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.

Weeknotes #241

What I did this week

We lost our way

One of the products I’m working on, that was meant to be an MVP, has grown in size and complexity that it’s now impossible to deliver it by the deadline. I’ve mentioned a few times about keeping things simple, that we should be building a minimal viable product but I didn’t do it well enough to keep the team focused. I dropped the ball. And now we have thirteen days to get it back on track and delivered.

A couple of other projects, on the other hand, are progressing nicely and will provide some really useful learning.

Agile education

This week’s Service Design course assignment was to conduct some research to help design a service for remote learning. My research led my thoughts to Agile Education. I want there to be more to Agile in education than just Scrum in a classroom. I don’t know how the course assignment might develop and whether the idea of Agile education might affect the service design, but its something I definitely want to learn more about what it could be.

What’s the difference between a roadmap and a delivery plan?

I wrote up my thoughts on the difference between a roadmap and a delivery plan, including the difference of logic each applies. It made me think about creating a product for creating goal-based roadmaps and options for achieving the goals.


What I thought about

Divergent and convergent thinking

It’s easy enough to say we’ve finished the Discovery phase and now we’re moving into the Definition or Design phase, but changing mindsets and approaches to thinking is much harder. Moving from using divergent things when doing discovery work to convergent thinking required for design and definition work is much harder. How do you know if you’ve done it? Or if you’re still thinking creatively, coming up with ideas, exploring in a non-linear way? It isn’t easy to check your own thinking. So changing project phases is fine, but we need better communication about what that change means for our ways of thinking too.

What shouldn’t be in a digital strategy?

Ross asked the question, “What shouldn’t be in a digital strategy?” which sparked lots of discussion about what strategy is or isn’t.

I wonder if one of the hardest thing about strategy is that it means lots of different things to lots of different people. Thinking strategically is seen as a positive management trait but without any clear definition of what that means within a particular organisation. And there’s a difference between a strategy and the strategy. Maybe when people talk about the strategy they often mean the document that explains a strategy the .

What’s the purpose of a strategy, what problem does it solve for the organisation? If it is used to set direction, describe where to play and where not to play, achieve organisational alignment, etc., then it should contain what achieves that purpose. So perhaps the answer to Ross’ question is that there isn’t anything that shouldn’t be in a strategy. If having that piece of information or this level of detail helps to solve the problem that having a strategy is trying to solve, then it should be included.

How to course correct

Plan continuation bias is the problem of carrying on with a plan even as it becomes riskier and less certain to succeed. Those experiencing it find it hard to recognise and do anything about it. How might we avoid this? Talk about the plan – get other’s thoughts and feedback long before you get too far into the plan, preferably people who aren’t involved in the plan. Step back – look at other options even before you need to, be critical of your own reasoning and reasons. Don’t ignore new information – take anything new on board, try not to ignore it. Be ok with change – tell yourself it’s ok to change your mind, do something differently, and that changing a plan isn’t a failure of the first plan.


What I read this week:

Digital service to strategy

I read Bobi’s article ‘How to move digital teams from service to strategy‘ (not just because I’m mentioned in it, because it’s really interesting). One of the things I like about, and where some of my thinking is also going, is that it suggests that the usual approach to digital transformation of running an 18 month project with an end date should be replaced with digital evolution where an organisation take steps that work for them to figure out what being a digital organisation means to them. Digital transformation should look different and be unique to each organisation. That’s kind of the point with digital, it can handle variability in ways that our old mechanistic thinking and systems couldn’t.

Thinking systems: how the systems we depend on can be helped to think and to serve us better

This paper describes “methods for understanding how vital everyday systems work, and how they could work better, through improved shared cognition – observation, memory, creativity and judgement – organised as commons.” I’m reading one of Mulgan’s books on Social Innovation for my dissertation so this paper by him caught my eye. His ideas on how the collective shared intelligence of the system should be organised as a commons so that the data is more open and usable to make systems visible and graspable look really exciting.

Trauma-informed approaches

I reread “Trauma-informed approaches: What they are and how to introduce them” from NPC and did a bit more reading around the subject of trauma. Most of the literature talks about the services charities and health services provide to people dealing with things like drug addiction and domestic violence, and I couldn’t find anything about how to use trauma-informed approaches in organisational design and management.

68% of the charity sector workforce is female. 80% of all women have been publicly harassed, and 97% of 18-24 year old women sexually harassed. That’s a lot of people dealing with traumatic experiences everyday at work. So, how do we make our organisations trauma-informed? Some of the key principles for trauma-informed approaches include: recognition, resisting retraumatisation, cultural, historical and gender contexts, trustworthiness and transparency, collaboration and mutuality, empowerment, choice and control, safety, survivor partnerships and pathways to trauma specific care. I wonder how we might use those principles in how organisations manage their staff, how teams work together, and how people treat each other. Maybe the answer is that we shouldn’t have to, that society should be fairer and not misogynistic. But until that happens there must be more organisations can do.

Weeknotes #239

This week I did:

Where to invest in capabilities

I started working on a big new project that is due to go live in a couple of months. I was brought in to product manage the automation work and it’s been really interesting to get into the problems that exist with the manual processes and figure out how we can use automation technology to improve them. I’m keen that we use tools that can help us learn about automation is ways we can use in the future.

The usual, ‘a roadmap isn’t a delivery plan’ conversation came up again this week. I think the best type of roadmap for us at the moment would be one that suggests where to invest in capabilities, be that building up existing capabilities such as digital delivery or developing new capabilities in self-serve learning.

This is how high-speed project initiation goes: Mon – Opportunity to trial a new product comes up, Tue – Proposal approved & budget allocated, Wed – Put team together & wrote implementation specification, Thu – We wrote design & user research plan, and Fri – Agreed the delivery plan. One of my colleagues remarked that it was a good example of what we want to achieve by having cross-functional teams that can come together quickly to achieve something and disband when they’ve done it.


Thought about:

Organisations of Theseus

The metaphysics of identity have been questioned back to 400 bc by Plato and Heraclitus, and by many more thinkers since. The question is expressed by the story of the ship of Theseus which throughout it’s journey has every plank and rope replaced. So the question is, is it the same ship at the end of the journey as it was at the start?

The same question can be put to an organisation going through change. If all of the processes, people, branding, even the name, change over time, is it still the same organisation? There is lots of talk about strategy and culture for organisational change but not so much about identity. Perhaps organisational identity is tied to more intangible things, things like purpose, values, place in society. But these can change too.

Everyone agrees organisational change is hard. It’s hard to make happen, hard to deal with when it is happening, and hard to accept when the results aren’t what we want or expect. Maybe Heraclitus would have said that organisations are always changing, and and such never had a fixed identity anyway. I wonder if organisational change would be different if rather than talking about changing the old, we talked about building anew.

Out of business

It is not a charity’s job to put itself out of business. I’ve heard a few people say that it is recently. I completely disagree. A charity is way more that just a means of tackling a social issue, with the expectation that it should be disbanded once it has achieved . Over the life of a charity it builds up a wealth of expertise and capabilities, hard won in many cases as charities deal with all kind of difficulties, and to throw of that away when the social issue has been resolved is extremely wasteful. If a charity solves the issue it has been working on, or the need goes away or changes, charities should be able to pivot towards a different issue. They should also be able to point themselves at different problems than what they we’re originally set up to do and contribute to a different cause. I know this is a difficult because of the mindset and legal structuring of charities, but I can dream.

Daynotes

I had an idea for a product to encourage daily self-reflective microblogging. You’d sign-up and set-up your URL, select a template for your posts, and the time of day you’d like to write, and then you get a an email everyday to remind you to login, answer the questions on the template and post it. Each template might have three questions like ‘What went well today?, What didn’t go so well?, What could you do differently in the future?’. Now I just need someone to build it. (Of course the first thing I do is go looking for a domain name to buy…)

Individual, team, organisation

Andy Tabberer’s questions about teams always get me thinking. “I believe in a type of citizenship at work, on teams, that carries both rights and duties. Getting the balance between those two is the hardest bit. What do you think?”, he says. Well, I think it’s pretty complicated. Citizenship in the public sphere is between the individual and the state, one-to-one relationship, easy. But within an organisation there are three elements at play; the individual, the team and the organisation. So there’s relationships between individuals and other individuals, both in and outside of the team. Then there’s a relationship between the individuals and the team, and other teams, and the organisation. And teams have a relationship to other teams, and to the organisation. There’s a lot going on there. And all of those entities have rights, which differ depending on which other entity they are interacting with, and duties towards all the other entities too. Citizenship requires rights and duties, but it also needs a public space, “a shared space for discussion of values and ideas, and development of public opinion” (Habermas, 1964). I wonder if that kind of space can exist within organisations, which makes me wonder if citizenship can exist at work.

What is value?

I’m gradually reaching the conclusion that ‘value’ is purely a construct and doesn’t exist outside of that contextual agreement. Anything that someone says is ‘value’ (revenue, cost saving, time, knowledge) is just a representation of something else that they consider valuable, but that thing thing is just another representation, until the value disappears into nothing. So, what then, do we mean when we talk about organisational value? Maybe we mean it to mean outcomes but we talk about it in terms of outputs. I’m not sure. More thinking to be done.


This week I read:

Standups

The idea of standups as short regular meetings that help teams stay coordinated is a ritual that has grown out of Scrum and adopted by all kinds of teams. Jason Yip’s Patterns for Daily Standup Meetings is the ultimate reference material for everything you could want to know.

Rise of the humans

I think lots of the bigger charities are thinking about how automation how help them be more efficient (some of my work involves automation solutions for things like updating our CRM, setting up meetings, communicating with people). Ben Holt’s post on whether the British Red Cross make people happier and deliver better services by working with machines provides some interesting insight into

Responsible Use of Technology: The Microsoft Case Study

This whitepaper from the World Economic Forum on the responsible use of technology goes into how Microsoft uses tools and processes that facilitate responsible technology product design and development.

Building a copy collaboration workflow

Content is always where websites (and website build projects) fall down. This post from Ditto has some useful advice on creating a workflow for website copy.


And some people tweeted:

Digital skills change

Think Social Tech tweeted, “A thread 1/10: A brief review of research/literature on digital skills and support needs in social sector“. This is now the go-to thread for all the resources on digital change in the charity sector, including this report on Charity Digital Journeys. It’s so important that information like this is collected together and shared because those charities would would probably benefit from it the most are the least likely to even know it exists.

Digital isn’t (just) a channel

Daniel Fluskey tweeted, “Fundraising will need a mix of events – virtual, real, digital, traditional.

  1. Start with what your supporters want
  2. Choose the right event for the right audience – square pegs in round holes don’t fit
  3. Don’t get overwhelmed, you don’t have to do everything!”

Could there be a more digital-thinking tweet that isn’t about digital? I read that as, ‘start with user, meet their needs, work in small batches. That is as fantastic example of digital thinking applied to fundraising.

The 3 A’s of professional learning

John Miller tweeted, “Professional learning should hit all 3 A’s :

  1. Actual – relate to the real world. Practicality.
  2. Academic – theory and research behind the learning.
  3. Aspirational – what could be better by applying the learning. Inspire positive change.”

This seems like a better approach than the 70/20/10 thing, which I think assumes too much about knowledge existing and being shared. John’s approach . The Actual part says to me, ‘learn by doing’, which is essential when in new and changeable situations. Including an academic aspect is important. This doesn’t have to mean ‘scholarly’, it just means ‘read books and take notice of all the existing knowledge from people who have done it before’. Aspirational closes the loop (and I’m a big fan of loops). It says that we should learn about learning in order to improve how we learn and what we apply to the practical learning opportunities.

Reading list

I tweeted, “30 things I’ve read recently about AI, business value, design, remote work, resilience, leadership, innovation, maps, product teams, personas, digital media, cyber security, purposeful careers, organisational change, literacy & complexity.” It followed on from a few discussions about learning digital skills so I thought I’d try to get into the habit of sharing my reading list for the week. As I don’t have any knowledge of my own, maybe people can benefit from me sharing other people’s knowledge.

Weeknotes #238

This week I did

Problem-focused

It’s easy to leap to solutions without understanding what the problem is that you’re trying to solve. This week was busy with trying to get an understanding of what problems we’re actually trying to solve with the products we’re being asked to build quickly for projects with tight timelines. I heard someone say (on a podcast, I think) ‘make the right things to make things right’, and it stuck with me. I also talked quite a bit about us trialing products purely with the intention of learning. I feel like we have lots to learn, so the sooner we start the quicker we’ll figure out the things we need to in order to help young people get effective training online.

Does digital creativity differ from non-digital creativity?

I finished my assignment ‘Does digital creativity differ from non-digital creativity?’ Spoiler: It does. I’ve learned about lots of interesting things in this module, and for this essay, about digital media. I’d really like to have time to go back over some of the ideas and write blog posts about them but that’s going to have to wait until after my dissertation is finished.


I read:

Digital Scotland Service Standard

The service standard aims to make sure that services in Scotland are continually improving and that users are always the focus. I like the idea of service standards. Although they seem quite aspirational and a little immature at the moment with few real-life examples of how standards have been implemented effectively, they are a great way to help others understand what it means to be ‘digital’. I know it’s a very different thing, but the standard that explains how to manufacture a bolt is very specific about measurements, tolerances, etc., but maybe it that’s just my understanding of the word ‘standard’, which isn’t the point here. The point is that even though some of the standards in the Digital Scotland Service Standard feel a bit context specific, overall it’s brilliant.

Climate impact of digital

Don’t watch this video 😉

Our digital world

I feel Like, Swipe, Click, Repeat & Change by Peter Trainor and New Public – For Better Digital Public Spaces complement each other and should be read together. One is about the effects social media sites have on us and the other is a about creating better digital spaces.

Reading list

My notes contains lots other things I’ve read this week.


And thought about:

Measures of influence

I had a thought that maybe a measure of influence is how many times someone has to say something for people to take notice of it. I could repeat the same message time and time again and no one would take any notice, because I have low influence. Seth Godin says something once and thousands of people listen to it, because he has high influence. On a smaller scale, it might be an interesting way to measure your influence at work.

Play jazz

After some conversations with Jonathan Holden on Twitter, I’ve been thinking a bit about how our use of militaristic (and so masculine) language relates to our mental models about work and groups of people organised to achieve common goals. Do creative/artistic endeavors offer a better way to think about it? Musicians can play alone, in perfectly in-sync large orchestras, and improvising in jazz bands.

Affordances and proto-affordances

I’m intrigued by the idea of affordances. An affordance is an object’s sensory characteristics which imply its functionality and use. The idea allows designers to “design for usefulness by creating affordances (the possibilities for action in the design) that match the goals of the user“. It seems like the missing gap between what a product is intended to achieve for a user and the design of the user interface.


Some people tweeted:

Positioning product management

Scott Colfer tweeted, “What do product managers like? No, not Venn diagrams. Quadrants! This one shows the range of what product management can look like (in my experience). Helps me when someone asks ‘how do I become a PM?” It’s a really useful way to think about how product managers move around in there role on the axis between tactical and strategic, and between generalist and specialist. So at the daily stand-up a PM might be a tactical generalist talking about UX decisions for a web page and later that day might be acting as a strategic specialist on the digital safeguarding.

Tweet-Syllabus: Prioritization 101 ⏱

Nick deWilde tweeted, “The most successful people I’ve met aren’t the ones who work the hardest. They are the ones who prioritize the right things to work on. These 7 concepts & resources will help you decide what to prioritize in your work and life” I found this interesting because I’ve been thinking about what we really mean when we casually talk about prioritisation for a few weeks. I’m not convinced by some of the tweets, for example that value is only measured by money, but the one about how every system has constraints and that when projects put pressure on a constraint it causes chaos is interesting. Considering bottlenecks in that way helps us think about the knock-on effects rather than just that one constraint in isolation.

Remote work research

Eat Sleep Work Repeat tweeted, “A lot of people saw that viral thread about remote work last week, chock full of unattributed opinion claiming that the office ‘was over’. Let’s try and use some evidence… what does published research tell us about what’s going to happen to our workplaces?” It’s interesting how the pendulum of remote working has swung between ‘the end of the office’ and ‘get back to normal’ and is finding the middle position between home and office. It’s also interesting how much of the discussion about the future of work centres around the location of people. Is that really the most important aspect about effective working, or is it just because its the most obvious and easiest thing to talk about it?

Weeknotes #237

This week I did:

Three teams together

I’m working with three different development teams to build the product we’re working on. The web application dev team using Kanban to mange their work as they have a lot of uncertainty to deal with, the CRM dev team use Scrum as it gives predictability, and the infrastructure dev team are more waterfall as they need to fit our work in with other work, and yet we’re all working well together. It shows for me how little the framework actually matters, and that what’s important is the principles that all the frameworks try to achieve; coordination and communication. Whether that is achieved through talking to each other or writing documents, the end result is the same.

Charity reserves

Our first Finance & Risk board meeting of the year with Bucks Mind focused on investment and updating our reserves policy so that it’s fit-for-purpose as the organisation grows. We also discussed trustee responsibility for charity assets, the biggest and most important of which is the reserves. Debra Allcock Taylor tweeted about how important but difficult it is for charities to build up reserves and make investments. Investment is an area I know very little about so need to figure out what I need to learn and how to learn it.

Media convergence and sharing economy

This week’s lecture was on how media convergence led to the sharing economy, the ideological foundation of collaborative consumption, the drivers for the growth of large sharing economy firms, and the impact of the sharing economy on society, cities and work. It’s interesting to see just how different the sharing economy is from the traditional economic approaches and to think about how it could be better leveraged by charities.

Result

I received the results of the two modules I studied last term. I scored 73 and 70, which puts me on target for getting a distinction with the least amount of effort. Two more modules and dissertation to go.

People-centred design process

Signed up for this Service Design course. A lot of the solution work I do is figuring out how to make product and service work together so hopefully this will help me understand service design better and bring better practice to our work.


I read:

Leadership in a time of crisis

This article lays out what the charity sector needs from its leaders during this time of crisis. There is nothing to disagree with in that Leesa has written, there is some good advice for leaders, but I wonder if we still tie up leadership too closely with seniority and authority. I wonder if the senior authoritative figures of the sector are the ones to solve this crisis. And I wonder if distributed power networks might offer a better chance. Slightly connected, I read Three Problems of Power which talks about how relying on leaders to solve problems often stops others from doing so.

How to be a good stakeholder

Andy Tabberer wrote this fantastic piece for anyone who is a stakeholder (which is everyone, we’re all somebodies stakeholder). It offers helpful tips for anyone who has some responsibility and accountability for a thing being successful but doesn’t actually directly contribute to its success, but it does a lot more than that. It flips the idea of stakeholders as those who should be served and have their expectations managed, into being more a collaborative and cooperative part of team. It says that in order for whatever is being built, and those building it, to be successful, the power relationship between the owner (for want of a better term) and the maker should be one trust, empathy, interest and challenge, among many other things. And stakeholders should develop this as a holistic mindset rather than as atomistic behaviours.

Edgar Schein’s Anxiety & Assumptions: Powerful Ideas On Culture

This is a really interesting essay on organisational culture, how it’s often talked about but not often thought about critically. It talks about how Schein said that the culture of a company emerges and solidifies in two ways: Positive problem-solving processes and anxiety avoidance, Understanding organisational culture seems like a prerequisite for understanding an organisation’s culture. Which, in an ‘optimise globally rather than locally’ vein is important for how a team fits and works within an organisation. I’m inclined to think that organisational culture that holds capabilities is a good thing in stable times but that in times a change an organisation needs to be able to shift the focus of its capabilities to its people in order to transform. So, one of my focuses is building up the team I’m part of so we are really high-functioning so that the organisation is able to change.


And I thought about:

Measures incentivises behaviour

Bullying is being highlighted as an issue in the charity sector that indicates further the crisis the sector is in. It’s a complex problem. People make their own choices about how they behave and how they treat others, but their choices are a result of the systems they exist in and the measures that incentivise their behaviour within those systems. This applies as much to the cultural systems that affect how we perceive masculinity, leadership, authority, seniority, etc., as much as it does to work systems and organisational cultures If we want to fix problems like this we need to improve the system, and we do that by changing the measures.

Prioritisation vs sequencing

Prioritisation is ‘this not that’. Sequencing is ‘this then that’. We often say we need to prioritise work when really we mean we need to sequence the work.


And some people tweeted:

You and me both

Joe Jenkins tweeted, “Love this idea of ubuntu – how can one he happy when others are sad It is here we find the core of humanity – let us never be fooled that people are inevitably selfish or individualistic; we are social animals, built for connection, collaboration and compassion“. The neoliberal idea of the individual as always prioritising their own needs first is very limited and limiting. Other ways of considering people as part of a community

Discovery Alpha Beta Live

Richard Pope tweeted, “Who’s been working on what eventually replaces discovery-alpha-beta-live process in digital gov? Much that it is good for, and much good that has been done, but feels increasingly dated. Inability to identify shared capabilities, data, standards and system change needs examining.” The point he makes, and many of the replies discuss, are that processes that rely on understanding the problem up front aren’t always appropriate for solving complex and emerging problems.

What is a user story?

Karri Saarinen tweeted, “We don’t write user stories. They’re unnecessary and slow down the team.” Whenever anything gets ‘named’ it gets confused. Using the term ‘User Story’ can mean many things to many people. For some it’s only a user story if it adheres to the ‘As a..’ structure. We’ve had discussions at work about what level user stories should be written at. Should they be at the task level as Karri does or at the level of distinct value for the user? Ultimately, whatever the format, the purpose is to communicate asynchronously, which means they need to be interpretable.

Weeknotes #236

What I did this week:

New development team

We were joined this week by a new team to support some product development work. It’s been great seeing them quickly learn about what we’re trying to achieve and what progress we’ve made so far, and I’m really looking forward to working with them as they accelerate over the next few months. It’s an interesting skill set for a team to have.

Crossing boundaries

Products built to be used within the boundaries of an organisation don’t work well when they are used to cross those boundaries and allow people from within to communicate with those outside. I wrote abut it a while ago, and the same challenge rose again this week. Products like Microsoft Teams have lots of assumptions built into them about how users are related, and most of those assumption include that everyone knows who everyone else is, that they are bound by the same rules, and that collaborative working relies of openness and transparency. This kind of still holds true for Teams Education where it’s used in schools as the teachers and the students still all belong to one organisation, but the assumptions break down from there and really doesn’t work when some of the people are part of the organisation and some aren’t. It’s an interesting problem.

Innovation management

I’ve been working on my dissertation proposal around how charities approach innovation management. The proposal is only two thousand words but it has required many days worth of reading to get to a point of being able to write a few paragraphs. It’s interesting how helpful it has been in structuring my thinking and I see parallels with things internet writers say about note-taking and how writing is just an expression of the thinking. And it’s interesting how the purpose of the proposal isn’t communicated like that but rather as task to be completed with the suggestion that those that don’t will most likely fail their dissertation.

A capabilities approach to digital transformation

I often think that digital transformation efforts in organisations often fail because they are treated as projects and so utilise the usual processes, whereas what is really needed is to break away from existing process and develop new capabilities in people.


Some things I read this week:

Retrospective and reflection

This is a fantastic write-up on a charity digital team and work.

How digital in the charity sector has changed over the last 20 years

A brilliant look back over what’s changed in digital at charities over the last twenty years.

Building an Idea Factory

Economic theory and its capacity to comprehensively explain the presence of non-profit organisations in society

Although the non-profit sector may seem like an area which defies analysis by the field of economics, there are in reality a wide range of insights which economic theory can offer to explain why a multi-billion dollar third sector has sprung-up and flourished in today‟s global economy.


Some things I thought about:

Neo-liberalism and individualism in a post-COVID world

How society became as individualistic as it is through the influence of a neo-liberal ideology, which depending on what you choose to believe may have been because it’s easier to control individuals than it is a coordinated collective, and how the pandemic may or may not have caused some upset in the notion that individualism is the desirable state for everyone and that perhaps more collective ways of acting in society seems like a fascinating topic to me. I wish I had time to study into it.

How YouTube changed video as a cultural expression

It used to be that watching videos or movies had narrative, they told a story, and held certain cultural significance because of it. Now we regard videos as separate but related objects in a database of videos. These items lack the same narrative. You can go from watching someone playing a video game to watching a music video to watching a compilation of clips from a TV show, all without any cohesiveness to your experience. This is big change in how moving pictures express our culture. There is less cohesion but more diversity. Less of a dominant archetype to story telling and more interjections and immediacy.

What it means to be a product manager

I have a few different ways I try to explain what I do as a product manager depending on who I’m speaking to. Sometimes it’s about problems and solutions, sometimes its about interface, integrate, iterate, sometimes it’s rambling about technologically mediated relationships between people in need and people with something to give. Anyway, I started trying to map all the things that make up the role of a Product Manager, the skills, characteristics, qualities, tools, techniques and methods. I have no idea why, other than to try to improve my own understanding, and I have no idea what sense it might make or not, but sometimes just the act of trying to map something reveals what you couldn’t see before.


Some tweets I saw:

How did you get started working in the charity sector?

Richard Berks tweeted, “Charity folks – how did you get started working in the sector? What was your first job? Did you fall into it or was it always part of the plan?” The stories of people now working in the charity sector, the different jobs they’ve done, the paths they took to end where they are, are just amazing. We did a quick team-working exercise earlier in the week that had people revealing stuff about themselves that they normally never would have. How we be more human in remote digital work is something important to figure out.

Getting into public speaking

Lesley Pinder tweeted “Planning at the very last minute an impromptu session on Monday for colleagues who might be interested in speaking at a sector event or conference but don’t know where to start or if they’ll have anything interesting to say. What would your tips be for people to new to speaking?“. Lots of useful advice about doing talks. It’s also interesting to me because I’ve been thinking about bringing lessons in public speaking, how successful YouTubers edit videos, and emerging practices from online education together to see how we might be able to change the way we deliver training sessions. I’m pretty certain that sitting down and staring at a camera isn’t very engaging. There must be more to online learning than this.

Dealing With Complexity

I found this via a tweet from someone but I can’t remember who. The six ways to make sense of complexity: be curious, deal with ambiguity, see with several lens, experiment, broaden your knowledge circles and share your work, and see these essential thinking skills for the 21st century. The post has links to more really interesting posts about leadership, learning and sense-making.

Weeknotes #235

This week I did

Stop everything, I’ve got an idea

We kick off development on a new product next week. We’ve been really busy getting everything ready for the development and testing teams. We’re on schedule and things are looking good. But I have a concern that one of our tech choices is taking down the wrong route. When a product choice causes as many problems as it solves it’s time to consider not using it. Especially as solving all those problems requires even more technology and cost. I have an idea of how to fix it, so we’ll see how well that goes down next week.

Start some more

We started three new projects this week. One is about using an existing product in a different way to get some more value out of it, another is moving an old product onto new infrastructure and integrating it with a newer product to get the benefits of both, and the third is a big one that will allow us to provide opportunities to young people in ways we’ve never done before. It’s going to be a busy year.

Digital for charities in a post-digital world

We live in a post-digital world, a world where digital is so much a part of our everyday life that it is no longer viewed as extraordinary. Charities have a long way to go to be keeping pace in a post digital world, but that shouldn’t stop them from developing their

Innovation management in charities

I’ve been refining my dissertation proposal and have shifted from innovation models used to charities and charity sector agencies to innovation management practices in charities. It feels more focused and there is more established literature to compare how charities manage innovation activities.


This week I read

Humanitarian Innovation

I read this really interesting Literature Review for the Humanitarian Innovation Ecosystem. Well, it’s interesting if you’re a charity innovation geek like me, otherwise it’s probably a bit boring.

How will AI affect charities and digital?

This brilliant piece by Rhodri Davies about how artificial intelligence will affect charities is a great intro for starting to consider how charities might use AI and how the use of AI might affect a charity’s beneficiaries. I think more charities should be doing that kind of future thinking.

Consider charging for your services, charities urged

This piece from nfpSynergy suggests that charities should consider charging for their services. The article acknowledges that it’s a controversial suggestion, but really, should it be controversial? The article says, “It is a false dichotomy to assume that doing good has to be paid for by somebody other than the recipient of that good”, and perhaps actually feeds into the savior-complex that assumes that people who need help are poor. But the other side is that many charities do or could offer services in a commercial way to people that could afford to pay, who wouldn’t normally be the beneficiaries who use the service for free.

Charities and politics

The Tech For Good Live podcast this week had an interesting chat about how charities should be involved in politics. One of the points made is that in a perfect world charities wouldn’t need to exist because the state would look after everyone (which I’m not sure is actually true because charities bring far more value to society that just through tackling issues, but that aside…) but given we aren’t living in a perfect world, why wouldn’t the government want to support the charity sector to deal with societal issues rather than having to do it? The point that even different political parties when in power have never made it easy for charities suggests to me that what Weisbrod says about how the charity sector deals with the market failures of the state and that governments always focus on the mean voter that can keep them in power makes a lot of sense.


This week I thought about

Product assessment framework

I’ve been thinking some more about a framework for assessing products, partly because I’ve been doing it a bit at work, but also because it’s something I’d like to develop for charities. There are lots of things that can be considered about a product, and I think the usual ‘compare it to a wishlist of functional and non-functional requirements’ approach isn’t very effective. I’ve been playing around with a kind of ‘zones’ approach where we could start with a PESTLE analysis to consider the big picture of impacts and then moving onto zones that get closer to the specifics of the charity. An example for the Legal part of PESTLE might be, ‘What laws apply?’ ‘What regulations apply?’ ‘What industry standards and best practices apply?’, and then ‘What policies and procedures apply?’. Anyway, it’s another thing I’ll probably never finish.

Journaling

I’ve tried journaling a few times but I never stick with it. It seems to work in helping me feel like I’m proactively reflecting on immediate problems but then I drop it once over that problem and so don’t get any long-term benefits. My latest try involved answering three questions: What went well today? What didn’t go well today? What can I do differently tomorrow? I managed three days.

Measuring for feedback loops

Most measures are linear. Better I think to measure in ways that generate signals when something is changing, which trigger actions to respond to the change. Measuring for the sake of measuring doesn’t achieve very much.


This week people tweeted

Micropayments

Andy Matuschak tweeted, “No one’s yet made a workable solution for web micropayments, but one aspirational design metaphor I like is an electricity meter. I don’t think about running my dishwasher as a transaction with a price and a receipt: I just do things, and I get a bill at the end of the month.” It’s an interesting economic model, to treat access to information as a paid-for utility like electricity. It’s definitely a problem that needs to be solved for the internet but I wonder what consequences it might have, perhaps an information-poverty gap where those that pay for get different information than those that don’t.

Having a strategy

Frank Bach, Lead Product Designer at Headspace tweeted, “What does “having a strategy” mean to you? Is it a vision, roadmap, clear path on how you get from X to Z?” The replies are interesting as you might expect. I have a particularly contrarian opinion about strategy, that the modern would is far to complex and changes far to quickly for any kind of plan that says ‘we’re going to do this and that to get from here to there’. I favour the idea of stigmergy. It suggests that the sending, receiving and responding to signals in the environment might be a better way to respond quickly to change and achieve goals without the need for a centralised plan to follow. Timpson’s offers an interesting example of how it might look in a business context.

Man gets respect on Twitter

In a conversation on Twitter about whether charity staff should be paid well for their work a man who originally thought that giving to charity where the staff were paid more than him felt like he wasn’t giving to the needy, changed his mind and accepted expertise should be rewarded regardless of sector. This is interesting on many levels, first that someone changed their mind on Twitter and received respect for it, including a retweet from Dan Pallotta, and as part of the ongoing conversation about how people view the cost of running charities and paying people who work in charities, and also because of how it connects to other current issues around wages in the charity sector.