Weeknotes #272

Photo of the week:

In the valley of the rocks. A beautiful place with surprising strong mobile phone signal.

This is what I did this week:

Data, data, everywhere

The majority of the week was spent on a piece of work about how we collect information from young people. There are lots of different teams involved as the data is used in lots of different ways, lots of history involved because the way we collect information has been through lots of changes, and lots of current and near-future change because of the evolution of how we measure impact. Hopefully we’ve settled on a solution that means all the teams will get the data they need and young people will find it easier to complete forms. The thing about a digitised and automated world is that somehow, somewhere, someone has to type in the information the system needs. IoT solves that problem by using sensors to generate the data, but the vast majority of data entry depends on humans. The future isn’t a Matrix-style one where humans are used as batteries, it’s one where huge numbers of people spend their days entering data to feed the machines.

What else?

I didn’t do much else this week. I’ve been feeling ill and lacking motivation but I’m keen to get back into the flow of working on projects. To avoid having to do too much creative thinking I’m going to going to focus on adding more to The Ultimate Digital Tools List and setting up NFTs for Stiles.style. I’ve also been thinking about whether to get back into turning my weekly reading list into Twitter threads. It’s kind of counter to the ‘build your Twitter audience with threads’ advice as the only person at the intersection of interest for all that will be on the list is me, but I’ll give it some more thought.

This is what I read:

11 essential laws

Sean Johnson’s 11 Essential Laws of Product Development is one of those ‘go back to regularly and think about again now that your own thinking has progressed’ articles. Some of points it makes still feel relevant four years but more generally it looks like it’s from one particular viewpoint. Product thinking in 2021, in my opinion, shouldn’t adopt a single stance about things like customer driven development. The first question should always be about the problem-to-solve, and the method for figuring out how to solve the problem should come from that. Learn to build or build to learn. How can you possibly adopt an approach without an understanding of the problem space?

Management in the middle

Mary Parker Follett was a genius management thinker. Her thinking was ahead of it’s time a hundred years ago and is probably still ahead of our time today. She said that, “effective management is a participatory, inclusive and nonhierarchical process—not a command and control, direction giving process.”, and that the role of management in the middle of the higher and lower levels of the organisation is to make small changes that keep the two aligned.

Organisations that went remote

Eat Sleep Work Repeat interviewed people from organisations (including a UK charity) that have gotten rid of their offices and have all employees working remotely. There are some interesting insights, including how some companies have appointed a Head of Remote (I’m sure we can all see the same discussions that we had about the use of the word ‘digital’ coming up again soon), and how much going remote was a choice or felt forced upon the org (the difference there seems like an interesting narrative to explore). The podcast doesn’t get the other two sides of the story from those orgs that want to go back to the office full time and those trying to figure out hybrid working (that would make an interesting panel discussion), but it provides an interesting perspective into the reasons why organisations might adopt remote working.

And this is what I thought about:

Two heads are better than one

I’ve been building out my second brain/digital garden/personal information management system/whatever you want to call it. I used put notes and links into Notion, then I started using my website, then that became a pain so now I’m back to using Notion. I’ve added a related database to try to group notes so I’ll see if this helps with bringing ideas together. Thanks to Amy’s tweet, I might try writing every day National Blog Post Month this November. It didn’t go very well when I decided to write every day in October, but this time I’m trying a different approach. No writing ahead of time, only on the day. And whatever I write has to be within my area of interest for digital charity. I guess we’ll see how it goes.

Building in public

There are lots of advantages to building in public, whether as a solo creator or writer or whatever. The general consensus on Twitter seems to be that it creates an audience of supportive people that are interested in what you’re building, but I think there’s another, potentially wider benefit. Doing the work and talking about your work require two different skill sets. So whether you’re a solo creator or work in a large organisation, it’s important and useful to develop the skill of talking about your work. One to work on.

The coastline problem

I’ve been thinking more about my nomadic lifestyle and how I might want to write about it The working title is something like, ‘The coastline problem: how life gets bigger the more closely you measure it’. The actual coastline problem says that the smaller the denomination that you use to measure the circumference of something like a country, the bigger the measurement will be. I think there’s a metaphor there about leading an intentional life and making the important things matter in life. Not sure there’s enough there for book but along with all the stuff about digital nomads and outsiders, it could be quite interesting. If I ever get around to writing anything. My coastline map has 137 places that I’ve visited.

Weeknotes #270

Photo of the week:

This week I did:

Going down

This week’s main focus was on getting a coordinated and cohesive view of the upcoming work from all the teams that will be working on it at a lower level of detail. We did it mostly asynchronously (obviously) and involved four teams; Design, Content, Web development an CRM development. It was great to see our understanding of things change and settle as we work through questions that people bring up. Writing stuff down and diagramming it out helps us think through our solutions and lets others help us see the gaps. It’s important for the next stage where the teams will work on certain aspects independently.

Humane technology

I started the Foundation for Humane Technology course and it’s given me so much to think about. I’m already considering the product decisions I’ve made at work in light of some of the things I’ve learned and it’s definitely given me a different perspective on the whole Twitter audience building thing.

September retro and October planning

As it’s the end of the moth I did my monthly retro to look back at how well I did in achieving the work I said I wanted to do at the start of the month. I also did some planning for October but feel like my lack of focus (see below) is preventing me from getting to a good plan about what I want to do in October, so I’ll come back to them soon.

I read/watched/listened this week to:

Uncertainty is closer to reality

In this video about why saying “I don’t know” is important for success, Annie Duke explains how false certainty leads to problems whereas embracing uncertainty is closer to reality as we don’t know what will happen in the future, and how we conflate false certainty and confidence in unhelpful ways.

A Problem Well-Stated Is Half-Solved

The podcast by the Center for Humane Technology talks about the meta-crisis of solving the problem with problem solving. That the way we solve short-term problems often leads to unintended externalities and this podcast does a great job of showing that we need a better way of understanding and solving problems.

Focusing on product outcomes will shift you to a product mindset

This post by Jeff Patton explains how technology development and product teams continue to have the majority of their focus on outcomes, and how difficult it is for teams to own the outcomes of the customer.

And thought about:

Out of focus

This week, and the last few weeks, I’ve been floundering a bit with my focus. I know it’s a reaction to finishing my masters, which I was very focused on over the last few months. I haven’t yet figured out what I want to spend my time and energy on so I’ve been bouncing around but trying to test out new projects and coming up with new ideas. I think this is because I struggle to connect those new ideas to my goals, so either I should use the goal as a means of deciding whether to pursue the idea or expand my goals.

The language of async

If badly run synchronous meetings are bad, then badly organised asynchronous communication will also be bad. Documents and diagrams need a standardised and agreed language to help everyone read them. Documents need information architecture. Diagrams need keys. The difference between diagrams and maps needs to be understood.

Next week I’m going to:

On the to do list

Get closer to finishing the solution design phase of a project I’ve been working. I don’t think it’ll be quite finished next week, but it should be very close.

Complete at least three modules from the Humane Technology course.

Figuring out which projects I should spend some time on.

Go for a run.

Weeknotes #269

Photo of the week:

What I did this week:

Safety by design

Digital safeguarding is an important part of my work. I’ve been working on creating an accessible identity verification system recently, will be doing more on the Age Appropriate Design Code soon, and am thinking about how we might turn the principles behind the Online Harms Bill into products and procedures that keep people safe online. As part of this work and interest I watched an online safety tech event that described the emerging SafetyTech sector and how gaming companies are leading the development of safety technology in virtual spaces because it’s clearly demonstrated that people don’t want to spend their time in virtual spaces where they feel threatened, so safety drives engagement, which is good for business. As is always the case for emerging trends, there is a lot of interplay between the technology, people (both creators and users), regulation and policy, and commercial and market mechanisms, which make it a fascinating part of my work.

My first NFT

I received my first Non-Fungible Token. Of all the dates from 1/1/1 AD to now, I own my date of birthday. It’s part of learning more about NFTs and figuring out whether I want to turn stiles.style into NFTs. To me, with my interest in how the physical and digital worlds meet, stiles (each of which is unique and handmade) would make great collectible digital assets But as collecting and owning NFTs depends so much on hype, I’m not sure anyone else will see why they would want a stile.

First dollar on the internet

There’s thing in the creator economy about how making your first dollar on the internet changes things for creators. This week, The Ultimate Digital Tools List had it’s first sale. It hasn’t revolutionized my life just yet but it’s an interest step into being a creator and making my projects more than just things that interest me.

Fractal task management

I’ve been using nested kanban boards in Notion for a while and found it to be a really good way to manage tasks at any level and be able to focus on work within a project (including for Fractal task manager). So, to see if anyone else might find it useful I set up a Notion template that anyone can duplicate and use. I don’t know if anyone has started using it but I’ve had some feedback that it’s an interesting idea.

Do I need a writing habit?

I decided I wanted to try to write more often. So I set myself a target of writing a blog post for each day of October, so 31 blog posts (I’ll just check the maths on that… yes that’s right). What I learned wasn’t how to build a writing habit but that writing random things in order to hit that target distracted me from working on other things. So, I’ve written and scheduled ten short and mostly pointless blog posts and I’m going to stop there.

What I thought about:

Lessons

I was thinking about how the ‘lessons’ we really should learn at school are the bigger ones that continue to apply throughout our life, so I did a little Twitter thread of my thoughts. Imagine if education was clearer about levels of lessons to be learned. Imagine if teachers said, ‘Today we’re learning about this poem, but really we’re learning about how to communicate ideas, and the poem is just the vehicle for that bigger lesson.’ And imagine if education attainment was measured against those bigger lessons.

Feedback loops

I’m a big believer in feedback loops. I think they are fundamental to a digital mindset. But I also worry that every diagram of a feedback loop shows it going back to where it started rather than moving on improved. And I wonder if this creates a lack of understanding about how feedback loops are supposed to work.

Evaluating things

There are two ways to compare a number of things. You can compare them against an external measure (absolute), or you can compare them against each other (relative). And then those comparisons can be approached in qualitative or quantitative ways. And that’s before you even get into designing the actual evaluation. So there is a lot of underpinning work to have in place for evaluating anything robustly. But one aspect that appeared this week was how any system that uses competition as a mechanism for choosing one thing over another will always include sub-systems that conflict with each other. I have an image of gears that don’t fit together being forced to mesh and resulting in some spinning faster than they should, others tearing apart, and some generating heat and other inefficient byproducts.

And what I read/listened to this week:

Foundations of Humane Technology

This Foundations of Humane Technology course looks really great. I haven’t started it yet but I’m signed-up and looking forward to it.

Project debt

Seth Godin’s podcast is always good, but the episode on project debt was particularly good. More work requires more coordination. Knowing this and reducing the linear growth of debt against the increase of work is important for . This comes from saying no.

Human Development Index

The Human Development Index is based on the idea that GDP isn’t the best way to assess and measure a country. Apart from the reports being really interesting themselves, the reason I read some of this is because I have an idea about how charities should measure their impact through a Theory of Change model that has globally agreed essentials for achieving quality of life (for all living things, not just humans) at the top which charities feed their work into. So, for example, if financial stability was one of those essentials, then a debt charity and a employment advice charity could both show how they contribute. I’ll write up the idea properly one day.

Growth area for this week:

Clearer communication

I’ve been trying to be more succinct in answers I give to questions whilst also providing relevant context and what the opportunities, consequences or actions might be. It’s kind of a past, present, future for every answer. I don’t really know if that does make my communication clearer, and there’s nothing to test it against but if it at least stops me from rambling then that will be a good thing.

Weeknotes #268

Photo of the week:

This week I did:

Age Appropriate Design Code

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

Backwards hypothesis

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

Tweet100

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

And thought about:

A system for everything

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

Digital thinking

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

Fractal tasks

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

I listened/watched/read:

Proximal learning

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

The Difference between Engineering and Design Thinking

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

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

The guide says:

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

Sounds like good advice.

A Constellation of Possible Futures

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

And my growth area this week was:

Making connections

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

Weeknotes #267

Photo of the week:

What I did this week:

A gateway or a ladder

Neuroscience tells us that what makes human minds special is our sense of narrative and being able to sequence events. It’s what allowed us grasp complex cause and effect relationships which are the foundation for science and rational logic. Telling stories and using metaphors to explain concepts is a useful and well-accepted method of communication, but perhaps less so within organisations. My writing is usually quite technical and concrete, but this is changing as I explore other ways to help people understand my work, and make better decisions from it.

I’ve been working on ways of making identity verification better. It has quite a bit of complexity to it, with the user experience of having to provide documents with personal information, the technicalities of managing the systems that store the document files and record progress as they are check and verified, and the processes that collect, validate and verify a person’s identity. So, to communicate the different ways we could approach identity verification I used the metaphors of a gateway and a ladder. The gateway is the same for everyone, once their identity is verified they can pass through. The ladder has different steps that someone can be on if their identity is verified to different degrees. Hopefully the metaphor can be used as shortcuts to discuss both options.

Designing for privacy and protection

I’ve been working on how we might implement the Age Appropriate Design Code. It requires some quite critical questioning of the code and our systems and processes. As we progress with this work I’m keen that rather than designing for the most likely and usual, and then designing other processes that deal with the deviations, we take the approach of designing ways that work for everyone. Those product managers who spend their time trying to push the needle on user retention don’t know they’re born. Charity product management is where it’s at. It’s the extreme sport of product management.

Breaking down hierarchies

I went to a really good virtual meetup about hierarchies and networks by the Barnardo’s Innovation Team. Apart from being a really good idea to get people together to share ideas it also opened my eyes to different ways of thinking about hierarchies and networks.

Work together better by knowing more about how others work

I have a hypothesis that multi-disciplinary and cross-functional teams aren’t as effective as they could be because thy create mini silos of specialisms within the team. I think if every role had some understanding of each of the adjacent roles, the team would have better shared language, more effective conversations and make more considered decisions. In an attempt to do something about this I’m trying out the idea of users guides for digital roles for those who aren’t specialists in those roles, which I’m calling Adjacencies.

Thought about this week:

Transitional states

A colleague set me a link to a video about ‘transitional safeguarding‘, a phrase used to describe the problem of thinking in binary ways about childhood and adulthood and the gap it creates in the way young people receive support as they transition from childhood to adulthood. This made me think about two things; 1) how I’m really interesting in digital safeguarding as a foundation for all online interactions but that it’s really broad and complicated area to understand, and 2) that thinking about how people interact with digital services as in-flux transitions rather than beginning or ending fixed states opens more possibilities to meet people where they are but is also really complicated. Our language doesn’t lend itself to describing things that are changing, so then how do we even talk about it, let alone develop the mental models to understand transitions deeply. Every user interface shows the fixed states between the transitions (however temporary they may be). I don’t even know how to start thinking about this.

Creating a writing habit

I write quite a lot. I write documents at work, weeknotes every week, and occasional blog posts. These are quite formalised, so I wanted to try to create more of a habit of writing more freely and spontaneously. So I decided I’m going to try to write a blog post every day throughout October. Of course, in my usual way I started planning what I would write about each day, collecting research, making notes, and completely missing the point of building a habit of writing spontaneously. Anyway, we’ll see how it goes.

And read about:

Liberating structures

I’ve reading through the Liberating Structures menu to think more about how virtual meetings might be better, if they can’t be done asynchronously, of course.

Digital nomads

As I’ve been considering starting up my Digital Nomad Newsletter again I’ve been reading other digital nomad newsletters, including Playing with ideas, Wayward Wayfarer, Nomad Hacker, The History of Digital Nomading and Diary of a Digital Nomad.

My growth area:

Giving feedback

I was asked to give feedback for a colleague. I thought about it for a couple of days, I looked at this, and thought more about number ten: understanding what they value, and then wrote my feedback. I couldn’t provide feedback that helps them improve in their discipline. I could only help them apply their discipline towards making a better product. But this is my objective. It might not be theirs, but they didn’t tell me what there’s is. I’m left thinking that my feedback is less than useful because I don’t have any context in which to provide it. So, my growth area this week is to try to understand what the point of providing feedback is, what is it suppose to achieve.

Weeknotes #266

Photo of the week:

I took this photo just after going for swim in the sea. It’s always such a real experience but even more so as the sea of getting colder.

This week I did:

The undesigned path

We’ve been doing quite a bit of work on a service blueprint and it’s made us consider the things that shouldn’t happen but probably will. These are the undesigned paths, the things users might do that takes them away from our designed paths. It would be impossible for us the think of all the different things users could do as they try to accomplish a task, and we can’t always prevent them from taking these paths, but we can try to make it as easy as possible to get back on to the designed path.

If your name’s not down

Identity verification is complicated thing. I’ve been working on a framework for reaching levels of confidence that a person is who they say they are. It’s a really interesting problem to solve because there are so many different real life scenarios that we need to cater for, but we also need have a means of codifying and recording that a person’s identity has been verified. Personally, I love this kind of complex problem solving that connects messy real life to digital systems, and professionally I hope it helps contribute to a workable solution. It’s part of what I love about being a product manager in a charity.

From good ideas to social good

I finished my dissertation about innovation processes in charities, which means I’ve finished my masters. It felt good to move it from the Now column on my roadmap, where it’s been for two years, to the Done column. But what next? What am I going to do with all the time I’ll have?

Retro

Another new month, another retro to look back at what I’ve been doing to achieve my goals. My two big lessons were that focusing on fewer things makes it easier to achieve them on schedule (like dissertations) and that adding things to my delivery plan that don’t actually require any effort to achieve is kind of pointless.

Build upon or replace

I wrote about the difference between building upon things to improve them over time against building new things to replace them. I think making more conscious choices about building things in ways that they can built upon might help us create a more sustainable future.

I thought about:

Visual communications

I’ve been thinking, and want to write about, using visual communication more effectively for asynchronous working. It’s much harder to get right than written communication because it doesn’t have such a well established language. Most of us don’t implicitly understand things like the difference between a diagram and map (a map has spatial relationships whereas a diagram doesn’t), and being limited to two-dimensions can limit and constrain complex thing. I’m not even sure how to approach figuring this out other than starting by uncovering the problems with visual communication and see where it takes me.

Digital gardens and networked thoughts

I’ve been thinking about digital gardens and their use in creating a network of thoughts to evolve ideas over time. The usual approach to this seems to be to use a digital note-taking system where if an idea that has previously been added in mentioned again that it has a hyperlink to the original. I think it’s meant to help show how the same idea gets reused in different posts but all the examples I’ve seen look too neat and clean to be in any real use. My notes are all over the place, including sketched onto a window, in a notebook, added to Notion, shared onto my website, dropped onto Miro, added to my weeknotes, and all without being able to connect them other than through memory, which is against the point of using a digital garden.

The other issue I struggle to understand with networking thoughts and ideas in this way is that as a conceptual model, networks don’t show time. So, if the point of a digital garden is to be able to help thought evolving over time, how does having connecting relationships between thoughts help achieve this? I wonder if it’s try to show ideas on a kind of evolution diagrams that shows the point-in-time state of an idea at multiple intervals, like how primates came from fish, and that’s just got the visual wrong, or whether the fundamental concept is flawed.

Either way, I’ll continue to explore note-taking as a thinking tool even if it’s just to help me understand the problem better, which I don’t really have a good grasp on yet.

Adjacency

I was chatting to someone about job skills and it made me think about how expanding our professional skill sets into adjacent fields would have lots of benefits. For me, my adjacencies might be service design, user experience, business analysis, maybe even a bit programming, and I think it should create better understanding across the team as there would be a more common language, mean that different team members can fill gaps and work together more effectively.

A charity’s purpose

I’m still reading Sarah Mitchell’s Charity Management, and this passage caught my attention, “the aim of a charity is to fulfill their mission”. Sarah is writing abut how charities might benefit from having more focus on doing only the things that contribute to achieving their mission and stopping doing things that don’t. In general, I agree that focus is a good thing, but I also wonder if too much focus negates the possibility of the positive second and third order effects that charities have. Charities provide so much more value to society that just that which comes from serving their beneficiaries to achieve their mission. Having volunteers doesn’t just benefit the charity, the volunteers also get lots of good from it too. If it’s a charity that supports children with learning difficulties, for example, then the families of those children also get benefits. If the charity forms relationships and partnerships with other organisations then the network that results can share knowledge and create improvements. The good charities have in the world extends much further than just in achieving their mission.

Maybe it’s a similar question to the idea that if a charity achieves its purpose it should shut down. I say no, because that is such a waste of all the expertise, infrastructure, systems and relationships that have been built over time and could be directed at other social issues. The problem isn’t that the charity that has achieved mission isn’t needed anymore, the problem is that a charity can only work on a narrowly defined mission.

And my growth area this week:

Confident communication

I’m not a natural communicator. As an introvert who gets easily obsessed with analysing things I usually forget to take people with me when I’m thinking through a problem. I try really hard to communicate clearly, but it doesn’t come easily. This week I received some nice feedback from a colleague who said that I did really well in getting their thoughts onto paper (or Miro) and helping them understand things. But I feel like there is still lots to improve in how I communicate, so this week I’ve been more conscious in considering what the audience might want or need to know, what existing knowledge they do or don’t have, how the visuals, written words and spoken words are all telling the same story. The test will be next week when I’m presenting on a complicated topic. Hopefully I’ll get some sense of whether the slides are pitched at the right level and whether I can explain the topic clearly enough to get to the answers we want.

Weeknotes #265

Photo of the week

Great Wheal Charlotte

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

This week I did:

Turning dreams into reality

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

The end is nigh

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

I thought about:

The future of influence at work

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

Selection mechanisms

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

Game theory for project planning

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

And read:

Charity management

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

Developing Mastery in a Digital Age

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

This week I’m grateful for:

Seeing dolphins

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

Weeknotes #264

This week I did:

Solutions principles

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

Charity innovation model

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

Top-down or bottom-up?

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

Hitting bottom

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

333

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

And this week thought about:

How far upstream should charities operate?

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

Value Chain Mapping

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

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

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

Big things beat little things

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

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

Responsibility, given and taken

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

My growth area this week:

Not causing chaos

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

Weeknotes #263

This week I did:

Show me the data

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

Ahead of schedule and on target

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

Read and listened to this week:

Rethinking your position

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

Charity innovation stuff

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

And thought about:

Top-down or bottom up?

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

How to compare things

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

Q4

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

This week I’m grateful for:

Open-mindedness

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

My growth area this week:

Always being right

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

Weeknotes #262

What I did this week:

Bootstrap problems

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

Change of theory

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

Innovation in charities

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

Notes

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

What I read this week:

Digital maturity in the not for profit sector

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

Talent is evenly distributed, opportunity isn’t

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

What I thought about this week:

The future of digital nomadism and off-grid developers

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

Contracts and covenants

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

Perhaps we are all myth-makers

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

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

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

What I’m grateful for this week

Feedback begets feedback

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