Weeknotes 287

Photo of the week

Did this week:

Month one

I’ve been in my role a month now. Although I don’t yet feel like I’m up to full speed and still have lots to learn, I’ve written my objectives and I feel focused on achieving them. I have a mid-week session with myself to ask, ‘What have you done so far this week to achieve your objectives, and what else could you do?’

Roadmaps.fyi

This week’s side-project was a roadmaps template library. It only has three Notion templates so far but I’d like to add different types of roadmap using different platforms, including Airtable, Google Sheets & Docs, and Miro. This project also made me question a lot of stuff about roadmaps, mostly about how they show certainty and uncertainty.

Continued being irregular

Sent another Irregular Ideas newsletter and gained my eleventh subscriber. This week’s was about accountability and whether people or machines can really be held accountable, and how we might hold systems accountable.

Future skills? I need skills now

I managed to motivate myself to finish the seventh Future Skills email and start the eighth. Of all my projects this has been the longest to get to launch, but I’ll keep working on it and hopefully it’ll all be worth it.

Project ideas coming out my ears

My ‘ship a project every week’ thing is starting to get out of hand. I have three projects I’d like to start this weekend, but will try to be disciplined and only start two. The first is a small community of side-project creators who give each other feedback on things they’re working on. The second is a tweet printing service so you can create stickers out of inspirational tweets. And the third is a charity searching service to find those in your area that offer the support you’re looking for. So obviously I bought some domain names.

Speechless

Most days in January in Wales are a bit wet and cloudy, but one day this week was perfectly clear and sunny so I made the most of it with a long walk along the coast. As I watched the sun go down there was another old guy doing the same and we both looked at each other with a speechless shrug as if to say, there’s nothing to say.

Eyes opened

I joined an Open Makers Community session on Airtable and it completely opened my eyes to how useful Airtable can be and left me inspired to explore how I might use it for some of my ideas.

Thought about:

Digital momentum

I don’t know if it’s just my little bubble but recently it feels like the digital transformation of the charity sector is picking up momentum. I see it in conversations I have with people, the things I read on Twitter, the number of people there are out there providing support for smaller charities. I wonder if others see it too.

The downsides of the great reset

The Great Reset, as it’s been updated to when we realised the The Great Resignation might not be factually true, represents the greatest shift in power between workers and employers since the labour movements and unionisation of the 1980’s. But whereas the proponents of remote working speak about it only in terms of the power shifting in favour of the workers, I think we’ll see a counter shift for those workers who can’t do their jobs remotely to where they have even less power.

The argument for modern knowledge workers having more power is that it is becoming skills that are the prize, not time and availability. Whereas employers used to hold more power because they could use physical location as a means of control, now the highly skilled workers can more easily change companies without it impacting on their lives, because they are still working from home.

At the other end of the scale are the “low-skilled” workers who are increasingly having their working lives ‘app-isized’. This means that those working as delivery drivers, care assistants, etc., interact with their employer through an app where the first person to accept a request gets the work. This seems like it makes work more convenient, but it results workers never communicating with other workers and takes away the opportunity for coordination that is required for action such as increasing wages. Employers distributing work through an app can drive down how much they pay for that work because every employee knows that if they don’t accept it someone else will, and they’ll be left with nothing.

So, whereas technology is shifting power in favour of those workers who have jobs society considers to be “high-skilled”, it is shifting power away from those who have the “low-skilled” jobs. I think we’ll look back on The Great Reset in decades to come and realise how much more inequality it drove in the labour market. The pandemic taught us nothing about how essential those jobs are for keeping society running.

And read:

Theory of change for civil rights in a digital age

I read Hivos’ white paper on putting civic action, justice and responsibility at the heart of our societies. It’s interesting to see theory of change in a different context (but why still with the PDFs?). I’m still trying to understand the scope of assumptions that make up theories of change. Clearly a theory of change can’t have an objective chain of causal logic because of the complex things it deals with, but then how far can you go in stating assumptions about how certain activities will lead to outcomes? If a butterfly flaps it’s wings…

People Prefer Moral Discretion to Algorithms

I read a paper that explores aversion to the use of algorithms in moral decision-making. It suggests that people would rather have other people making decisions than algorithms, even if they are both following the same rules. Do we think people might be on our side whereas algorithms don’t take sides?

Weeknotes 286

Photo of the week:

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

This week I did:

Continuous improvement

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

Ethical product decision-making collection

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

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

Doomsday

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

250

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

And I read:

How Complex Systems Fail

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

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

Loosely coupled simple systems FTW.

Road Ahead

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

APIs

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

I thought about:

Cause-and-effect and Networks

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

Systems solutions

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

Personality

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

Weeknotes 285

Photo of the week:

Looking west off the Pembrokeshire coast

This week I did:

Go time

This week has been super-focused on a single product that is launching next week. In four days we set up the product, configured all the options, tested it, learned how to use it, did training sessions for other users, got all the content in, and came up with the go live plan. I don’t mind admitting that I really enjoy this kind of time pressure, and I’m really looking forward to getting into figuring out how we should do continuous improvement for this and other product over the next few months.

Existential risk

Next week is the 75th anniversary of the creation of the Doomsday Clock so I made a little website to let people check whether the world has been taken over by AI. Other than perhaps a technology we haven’t invented yet, artificial intelligence is the technology most likely to pose an existential risk to humanity. As with most of the things I do, the website is meant to be a bit tongue-in-cheek and it was a chance for me to learn a bit of javascript, but it’s going on my list of projects to iterate on over time so who knows what might happen with it.

In progress projects

I had an idea for a personal learning management system that holds all the online courses that you do and helps you complete them. I set myself a challenge of getting from idea to landing page that could help validate the idea in three hours and to tweet about it in a #BuildInPublic kinda way.

Sent the 12th edition of Irregular Ideas.

Added more wise sayings to my #MakeMeWise Twitter Bot.

Reached 1,600 products in ultimatedigital.tools.

I didn’t finish the future skills email I’ve been working on because of all that stuff above.

And read:

Sinking ship

This brilliant article uses the metaphor of a ship to discuss different definitions of improving the world. and how people in different camps disagree about it. The five activities of rowing, steering, anchoring, equity, and mutiny to suggest five different ways to approach making the world a better place, and calls out how difficult it is to know which is the right approach without knowing where the world is heading. What it doesn’t mention is, what if the ship is sinking. Let’s just hope it isn’t.

Effective People Think Simply

And thought about:

Skillz

The internet-era/agile/digital ways of working place a greater need of people to be more multi-skilled. The traditional/hierarchical ways of organising teams might have included a specific role of project manager who would have been responsible for coordination and communication, but in the shift from a project approach to a product approach for cross-functional teams those roles often get subsumed into being a part of everyone’s work. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing but in order for those teams to be successful everyone needs to develop those communication and coordination skills.

Being human is going great

When anything new comes along, doesn’t matter if it’s Tamagotchi, Agile, or NFTs, it creates four groups of people. The biggest group of people is those how don’t know or don’t care about the new thing. The smallest group of people is those that find the new thing intellectually or creatively curious and explore it. And in between there are groups of people who try to make money from the new thing and those that hate on the new thing. This kind of behaviour has nothing to do with NFT’s, it’s just what humans do.

Wicked problems in product

I’ve been doing some work this week using Theory of Change and thinking about the approach of causally linking activities to outcomes to impacts. I completely believe that no product ever achieves an outcome for anyone using it. If success, a product achieves a behaviour change and a person might achieve an outcome from that behaviour change. An inclusive society is a wicked problem. There is no step-by-step guide for achieving it, so from a product point-of-view the questions are ‘what outcomes might achieve the impact’, ‘what behaviours might achieve those outcomes’, ‘what products might cause those behaviour changes’, ‘what activities could we do to create those products’?

Weeknotes #284

This week I did:

Full swing

It’s been an interesting week at work. I’ve been working on understanding strategic programmes, figuring out my objectives, recruiting for a product manager and developer, and getting into the current projects. It feels good to be able to get involved in a project and focus on turning uncertainty into certainty, and thinking about how the team and our ways of working might evolve as we grow.

Big questions first

I spent some time reviewing tenders for learning management systems. They are obviously similar in many ways as they perform the same function, but in thinking through how to approach comparing them it occurred to me that a good way to approach decision making is to start big and work towards the small if the bigger questions don’t provide an answer. So, the first question isn’t, ‘how does the cost of this platform compare to that one?’, the questions is, ‘how does a build or buy technology strategy fit with the organisational strategy?’ If you can answer that, then you’ve made the next level of question twice as easy to answer because you aren’t trying to compare a build solution with a buy solution.

The practicalities of being a digital nomad

I wrote a bit about some of the practical things about how I live as a digital nomad. Thanks to James for the inspiration, as its the first time I’ve written about my lifestyle. Speaking of the practicalities of the nomad life, I had a visit from the heddlu after a call from someone who had seen me sitting in my car all day. We had a quick chat and all was fine but it made me think about how things outside the mainstream are often assumed to be somehow ‘wrong’.

I read this week:

Aniket’s Product Management Resources

Aniket’s Product Management Resources is handy guide of, yes you guessed it, product management resources. I’m sure there are lots of these kinds of guides, which makes me think that no one has yet solved the problem of collecting and displaying resources , but this has some good stuff on it.

Radarban roadmap

This is an interesting look at Radarban roadmaps by Eleanor Mollett, and how to solve the problem the problem of communicating product development with stakeholders in ways that don’t create the expectation of commitment to a specific date.

The Laboratory for Complex Problems

This piece by Packy McCormick presents an interesting take on the challenge of web3 for 2022 and how it acts as a laboratory for challenges in healthcare and climate of giving people the means to own as well as rent.

Thought about:

Charity product management

For a while now I’ve been pondering the question, ‘What makes product management in charities different to in other organisations?’ The answer: We tackle wicked problems. Product managers who work in charities aren’t optimising for button clicks or retention, they’re optimising for solving social issues and climate change. When we bring together systems thinking and product management, it’ll be a game changer.

Creative work

I’ve been thinking a bit about some of the concepts around modern creative work. I listened to the Akimbo podcast episode on creative practice and read Kevin Kelly’s piece on scenius. Although I don’t really have any fully formed thoughts yet, I feel like this stuff is connected to me trying to figure out what to focus my efforts on, and what my process looks like for making my side-projects happen.


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Weeknotes #283

Photo of the week:

Did this week:

Usual projects

Sent the tenth edition of the Irregular Ideas email. Kpaxs launched a ‘three ideas email newsletter’ with a different approach of getting ideas out of books, but with the very clear value proposition that it will ‘make you wiser’. I don’t really have a value proposition for Irregular Ideas but it led me to rephrase what I say about it as, ‘won’t make you wealthier, healthier or wiser… but it might make you think’.

It occurred to me that if I’d been writing three ideas a week but only sending one then right now I’d have the next twenty editions lined up. The subscribers wouldn’t get any less value, they’d just get it over a longer time period, and I’d have less pressure (not that I find it stressful, I quite enjoy writing about random things). This has made me think differently about content creation and look for opportunities to get ahead (although I haven’t found any yet as the newsletter is the only thing that has a schedule that could be got ahead of).

I finished the sixth Future Skills email and wrote a bit about system-shifting product management, and also completed another module in my British Sign Language course, so all projects progressing as usual.

NFT as art form

I wrote about NFT’s as metamodern art form to try to express my thoughts about why NFT’s are important for art and more interesting than the mainstream lovers and haters give them credit for. I think they, and all emerging tech, signal a shift in art parallel to movements like Impressionism and Cubism.

Annual review 2021

I spent some time on my annual review. In an attempt to create better feedback loops I have plan-do-review cycles happening at different cadences. My life goals are the highest level and pretty much stay the same. Within those goals I have annual objectives and use quarterly OKR’s to monitor progress and maintain direction. Each month I write a retro of what I did, learned and might be able to do better, and set out in my delivery plan what I want to focus on next month. I use weeknotes as a reflective look at the work I’ve done that week, and then I use daynotes at the end of each day as a means of reminding myself what tasks I did today and giving myself a head start tomorrow. This might seem like a lot of different methods and different cadences, but that’s kind of the point. One of the things I want to do this year is refine this whole process, figure out which method and cadence works best for me, and find better ways of using feedback mechanisms to guide future direction and action.

Planning for 2022

I wrote my retro for December and updated my delivery plan for January.

I’ve set up a spreadsheet to manage my project tasks and track progress against my OKR’s. This means I can compare the reporting from both approaches as I try to figure out the optimum working processes for myself.

I also gave some thought to my Twitter goals (apparently there is such a thing) for 2022 and decided that it is to not grow my audience. I’ve been torn between the creator economy rhetoric around audience building with the benefits it brings in being able to validate ideas, and the ethics of the attention economy. I also know that I’m fundamentally anti-social and don’t want to spend time replying to replies and managing all that overhead that comes with a larger number of followers.

Read:

The Messifesto

Jon Cutler’s post about the messiness of ‘product’ perfectly captures the state of product in 2021. Accepting it’s messy rather than trying to create a framework or model to organise and explain it. There cannot and should not be a ‘theory of everything’ for product but instead a wide and diverse pool of theories, practices and ideas to draw upon, experiment with, adapt and use. The best product practice is one that figures out how to make the models fit together, not choose one over another (which just leads to arguments on the internet).

Systems Practice Workbook

I’ve been thinking a bit about systems this week and the Systems Practice Workbook, which defines Systems Practice as “both a specific methodology and a more general approach to grappling with adaptive problems in complex environments”, is really useful. It’s aimed at bringing systems thinking practices into organisations but it’s also useful even if that isn’t your aim (which it probably should be, even if you don’t know it).

Social fundraising in 2021

Being ‘digital’ means understanding how things work on the internet. It’s interesting to see the same trends on the internet between charity fundraising and the creator economy. Although they use different terminology, the same behaviours get the same results. Brand/building in public builds trust, recognition, connection. Meet their supporters where they are/audience building on public platforms makes it easier to get the message in front of people. Charitable giving will exceed $1T by 2030/currently worth over $100bn and expected to grow considerably.

Practices to help you be more creative on-demand

The Creative Elements podcast with Todd Henry had some fantastic advice on creative process which I sum up as ‘’Having a process (including pruning) = managing your energy = bringing your full emotional being to the work = producing something valuable.” The main takeaway is that creative work requires managing your energy more than managing your time.

Thought about:

A lot of people

There are more people on the internet today than there were on planet earth in the year I was born. Today there are 4.6 billion internet users and in 1975 there were just over 4 billion people. There are lots of ways of looking at this: population growth of the human species over such a short time period, opportunity for internet businesses given how many potential customers there are online, or, Roger must be really old.

Organising work

Perhaps because I’ve been planning what I want to work on for 2022 I’ve also been thinking about how to organise work to create the right kinds of feedback loops, which might include how much work can be done in a given time but are mostly about whether the work being done is going to achieve the goal. Whether it’s the right goal or not is another question. I’ve thought about different cadences (5 years, annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly, daily) and how they might match to the generalities or specifics of the work, so the shorter the time period for work the more task-orientated the work is and the longer the time period the more goal focused. But this connection between completing tasks and achieving goals is based on the assumption that they connect in a causal way, which can only be the case if you know what will achieve the goal ahead of defining the work. If it’s an uncertain goal, then the only course of action is to define the feedback loop, take a step that might vaguely be in the right direction, and then assess whether you are closer to the goal or not (which is the Fire Control Problem approach). So much to think about.

Co-existence

The main story we tell ourselves about evolution is of one thing replacing another, and usually that the thing doing the replacing is better. But we seem to miss all the coexistence that is going on at the same time. Maybe that’s where the better better is happening. I wonder if this competitive evolutionary thinking is part of the underpinning rationality of modern society, and so it informs every revolutionary movement that attempts to overthrow the current dominant way society is organised. We can’t build an inclusive society by saying that some ways of thinking, being or doing aren’t allowed. That’s exclusionary. And then who gets to choose what should and shouldn’t be allowed? If something is excluded, then I think the underlying pattern of that rationality will re-assert itself and lead a different group with a different ideology to dominate other minorities. So, perhaps a better way is that of the underpinning rationality of future society to be about co-existence. I think I might try to explore this idea a bit more in a future edition of Irregular Ideas.

Weeknotes #282

This week’s photo:

This week I did:

Starting

It was my first week at RNID. The team is great, the ways of working are great, and the work we’re doing to make life more inclusive for deaf people, those with hearing loss and tinnitus is great. I’m already starting to see where I can add value and am really excited about the work we’ll be doing next year.

Sending

Sent the eighth Irregular Ideas email and got a new subscriber. This edition included my strongly held belief that Dirty Dancing is the greatest movie of all time. No disagreements.

Signing

Completed module 3 of the British Sign Language course. It’s starting to include grammar and sentences which are a bit more challenging than single words, and I need more practice to remember the signs, but I’m enjoying this kind of ‘either you know it or you don’t’ kind of learning.

UDTL

I finished the ultimatedigital.tools landing page and added a few more tools. I’ve got lots waiting to be added so I’m going to make a concerted effort to get through them next week. Still doing a rubbish job of marketing it though.

This week I read:

Charity Digital 2021

Dan Papworth-Smyth shares a few of his favourite charity digital things for 2021. These campaigns

How to Productize Yourself as a Writer

Sahil Lavingia, CEO of Gumroad and writer of the No Meetings, No Deadlines post talks about writing, building, and productizing yourself on the The Digital Writing Podcast.

Never less of an expert

Sam Higham’s thread about the 12 product management lessons he’s learnt so far.

And lots of other stuff on my reading list.

This week I thought about:

Big things vs small things

It’s much easier to do small things that feel like they don’t have many consequences if you didn’t do them than it is to do big things that feel uncertain. I get excited about doing big things but then I focus my time on doing little things, and I’m trying to figure out why. For example, I wanted to explore the idea of the charity of the future as a DAO. It’s a big idea, almost impossible to create anything so its really more of a thought experiment, and no one else is interested in it, but to me it’s exciting and leading edge. And yet I spend much more time writing the Irregular Ideas newsletter which just includes a few quirky little ideas. Why aren’t I focusing one the big uncertain stuff? Is it because its far less tangible, far harder to make it look like there is progress, almost impossible to imagine an end game? I think I need a drastic rethink.

The pace of alignment

For a while I’ve been tweeting about how difficult it is to maintain alignment when the things that are supposed to be aligned move at different speeds, and using videos to illustrate it. This week I learned that there is science behind it. Yeah science! It’s called ‘shearing layers’ and it’s based on the work of ecologists and systems theorists. The idea is that there are processes in nature, which operate in different timescales and as a result there is little or no exchange of information between them. Architects have applied this thinking to buildings and Gartner applied it to software applications in business and trademarked it. I think it can be applied to knowledge work, and product management work specifically as it often has alignment as one of its goals.

True opposites

Another interesting concept I learned about this week is ‘integrative complexity’, which is the technical term for being able to hold multiple perspectives and possibilities at the same time. Typically, when we’re trying to make a group decision we try to get everyone to have the same perspective on the assumption that it’s necessary for agreement. Integrative complexity suggests that not only can a group have different perspectives but individuals can too, and still make good decisions. Opposing perspectives don’t have to be a barrier to decision-making. Good decision-making (another essential aspect of product management) is usually assumed to rely on consensus and shared perspectives (hence all the stakeholder management), but integrative complexity offers a way of approaching decisions that embrace different perspectives.

Weeknotes #281

Photo:

Did:

👋The end

Last week at the Prince’s Trust. It’s been a turbulent two years for the Trust (not because I was there, there were other factors) but I feel like I always managed to maintain my even keel to understand what problems I’m trying to solve, treat all my colleagues with kindness, and help the org learn a little about being a more digital organisation. I received this Kudoboard from some of the people I worked with. It seems like a better testimonial to my impact than delivering any product.

👀25,000

My website has received 25,000 views and it only took six years.

The three most successful posts account for 21.23% of views:

The top ten posts received 9417 views, which is 43.27% of total, and is mostly from organic search traffic as they seem to be about things no one else has written much about.

The top twenty percent of posts account for 85.63% percent of the views.

317 posts have received 10 or fewer views, which accounts for 9.16% of total views.

🕸rogerswannell.eth

Started setting up the ENS for rogerswannell.eth. Web3 stuff continues to divide people on Twitter (and the rest of the internet). There are so many perspectives. It’s really interesting to get a glimpse of how people think about things like this and the (usually unbalance) arguments they come up with to defend their position. I’m no expert but it seems that, for example, arguing that the cost of compute power makes web3 a failure when web3 isn’t trying to solve the problem of cost-efficient computing is like criticising candy floss for not being a good building material. Is web3 a scam? Well, yes, just like every other market that uses imaginary value exchange. And the Pareto principle always applies; a few get really rich and most get poorer.

🌍Top 0.000000052% of the population

The Irregular Ideas newsletter had a hundred per cent open rate this week. That’s not that impressive given that I only have four subscribers but I’m glad that after eight issues they are still opening it. Evan Armstrong wrote in the Napkin Math Newsletter, “Nothing about email or subscriptions fixes the problem of building a media company. Namely, it is just really, really hard to make interesting content every week and to get people to pay attention to it… Newsletters are here to stay and the trend won’t go away, but Newsletters will slow down as independent, focused businesses. Instead, expect newsletters to pivot into mutli-media companies because other formats are quicker and easier to create.” It’s a fair point. Newsletters are just a channel for expressing ideas, so firstly you’ve got to have ideas people want to know about and secondly you’ve got to provide them in the way people want to consume them. I’m not convinced that any idea/expression-of-an-idea can work on any channel.

🌈Red and yellow and pink and green

I completed module two of the BSL course covering numbers, colours and organisations. I know I’m still at the basics but I’ve surprised myself with how well I’ve been able to remember the signs.

🕔Eventually

Futureskills email continue to progress very slowly. I really need to stop coming up with new ideas and get this one to a point where it can launch. I’ll try to make it my main focus over the few weeks remaining of this year.

📖Side-project playbook

I’ve been starting to work on what a playbook for my side-projects might look like. ‘Start with a domain name‘ seems like something that would be part of it. I haven’t always started all of my projects with a domain name but having thought about it, it seems like a good idea. Having a domain name for a project starts to give it an identity and some brand, which is useful however the project pans out. My current projects:

Read:

🤼Digital civil society

The beautifully written ‘Digital Civil Society: The Annual Industry Forecast‘ by Lucy Bernholz has some really interesting and forward-looking thoughts about the dramatic changes coming to a society near you very soon. The phrase, “Disruption is something well-resourced, valorized individuals and companies do unto others; discontinuity is done unto all of us.” caught my eye and summed up the wrestling that is going on between governments, corporations, civil society bodies and individuals.

🤷‍♂️Answering the ‘why’ and the ‘how’

Philippa Peasland wrote this brilliant reflection on driving digital transformation by adopting decision stacks. It’s really interesting to get some hint of how the interplay between a simple tool and the complicated organisational dynamics takes place. As Philippa says, it’s the conversations that count. Changes happens in the minds of the people before it happens in the behaviours of the organisation.

📉Effort and reward

Mark Manson talks about how we should “teach [our mind] to stop chasing its own tail. To stop chasing meaning and freedom and happiness because those only serve to move it further away from itself.” The lesson of the piece is thought-provoking enough, but more interesting is the relationship between the three graphs he refers to in describing the three types of tasks we all perform. He says when an “action is mindless and simple effort and reward have a linear relationship. Effort and reward have a diminishing returns relationship when the action is complex. But when the action becomes purely psychological—an experience that exists solely within our own consciousness—the relationship between effort and reward becomes inverted.” These bear more thinking about from a productivity and planning point of view.

Thought about:

🤝Project and Product

Product thinking is different to project thinking. No doubt about it. But that doesn’t mean they need to viewed antagonistically, that for one to be right the other must be wrong. Good things happen when project and product thinking are merged in ways that work for the environment and circumstances. Don’t identify by job titles, the team is the unit of delivery.

⏳Timing

The more I think about it the more I’m convinced that timing is the single most important factor for the success of anything. Whether it’s a startup launching a product, a business delivering a project, or an individual trying to achieve anything at all, if you can’t answer the question, “why now?” then you’re just guessing. Validation efforts, then, shouldn’t just be about the idea, they should be about answering that “why now” question. Being too late, too early or on time is far far harder to understand, which is probably why we don’t really try to.

👩‍🏭Work mashup

Good work provides choice. Office/hybrid/remote or synchronous/asynchronous, work should work for everyone. We should be figuring out how to create bridges between these things rather than arguing about which one will win. One small attempt I’m interested in using more is meeting notes. I think, done well, meeting notes can bridge between synchronous meetings and asynchronous work after the meeting. I just need to figure out what good meetings look like.

💻Working for the algorithm

This tweet by Aprilynne Alter got me thinking about the myth of how different solopreneur/indie hacker/creator work is to being employed by an organisation. I think they are more similar than they are different. The suggestion that this way of working builds a future of passive income doesn’t stack up. If you don’t keep producing then income will reduce over time. And scaling of income and progression prospects work the same whether you’re working for an organisation or the algorithm; the few get to the top and make lots of money whilst the majority are poorly paid. Some of the comments in Aprilynne’s tweet talk about producing more content based on what previously performed well, which is the same as being employed and . The same mechanisms apply to work whether you’re working for an organisation or working for the algorithm, don’t convince yourself otherwise.

Weeknotes #280

Photo of the week:

Some things I did this week:

Strange times

I finished the last piece of solution design work and started writing my handover notes. It’s been a weird week with lots of tangential change going on that is affecting the project and product, and next week is my last week at the Prince’s Trust.

BSL

I started a British Sign Language course, and learned the alphabet and numbers. I’m looking forward to learning more over the next few weeks.

Getting more out of LinkedIn

Third Sector Labs put on a great training sessions on how to get more out of LinkedIn. I intend to use LinkedIn more, especially for Future Skills, and hopefully the tips I learned will help.

Distant future

I’ve continued to write the Future Skills emails, albeit more slowly than I’d like. But any progress is still progress, I guess.

Day Notes

I’ve started (or restarted) posting day notes to see if it helps motivate me to get more done, by seeing how little I have actually done. It’ll also be interesting to look back on.

Thought about this week:

Deductive reasoning in roadmaps

I wrote a short blog post about how roadmaps should express the deductive reasoning of hypotheses and observations. This comes on the back of my thoughts that every organisation does product management, they just don’t always know it, and that what a Product Manager does (or at least should do) is apply discipline and intellectual rigor to the product process of taking organisational resources and creating a value exchange with customers.

Org charts

I tweeted an idea about org charts being expressed as left-to-right with those to the left solving problems for those to right and with the user as the most to the right. It was my most popular tweet ever with sixty likes and three retweets.

Local versus global optimisation

Multiple pockets of local optimisation prevent global optimisation. If teams within the same organisation try to optimise their work without consideration of how it might impact other teams, then it’s likely that they’ll cause issues elsewhere. How teams interface should be considered as a whole. This is different to the island of coherence idea which does help create stability in systems.

Web3 is for the machines

I think a grand mistake we make in our thinking about web3 is that we think it’s for humans, when really it’s for the machines. With NFT’s (and I don’t mean jpg’s of apes) there is now a machine-comprehend-able definition of ‘uniqueness’ and ‘ownership’. It isn’t humans trading digital artwork that will change how our economy works, it’ll be computers being able to make decisions based on human values.

And read this week

Digital dough

This brilliant piece by James Plunkett calls for a different understanding or how economic markets work in the twenty-first century. Up until recently our ideas of how markets self-regulate was based on the idea that what is good for the consumer is also what is good for the producer, because otherwise the consumer goes elsewhere. But with huge scale software systems digital capitalism is increasingly “based on the premise that producer interests are meaningfully misaligned from consumer interests”. This means that whilst being manipulated into spending more time on Facebook isn’t what people really need, it is what Facebook really needs in order to sell more ads.

The Meta-father

I read a couple of things about Jaron Lanier, considered the founding father of virtual reality, and thinker and writer about the internet, software, etc. One of his interesting points is around how Moore’s law might mean that transistors increase in power but then the limiting factor becomes the code running on those transistors, which is written by humans and so flawed, until humans are iterated out by the evolution of the machines that write code for machines anyway.

4th Nonprofit Trends Report

Salesforce’s Nonprofit Trends Report shows, not surprisingly, that the big things on the minds of nonprofit orgs this year has been finance, staff well-being, DEI and technology. The interesting lesson to learn, I think, is that no organisation changes until it is forced to by powerful external forces. Every big change of past year’s has also been forced upon charities and not been of their own choosing (I’m thinking of GDPR and fundraising regulations). Probably better to know this rather than expect charities to embrace change and doing things in new and different ways. It makes things more predictable.

Product management at all levels

I listened to this podcast with Christian Idiodi in which he talks about the role of product leaders in creating the right environment for product managers. I’ve listen to a few podcasts with Christian and he was talks a lot of sense.

Weeknotes #279

Photo of the week:

This week, I did:

Evaluation

I mapped user journeys specifically for evaluation purposes, and it got me thinking about whether and how the evaluation of programmes that aim to achieve considerable life changing outcomes can be part of feedback loops. Intuitively, it makes sense that small outcomes have small feedback loops and large outcomes have large feedback loops. But a few things to remember: the aggregation of lots of small outcomes doesn’t necessarily equate to a large outcome, evaluation can be linear and not feedback, and it’s easy to evaluate different things than those that might change the outcome.

And speaking of using feedback loops better, I presented the solution design work I’ve involved with to the developers for their feedback on the feasibility of the ideas. It was really useful and has meant I can creating two solution designs that are more right-sized for what they’ll need to achieve in different circumstances. Such is the benefit of sharing incomplete work early for fast feedback.

Fluency of ideas

I did some more work on Future Skills emails. I complete the second email which is about fluency of ideas, the skill of coming up with lots of ideas quickly. I wrote this email far more quickly than the first so my hope that setting a template would make the content easier seems to be working. We’ll see for the next email which is about active learning. I still have a long way to go to create all of the emails but I think I’m going to focus on this for December rather than spreading my time across other projects like Systems-shifting product management and future.charity.

Retro and delivery planning

As it’s the end of November and beginning of December I did my monthly retro and delivery planning. My lesson from November was about how aiming for simplicity has lots of benefits. Complications slow down progress and drain motivation. In an attempt to make the most of this lesson I’m going to try to focus more time in December on just one project.

And I read:

Measuring kanban

More and more I think the solution to digital, remote, asynchronous working (DRAW, as I might start calling it) is going to be about how we mix and mesh different models, frameworks and practices. One of those things to figure out is how we measure the progress of work without having to be limited to a single way of working that provides consistency in reporting. Kanban metrics focus on how “cycle time that deals with the average amount of time taken for a task to move from start to finish. Improving cycle times by removing waste and blockers help to achieve improved results.”

Humane and ethical design

Following on from completing the Humane Tech course, I read some stuff from Humane by Design and Ind.ie. The pyramid of technology that respects Human Rights, Human Efforts, Human Experience is interesting, and “resources that provides guidance for designing ethically humane digital products through patterns focused on user well-being” are really useful.

Tiny little binge

I read lots of stuff from Tiny Little Business, including The Durable Business Course.

I thought about this week:

Fast and light

Pieter Levels tweeted about shipping fast by building light which prompted me to think again about how I priortise the things I want to work on. I’ve tended to focus on things that interest my rather than things that might be of value to others. Honestly, even if I do figure out how to create a DAO charity, no one is even going to be interested let alone pay for it. The usual way creators figure what to build is to build for their kind of people. Developers build things for other developers. Remote content designers build things for other remote content designers. As a charity product manager there aren’t enough of us. I’m too niche. The answer, perhaps, is to find things that interest me and are useful to others.

Abandoned teams and lack of leadership

I was thinking about autonomous teams and what it takes to get there, and how leadership works for high-performing autonomous teams. Teams have to have leadership. The ideal for autonomous teams is that the leadership exists within the team. For non-autonomous teams, leadership should come from outside the team, from above. But what happens when a team doesn’t have either. A team without leadership is an abandoned team, left to get on with things without direction or cohesion. I’ll probably write up these ideas into a blog post if I get time.

Digital Remote Async Work

Or DRAW, for short. I’ve been thinking about some of the problems we’re all trying to figure out for effective digital, remote, asynchronous working. Things like communication, alignment, coordination of work, etc., all need to be revisited and reworked. Just applying the old ways isn’t going to work. It seems like there’s a good market size there but I stopped myself from buying the domain digital-remote-async.work. I should focus on finishing current projects rather than starting new ones.

Weeknotes #278

Photo of the week:

Season’s greetings, by Banksy, ironically displayed within a shop.

On this week’s Done list:

Connecting concepts in systems

I’ve been working a lot this week on how different systems ‘conceptualise’ things and how those concepts move between systems with very different data structures as the data moves between them. The same ‘concept’ is defined in different ways and needs translation and common language between the systems. What constitutes the identity of a user in one system isn’t the same as in another, but it’s easy to miss the impact of the differences if you don’t dig into them.

Irregular Ideas

Sent out the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth irregular ideas. I feel like my writing is getting a bit better with the constraints of talking about a specific idea, only having a few paragraphs to do so, and putting it in an email so I can’t change it later. It’s different to writing a blog post where I’m more likely to throw in lots of loosely connected things.

Future Skills

I worked on the first email for the Future Skills guided learning to try get the template right which will hopefully make writing the other nineteen emails quicker. I need to give it lots more time and get the emails written and set up so I can start marketing it. Of all my side-projects it feels like the one that has the most potential for actually meeting a need rather than just being of interest to me. I think it might still not be practical enough but until I get some people using it and get some feedback it’s all guesswork.

Systems-shifting product management

I set up a project page on my website and started to try to define systems-shifting product management, including the idea that product managers develop by learning how to increase their leverage rather than gaining influence and authority within the organisational hierarchy.

Stuff I read and listened to this week:

Public service product management

I listened to Tom Loosemore on ‘the product experience’ podcast talking about product management in the UK government. He talks about how part of product management is creating that space in organisations to do product management, that understanding user needs is do much harder then we think, especially in environments with messy and uncertain human behaviours and that joining up teams, channels, and solutions is essential for achieving the real outcomes for people.

Using maps

Simon Wilson, also on ‘the product experience’, talked about using mapping to know where we are and where we’re going. Mapping, and working in visual ways, are useful for bringing the users of a service forward into people’s thoughts. Maps help us understand the shape and scope of a problem, who it affects, how it affects the organisation. They show us a narrative and help us understand movement.

Decentralise decision-making

I read Jason Yip’s post about using doctrine to allow safe decentralised decision-making by establishing consistent decision logic. He writes/quotes, “Strategy doesn’t give employees enough guidance to know how to take action, and plans are too rigid to adapt to changing circumstances. In rapidly changing environments, you need doctrine to get closer to the ground. Doctrine creates the common framework of understanding inside of which individuals can make rapid decisions that are right for their circumstances… If strategy defines objectives, and plans prescribe behavior, then doctrine guides decisions.” Jason proposes an Agile doctrine:

  1. Reduce the distance between problems and problem-solvers
  2. Validate every step
  3. Take smaller steps
  4. Clean up as you go

There’s nothing much to disagree with, either the idea of a doctrine or the things Jason includes within the Agile doctrine. And I completely agree with the problem he’s trying to solve, how to bridge the gap between strategy and plans in a way that fits with modern good practice for cross-functional autonomous teams. The challenge, as always with these things, is the broad context they have to be conceived for and the narrowing of the context for them to be applied.

Three tech trends charities should know about

It’s great to see the emerging tech trends of metaverse and NFTs being talked about more within the charity sector. It’s always hard to start because the typical response is often cynicism and disdain (even from people who you’d expect to want to consider new technologies with an open mind) but given the increasing speed of change it’s even more important that charities do start to understand new tech. Broadly, I think there are three areas of impact new tech might have on a charity that bare some thinking about. The first is how it might affect the people that a charity is trying to help, e.g., gambling charities should definitely be keeping up with how metaverse games will affect gambling behaviour. The second is how new tech might affect the charities existing ways of doing things, e.g. social media fundraising, which to many fundraisers probably looks like just another channel. And then thirdly, how the new tech might disrupt charity business models, e.g., Decentralised Autonomous Organisations forming the basis for a new way of tackling a cause.

Thought about this week:

The discipline

Following on from product managers product managing product management, I’ve been thinking about the discipline of product management. I guess I use the term ‘discipline’ to mean a structure practice, almost like a martial art where the same moves are learned through repetition which means the practitioner can then put those moves together into sequences that work with each other and not against. This discipline and practice, if adopted, accepted, appreciated by an organisation, brings a balance of order and flexibility to how an organisation makes decisions about the products it develops and runs. It brings clarity to what’s important, and uses that to set focus. Perhaps one of the benefits of this discipline is making it easier to see when something breaks from the discipline and disrupts that clarity and focus.

Which way to work

My current side-projects include Systems-shifting Product Management, Irregular Ideas, Future Skills, and future.charity. Along with also doing online courses and writing blog posts (such as weeknotes), I feel like I’m not really making progress quickly enough on any of them so I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to work. I’ve scheduled time for each project one day a week to try to make progress on all of them at the same time, but I still continue to question whether it’s better to choose one project and set myself a bigger chunk of work to do over a few weeks before moving onto another. Before this scheduled approach I just picked whichever project I felt like working on that day, which gave me more flexibility to do easy work when my mind needed a rest and more complicated work when I was looking for more challenge, but lacked structure to get me to actually work on things I might not really want to.

My growth area for this week

Letting go

Definitely letting go. Still a challenge, probably always a challenge, but an important lesson to learn.