Weeknotes #239

This week I did:

Where to invest in capabilities

I started working on a big new project that is due to go live in a couple of months. I was brought in to product manage the automation work and it’s been really interesting to get into the problems that exist with the manual processes and figure out how we can use automation technology to improve them. I’m keen that we use tools that can help us learn about automation is ways we can use in the future.

The usual, ‘a roadmap isn’t a delivery plan’ conversation came up again this week. I think the best type of roadmap for us at the moment would be one that suggests where to invest in capabilities, be that building up existing capabilities such as digital delivery or developing new capabilities in self-serve learning.

This is how high-speed project initiation goes: Mon – Opportunity to trial a new product comes up, Tue – Proposal approved & budget allocated, Wed – Put team together & wrote implementation specification, Thu – We wrote design & user research plan, and Fri – Agreed the delivery plan. One of my colleagues remarked that it was a good example of what we want to achieve by having cross-functional teams that can come together quickly to achieve something and disband when they’ve done it.

Thought about:

Organisations of Theseus

The metaphysics of identity have been questioned back to 400 bc by Plato and Heraclitus, and by many more thinkers since. The question is expressed by the story of the ship of Theseus which throughout it’s journey has every plank and rope replaced. So the question is, is it the same ship at the end of the journey as it was at the start?

The same question can be put to an organisation going through change. If all of the processes, people, branding, even the name, change over time, is it still the same organisation? There is lots of talk about strategy and culture for organisational change but not so much about identity. Perhaps organisational identity is tied to more intangible things, things like purpose, values, place in society. But these can change too.

Everyone agrees organisational change is hard. It’s hard to make happen, hard to deal with when it is happening, and hard to accept when the results aren’t what we want or expect. Maybe Heraclitus would have said that organisations are always changing, and and such never had a fixed identity anyway. I wonder if organisational change would be different if rather than talking about changing the old, we talked about building anew.

Out of business

It is not a charity’s job to put itself out of business. I’ve heard a few people say that it is recently. I completely disagree. A charity is way more that just a means of tackling a social issue, with the expectation that it should be disbanded once it has achieved . Over the life of a charity it builds up a wealth of expertise and capabilities, hard won in many cases as charities deal with all kind of difficulties, and to throw of that away when the social issue has been resolved is extremely wasteful. If a charity solves the issue it has been working on, or the need goes away or changes, charities should be able to pivot towards a different issue. They should also be able to point themselves at different problems than what they we’re originally set up to do and contribute to a different cause. I know this is a difficult because of the mindset and legal structuring of charities, but I can dream.


I had an idea for a product to encourage daily self-reflective microblogging. You’d sign-up and set-up your URL, select a template for your posts, and the time of day you’d like to write, and then you get a an email everyday to remind you to login, answer the questions on the template and post it. Each template might have three questions like ‘What went well today?, What didn’t go so well?, What could you do differently in the future?’. Now I just need someone to build it. (Of course the first thing I do is go looking for a domain name to buy…)

Individual, team, organisation

Andy Tabberer’s questions about teams always get me thinking. “I believe in a type of citizenship at work, on teams, that carries both rights and duties. Getting the balance between those two is the hardest bit. What do you think?”, he says. Well, I think it’s pretty complicated. Citizenship in the public sphere is between the individual and the state, one-to-one relationship, easy. But within an organisation there are three elements at play; the individual, the team and the organisation. So there’s relationships between individuals and other individuals, both in and outside of the team. Then there’s a relationship between the individuals and the team, and other teams, and the organisation. And teams have a relationship to other teams, and to the organisation. There’s a lot going on there. And all of those entities have rights, which differ depending on which other entity they are interacting with, and duties towards all the other entities too. Citizenship requires rights and duties, but it also needs a public space, “a shared space for discussion of values and ideas, and development of public opinion” (Habermas, 1964). I wonder if that kind of space can exist within organisations, which makes me wonder if citizenship can exist at work.

What is value?

I’m gradually reaching the conclusion that ‘value’ is purely a construct and doesn’t exist outside of that contextual agreement. Anything that someone says is ‘value’ (revenue, cost saving, time, knowledge) is just a representation of something else that they consider valuable, but that thing thing is just another representation, until the value disappears into nothing. So, what then, do we mean when we talk about organisational value? Maybe we mean it to mean outcomes but we talk about it in terms of outputs. I’m not sure. More thinking to be done.

This week I read:


The idea of standups as short regular meetings that help teams stay coordinated is a ritual that has grown out of Scrum and adopted by all kinds of teams. Jason Yip’s Patterns for Daily Standup Meetings is the ultimate reference material for everything you could want to know.

Rise of the humans

I think lots of the bigger charities are thinking about how automation how help them be more efficient (some of my work involves automation solutions for things like updating our CRM, setting up meetings, communicating with people). Ben Holt’s post on whether the British Red Cross make people happier and deliver better services by working with machines provides some interesting insight into

Responsible Use of Technology: The Microsoft Case Study

This whitepaper from the World Economic Forum on the responsible use of technology goes into how Microsoft uses tools and processes that facilitate responsible technology product design and development.

Building a copy collaboration workflow

Content is always where websites (and website build projects) fall down. This post from Ditto has some useful advice on creating a workflow for website copy.

And some people tweeted:

Digital skills change

Think Social Tech tweeted, “A thread 1/10: A brief review of research/literature on digital skills and support needs in social sector“. This is now the go-to thread for all the resources on digital change in the charity sector, including this report on Charity Digital Journeys. It’s so important that information like this is collected together and shared because those charities would would probably benefit from it the most are the least likely to even know it exists.

Digital isn’t (just) a channel

Daniel Fluskey tweeted, “Fundraising will need a mix of events – virtual, real, digital, traditional.

  1. Start with what your supporters want
  2. Choose the right event for the right audience – square pegs in round holes don’t fit
  3. Don’t get overwhelmed, you don’t have to do everything!”

Could there be a more digital-thinking tweet that isn’t about digital? I read that as, ‘start with user, meet their needs, work in small batches. That is as fantastic example of digital thinking applied to fundraising.

The 3 A’s of professional learning

John Miller tweeted, “Professional learning should hit all 3 A’s :

  1. Actual – relate to the real world. Practicality.
  2. Academic – theory and research behind the learning.
  3. Aspirational – what could be better by applying the learning. Inspire positive change.”

This seems like a better approach than the 70/20/10 thing, which I think assumes too much about knowledge existing and being shared. John’s approach . The Actual part says to me, ‘learn by doing’, which is essential when in new and changeable situations. Including an academic aspect is important. This doesn’t have to mean ‘scholarly’, it just means ‘read books and take notice of all the existing knowledge from people who have done it before’. Aspirational closes the loop (and I’m a big fan of loops). It says that we should learn about learning in order to improve how we learn and what we apply to the practical learning opportunities.

Reading list

I tweeted, “30 things I’ve read recently about AI, business value, design, remote work, resilience, leadership, innovation, maps, product teams, personas, digital media, cyber security, purposeful careers, organisational change, literacy & complexity.” It followed on from a few discussions about learning digital skills so I thought I’d try to get into the habit of sharing my reading list for the week. As I don’t have any knowledge of my own, maybe people can benefit from me sharing other people’s knowledge.