Weeknotes 309

Photo of the week:

This week I did:

Analytics to impact

This week has featured a lot of analytics. I’ve been working on migrating to GA4, defining goals, mapping metrics into impact measures, and aligning products and services into theories of change. As much as I like the if-then logic and hypothesis-driven thinking of theory of change, I wonder if the one-way linear flow is limiting and whether we should be thinking more in flywheel change models.

The ultimate split

This week’s irregular ideas email was about how our brains evolved in two hemispheres to solve the problem of having to focus on the details and look at the big picture, and how we took the idea of rational thinking vs emotional feeling and used it to enforce misogynistic power structures in society. It wasn’t one of my best. It lacked clarity and the ideas felt disconnected. I don’t know what next week’s will be about but I want to try to make it more succinct in how it expresses the ideas.

Product roles in charities

I started the analysis of the twenty three product roles in charities that have been advertised recently. The point of the study is as an observation, not in any way a criticism, of the different ways charities think about the role of a product manager. Already, the main theme emerging is of inconsistency (for example, there are fourteen different job titles across the twenty three roles), which I think suggests the organisations are shaping the role to fit their particular needs rather than (perhaps) recognising the value good product management can bring.

And I read:

Continuous Digital

I started reading Allan Kelly’s Continuous Digital book. It aims to offers an alternative for projects for our digital world. Already it’s brilliant and I’ve barely started.

Communitarianism

I still maintain that one day historians will look back on the twenty-first century as the era of redefining the place of the individual in society. The individualism of the past few centuries no longer holds the kind of sense it used to, the relationship between the individual and the collective is changing drastically (a concept I want to explore in my dividual.me project if I ever get around to it). Communitarianism “is a philosophy that emphasizes the connection between the individual and the community. Its overriding philosophy is based upon the belief that a person’s social identity and personality are largely molded by community relationships, with a smaller degree of development being placed on individualism.” It seems like it might have something interesting to contribute to that redefinition.

Power Cube

I’ve been reading about and trying to understand The Power Cube (Thanks to James for sharing it). I’m really interested in the power dynamics between people, especially with things like giving and taking responsibility, and how we (re)design systems to allocate power appropriately, and not confuse power with authority, which is an easy thing to slip into if you’re not careful.

And I thought about:

Digital charity show and tells

I wondered whether any charities do show and tells of work in progress. If we assume that working in the open and getting feedback early and often is a good thing (ya know, all that agile stuff), then I guess there’s a few ways these kinds of show and tells could work. Perhaps as an enabling platform that makes it easier for charities to show their work to their particular target audience or as a way to share practice among the digital charity teams and people.

Fitbit Publication Library

I’m interested in how commercial product companies create good impact, often without intending to, and what charities can learn from them. My usual example is Uber, which accidently caused a 6% reduction in deaths from drink driving, and what could they achieve if they’d intended to. I found the Fitbit Publication Library which shows research studies that have been conducted using Fitbit devices. I think this might become my next go to example of a company using product for good.

Mobius loop

Thought a bit about the mobius loop model for product development and how different sizes and speeds of work might fit, can you have different pieces of work at different stages at the same time… and why do we always represent linear time in our models (to end back where I started).

Weeknotes 308

This week I did:

Staff summit

Three times a year all us remote workers from RNID get together at a staff summit. There are talks and presentations about what’s been happening at RNID and I did a skill share session about Microsoft Teams, which in twenty minutes, probably didn’t share many skills but did get lots of questions. Next I want to turn all those questions into a guide for how we use Teams at RNID to help more colleagues develop their digital skills.

Pipelines & platforms

This week’s Irregular Ideas email was about the difference between pipelines and platforms as means of creating value. It talks about how value created by pipelines relies on everything going through it being standardised, and value created by platforms needs everything to be unique and matchable to something else unique. I set up and sent it from Substack, so now I need to decide whether to keep the current website and use Substack for sending emails, keep Substack but remove the website, or move both to Mailerlite (or fix the DMARC issue and go back to using Revue). Pluses and minuses either way, but I think I’ll test Substack for a few months.

The coastline problem

I’m back to travelling around the coast of England, Wales and Scotland. It feels good to be back and I’m interested to see what it does to my thinking and what projects I want to focus on. My first reflection is that I’ll know I’m settled into the rhythm of moving every day when I no longer feel like I’m in the wrong place. On my first day back, when I was on the beach I wanted to be in my car, and when in my car I wanted to be on the beach. I felt like I should be somewhere else.

And I thought about:

Strategy models designed for non-competitive environments

All of the strategy theories and models I can find are based in a competitive environment. They are concerned with how one firm out-performs others. Everything from Porter’s Five Forces, Resource-based View, to the Ansoff matrix and VRIO, they all assume that there is a competitive environment where one firm is trying to out-perform another firm. This paper of the Dynamics of Competition and Strategy represents and summarises “different perspectives of scholars in framing competition and strategy that is related to theory of the firm and differential firm performance.” So where does this leave non-profit strategy which doesn’t operate in a competitive market environment? Are there any strategic models that could be applied to charities? Although not a strategic model, systems-thinking that considers organisations in an ecosystem, is the only thing I’ve found so far that comes close.

Phases of effecting change

I’ve been starting to formalise my idea about the different ways the charity sector tries to effect change in society, and where they emerged in the history of the sector. The first way that developed was directly helping individuals. It started with the church, alms for the poor, etc., and continues today with foodbanks, helping unemployed young people into jobs, etc. The second way to develop was focused on institutions. It probably started late 1800’s as institutional power was at it’s strongest. It involved all the influencing work charities do, including campaigning and advocacy to affect government policy, marketing to the general public, probably from the 1950’s onwards as mass culture developed, and things like funding medical research. The third way, which is just starting to emerge, is using technology to effect change. This is different to using technology in support of the other two ways, it means individuals and institutions interacting with the charity via the technology that causes the change. The non-charity sector example I use is that Uber caused a 6% drop in the number of deaths from drink driving in the US. Imagine what they could achieve if they meant to do it.

And read:

On Principles

This post by James Boardwell about developing principles is interesting. I’ve often thought that principles should emerge out of practice as until you’ve worked together on something for a while you don’t really know what’s important to you. Boardwell says, “Making explicit and conscious what drives your behaviour can be incredibly powerful as a means to critically shape a team and organisation to be who they want to be.” Principles, if they are going to earn their keep, have to drive behaviours.

What Works to Increase Charitable Donations?

This Meta-Review with Meta-Meta-Analysis says, “The most robust evidence found suggests charities could increase donations by emphasising individual beneficiaries, increasing the visibility of donations, describing the impact of the donation, and enacting or promoting tax-deductibility of the charity.”

You don’t need a Platform, you need One Thing That Works

A perspective on platforms from government IT: “Technology platforms are the foundational building blocks of any well-integrated digital ecosystem… but supporting a platform is no joke: once a bunch of products are relying on you, you can never turn one off. So you should really try to avoid introducing a platform until you truly, absolutely need it.”

Weeknotes 307

This week I did:

If you can’t measure it, you can’t product manage it

I’ve been thinking about measurement a lot this week. We have a few different projects related to data, analytics and measurement going on, and I’ve been working out how they all fit together, compliment each other, and how we avoid creating a large programme of work out of all these individual efforts. Much better, I think, to enable lots of small pieces of work to take positive steps forward in figuring how they want to approach measurement. Of course, it’s not really about measurement, it’s about evidence-based decision making tools. That’s what we’re really creating.

Digital you

I think this was one of my better editions of Irregular Ideas. Digital you talked about how how relationship with technology, especially as part of our body, changes our sense of identity. Unfortunately, Revue, the email platform, didn’t deliver it to most of my subscribers, so time to switch platforms.

What does the charity sector think product managers do?

I’m working a little analysis of product manager job descriptions to see if it can reveal anything about what charities think product managers do in charities. It’s a simple keyword analysis of twenty job ads for product management roles to look for trends such as managing internal versus external products, managing roadmaps, being responsible for product strategy, etc. I haven’t decided yet whether to do a relative comparison of the role between themselves or an absolute comparison against an external, and possible idealised, role definition of a product manager. I’m also interested in figuring out what makes product management in charities different to businesses, so maybe I’ll do another comparison against twenty commercial product manager job ads.

Your website sucks

I provided some feedback on a book that is a work in progress, which I really enjoyed. The book is about the basic errors in user experience many websites have, but more interesting is the idea of writing a book in public so that feedback can be used to improve it.

And I read:

A (functioning) digital society

James Plunkett’s article explores whether Drucker’s concept of a functioning society could be applied to the contemporary and future challenge of build a functioning digital society, and how the platform is becoming the institution for that challenge.

I agree, we are seeing the increasing platform-ification of society, and looking at it from Drucker’s idea about corporations being the existing means by which individuals and groups get their needs met is really interesting. But the thing that niggles at my brain is that most of our historic/existing institutions are based on competition and counter-balance. Competition in the corporate world, and counter-balances in government policy, regulatory and legal systems.

If indeed the corporation is a way in which the individual and the group get what they need, it can only be because there are lots of corporations to choose from. If there was only one, the power dynamics would change and so the needs of both individual and group couldn’t be met. Platforms, by design, don’t have these kinds of competition and counter-balance built into them, they usually follow power law rules where popular things become more popular. Can a society function on that kind of logic? I don’t think so.

Data about the sector

Tom Watson’s brilliant report on data about the third sector provides an insightful overview into the current situation/problem: “There are many different audiences for data about the sector, and they are interested in knowing different things. There are significant gaps in the current data, in a number of different areas, and a number of barriers to collecting it.” It’s a meta-problem. The entire sector exists to tackle non-trivial problems in society that market forces wouldn’t and government methods couldn’t solve, and here it is facing a problem that can only be solved with a public goods approach. Solving the data problem doesn’t benefit any organisation sufficiently that they would solve it themselves, but solving it would benefit every organisation and so their beneficiaries.

Wicked Problems in Public Policy

I haven’t read it all yet but Brian Head’s book on Wicked Problems in Public Policy looks really great. I’m particularly interested in the seven strategies governments use to respond to wicked problems: Avoidance, denial and minimal responsibility, Coercive controls, Compartmentalised micro-management, Technocratic problem-solving, Incremental and pragmatic adjustment, Stakeholder collaboration, Coping and prevention policies. I wonder if the third sector has/could have aligned strategies to be part of tackling wicked problems.

Not starting a transformation programme

Big attempts at change fail to change much. Makes sense, because these programmes apply the existing thinking models and so all they can do is create more of the same. The only way to change to change how you do things, not just what you do. Let a thousand flowers bloom.

103 Pieces of Advice That May or May Not Work

Kevin Kelly is a bit of hero of mine. He’s on the Freakonomics podcast speaking about his 103 pieces of advice, including things like, “Rather than steering your life to avoid surprises, aim directly for them.”

And thought about:

Hand signs

I saw two teenage lads walking along giving each other hand signs. I jokingly wondered whether they were gang hand signs or whether they were discussing Fleming’s left hand rule. But it’s the same thing. Whether it’s a gang of science geeks or gang of hoodlums, it’s about having a shared culture that makes clear those on the inside and outside, and the use of hand signs as a means of communicating it.

Is product management a spectrum-friendly discipline?

I watched a video about jobs that tend to be more attractive to people on the autistic spectrum. It made me wonder whether Product Management is a good job for someone on the autistic spectrum. On one hand, there’s the detail orientated aspect of the work that seems to fit, but on the other, there’s the communication and influencing part of the role that might not be. Janna Bastow tweeted about her ADHD and about product managers being neurodivergent.

Linearity

We represent many things as a linear process when hardly anything is. Partly due to the limitation of the two dimensional tools we use (diagrams) and perhaps a bit of an obsession with time and showing timelines as left-to-right arrows, but something to be challenged to bring our mental models closer to reality.

Weeknotes 306

Did this week:

Digital transmutation

I’ve been working on a few things that in my head at least, are organisational digital transformation activities. Data – collecting it, analysing it, using it, understanding it – is an important focus for me. Talking to people about how I can help them think more about data in their work has been really interesting. The other thing is in helping people make the most of digital tools to work effectively.

Stop solving problems

This week’s Irregular Ideas explored the idea of problems, whether we need to define them to solve them and whether the best solutions are building better systems that dissolving problems. I realised, while writing this, that I waste a lot of the research I do, so I might try more tweeting as I find interesting stuff.

Charity in the 21st century

Did a bit more research on my Ambivalent MBA. I’m enjoying figuring out the curriculum and once I has one subject defined I intended to get on with the studying and writing for that before I figure out the subjects for any of the other modules so that I can apply agile education to it more and change the subjects, modules and how I work with them as I go. Assuming an average of five subjects across ten modules I could easily end up with fifty short essays that might make a nice ebook.

Retro and delivery plan

I wrote my retro for May, which was pretty easy as I didn’t do very much. My delivery plan for June is pretty empty too but I’m hoping to be back in full swing in July.

Bots love me

My website has been getting hit by bots over the past few days. Other than massively inflating the number of views in my analytics they don’t seem to have done any damage but I’m going to get Cloudflare set-up and maybe get around to looking for a new hosting provider.

Read/listened/watched:

McKeown on strategy

I’ve been reading and listening to Max McKeown’s ideas about strategy.

Systems thinking for civil servants

Introducing a small sample of systems thinking concepts and tools, chosen due to their accessibility and alignment to civil service policy development, it’s great to systems thinking being used in this context.

10x Not 10% Product management by orders of magnitude by Ken Norton

Thought about:

Bayesian goals

Bayes’ work on probability looks like it might provide the conceptual background for my ideas on achieving uncertain things by refining the goal as you take steps towards it.

Is it better to be consistently inconsistent or inconsistently consistent?

The answer seems to be, it depends what you value. If you want certainty then it’s better to be consistently inconsistent as you know you are always going to come up with random things. If you value creativity and innovation then being inconsistently consistent is probably your best bet.

Platform disruption in the charity sector

It’s coming. Sooner or later the charity sector will see the same kind of technology powered disruption that other industries have experienced. If those industries have been anything to go by, it won’t be any of the charities we recognise now that will be causing the disruption. And, I think, how soon it happens will depend on known factors such as how much data there is to help understand what and where the needs are, where the funding and incentives come from, and just as important, who the people are and what skills they have.

Weeknotes 305

This week I did:

Knowledge is power. Information isn’t.

The information goods problem explains a lot. It explains why digital products and information goods are difficult to communicate about and sell, and it explains why it’s so hard to pass on knowledge to others. I also got some really nice feedback on this issue which made me think even more about how the newsletter connects the abstract things it talks about to the every day experience of people.

Product manager, answer me!

I set up a little website called Product manager, answer me to play with the product management meme that the answer to every question is, ‘it depends’.

Read and watched:

What will charities look like in the future?

James Plunkett talks about what the charity sector might look like in the future, including the challenges of data, software and funding. He says charities should be leading the way in digitally-enabled service delivery, showing how to design inclusive services that leverage technology to reduce inequalities in outcomes.

What technology wants

This talk from Kevin Kelly is really interesting for thinking about the nature of big change and how it tends towards complexity, diversity, specialisation, ubiquity, mutualism, sentience, and evolvability.

Thinking Big, Working Small

John Cutler talks about the ‘persistent model’ needed to bridge the gap between having big goals and working in small ways.

And thought about:

Systems thinking in product management

I thought a bit about how system thinking methods could be applied to product management but mostly about how opposite they seem. Product management is often focused on quick fix solutions to change the events taking place, and systems thinking has more focus on longer-term solutions. The challenge is to figure out how to apply systems thinking to product management and shift the leverage product management can have.

Engagement or transaction

There is some product thinking that says every business model is fundamentally about either engagement or transaction. Engagement business models rely on getting users to spend more time with the product, e.g., Facebook and Spotify, and transaction business models focus on getting customer through a funnel, e.g., Amazon. So, in thinking about how product and service fit together, I’m wondering, are organisations that use a service approach tied to the transactional model?

Looking back

I’ve been looking back at past experiences from the perspective of trying to understand how much being on the autistic spectrum might have affected them. It’s impossible to know for sure but the more I learn about how ASD affects things like social interaction it’s easy to see how it might not have just been me being weird. And looking forward, it feels like being trapped in something that I can’t change.

Weeknotes 304

Did:

Data-driven decision-making

I’ve been thinking about and working on how we can use data to inform decision-making. It’s interesting because I can’t start with the outcome because I don’t know what decisions anyone might want to make in the future, so I have to start with the step before that and ask, what might people need to understand so they can make those decisions. From knowing what people want to understand we can figure out what data we need to collect, how they want to see it, etc., etc.

Charity in the 21st century

Did some more set-up for the first module of my Ambivalent MBA in charity in the 21st century. The first module is about the broader concept of charity, it’s history and how it fits in society, including government policy and mainstream media.

No single source of truth

This week’s Irregular Ideas newsletter was about systems of record and how all of the different computer systems that hold data about us mean the can never be a single source of truth.

It depends

I have an idea for a fun little website about the product managers giving answers to stakeholders, so hopefully I’ll have time to build it this weekend.

Thought about:

Product operating system

There’s a bit of a trend on product twitter at the moment of recognising the problem of framework-overload. There are so many frameworks, techniques and tools to use in product management that how is a product manager to decide which to apply, let alone really understand how each works and get the most benefit from it. It feels like there are two directions for this to go, one is to take a more human-centred approach where product managers focus on the skills to create the systems and processes they need in their context rather than looking to non-contextual frameworks, and the other would be to figure out how frameworks fit together and compliment each other into a product operating system. It might help product managers to understand frameworks better if they were more aware of the sources of the ideas and underlying assumptions. So, for example, to understand User Stories you need to understand Boundary Objects, and the understand Build-Measure-Learn you need to understand the scientific method.

Design systems for decision making

I had some interesting chats about design systems this week and thought about how they can be really useful for moving to goal-based web page designs over what-looks-pretty designs. So far, this thinking looks something like: design systems are more than just component libraries, they contain research about how the component performs in various scenarios, and advice on when and when not to use the component. This then allows designers to start a web page design from asking what goals it’s trying to achieve and select the components that best achieve them. I should write a quick blog post about it to capture the ideas.

Read/watched:

Introduction to Modern Product Discovery

New stories of what it means to be human

We’re in a chasm between stories that used to function and new stories which haven’t yet gathered enough coherence to function effectively.” This is what my edition of Irregular Ideas about the state of our story-telling would have been like if I was a better writer.

John Ruskin

As part of the research into building my Ambivalent MBA I’ve added John Ruskin to the reading list. He was a philanthropist and radical voice in Victorian society so I’m interested to understanding if what was radical thinking back then is problematic saviour-complex thinking now.

Weeknotes 303

This week I did:

Feedback

I’ve been in my current role for five months now so it seemed like a good time to ask my colleagues for some feedback. Some of the comments were about how I provide guidance, which for me means knowing when be explicit in what I’m saying, when to be implicit so that people figure things for themselves, and when to say nothing. The skill to develop, then, is the judgement around knowing which to do when. The other feedback I received was that I always smile on video calls, which I hadn’t noticed but was nice.

Expanding on the future of education

This week’s Irregular Ideas newsletter was a rant about the purpose of education and how when we think about the future of education (or anything really) we frame it as opposite to the past rather than an expansion. The general point here is about how we tend to think about replacing things rather than building on them and expanding them.

Ambivalent MBA

I started setting up the course structure for my ambivalent MBA in ‘Charity in the 21st century’. I’m really looking forward to having some structured learning again, and exploring doing so in a agile self-directed and self-paced way. The point of this way of studying is to not have a curriculum set at the start but to create it as I go. This means that if I find a topic really interesting I can go into it in more depth and if I don’t find it useful I can spend less time on it.

And read/listened to:

How to live the perfect life, using data

The Modern Wisdom podcast with Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a data scientist, economist and author, had some really interesting thoughts on how to be successful in a general/life sense. It basically comes down to three factors: Get the reps in – the more times you do something the better you’ll get at it, create a local monopoly – be the only one that does what you do, and, optimise for similarity – people connect to those they have things in common with.

Closing the gap

This report on the state of online learning is particularly positive (not surprising given it’s by an online learning company). One of the interesting things about the future of online learning is how much it’ll facilitate the future of work. If mainstream education continues to be wholly in-person (because you need to put the kids somewhere while the parents go to work) then working form anywhere/home when those kids get jobs (or at least a job that can be done from anywhere) seems like a hugely disruptive start to working life (with consequences for the organisation and the individual). But if education changes to be less about preparing people for a workplace where they need to turn up on time, sit quietly and do as they’re told, and more about the mindset and skills that modern remote work requires, then remote work has a far greater chance of being the norm. And effective online learning is essential for that shift.

Solving global issues

The World Economic Forum’s report ‘17 ways technology could change the world by 2027’ has some very interesting ideas. The position WEF takes is that “innovation is critical to the future well-being of society and to driving economic growth”, which is pretty hard to argue against by any measure (life expectancy, health, literacy, etc.), but it’s a very human-centric position. Even the mention of removing reliance on fossil fuels is because people need power, not because other species need to survive.

And I thought about:

Document Driven Development

Although probably not Document Driven Development as developers understand it. And not necessarily Word documents, but any kind of documentation. Basically, starting work by getting as much of the ideas, knowledge and questions out of people’s head as possible. ‘Visualise the work’ has shown the benefits for being able to reduce the cognitive load for teams, so maybe ‘visualise the thoughts’ is an extension of that which facilitates async working. And async meetings are a meeting of minds, in a shared virtual space, for a defined length of time, with a defined outcome.

Impact mapping and theory of change

I’ve been thinking about how to improve understanding what a product/service is trying the achieve and have been trying to compare impact mapping and theory of change. Impact mapping is more of a forward planning tool, allowing you to create causal connections between the features of the product, the impact or change expected from implementing them, who will be using them, and the business goals associated. Theory of change is more of a backwards-looking evaluation tool that counts early small achievements as indicators that a bigger longer-term outcome will be achieved. I’m going to do some modelling exercises using both tools with a single product and see how the experience and results differ.

Decision short-cuts

Principles, design systems, component libraries, process maps, etc., etc., all seem to be solving the same fundamental problem; how to short-cut coordinated decision making.

Weeknotes 302

This week I did:

Analytics

I’ve been working on how we might use website analytics to help people think more about data and use it in decision-making. The shift from UA to GA4 has been a good prompt for creating useful dashboards that everyone can see.

What happens when we stop telling stories?

This week’s Irregular Ideas was about how the digitisation of media has changed how we understand and tell stories.

Ambivalent MBA

I’ve been slowly working on an idea for creating my own MBA using Agile Education and Andragogy ideas where I’d build a curriculum of topics I want to learn about, read about each and then complete some kind of assignment or project.

Read this week:

How to talk about agile to non-digital decision makers

A few things to consider when talking about agile to non-digital teams.

Blogging for teams

This cool website about blogging for teams by Giles Turnbull

Idea machines

Tech as a system of values, and not just an industry, is heavily driven by its subcultures and their ideologies. Where do these ideologies come from, and how do they influence what’s accomplished?

And thought about:

Failure is a funny thing

The rhetoric around failure is that it’s a good thing, something to be accepted and learned from. But we all still seem to spend so much time trying to avoid failure. If it’s good, if it’s an effective way to learn, shouldn’t we be expecting and encouraging failure?

Problem levels

It seems every problem has another level of problem beneath it. Choosing the right level to look at the problem from is half way to understanding it. Choosing the right level to intervene at is half way to fixing it.

Going to the source

There’s nothing new under the sun. Every idea has influences, a history and sources. Product managers should know this and go to the source to understand things. If you’re building a learning management system and you don’t understand pedagogy and andragogy then you’ll have to learn all that knowledge, ineffectively, through the product.

Weeknotes 301

Did this week:

Safe measures

Been thinking about the problem of measurement for improvement in a safe way. It’s easy for measures to feel like criticism, so how can we have measures that are clearly of the system and not of the person and the work?

And I worked on how the Team Topologies four indicators of high performing organisations for achieving a faster flow of change can be used to measure product development process performance.

Virtual citizen

This week’s irregular ideas newsletter was about becoming a virtual citizen and whether nationality has to be tied to locality, and about what might happen if there was a marketplace for changing nationality.

Bought a new phone

My phone stopped charging, and as I use my phone as a hotspot to connect my laptops to the internet I needed to replace it quickly. The interesting thing for me was putting the response plans that I wrote ages ago into practice. I spent some time doing a risk assessment of my life to think about what things could go wrong and what I could if they happened. Phone not working is a minor one, but it’s good to know that planning was worth it.

Read:

Progressive Organizational Structures

Organisational structures are fascinating. What is the best way to organise a group of people to work on lots of different things but all towards the same goal? Corporate rebels have collected ten organisational structures that are rooted in practice. Lots to think about.

10 principles for making collective progress

This review of existing approaches and principles for making progress towards shared visions for social change is fantastic. It’s great to see Collect Impact as the first approach on the list, and that a network approach to systems change is included.

Thought about:

Product’s iron triangle

Project management has the iron triangle of scope, time and budget, so I was wondering what the product version is of this. Paul Brown suggested the Mobius loop. I need to read more to understand its use but it seems like exactly what I was imagining the product version would be. Being a loop implies the ‘never finished’ nature of modern products and connects user, outcome, delivery and measurement.

Failing on purpose

There’s a lot of thinking in tech and product about failing fast, learning from failure, etc., but I was thinking about how despite recognising failure as a learning opportunity, why we still try so hard to avoid it. Wouldn’t we learn more and better if we welcomed failure, even failed on purpose? If we see a potential failure, shouldn’t we allow it to fail for the learning opportunity it presents?

Understanding scale

I think scale might be one of the hardest things for human brains to grasp. From the smallest to the largest known scales in physics, the way the scale of networks has such a significant effect on behaviours, and how difficult it is to know if the understanding you have is accurate.

Weeknotes 299

This week I did

Online courses

You know what’s a challenging industry to be in right now? Online courses. There was a bit of a good rush during lockdowns when people couldn’t attend in person education and had more time, but now the average completion rate for online courses is 12%. So, how to make a product that achieves more than that? That’s what I’ve been working on mostly this week.

The balancing of big tech

What if only big tech can regulate big tech? I don’t mean big tech companies regulating themselves, I mean governments deploying big tech solutions that enforce policy rather than the current approach of creating rules within a system that enables rule-breaking and then maybe punishing the company after the damage is done. This week’s Irregular Ideas was about a vague vision of future governments having the technical capabilities to go into an online war with corporations.

Virtual art

I visited the Van Gogh Virtual Experience. It was good, and the VR part was really good. I sat on a swivel chair with a headset covering my eyes and ears and floated through a van Gogh inspired landscape. I went into buildings, down stair cases with a physical sensation of descending, turned around to look up and down and behind me. It was pretty cool. It was also a bit of a look of what VR technologies and environments might be like in the future for work, leisure and social lives. As the hardware improves and becomes less cumbersome (just like mobile phones and laptops did) I can easily see headsets and gloves replacing laptops as the interface with the internet. We would we want that? Depends on your point of view.

Magix teams

I’ve been experimenting with creating an emerging practice to organise flexible teams around multiple projects in resource-constrained environments. And magix.team is my attempt to share what I’ve learned and some of the experiments.

Not sure what you want to achieve?

Most goal setting systems rely on the person having a known goal at the start and then focus on what to do to achieve it. But what if you don’t know exactly what you want to achieve? AmbiGOALity is a goal system that starts with a vague goal, takes a step towards it, asks whether that step was in the right direction toward that goal and whether you know more to refine the goal a little. It repeats the cycle using feedback loops and course correction to figure out the right goal and the right way to achieve as it goes. Ambigoality.com will (probably) let people sign-up for an email course to learn this technique.

And I read:

A Web Renaissance

Anil Dash talks about a “moment of possibility” that is taking place on the internet as a result of broad cultural forces, including a mistrust of big tech companies and the interest/hype about web3 which he sums up as, “People should have ownership and control of their data online. Users should be able to connect to services and then move between them freely without having to ask permission from any big tech companies. Creators should be fairly compensated for their work. Communities and movements should easily be able to form groups and collaborate together to achieve their goals.” This feels like a timely and optimistic view of what the emerging internet is trying to achieve.

Fish strategy

Because strategy is infinitely interesting, this thread about XP being a strategy for dealing with risk (in software development) is weirdly thought-provoking. The analogy is that “Fish don’t have a strategy for dealing with water, they are a strategy for dealing with water.”, just as XP is a strategy for dealing with risk and so doesn’t need a strategy for dealing with risk, creates lots of “yeah, but…” points about the definition of terms, but that aside, it’s interesting to think about how things (like risk, for example) are or aren’t included as part of how systems and processes are designed to work.

How does DALL-E 2 actually work?

Digital transformation at scale

I finished reading Digital transformation at scale. I thought it had a few really interesting parts (especially catchphrase comms) but as it was aimed at government departments it didn’t feel super relevant to me. It did however, make me think about what the charity version would look like and who would write it.

And thought about:

Team memory

Teams need memory. They use memory to help them make predictions about the world. They need short-term memory for things like which tasks are to be completed and who made what decisions, and they need long-term memory to apply the lessons they’ve learned to future situations. Some of what the team learns is externalised in documents, etc., but most is internalised into behaviours. If teams learn like brains do then they’ll try to resist long-term learning to conserve energy (or admin overhead), they’ll be more likely to retain general rules than specific details, and they’ll want to be able to relate new knowledge to existing. All of this, and lots lots more, makes it hard for teams to develop memory.

Processes

The more I think about it, the more I come to believe in the power of processes for handling uncertain situations flexibly versus frameworks that fix our thinking. Frameworks have edges which mean things are either in or out, and they are almost always designed by someone else for a specific context which makes applying them to your context an unhelpful that looks misleadingly helpful.

Will a dominant design emerge for digital work?

Based on the work of Utterback and others, we expect new things to start with multiple different designs and over time a dominant design emerges and after that all things designed adhere to that pattern. Look at all the different mobile phone form factors we used to have but now the vast majority of handsets look the same. So, I’m wondering if digital ways of working will follow the same pattern or whether the rate of change will prevent it. The timeline of modern work is part of thinking about this question.