assignment about how Amazon approaches innovation which I think can be broadly summed up in three parts:

  • Large investments and acquisitions in software and hardware across multiple sectors and industries, spreading their bets and putting Amazon in control of the value chain.
  • Use the new technology that is produced to develop products and services in a wide and diverse range of sectors, ensuring competitive advantage  in almost every sector they enter.
  • Commercialise those products and services, allowing other companies to leverage them, generating revenue and creating network effects.


This week I’ve been thinking about:

Strategic questions about charities

“If a charity could significantly reduce the number of people suffering from an issue by doing something different, but risk no longer having any reason to exist because not many people have that issue anymore, would they do it?” One side of the argument says that charities should always be working to make themselves obsolete by removing the issue they were set up to tackle, but I’m not sure that recognises the additional value charities bring to society other than by tackling issues, things like offering volunteering opportunities. But for me, the point is that if a charity has been so effective as to remove an issue that people facing then they’re likely to have built up a lot of skills, knowledge, influence, etc., and it would be wasteful to disband such a high-performing organisation. It would be better if they changed mission and worked on another issue.

“Can charity’s create truly scalable ‘business’ (for want of a better term) models?” Amazon talks about building ‘flywheels’ within its business that once spinning generate more momentum for other parts of the organisation and are scalable. Uber’s now-infamous virtuous circle napkin diagram of how to make a geographically dense, hyperlocal marketplace work for travel shows how they get each part of the business to drive other parts. Many charities already have these various ‘engines’; volunteers and supporters, customers and stock donors for charity shops, increasingly digital platforms that enable their work (such as the recently launched Dementia Connect) but these are often thought of and managed in very separate ways. Even when people in charities talk about ‘scaling’ services they usually actually mean replicating the service, growing it by adding more of the same so that it increases at a linear rate of 1,2,3,4,5. When a service is truly scaled (by a factor of 2 in this example) it increases non-linearly as 1,2,4,8,16. I think, if a charity ever figures out how to apply this mindset and connect all of the things it does so that they all support the growth of all the other aspects, it will signal an exciting shift for how charities work in the 21st century.

“Do charities look outwardly enough when thinking about strategy?” Most of the strategy work I’ve ever seen from charities has been internally focused. It’s usually about what they’ll do to be the best organisation they can and how they’ll go about doing the work they exist to do. Looking internally is an important part of thinking strategically as strategy is essentially an action plan to achieve long term goals, but if they don’t understand what is going on not only in their sector or area of expertise but also in the lives of the people they are trying to help, then they risk becoming ineffectual and irrelevant. Whilst I’m on the topic, my opinion of the ‘five year strategy’ is, don’t do it. Things will change so much within five years (that’s why charities need to get better at looking outwards at what’s going on around them) that trying to stick to a plan that was written years ago makes very little sense. The argument I’ve heard that having a long term strategy gives stakeholders (staff, beneficiaries, funders, etc.) a sense of stability might have made sense in the past but in the future it’s just putting blinkers on and pretending that you can be the one stable thing in a world of constant change. Better, I think, to say that we recognise that things are going to change, that they are going to keep changing, and that we are going to get good at keeping pace with change.


This week people I follow on Twitter have been talking about:

Prioritisation

Andrea Saez tweeted about prioritising backlogs by what objectives are to be met, what problems are to be solved, what information sits outside, such as market, qualitative feedback & product vision.

Remote retros

Gitte Klitgaard asked what tools people use for remote retrospectives and there were lots of suggestions. I’ve added lots of them into the Compendium of Ideas I’m working on.

Hinton’s Law

Andrew Hinton came up with Hinton’s Law: Any multi-user system that makes it easier to create new information than it is to consume that information will eventually overwhelm its users. He was referring to Slack, but it applies to all communication tools and channels. It’s definitely a challenge for turning the intangible asset of tacit knowledge into codief knowledge that can be used for competitive advantage.