Weeknotes #260

What I did this week (and didn’t do):

What do I require?

I spent a lot of time working on (and even more time thinking about) what some people might call requirements. I regularly get my thoughts tied up in knots trying to understand what we mean by ‘requirements’, ‘goals’, ‘objectives’, etc., but using ‘This is what we want to achieve’ and ‘These are the things we’re going to try’ seems much less ambiguous, so I tried . The problem I have, especially with ambiguous jargon but in general when defining or explaining anything, is the coastline problem. That is, how the problem looks depends on your measure. A circle drawn with only four big straight lines looks a lot like a square, but a circle drawn with a thousand small lines looks pretty circular. So, a requirement or goal specified at one level looks very different from another level. And then levels of what? My bottom-up answer would be, ‘levels of abstraction from the user behaviour’, but that opens up a whole load of other questions.

Why do charities use the innovation processes that they do?

I submitted my draft literature review and research methodology. I had originally thought that my research should be able how charities are using innovation processes, but I’ve realised I’m much more interested in why they are using them the ways they are. This creates more of a challenge as it requires qualitative interviews, but I just need to get out of my comfort zone and get on with it.

Embedding a theory of change in your learning

I signed-up for NPC Labs user research session on theory of change (which I’m interested in) and learning (which I’m really interested in). I’m not sure why, but I’m really looking forward to it.

Swimming with seals

I’ve went swimming in the sea almost every day this week. The best one was around sunset and I was alone on the beach. As I lay floating in the water a seal surfaced, looked at me for a few seconds, I looked at it, and then it swam away.

Didn’t get feedback

Listening to One Knight In Product with Teresa Torres made me realise that I haven’t done any of the discovery work I set myself for July. So, if anyone reads this and wants to do me a favour: sign-up for my charity product management emails and tell me what you think about them.


What I read this week:

Mobile traffic to charity websites is rising…

…but only a third of charities pass Google’s ‘Core Web Vitals’Mobile traffic to charity websites is rising, but only a third of charities pass Google’s ‘Core Web Vitals’

Why? Because it depends how you measure. And if you’re in the business of measuring and judging websites in order to rank them in search results then maybe you want some level of influence over how websites send you signals that you can judge them by.

Why? Because it’s easier to focus on frontend/visible aspects of technology and think that if the website is responsive then it must be optimised for mobile, which isn’t the case but many website platforms don’t get that stuff right by default.

Why? Because not all ‘Jobs To Be Done’ can or should be done on mobile devices (and with mobile behaviours). Sometimes, friction, intentional or unintentional, is good for getting people to stop and think. Convenience isn’t everything.

Why not? If your user research shows that the people that need your services find you through organic search results, need a highly-performant online experience, and only have mobile phones. The points is; do what your users need you to do, not what a search engine says.

Digital adoption within the NHS

Shock treatment: can the pandemic turn the NHS digital?, asks whether the NHS can maintain the level and pace of digital transformation that came about as a result of the pandemic, and also raises the ‘fix the plumbing or fund the future’ investment question, which I think is very closely connected. These are the questions facing every sector and organisation. Charities included. I feel like the answer is obvious; yes and no. Do organisations realise how important digital transformation is for them? Yes, at least a bit more than they did. Will organisations maintain the pace of change we saw from the pandemic? No, not without the huge external pressure making digital an existential question.

Decoupling time spent from value produced

James Plunkett’s article on the four-day week was shared around Twitter this week. It talks about the Iceland experiment and how it resulted in increased productivity, and more interestingly, predicts that, based on the historical data trend of reducing working hours, the four day working week will be generally adopted in the early 2030’s. If that’s the case, we might have a few more decades to go before society is ready to make the shift to decoupling the value we produce from the time we spend doing it. Stuart said it best, “Being at work never equated to doing work“.


What I thought about:

A diamond and a tree

Speaking of how we judge value, I had an interesting conversion about why different jobs are paid different amounts and how the job market values uniqueness of skill over what the role achieves. My analogy was ‘a diamond and a tree’. A diamond is considered to have high value because of how rare it is. Trees aren’t considered all that valuable but have an important impact on the environment and life (being able to breath, mostly). Maybe we’ve got our values round the wrong way.

Accepting responsibility

There’s lots said about blame culture and how toxic it is but I hardly ever see anything about the flip side; responsibility culture (if it’s even a thing). I think taking responsibility is one of those underlying amorphous parts of a product managers job. Obviously, everyone should take responsibility for their actions, but product managers are often the ones to be most aware of the trade-offs that exist when decisions are made (even if not actually making the decision), and that knowledge comes with responsibility. Taking responsibility for knowledge, not just actions, is an interesting responsibility to take.

Do charities need innovation?

Does any organisation, in fact? An amalgamation of ideas from a conversation on Twitter, Ann Mei Chang, and some of the stuff I’ve been thinking about for my dissertation takes my thinking towards this: If the problem is unknown and the solution is unknown, then innovation is an approach, a mindset, a skillset, a method that can help to make both known. If the problem is known and/or the solution is known, then innovation isn’t needed.

Weeknotes #257

This week I did:

Blueprinting

I spent quite a bit of time creating blueprints for how parts of products might interact as a way of exploring the translation from programme design into product development.

Service blueprint

In some ways, it was a week of visual working. We’ve been talking about how we do documentation better so that it’s quick to produce and easy to understand, and settled on screenshots being a good place to start. And one of the project teams is using Trello to track their work. I think, at the back of my mind, I’m taking onboard a comment someone made in the DigiScot talk about async working when we we’re talking about how we replace meetings, that drawing and visually representing ideas is a useful alternative to writing, so although I still write a lot, I’m trying to also work more visually so that more people can be involved.

Digital governance and risk management

I joined a really good talk by BeMoreDigital & Beyond Profit about managing digital risk and governance. I’ve been thinking for a while about how things like governance and risk management in charities, which are done in traditional non-digital ways, so it was really helpful to see others thinking about it. Governance is part of the business model of charities so as those business models become increasingly influenced by the internet, its important that we think about different ways of doing things like risk management.

Charity product management emails

I finished the first iteration of my ‘Interface – Integrate – Iterate‘ emails series about why charities need good product management. Next thing on the list is to get some feedback and figure out what improvements I can make. My aim (at the moment at least) is that this might develop into a project for after my dissertation about how to get good product thinking into charities.

June retro

End of the month. Time to look at the delivery plan I set at the beginning of the month and see how much I achieved and plan for what I want to achieve next month. Although this is only the second month of following a monthly process of reviewing progress and setting new goals for next month, it seems to be working really well.

And I thought about:

Influence

All a product manager has to get things done is their influence. And when something happens that damages that influence, even if it was out of the PM’s control, the thing to do is get to work on building up that influence. Vaguely connected, at least in my mind, is how this shows as a micro version of internet economics with attention and reputation being the currency. No one on the internet has authority over anyone else, but lots of people have more influence than others. So, for digital ways of working, whether on the internet of within an organisation, building and managing influence is important.

Consequences

I’ve been thinking about linear processes for product development (since that’s kind of what my dissertation is about) and how communication works throughout the process. I think there is a kind of entropy at play where well-ordered ideas and become more disordered at each stage as they become designs and then code. It’s a bit like playing a game of consequences where each time there is a hand-off to a different team, what was produced is hidden from the next and they only have the contextual rules of the game to guide what they then add. So, I’ve been thinking about how to reduce the entropy that occurs throughout the product development process.

Competition on the internet

My Twitter is made up of three ‘worlds’; charities, product management, and creator economy & nocode types. I see myself, one day, contributing to bringing those worlds closer together, but in the meantime I learn a lot from being part of these worlds. The lessons I learn from how the creator economy understands how to use the internet help me think about how the charity sector uses it internet (not really a spoiler but its way behind and doesn’t understand nearly as much). ‘Competition’ is a good example of that. The creator economy people know that they aren’t in competition with each other, even if they are doing very similar things, because they have an abundance mindset (something the internet has enabled). The charity sector, on the other hand, still has a scarcity mindset that drives competition. Competition works fine for usual market dynamics because the forces that drive it are mostly hidden, so everyone expects to be in competition but no one really knows who wins what. The problems occur when competition takes place in internet spaces which are more public, because then it’s easily taken as an attack.

And read:

Assemblage Space

I read John Willshire’s email newsletter Artefact 229 where he talks about his idea of Assemblage Space as a tool for thinking about the future and where our ideas about what the future might hold come from in our past. I was particularly interested in ‘the narrow now’ as the gateway through which how we remember the past and how we think about the future goes through. It helps us be aware that we are coming from a particular perspective, but it doesn’t help us see that the narrow now is always moving towards the future. Its the metaphysical conundrum of whether we conceive of time as a continuum or a series of fixed moments, but as John says in the video about A Spaces, the cone isn’t really the thing to focus on: the thing to focus on is the groupings of the things in the cone and how they relate to other things.

Lean impact

I read some of Ann Mei Chang’s Lean Impact which talks about whether/how innovation methods such as build-measure-learn loops can be used in the not-for-profit and social good space. There are some unique and obvious challenges about how impact projects are funded which make learning and scaling impact more difficult, but as Brid Brosnan from the British Red Cross shows, it is possible and it is changing.

Andragogy

I stumbled across the concept of andragogy, which is the theory of how adults learn from Macolm Knowles. Knowles said that when adults learn they should be self-directed and take responsibility for their decisions. “Andragogy makes the following assumptions about the design of learning: (1) Adults need to know why they need to learn something (2) Adults need to learn experientially, (3) Adults approach learning as problem-solving, and (4) Adults learn best when the topic is of immediate value.” So, adult learning programs should take these things into account.

Weeknotes #256

Things I did this week:

Took some time off

I sat by the river and watched the fish swimming slowly among the rocks. I knew I didn’t need to be anywhere else doing anything else. I had no Internet connection. No one else was around. It is only by the peacefulness of these places that we know the chaos and conflicts of the other places.

Game plan

I did do a bit of work this week. I’ve been thinking about how to create a game plan that allows us to join Programmes, Projects and Product, and the various teams and stakeholders. It represents the people involved, the value creation steps they’ll take, the outputs they produce, etc. So my next step is to find someone to present it to and validate it’s usefulness.

Product management in charities

I didn’t get as much done on my Interface, Integrate, Iterate emails about the roles and benefits of product management in charities as I would have like to have done, but I am making progress. I don’t think I’ll hit my target of completing them by the end of the month, but I’m still trying. Then I need some charity digital/product people to test them with and see if they make sense.

The end of blockchain

Not the technology, just the module I’ve been studying. We had our final lecture and I’ve started revising for the exam. Once that’s over I’ll have finished all the module study for my masters and achieved 40% of my grade, so now just the other 60% from my dissertation.


Some stuff I thought about:

Simple services

I saw a poster for Citizen’s Advice in Torpoint which explained how in simple, clear language the one and only way to get in touch to get help. Send a text message (the simplest and most prevalent channel available) and they’ll call you back to arrange an appointment. The poster could of also had a phone number, and an email address, and QR code, and a web address, but none of that is necessary. Rather than offering lots of ways to get in touch, which could confuse people and then requires all those different systems to be joined up, much better to offer a single simple way into the service. I’d love to see the metrics on the SMS booking service.

Citizen’s Advice’s vision states “You won’t ever struggle to get help from us. Our services will be available when you need them in a way that works for you”, and this poster is a great example of how the vision a charity holds can work on the ground, in a real life situation.

What do charities compete with?

Wayne Murray tweeted about how charities are in competition with Netflix and pubs when trying to engage people. There are so many ways to look at this. It’s undeniably true that we all only have a limited amount of time and attention so if we spend it at the pub we can’t also spend it volunteering with a charity. If people consider supporting a charity as on par with watching TV and socialising, then maybe there is direct competition. But if donating time and/or money to a charity is an extraordinary act for most people, then maybe it doesn’t compete with ordinary activities. And if you look at it as ‘doing good for myself’ (relaxing, socialising) and ‘doing good for others’ (supporting a charity), then maybe they are both worthy activities that have their place, which may or may not be in competition.

Can a charity live without a website?

James Heywood tweeted an interesting question about whether a charity can live without a website, and what some of the positives and negatives of doing so might be. It made me think how interesting it would be to take two similar small charities and create different digital strategies with the same objectives, where one strategy uses a website and the other doesn’t, and see which performs best.


A few things I read:

Is product management in continuous discovery?

I read a few posts by Teresa Torres, ‘The Best Continuous Discovery Teams Cultivate These Mindsets‘, ‘The Path to Better Product Decisions‘, and ‘Stop Validating & Start Co-Creating‘. They made me think about the function and discipline of Product Management and whether it’s definition is too fixed, not defined well enough, or the kind of role that should be in continuous discovery to figure out how it solves the right organisational problems within a range of scope.

The Computer for the 21st Century

Mark Weiser wrote The Computer for the 21st Century thirty years ago. In it he predicts the success of wearable tech as a means of collecting and presenting data, and explains why Virtual Reality never really took off. His premise is that in order for computers to be fully adopted they need to become unnoticeable, to “weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.”. Virtual reality takes people into the computer’s world rather than the computer coming into our world, so for all it’s usefulness it can never be as widely used as wearable devices which as easy to forget about but continue to do their computational work. Why does it matter? If he’s right, then maybe the idea serves as a guide for new and emerging technologies such as Voice, automated vehicles, blockchain, etc., and our adoption and response to it. The more a technologies blends into everyday life, the more it we be adopted.

Skills for the 21st Century

Online courses that that teach how to do something, e.g., take notes, write, produce newsletters, etc., are great but really what we need is learning opportunities for developing the top twenty skills for the 21st century.

  1. Judgment and Decision Making
  2. Fluency of Ideas
  3. Active Learning
  4. Learning Strategies
  5. Originality
  6. Systems Evaluation
  7. Deductive Reasoning
  8. Complex Problem Solving
  9. Systems Analysis
  10. Monitoring
  11. Critical Thinking
  12. Instructing
  13. Education and Training
  14. Management of Personnel Resources
  15. Coordination
  16. Inductive Reasoning
  17. Problem Sensitivity
  18. Information Ordering
  19. Active Listening
  20. Administration and Management

I think there might be a new project in there somewhere to figure out how to learn these kinds of skills…

Weeknotes #255

This week I did:

Programmes, products, projects

I spent a some thinking thinking through how we translate what our programme teams are developing for future courses into what we need to build into our products to enable the courses. It really does feel like a translation as there’s lots of different language and understanding that is important to get right.

One of our teams have adopted goal-based Now/Next/Later roadmaps for their projects. I was so impressed I messaged the project manager to tell them how happy I was to see it Ok, I’m a roadmap geek and I can admit it. Something I’ve realised about roadmaps is that the approaches, models and tools only work for a small number of elements. I wonder if the idea that roadmaps shouldn’t have too many things on them comes from the tools and models not being able to effectively represent lots of elements, or if it’s the idea drives the existence of the models. Maybe the limitations of the models is what keeps people using Gantt charts.

III

I had a few hours of inspiration about some of the things I want to include in my product management in charities email series so I made some notes will spend some of my time off work next week on writing the emails, setting-up the automation and sign-up form. It’s on my delivery plan to just get the emails written in June so if I can get the whole thing set up then I’ll be well ahead of schedule.

Escape form Bigbury

I went to beach last weekend a d found a nice spot to read a couple of innovation books for a few hours. During that time the tide came in and cut me off from the walking out the way I came in. I put my clothes and books into my bag, held it above my head and swam across a river, climbed up a small cliff, broke my sandals, and walked eight miles back to my car barefoot. I love these little adventures. It’s like being a kid again, getting myself into trouble and relying on myself to get out.

Blockchain in entrepreneurship

This week’s lecture was about the use of Blockchain in entrepreneurial business models, including the use of ICO‘s, which is an interesting way for start-ups to raise investment. ICO’s follow a standard approach of demonstrating that the start-up has four things that will lead to it’s success; human capital, quality of business model, social media activity, and a project elaboration whitepaper. The whitepaper is an organisational strategy document that aims to attract investors by expressing the business model. Tech start-ups often fail because they are more focused on building their solution than on validating the market needs and strategy for meeting it, so it’s interesting to see whitepapers as a mechanism for pulling them towards a more holistic approach.


And thought about:

What are we trying to achieve?

I’ve had various conversations this week, in various contexts, where trying to decide what action to take was hampered by a lack of clarity about what was trying to be achieved. Knowing the end goal becomes a guide for decision making, along with principle stacks in more complicated situations. So many of our tools and mental models are at the task level (see defining our unit of analysis below) which make it easier for us to get on with doing something, and make it harder for us to decide and remain focused on the goal.

Projects within projects

How do projects relate to each other? A project can be:

  • Building block – not dependent on other projects but with others dependent on it.
  • Chain – dependent on another with others dependent on it.
  • Standalone – no projects are dependent on it and it isn’t dependent on any.
  • Destination – dependent on other projects but with nothing dependent on it.

But that’s a pretty two-dimensional cause-and-effect view of how projects relate to each other. What about a ‘Russian doll’ relational model of project within project within project? Do we assume that projects are standalone entities when really they aren’t? What issues does this cause within organisations?

Define your unit of analysis

One of the difficult things about talking about innovation, or maybe anything that lacks an agreed definition, is being clear about what level you’re referring to. Are you talking about innovation as an activity within a company or an industry or a nation? In each of those cases the ‘unit of analysis’ is different and so the conversation is different, and confusing if different people are referring to different units of analysis without realising it.

Harmonic wave

I love a completely spurious and unconnected analogy. So, on that note, here’s why harmonic waves pendulums explain why keeping people aligned at work is so hard. The pendulums are made of a line of weights each hanging on a string of a different length. This means that even when they all start swinging together they swing at different speeds. In a harmonic wave pendulum it produces interesting patterns but at work people working at different speeds, because they have different tasks, different priorities, etc., produces dependencies, blockers, repetition and all the other things that make work inefficient. So, what’s the answer? Artificial constraints to keep everyone moving at the same speed? Redistributing work so those who are faster do more? Slice work into smaller pieces to make it easier? Yes. No. Depends.


And read:

The Power of Creative Destruction

Since reading about Schumpeter and the ideas he had about how innovation relies on creative destruction, that is one innovation destroying and replacing another, I thought he was wrong. It seems more likely that innovation builds on what went before. The Power of Creative Destruction: Economic Upheaval and the Wealth of Nations by Philippe Aghion, Céline Antonin and Simon Bunel reconsiders Schumpeter and what effect his ideas have had on how we approach innovation.

Work from Home & Productivity

This research showed that during a period of pandemic-enforced working from home (context is important but not really recognised enough) IT professionals spent more time doing less work. Productivity fell by 20% because although the study’s participants were working longer hours, more of that time was in meetings. What can we take from this, other than meetings are bad? Two things, I think. More meetings happen because organisations don’t have effective ways to coordinate work asynchronously (arguably they don’t have synchronous means to coordinate effectively either, but hey…) and so default to more meetings in an attempt to achieve coordination. And then, secondly, the visibility of workers in meetings serves as replacement for trust in workers.

A Manifesto For A New Way Of Work

Written in 2015, A Manifesto For A New Way Of Work describes the old versus new, which I like as a way of helping to make clear the unknown unknowns of the new way of work and draw lines of distinction. I’ve been thinking a bit about ‘operating systems’ for work, how we define the basic rules that create the behaviours we want to see at higher levels. Boyd’s manifesto helps with a far-off vision of what work could be like, rather than a realistic current model, but it’s interesting nonetheless from a ‘it’s a systems problem not a people problem‘ point of view.

Weeknotes #254

This week I did

How information flows

We moved onto a new platform for delivering virtual courses this week, so I’ve spent a lot of time supporting the teams that will be using it and the teams that will be supporting them. There’s lots of new stuff for everyone to learn and I’m keen to spread and embed the knowledge as much as possible. A task or job role might need specific skills and a dedicated owner, but information and knowledge doesn’t work that way. Lots of people can have the same information, regardless of their role. Understanding why the whole system works the way it does, what some of the underlying assumptions are, what tasks others in the team perform, how processes work, etc., . Knowledge shouldn’t be on a need-to-know only basis. The idea that someone only knows what they need to know to do their job will always create gaps in knowledge. I’ve been thinking a bit about how we understand work as flows of information rather than as discrete tasks to be completed., partly from a digital transformation point of view about moving away from a factory mindset of work being about progressing widgets along a production conveyor belt, and partly from reading Galbraith on how the more uncertainty there is about a project, the more information has to be processed in order to complete a task.

Tech Ethics

It’s been a week of tech ethics. I went to a Social Tech Meetup hosted by Rachel Coldicutt and Anna Dent and this week’s lecture was on the ethics of emerging technology.

Tech ethics is a problem of pace. Different things move at different speeds. Implementing laws take time. Ethics progresses faster than laws. But new technologies and the data collection that enables them happens faster than the ethical discussions and positioning. This is why we see things like bias in algorithms, because the tech races ahead of the checks and balances catching up. Although we are more aware of the bias in what is being built, it has also been there. Crash test dummies are based on the male body which meant that for many years cars were designed to protect men better than women. That’s decades old tech ethics, but it’s still the same problem. Different things move at different speeds.

Interface, Integrate, Iterate

I’ve been writing up some of my ideas about how product management creates an interface between customer and organisation, integrates strategy with tactics and teams with the work, and iterates on everything to drive continuous improvement into a short email series. It’s part of some of my ideas about helping more charities understand and use product management thinking to improve their service proposition and delivery.

And I thought about:

What does it mean to deliver?

What does it mean to deliver something, to achieve, to complete something? Its surely more than just completing tasks. Delivering a project should enable the continued realisation of value, it creates something of ongoing usefulness, facilitates other accomplishments. It should be more than the sum of it’s parts. If you deliver enough deliverables, and even the right deliverables, does that mean they’ll add up to create something good? Are good outcomes assumed to be a natural result of a well delivered project? Or is there more to do to connect those outputs and deliverables, fit them into relationships, create flows of information? Does delivering mean delivering an output, an outcome, a project, a change?

Defining hybrid working

I thought a bit more about how to define and understand hybrid working, and how it’s less about location and more about the numbers of people in the same or different locations, and so the relationship dynamics that creates. One person in the office and nine in other locations doesn’t really bring hybrid working dynamics into play. But two in the office and eight in other locations starts to introduce different dynamics because now the two in the office are dealing with one type of interaction between themselves and a different type of interaction with those in other locations. But those in the other locations aren’t involved it the relationship between those in the office. It seems to me that its the dealing with the different forms of interaction that is the underlying problem-to-solve for hybrid working.

Digital transformation is everywhere

An hours walk from the nearest plug socket, even a notice board with tide times is going on a digital transformation journey. QR codes are a start to connecting the physical and digital worlds, maybe in the future every beach will have IoT sensors measure tide height, water quality, etc., and broadcast that information to your phone as you walk into the area. Everything in our world is undergoing digital transformation, some things are further ahead than others, but nothing will be left behind (except, maybe, hopefully, stiles).

And read:

100 Moments

I listen to the new podcast about 100 moments the rocked computer science by professors Sue Black OBE and Gordon Love. This episode talked about search engines and organising information on the internet, and included an interview with Alan Emtage, the inventor of Archie, the first search engine, and some mind-blowing stats about the amount of data we’re creating. With all this data, search, as a concept, becomes about making all that data interpretable and readable by humans, rather than just being about finding things other humans have written on the internet. So search moves upstream in creating value from data and information.

The Hacker Way

The hacker way, “believes that a good solution today is better than a great solution tomorrow. It does not believe that done is better than perfect so much as it believes that being done sooner is the best path to eventual perfection, though it is also skeptical that perfection exists.”. This mindset underpins so much of modern digital and agile thinking (and anarchy beneath that, but I won’t get into that now). Understanding the hacker mindset, and how it informs the ideas a practices of digital people and teams, might help us understand the difficulties and conflicts that occur within organisations as they go through their digital transformation. Maybe there is a fundamental difference in worldview between the digital people and the (for want of a better term) corporate people. Both struggle to understand how the other sees the world, and neither would be willing to adopt the other’s worldview.

Ditch the Solution-First Mindset and Start by Defining the Problem

Both in life and at work, we tend to come up with solutions before defining the problem they solve.” If I had a pound for every time I’ve gone on about understanding the problem…

Weeknotes #253

This week I did

New strategy

Our new organisational strategy was released this week. I’m keen to spend some time soon reading it more deeply and thinking about how to interpret it for the work we’re doing. I’ve noticed a few strategic mis-alignments recently between the work our programme design team is doing and the direction I thought the product team was heading, so now is the time to bring together the different perspectives and course correct before we get into the next phase of work.

I also spent a bit of time working on product strategy to develop some guiding principles. One of those is about the ensuring that the speed we introduce change is matched to the speed at which the changes can be adopted. Just going as fast as we can seems like the wrong thing to do, as counter as it is to lots of product development thinking and my personal beliefs, because it’ll cause bottlenecks and futureshock.

Systems training

Delivered training on using some of the new systems we’re putting in place. As part of the thinking for what to include in the training I was imagining the ‘system of systems’ we have. There are lots of distinct systems that have certain data and perform certain processes, and then there are linking processes, automated and manual, that move that data between the systems, and then the human nodes in the system that contain information about how the system works but are very much part of the system. Maybe I should just stick to delivering the training.

Delivery planning

I wrote out my delivery plan (still a work in progress but mostly there) to help me track what I’ve done throughout the year towards the goals on my roadmap and to get into the habit of monthly planning. As part of my monthly planning cycle I did a retro of the things I’d learned in May that had affected my ability to deliver on my goals. I don’t really have a format that works for me yet but it started me thinking about methods for retrospectives and what they should aim to achieve. I think looking back is useful but really retros should be about increasing agency and ownership in order to change the approach which then improves everything you do in the future rather than just individual process improvements.

Vanlife fail

I visited Stonehenge and found a large community of vanlifers. I wanted to hand out my flyers to ask them to do the survey but it felt really uncomfortable intruding into their community as an outsider. There’s a different between vanlifers who live in semi-permanent communities together and those who live more solitary, transient lifestyles. Some outsiders and more outsiders than others.

Blockchain and social good

This week’s lecture was about how blockchain and distributed ledger technologies are being used for social good, and posed the question, ‘should more technological development be focused on making the world a better place?’ The answer is clearly and obviously, yes. The case study was how blockchain was being used to manage commons resources and some of the resources included a sector-specific study from Stanford University and looking at Blockchain for Humanity, which is a not-for-profit foundation with the mission to drive the adoption of emerging technologies that can offer a positive social impact. There is so much possibility.


And thought about:

Hybrid meetings

I had my first hybrid meeting, with some of us in the room and some joining via video. It started me thinking about the pros and cons of hybrid meetings so I collected my thoughts into a blog post. Although I’m certain that remote, virtual, asynchronous work works best for me, that doesn’t mean there isn’t something interesting to try to figure out about hybrid working, especially if it’s likely that we’ll be working with others who do have hybrid ways of working.

Dealing with unknown unknowns

The common wisdom for dealing with unknown unknowns seems to be to adding them to a matrix with the known knowns, unknown knowns and known unknowns so you can (hopefully) identify by contrast the unknown unknowns. This way assumes that all domains of knowledge exist within that matrix, so I wondered about switch it around and putting a matrix within each domain of knowledge. Galbraith talks about how organisations deal with uncertainty and unknowns by processing more information between decision-makers as the way forward is figured out than is processed where decisions can be pre-planned. If unknowns are broken down into smaller and smaller domains of knowledge then perhaps the unknown unknowns become smaller and more specific, which might make them easier to imagine. Dealing with uncertainty and adapting to change is a capability every organisation is going to have to figure out how to build and I’m not sure there is a lot best practice in how to do that yet.

Ukrainian aviators love me

One of my most popular (I mean popular in my terms, which isn’t very popular by most people’s terms) blog posts is Schmenner’s Service Process Matrix – but for charities. It seems to show in Google searches for Schmenner, and weirdly, the Ukrainian National Aviation University link to it in one of their papers about applying the service process matrix to logistics. This amuses me.


And read this:

Maintaining Radical Focus and Staying on Strategy with OKRs

The One Knight In Product podcast episode with Christina Wodtke was really good. It seemed like a really authentic talk about when and how to use OKRs effectively rather just a sales pitch for a book. The best thing I took away was ‘Cadence is everything!’

What is digital ethics?

“No framework can possibly be complete, so it is important for employees in any organisation to examine the digital ethics dimension in any digital project they undertake.” Ethics isn’t about big dramatic decisions. Every single little decision is an ethical decision.

A thread of product management frameworks

Another thread from Shreyas Doshi, this one about product management frameworks.

Weeknotes #252

This week I did:

Global optimisation

I had some time to begin to think about the work our team will be undertaking over the next few quarters. Second to ‘what’ work we do is ‘how’ we do it. The upsteam and downstream coordination is an interesting challenge to ensure that change is introduced at the pace it can be adopted. I have a sense this is going to feel like slowing down from how we’ve been working over the past year but global optimisation is almost always better than local optimisation.

Team stability

There have been a few conversations and situations this week where the underlying theme seemed to be about the stability and change experienced by a group of people. It seems paradoxical but at the same time completely obvious, to say that stability enables change to be accepted and adopted. Too much change, in these cases, in the membership of teams prevents effective and efficient progress. It stops ownership, accountability and responsibility in it’s tracks. I wonder if the need for the stability of teams changes with the number of teams that make up an organisation, so, can an organisation achieve its strategic goals if it has some stable and some unstable teams, and where is the threshold? How much instability can an organisation absorb?


Thought about:

Technological convergence

I’ve been working on my assignment about what role blockchain might play in the future of work, and the one of the conclusions I’ve reached is that blockchain will have a far greater affect where it converges with other emerging technology such as artificial intelligence and Internet of things devices. This feels like a bit of a revelation to me. I see lots of talk about how AI is going to affect is in the future, what self-driving vehicles might do to transportation, etc., but I don’t think I’ve ever read anything about the effects of all these different technologies when they are put together.

Business processes and social structures at work

On one hand, business processes are meant to codify and formalise the way things like decision-making work, to reduce variability and ensure predictability and perhaps even fairness. And on the other hand, social structures are built around influencing people, encouraging cooperation and collaboration to get the right decisions made. How do these two things intersect? Are they both necessary? Do they conflict? I’ve previously thought that hierarchies are good for authority and networks good for information flow, but what structures facilitate decisions?


Read:

Teamwork

I read a bit of this student guide to teamwork. It has some useful references and definitions such as Hughes and Jones (2011) defining “what makes a team something different from any other group of people” as sharing some defining characteristics: a shared collective identity, common goals, interdependence in terms of assigned tasks or outcomes, and distinctive roles within the team. I wonder if work place culture is sometimes anti-intellectual and that we get ideas about things like how teams work from something someone read on a blog post about a book that was based on one person’s experience rather than our understanding being based on research and expertise, so having easy references like this book help my thinking.

The Outsider

I’ve started reading Colin Wilson’s The Outsider. In it Wilson describes the outsider through the works of Kakfa, Camus, Hemmingway and others, as someone alienated from society by their own indifference, as a anti-hero who rejects civilised standards and his duty to society in pursuit of some kind of existential freedom. He says, “freedom is not simply being allowed to do what you like; it is intensity of will, and it appears under any circumstances that limit man and arose his will to live”.

I’m interested in the idea of the outsider in modern digital times. If Wilson was writing today would he still be looking at literature for descriptions of the experience of the outsider or would it be hacker culture, anti-establishment peer-to-peer networks, and social media? How does existential alienation from mainstream culture take place in an always-on inter-connected world? Does it manifest as self-imposed exile to the worlds of games, or absorption in tech-startup fantasies of utopia? So much to think about.

Weeknotes #251

This week I did:

Rethinking risk

I spent some time this week working on how we think about risk, and start to recgonise that estimating and quantifying the likelihood of a risk occurring isn’t a very helpful way of thinking about some risks. For some risks, the kind of risks where even a single occurrence is unacceptable, severity is what matters. The tendency of likelihood-focused thinking is to assume that risk can be mitigated to point of being extremely unlikely to occur, and so severity doesn’t matter. But severity-focus thinking assumes the risks of high severity are always high severity, however likely or unlikely they are to occur, and so either need to be accepted or removed entirely.

Rationalising requirements

Of course no product manager should just be taking business requirements and handing them to the development team to build without some rationalisation and validation, but I’ve been spending quite a bit of this week figuring out what a structured rationalisation process might look like with getting caught in a bootstrap problem. Our programme design teams want to add something to the courses we deliver, and that thing requires some costly and complex technical development, which we don’t want to do unless we’re sure it’s going to get used and so we ask questions about how people might be trained in using this new feature, how many people might benefit, what is the total value, but of course those are hard questions to answer with only an idea of something to add. So where to start, that is the question.

A porous membrane for the organisation, and why it matters for product thinking

I’ve been thinking for a while about how and why the boundary between an organisation and society can be made porous to allow for knowledge to flow both ways. Whether this is Friedman’s nonsense about the purpose of a company or Macleod’s ideas about how organisations use blogging and social media, or how technology products act as interfaces between organisations and customers, the nature of the relationship between organisations and society is changing.

Simple machines

I went to a launderette and used a change machine. I’m fascinated by simple machines like these that have a very direct logic about their interface and require the people using them to make the decisions. Most of the software we use is other people’s decisions.


And thought abut:

What problem does Product Management solve?

A colleague asked me about what I do as a product manager, and as usual I struggled to articulate anything more than, “whatever I can to help the product be a success”. Generally, the usual explanation of being at the intersection of technology and what we can do with it, business objectives and how we achieve them, and customer needs and how to meet them, works but doesn’t help anyone understand the what or how of product management in a charity. There’s acceptance that there are lots of overlaps with what other roles do, there’s some business analysis, technical architecture, UX design, customer support, etc., but what does product management do that is unique to product managers? Or to put it another way, what problem does the role of a product manager solve for the organisation?

Change isn’t failure

Making a decision that was right at a point in time but, having learned more since then that makes that decision now look wrong, doesn’t actually make it a wrong decision. It’s better to make a new decision based on new information. Not making a new decision, continuing with the old decision, is more wrong now than the original decision. How we frame learning and making new decisions not as failures and changing minds, but as progress and the mark of good leadership in a digital organisation is a challenge.


And I read about:

Team topologies

I listened to a podcast about Team Topologies and patterns that help organisations achieving a fast flow of change in order to be more successful at software delivery. The three key principles they talked about were: Optimising for faster flow in live systems, using rapid feedback from those live systems so teams can course correct, and limiting team cognitive load. These allow teams to assume end-to-end responsibilities and develop solid practices. I’m definitely going to learn more about this.

Rethinking the ‘rainy day’ myths of charity reserves

Charity reserves are an interesting thing. There’s a lot to rethink and and lot of perspectives to rethink from. In start-up terms, it would be called a runway. It’s how long the organisation can operate before it runs out of money. For a charity, and more so for the people who are helped by the charity, the length of that runway is even more important than for most startups. Thinking around reserves crosses-over with the financial literacy of the trustees running the charity, the appetite for risk vs. interpretations of responsibility for overseeing the correct running of the charity, the types and sources of funding available, how many people are paid employees of the charity. All of these things and more should inform each charities position on reserves. It’s a more complex calculation than blanket guidance of x number of months operating costs can cover.

Direct Acyclic Graph

DAG’s are the latest and coolest implementations of Distributed Ledger Technologies. They tackle many of the issues that the sequential DLT’s such as Blockchain suffer from (although of course have their own downsides). As interesting as the technologies are, and s interesting as the use cases for the technologies are, I think the most interesting thing is how the ideas behind the technologies are going to affect our worldviews. We haven’t even figured out how the technologies of the internet have affected us, and here we already experiencing very different concepts.

Weeknotes #250

This week I:

So close

We were very close to launching a new product. We’ve been working really hard on it but it’s just not ready, and neither are our people. Some times that’s how it goes. The thing I’ve learned over the past few weeks is that product development codifies organisational complexity. It’s Conway’s Law on another level. The strengths, weaknesses, gaps and skills of the organisation will show in the product. I wonder whether it’s even avoidable.

Every organisation is going through digital transformation

Every organisation is going through digital transformation, some just don’t know it yet. I attended a board meeting where we discussed the strategy for Bucks Mind for the next two years. We’re at an interesting stage in the growth of the organisation where technology is becoming essential to it’s success. It’s a big step to take, and quite an unknown for many people in the organisation. The idea that technology solves problems, takes care of itself, increases efficiency, etc., when in fact technology increases complexity, dependency, demands more formalised skills, etc.

How and if to educate users

I had an interesting chat about educating users of a product. On one side of the argument; if you have to explain how to use the product maybe it’s too complicated, but on the other side, people don’t have time to explore every piece of functionality. Can education be a barrier for some and an enabler for others? Maybe education should help the user know what they can achieve, but then the product should help them achieve it without having to think about how to do it. Maybe it’s ‘educate for outcomes, self-explanatory for outputs’.

What is the role of DLT and blockchain in the future of work?

I picked the essay question for my assignment for the Blockchain module I’m studying. I had thirty to choose from, which I filtered down to:

  • How can blockchain technology change the structure and the operations of organisations?
  • Discuss how blockchain can have a positive impact on the UN Sustainable Goals.
  • Assessing the concept of Decentralised Autonomous Organisation (DAO) as a new corporate structure highlighting benefits and downsides.
  • What is the role of DLT and blockchain in the future of work?

…but I think I’m going to do “What is the role of DLT and blockchain in the future of work?” There should be some interesting things to think about around how smart contracts are and can be used, how necessary trust and transparency across supplier networks, and how organisations profit from digital asset ownership.


Thought about:

Solving interesting problems

The problem with not having any slack time at work is it stops us from tackling interesting problems. When faced with barriers and no time, we pick up the easier work instead in order to get stuff done rather do the tangential work to remove the barrier. This completion bias keeps us doing shallow work, work that needs to be done, but at the ultimate expense of creative work. So, more slack time at work. More slack thinking.

Who measures impact?

Funder gives charity money, charity uses money to help people (or animals, environment, whatever), charity measures impact of helping, charity reports impact to funder. That’s how it usually works, I guess. But what if funders didn’t ask charities to report on their impact but instead to enable to funder to measure the impact directly with those who received the help. Or, what if there were organisations that specialise in measuring and reporting impact that act as intermediaries between funder, charity and beneficiary? Why should it be that charities measure their own impact? Apart from any ‘marking your own homework’ issues, it probably isn’t the core capability of most charities and maybe they’d benefit more if their measurement efforts were focused on service delivery improvements.


I read:

Useful things for privacy and ethics in tech innovation

A list of agile sessions, tools, frameworks, blog posts and other useful things for considering privacy and ethics in tech innovation, from Steve Messer.

Blockchain’s role in the future of work and organisations

Digital transformation

Weeknotes #249

This week I:

Digital safety

Work this week has mostly been about digital safeguarding, getting the platform set up and tested, and double checking that all the processes are in place. Next week I’ll be training our new moderation team and getting the platform live so young people can join.

I’ve also been working on a few other projects where I’ve tried to be bring more focus on knowing what we want to achieve and how we’re going measure the objectives. It’s too easy to get into conversations about doing things without a shared understanding about why we’re doing it or how we’ll know if we’ve succeeded. We should always start with what problem we’re trying to solve, I hope I can bring some robustness in that kind of thinking.

Danger close, kids

Teenagers and trains don’t mix. I saw some standing on train tracks, waiting for trains to approach and then running off the tracks. I called 999, the police came and went off looking for the kids. I carried on with my walk thinking about the behaviours of teenagers, teenage boys trying to impress teenage girls, how we judge risk and whether the risk is worth it.

Slow start

Got the first response to my survey about the effects of lockdown on people who live in vans. There aren’t many true vanlifers, and they aren’t easy to find, and even when you’ve found them they aren’t that interested in taking part in research. Turns out that maybe vanlifers mostly just want to be left alone.

Milestone

I reached 250 stiles in my collection. I’ve thought about creating an NFT for all the stile.style images but I don’t know yet if you can do that with a collection of images that are added to over time. Something to learn more about.

Collecting innovators

I’ve been looking for people who work in innovation in charities to be research subjects for my dissertation. But it made me wonder what percentage of the UK charity workforce works in innovation, and how that compares to other sectors.


Thought about:

Thinking about thinking

I’ve been thinking about how much I think and how connected it is to how much space I feel like I have in my world. The past couple of weeks have been really busy at work, I’m back out on the road, and I’ve started studying a module on Blockchain for my masters, and I’m doing a lot of reading and organising for my dissertation. All this knowledge logistics doesn’t leave any room for exploring ideas. I miss that.

Show, don’t tell

‘Show, don’t tell’, the phrase that prompts so many ‘show and tells’ and demos of work in progress, seems to have an obvious purpose. People understand better when they see something rather than when that same thing is explained to them. But it also goes deeper. There is a qualitative difference between telling someone things and doing things that demonstrate it. They are understood in different ways. Being told requires an intellectual understanding and acceptance whereas being shown reaches some other mode of understanding, somehow un-verbal. I think I see similar differences in lots of things, where one side is tangible, measurable, explainable, and the other is, well… the opposite. Job titles and descriptions vs. all the skills, experience, opinions and ideas someone has, is a good example. We use the measurable as a proxy for the immeasurable.

Less coordination

I listened to a podcast with a guy who worked at Amazon, about his book called ‘Work backwards’, and which he talks about some of the management techniques they use at Amazon. They referred to a memo Jeff Bezos wrote about how to reorganise the company for growth, and that it relied on teams communicating via API’s rather than meetings. I’ve been thinking about coordination and alignment challenges, and how from the Amazon point-of-view, the answer lies in making teams independent and decoupled so that they don’t have to coordinate people’s time in order to pass information effectively. The usual approach is that as organisations increase in complexity, usually through increasing the number of people, that more coordination is required, but I’m wondering about ways of working that don’t require lots of coordination and how teams can serve as platforms for other teams.

Why weeknote

Weeknotes are part of a reflective practice for increasing agility of thinking. They are about writing about some of the things that happened over the last seven days, and reflecting on what you thought, felt and learned. Weeknotes offer a time-boxed regularity and predictability to how much stuff there is to reflect on, and shorter cycles and faster feedback increases agility of thinking.


And read:

Agnostic Agile principles

I read the Agnostic Agile principles. I like principles (defined as: “a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behaviour or for a chain of reasoning.” in case you’re wondering like I was). I refer, almost daily, to the Modern Agile principles, which are less explanatory that the Agnostic Agile principles, but not necessarily better or worse. Agile seems pretty unique in how much consideration is put into it’s principles (does digital marketing have principles, or brick-laying?) which is interesting in itself.

What is civil society?

The Law Family Commission on Civil Society published a report describe what they mean when they talk about civil society. There are lots of interesting things to consider in the report, including the blurred boundaries between civil space and personal space (the example of an online group discussing a local litter issue seems clearly civil to me, but anyway), the definitions of civil space (which range from whether individuals are creating social value to participating in spaces of shared value). The concept of civil society is particularly important in these times of society trying to figure out how the individual relates to the collective, but although much of that discussion might take place in the civic space we must also include the State and the Market in those discussions (the Basecamp thing is part of the same discussion; its about whether a company exists for the benefit of individuals (shareholders in Friedman’s point-of-view) or for the benefit of the collective (employees and wider society)).

Power and ethics in tech

Cat Swetel’s post about power and ethics in tech is amazing. She talks about power-over, power-with and power-to, about how even some actions which looks like they come from a good place can be done in a power-over way, and how people who approach with a power-over mindset struggle to see that power-with or power-to “is an effort to grow the total amount of power available rather than a grab for a greater percentage of a fixed power pool.” Understanding power is a fundamental skill in the modern world.

4 Modes of Thinking

A colleague mentioned Adam Grant’s work on the Preacher, Prosecutor, Politician, and Scientist modes of thinking so I read a bit about it. He talks about how we view our’s and others opinions, whether we assume we’re right or whether we go looking for information to prove or disapprove a hypothesis. I guess there’s a value subtext suggesting that we should try to be more like scientists but of course in practice all modes are required in different situations, so maybe the self awareness comes in knowing which mode to choose.

What is the true nature of reality?

In case you were wondering…


Wisdom to end the week:

I make a journey, you make a journey, we make a journey together

Jerry, Sphere