Weeknotes 292

This week I did

Product practice

Thought a lot about what makes up a product practice. Fundamental to it is, I think, the goal of maximising the value of the product by focusing on solving problems. The problems give the practice focus and direction. An optimum practice would achieve maximum value for a product more quickly than a less optimum one.

Leadership in matrix teams

After a brief conversation on Twitter I wrote a quick blog post about the kind of leadership or management that might work well for matrix teams. Matrix teams could have a ‘convener’, someone who is probably in a senior role within the hierarchy of the organisation and so has the influence to bring people together, but who can then give over the responsibility of assigning and tracking the work to the team. There’s so much to think about in making matrix teams work effectively, they are so much more than just ‘a team that has people from different parts of an organisation’, things like Interdependence theory, which I’ve been trying to understand to see if it provides some sociological underpinning to matrix team interactions (which I think might be different to cross-functional teams because of the instability of membership).

The coordination problem

Sent another Irregular Ideas newsletter, this week talking about the problem of using technology for coordinating people to achieve bigger goals.

And I thought about

New knowledge creation

I think the modern knowledge economy has two categories of work; creating new knowledge and collating existing knowledge. Most of what we see on Twitter (as an example) is collating and spreading existing knowledge (often in an attempt to increase follower count). I’m not interested in that. I want to be exploring new ideas, which by their nature they aren’t easy to express in ways that encourage conversation. So then, what is the measure of success? How might I know where this kind of exploratory thinking might be going? Maybe it’s ok for it to not have a goal, even if that feels a little uncomfortable.

Goal setting and achieving

I think we separate ‘setting goals’ and ‘achieving goals’ too much. I think we could use what we learn in doing things to achieve the goal which help us refine the goal take the next steps towards it. Maybe a cyclical process like this:

  1. Set a goal
  2. Take a step towards achieving that goal
  3. Get feedback on whether that action took you closer to the goal
  4. Use feedback to refine goal and/or decide next step
  5. Go to 2, and repeat.

This approach means that rather than having a fixed goal to start with that is never reviewed, the goal is refined at each step so both the goal and the actions to achieve it change together. The faster you go through the cycle the more refined the goal becomes and the more likely that the steps are taking you towards it. Better than working to achieve a fixed which is either impossible or irrelevant goal.

Random thoughts of the week

Rogers’ diffusion of innovation concept leads us to think that being an early adopter is a trait of a certain type of person and so if they’re an early adopter of one thing are then they’re an early adopter of other things. I think it’s more likely that the early adopters of one thing become the laggards of another thing as they are tied to what they adopted. Wearing face masks might be an example. Those that were first to start using them will probably be the last to stop using them.

When we talk about alignment (on a project, strategically, of whatever) we often mean imply that it means everyone moving at the same pace, and therefore everyone has to move at the pace of the slowest. If different parts move at different paces then they become unaligned. And disalignment brings a whole load of problems.

If loosely coupled systems are more able to accept change, then loosely coupled teams working with loosely processes should be more able to accept more change. Designing a team or processes around being loosely coupled in order to handle change depends on knowing how much change is going to have to be dealt with, and the reason this type of design is so difficult to get right is because there isn’t a quantifiable, tangible measure of change. Things don’t change in centimetres or kilograms. Without that, we can sense that change has happened but not have the means to compare it to other change. Maybe this is why organisations attempt to design themselves in ways that don’t change, which makes changing even harder.

A thread running through all of these is how the ‘pace of change’ is so important.

Read this week:

Token-based products

My interest in web3 waxes and wanes, but this week I watched/listened/played with some web3 stuff: Ethereum Explained, Should I do a token? and Rabbithole. I’d really like to explore how web3 technologies can be used to create new types of charitable organisations that utilise tokenisation to manage activities and have impact. A token acts as a store of value, and plays a coordination and cooperation role within networks and communities by acting as a reward mechanism. That means that ownership of fungible and/or non-fungible tokens is a kind of codified social status, which could be a way to recognise ways people are contributing to a cause or outcome, from making a donation to sending a tweet, and then rewarding them within the community product.

Collection

https://rogerswannell.notion.site/470f0d005b6641a1a3290ba170796141?v=baf49cd5964e44af8b5fddaf29abd765

Weeknotes 291

This week I did

Onboarding

Over the next few weeks we have two new team members joining us. I’ve spent quite a bit of time working on how to make their onboarding work for them. It’s the kind of thing that has almost no feedback loop and so is really hard to improve through learning. Although I have a long list of things to talk about, we’ll be starting by coming up with a joint answer to, “We’ll know your onboarding has been successful when…”, and then we’ll work towards achieving that success.

Analysis, synthesis, insight

Analysis of a single data set is pretty useless. It’s synthesizing multiple data sets that leads to insight. I spent some time thinking about counterbalance metrics, to prevent over-optimisation of one thing, and how we might join up multiple data sets in standardised ways that allow us to understand the impact of changes in content, design, process, etc.

How responsibility works in matrix teams

I’ve been thinking a lot about how matrix teams might work, and wrote a short post on how authority, responsibility and information flows in matrix teams. The main point is that responsibility isn’t assigned to a single person as this invariably creates gaps, and things fall through them. Better for the team or multiple people within the team to be responsible to create intentional overlaps.

And I thought about:

What happens when a charity achieves its mission

Alex Blake tweeted charities that have wound up because they achieved their vision, which started me questioning my opinion that a charity that accomplishes its mission shouldn’t be shutdown, but instead the skills, knowledge, relationships, etc., that they’ve established in achieving that mission should be pointed at another mission. To throw all of that away is incredibly wasteful. But its good to question your opinions sometimes, so I started reading some stuff that critiques charities.

The end of charity, by James Perry comes from a business/social enterprise perspective which, if I’m understanding it correctly, argues that charities shouldn’t exist because the funding model is broken but social enterprises can take the place of charities because they can be funded in the way businesses are. The idea that a charity that achieves its vision should be shutdown is an interesting reversal of how businesses work in that the charity that fails to achieve its mission gets to carry on trying and those that succeed don’t, whereas in commercial settings the successful businesses survive. Anyway, I’m not sure funding and finance can provide an answer to the question.

The argument presented in this BBC Ethics Guide brings up the point that charities often focus on symptoms and not on the causes of social issues and so perpetuate the issue rather than resolving it. This is a bit of a simplistic answer as we know that lasting systemic change takes coordinated action and a long time, and in the meantime people still need the help charities provide. And it doesn’t in any way lead to the conclusion that achieving their vision should result in a charity shutting down.

If a charity was under-performing and the issue they were trying to tackle had been resolved, then it could make sense to shutdown the charity but they wouldn’t be because the charity has solved the issue.

I still can’t find any justifiable reason for a charity to shutdown having achieved its mission, other than the assumption that it should stemming from the conditions under which a charity can be set up. The current charity commission rules for starting a charity are that it must be focused on a particular cause, however, the list of charitable purposes is very broad so a successful charity that has achieved its vision could choose to set a new vision.

The validation problem

The validation problem is the most difficult problem in product management. Understanding where people want to get to, and building a product that gets them there comes only from building something and them using it and getting value from it. So you only know afterwards. Which is why so many products fail trying to get there and is why so many product teams and entrepreneurs obsess over trying to validate user needs and problems-to-solve before they build anything. But, the idea that there can be any kind of certainty in that is just wrong. Even the most statistically significant results can still be false positives, be affected by constantly changing environments, suffer from no robust measurement. The validation problem is unsolvable.

I read:

NO-tifications

The currency of the internet is attention. Notifications are often designed grab that attention, but they’ll only be useful when they include automation and you can make things happen without having to be distracted. In the meantime we have Calum Dixon’s designing considerate interruptions.

solve for distribution

solve for distribution is Visakan Veerasamy’s term for marketing, with distribution being the flipside of product. Generally, good distribution beats good product. The reason large corporations beat start-ups in the long run is because they have bigger, better, more reliable, more repeatable distribution. The best product in the world fails if no one knows about it.

I have a thing about the difference between optimising-for-production and optimising-for-consumption. For me, this talks about the difference between doing things in the easiest way for those producing things (which is how we get PDFs) versus doing things in ways that make it easier for the people using it.

Unlearning Perfectionism

This really thoughtful piece on Unlearning Perfectionism made me think about how product management seeks to achieve fixed outcomes and struggles to realise that growth (of the role and discipline rather than a the product) comes from uncertainty. Although the piece is talking about individuals it feels like a piece of the puzzle in viewing the role of product management as bringing certainty out of uncertainty.

The charity-cryptocurrency complex

Keeping an eye on crypto in charity, as I do, I found this article by James Bowles really interesting, especially because of how he frames crypto as a legitimacy problem for charities. James says, “Output legitimacy is conferred when organisations are seen to successfully deliver their end mission, whereas normative legitimacy arises from the sharing of values with a particular community. An organisation that enjoys output legitimacy, but not normative legitimacy, may successfully deliver a mission but not have the support of their wider community and stakeholders.” From this point-of-view, a charity that adopts crypto could (possibly) increase their income but at the risk losing support of people who don’t understand or disagree with the use of crypto.

Weeknotes 290

Photo of the week:

After the storm

This week I did:

Resiliency

I’ve been thinking a lot about resiliency across our products and systems this week. Ensuring security, regular maintenance, etc., all the kinds of things that ensure solid foundations for all the other products to succeed on.

Interface, integrate, iterate

I’ve been writing a fifth email about ‘Impact’ to add to my ‘good product management in charities’ series. It’ll have some thoughts on goals at the practice level and theory of change for the product and organisation level.

Matrix Teaming

I wrote a short blog post on my current thinking around matrix teaming, which is the temporary bringing together of people with different skill sets and disciplines to work together. I want to develop the thinking some more, perhaps with some examples of how it might work and how it’s different from matrix teams and teaming.

What Shall I Work On

I built a little Twitter Bot that randomly chooses from a list of my side-projects to tell me what to work on if I can’t decide myself

Irregular Ideas website

I set up irregularideas.xyz as a place to add the articles I send in the newsletter and hopefully direct more people to sign-up.

This week I read:

What is your problem?

This blog post by Tero Väänänen at NHS Digital, talks about why it is important to define the problems before trying to solve them. The problem with problem orientated work is that it always and only leads to a specific solution. But so many of the problems people face, especially in health care, don’t have single solutions. Solving other people’s problems for them also affords them low agency, which I don’t like much. Creating opportunities seems like a better approach. It means building products that allow people to solve their own problems in their own ways.

Self-imposed rules aren’t constraints, they’re good decisions made in batches

I like this idea, and the article it came from (and I like constraints). Tim Ferriss makes the same point. Batching decisions by creating rules, guidelines, principles, etc., is a great productivity principle. On the subject of productivity, I’ve been thinking about so much productivity advice is always directed at the perfect future you. I’ve never read any productivity advice about how to measure your work to see if you are actually becoming more productive.

Spotify, crypto, and ethics

Talking about the future of ethics and the ethics of the future across technology, product and design on the Product Experience with Cennydd Bowles, they talk about building products for the benefit of non-users, communities, the eco-system, not just shareholders and users. They also talk about the really interesting idea of counter-balance metrics, which is something I’ve thought a little about before but should explore more.

This week I thought about:

Innovation test

I’ve been thinking about time horizons for innovation along with my thing about implementation being on a one year time span, invention over ten years, and imagination in a hundred years. The actually number of years isn’t important, the point is that if we only focus on the immediate (like the advice I see on Twitter) then we never do the work to figure what the future might look like. This is what I want for System-shifting Product Management. I want it to be about the invention and imagination of what product management could be.

What’s the difference between a product and service?

My thinking about whether and in what way products and services differ sways from ‘the only difference is that one starts with an S and the other starts with a P, to a service being more about a sequential user journey (as expressed by a service blueprint or other time-based diagram) and a product being about a value chain (as expressed by a Wardley Map-esque map).

Weeknotes 289

Photo of the week:

Moon through trees

This week I did:

Goals

I’ve been thinking about and working on how to make a product practice more goal-focused. Without knowing what we’re trying to achieve it’s easy to get into ticking tasks off of a to do list without really knowing why, which then makes it impossible to prioritise those tasks because each could be as important as any other. I’ve been asking myself lots of ‘what is this trying to achieve’ type questions in order to hone my thinking skills for identifying the purpose of things and the systems that result in the purpose.

Insights

I watched some research interviews and really enjoyed synthesizing the different things I heard into themes that provide some insight around using technology, perceptions of expertise and reliability, and experiences of a service. It reminded me of some work I did a while ago around ‘analysis, synthesis, insight’ and how analysing things in isolation can never lead to insight, actually varied datasets have to be synthesised in order to reach insight. The better we get at synthesing qualitative and quantitative, user research and user behaviour, first and third party information, the more insights we can reach.

Social Mobility

I wrote a quick blog post about the Social Mobility Index and that there aren’t any charities in the top 75. But really it’s about whether charities should, along with trying to achieve their mission, contribute to generally making the world a better place. How much of their energies should be focused on improving social mobility, reducing climate change, tackling inequality and rights? When does doing these things become a barrier to working on their stated mission? I see an increasing trend towards charities doing more and more about the social issues outside of their own mission, and so I’m expecting the pendulum to swing back the other way in reaction over the next few years.

Newsletter reader

I tried to build a quick nocode newsletter reader, but failed. I want something that displays emails in an easily readable format but also has some rule-based workflow so that emails can be treated differently to how email inboxes treat them by listing them chronologically. Another idea on the list of things I’ll never finish.

I read and listened to:

Specialism and generalism again

I listened to the On The Edge podcast with Michael Garfield, which talks about how the neuroplasticity of our brains means that we’re able to keep learning throughout our lifetime, which gives us the scope to be generalists. Garfield mentions David Krakow’s point that modernity is when a culture learns faster than any individual, which means that no one can know everything any more. These two factors, biological and cultural, result in the need for generalists, acting as synthesists and integrators, play a connecting role between areas of knowledge rather than being expert in them. This makes the generalist more adaptable and more able to deal with instability better than the specialist.

The Freakonomics Radio podcast talks about a highly paid, highly specialist role in American football as an example of where specialism is statistically justified.

James Plunkett wrote a thread about the practice of management, how it arose in nineteenth and early twentieth century industry, and how it compares to the digital transformation we’re going through now. Just as the new managers were back then, digital teams today exist as an interface between the old and new, between the existing organisation and the potential of digital technologies and ways of working. I’ve written before about the role of managers as an interface between the individual and the organisation, and so bringing these together, digital managers are at the intersection of traditional and new working practices, of organisations and individuals. No wonder it’s such a chaotic role.

And, connected (at least in my mind), Matt Smith tweeted in reply to Ildikó Connell about how (charity in particular) job descriptions ask for a broad range of skills. Of course there is the factor that charities don’t have the budget to hire multiple specialists and so look for generalists instead, but it also reflects the wider trend and ongoing discussion about the role of specialist and generalists in modern work. Perhaps the generalist plays a connecting role between all of those skills the job description asks for rather than being expert in all of them.

Systems thinking for social change

I’ve been reading Stroh’s Systems thinking for social change, as part of trying to define the pillars of system-shifting product management. The book has a bit of a focus on causal loops, which I think fit product management particularly well.

Making bread

Das Barrett wrote about making bread as a metaphor for acquiring new tacit knowledge. It’s an interesting replacement for the example of riding a bike because (I assume) there are far fewer people who already know how to bake bread than to ride a bike, so it’s less familiar and even more illustrative of how difficult it is to learn-by-doing.

I thought about:

How different are Matrix Teams?

Matrix teams seem to be mostly described by their membership. It’s a matrix team if it has people in it from different departments or capabilities. These teams are by their nature cross-functional, meaning the people in the team will have a range of different skills, rather than all from the same discipline, but I think there is a lot more to matrix teams. The matrix is more about mindset than membership. Matrix teams share responsibility and accountability, rather than dividing it across functions.

Dominoes

I’ve been thinking about dominoes, especially increasingly larger dominoes, as a metaphor for system-shifting product management. Sheryas Doshi tweeted about the game metaphors for describing levels of product manager (interestingly the top two levels have competitors, but I don’t think that was his point). With dominoes, the trick the knocking over the big one is getting all the others lined up, which connects nicely with Theory of Change thinking.

Weeknotes 288

Photo of the week:

Beach art

This week I did:

Measurements

I’ve been thinking about measurements a lot this week. I’ve been involved in some workshops about how we measure our theory of change, chatted about how we measure user behaviour and add it to user research to create a more holistic understanding of users, and thinking about what measures we should avoid because they become misleading proxies for things we actually want to understand. Measurement is complicated thing, and something I think far more charities will be working to figure out.

Side projects

Sent the fifteenth Irregular Ideas newsletter and a few more people subscribed (13 now). I’ve been trying to hone in on how to describe what I write about and so far it’s something like, “at the crossroads where humans meet technology and the past meets the future.”

Fast Feedback Club might still develop into something as a couple of people seem a little interested. The idea is for a small community of side-project makers, solopreneurs, etc., to be able to ask each other for feedback on something they’re working on. I imagined it as a kind of kanban workflow where the requester provides info about what feedback they are looking for and then whoever wants to can add their thoughts and move the request through the workflow. This is quite different from a forum or chat group which lacks the structure to ensure that everyone gets the feedback that want as quickly as we can.

Indie Stickers was my worst side project idea yet. The big idea was that someone could mention a Twitterbot account (like those threader apps) in reply to a tweet that they’d like a sticker of. Then my product would automatically create the sticker and reply with a link for anyone to purchase the sticker. The MVP was a Redbubble page where I would manually create stickers of popular tweets from indie project and entrepreneurial tweeters. Two problems to start with; I don’t have the design skills to make the stickers visually interesting so that anyone would want to buy them, and I don’t own the rights for reproducing the tweets (I’m not sure if Twitter or the tweeter does, but I definitely don’t).

January retro & February delivery plan

I wrote January retro & February delivery plan. Having a retro for all the side-projects I started in January was useful and helped me choose to focus on exploring and writing about system-shifting product management for February. It was also useful to think about how my experiment of using various progress tracking approaches is showing the difficulties . My task list has an increasing backlog of things I don’t really want to do (because they are self-promo activities rather than actually exploring anything new and interesting). I did consider adding a ‘Not going to do’ status for the reporting or at least removing the dates so they don’t obscure the things I do want to do, but I need to give the whole thing some more thought.

And read/listened to:

Dancing with (real) time

I listened to this episode of Akimbo a couple of times. It talks about the shift between asynchronous and synchronous communication. And about how writing allows us to improve spread and amplify ideas. It lets us build networks and compound innovation. Although I’m completely up for even more asynchronous working, it’s interesting to consider how much of our work and communication was asynchronous before we started making a big deal about it. Maybe we have the wrong message and it isn’t about more async but less sync.

Opportunities at the Intersection of Web3 and Social Change

Starting from the position that the social change sector doesn’t keep up emerging technologies and trends, Benitez explains that his white paper is intended to “explore a few of the ways that the social sector (nonprofits, philanthropists, activists, social enterprises, impact investors, etc.) might be able to leverage Web3 technologies.” I agree that Web3 is important for charities and needs to be explored more.

Why Product Managers Don’t Need Domain Knowledge to be Effective

This article says Product Managers Don’t Need Domain Knowledge to be Effective. I think it means industry or sector knowledge, rather than domain knowledge. Product managers do need domain knowledge, and a lot of it, to be effective. Domain knowledge is about how to be a product manager, what product managers do, why they are of value to an organisation, etc., etc. Given all the confusion about the role of a product manager, if they don’t know that stuff then they won’t be able to help the organisation get the most from it’s product managers. Whether product managers need industry or sector specific knowledge is arguable too.

And I thought about:

System-shifting Product Management

As writing about system-shifting product management is going to be my focus for February I’ve been thinking about some of the topics that might be included. SSPM is in reaction to human-centre design and the humanist movement it grew out of, and incorporates systems-thinking, ethics, theory of change and posthumanism into a philosophy for creating and managing products that achieve behaviour change by affecting leverage points in systems rather than by acting on individuals.

Polymath

The specialist/generalist discussion is an interesting one, partly because the definition for one depends on the other. How general does a generalist have to be to be a generalist? Can someone be specialist when compared to a generalist but a generalist when compared to someone even more specialist than them? It’s all relative, and not very interesting. But what is slightly interesting is individual choices to niche-down or become more polymathic. The choice crosses over with other questions that hover around for me on personal knowledge management, approaches to learning, and where to focus my energy. The algorithms that govern online life tell us to specialise. But maybe real life is more interesting if we don’t.

Few random thoughts from the week

User needs are never ‘understood’, they can only ever be in the process of ‘understanding’.

‘Solve a problem’ product thinking tends to end with the product as it is seen as providing the solution. ‘Create opportunities’ product thinking tends to start with the product as it is considered the trigger for achieving the outcome.

The organising principle for content might affect user behaviour more than the content itself. Twitter organises chronologically, Reddit organises by topic (and then chronologically within each topic), websites mostly organise hierarchically, blogs are chronological and digital gardens often try to be a network. Each drives a different way if interacting.

If you have more than four days worth of work to do in five days then you’re already overloaded.

Maybe our over-reliance on kanban boards gets in the way of visualising the work.

Weeknotes 287

Photo of the week

Did this week:

Month one

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

Roadmaps.fyi

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

Continued being irregular

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

Future skills? I need skills now

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

Project ideas coming out my ears

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

Speechless

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

Eyes opened

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

Thought about:

Digital momentum

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

The downsides of the great reset

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

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

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

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

And read:

Theory of change for civil rights in a digital age

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

People Prefer Moral Discretion to Algorithms

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

Weeknotes 286

Photo of the week:

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

This week I did:

Continuous improvement

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

Ethical product decision-making collection

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

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

Doomsday

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

250

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

And I read:

How Complex Systems Fail

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

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

Loosely coupled simple systems FTW.

Road Ahead

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

APIs

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

I thought about:

Cause-and-effect and Networks

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

Systems solutions

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

Personality

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

Weeknotes 285

Photo of the week:

Looking west off the Pembrokeshire coast

This week I did:

Go time

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

Existential risk

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

In progress projects

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

Sent the 12th edition of Irregular Ideas.

Added more wise sayings to my #MakeMeWise Twitter Bot.

Reached 1,600 products in ultimatedigital.tools.

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

And read:

Sinking ship

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

Effective People Think Simply

And thought about:

Skillz

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

Being human is going great

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

Wicked problems in product

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

Weeknotes #284

This week I did:

Full swing

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

Big questions first

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

The practicalities of being a digital nomad

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

I read this week:

Aniket’s Product Management Resources

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

Radarban roadmap

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

The Laboratory for Complex Problems

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

Thought about:

Charity product management

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

Creative work

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


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Weeknotes #283

Photo of the week:

Did this week:

Usual projects

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

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

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

NFT as art form

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

Annual review 2021

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

Planning for 2022

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

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

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

Read:

The Messifesto

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

Systems Practice Workbook

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

Social fundraising in 2021

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

Practices to help you be more creative on-demand

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

Thought about:

A lot of people

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

Organising work

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

Co-existence

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