What I did this week:
Our team did presentations of our work to others across the organisation. It’s an important part of communicating and embedding the changes that we’re introducing but the really interesting part was all the comments that hinted at questions we haven’t answered and questions we didn’t even know to ask. There’s so much experience and expertise for us to absorb into our work and I hope that if we get that right it will help us create a better product that doesn’t repeat old mistakes our ignore old learning. If continuous discovery is a mindset was well as a practice, then looking out for these opportunities to uncover more unknowns is exactly what we should be doing.
I’ve been thinking about the complexity of the situations that the product we’re building interacts with across the organisation. My conclusion so far is that it’s important not to down play the complexity and try to create a simplified (and probably false) view. That would risk creating simplified solutions that don’t really solve problems. Some of the questions I’ve been asking myself is, ‘where is the right point to intersect with existing systems and processes without causing disruption or unintended consequences?’ and ‘how can we help other teams improve how they do things in ways that don’t cause downstream problems for others?’.
My interviewees have started returning their answers to my research questions. I’m still hoping for more but I can begin collating the answers I have so far ready for analysis next weekend. Those that I read so far have been really interesting and make me wish I could have long chats with people about their understanding and approach to innovation in charities.
My website hit 20,000 views this week. That’s not many in the grand (or even not so grand) scheme of things but it still amazes me that people visit the site. I’m sure most of it is by accident or when looking for something that isn’t there, but it’s interesting how the traffic has increased over the last five years from averaging 1 view a day in 2016 to 8 in 2019, 26 a day in 2020, and so far in 2021 32 a day.
What I thought about this week:
I’ve been thinking about and trying to learn more about Theory of Change. The part that interests me at the moment is the how the causal logic of ‘c’ will lead to ‘b’ and ‘b’ will lead to ‘a’ is built up. If ‘a’ is the ultimate change, the larger impact on society, then ‘b’ is what needs to be true in order for that change to be realised, and ‘c’ needs to be true in order for ‘b’ to happen. So, the thing I’m struggling with in this backwards logic is how it can be anything other than a pyramid of hypotheses which could all just as likely be untrue and true. I guess that’s why it’s a theory of change rather than a plan for change, but I wonder how clearly that aspect of ToC’s are communicated. They basically say, ‘here’s lots of guesses that may or may not lead to the change we’d like to see, and those guesses are based on lots of assumptions and biases, any of which could prevent the causal chain logic from having the desired or expected effect’, but they are often presented as a more certain plan for achieving change.
Bottlenecks are designed to be just that. They are designed to reduce flow, or to put it another way, to control flow. It wouldn’t be quite so easy to pour the wine into your glass if all of the wine bottle was the same width all the way up. So why do we refer to bottlenecks in systems and processes as a negative thing? Perhaps we’re better off accepting and understanding bottlenecks as essential and necessary to any system design. Maybe constant and continuous flow at the maximum rate in the wrong places causes floods.
If you believe everything you read on the internet then most products are driven by the triad of Product Manager, Engineering Manager and Design Manager. The product I work on is driven by the octagon of programme, project, product, technical, content, design, delivery and impact. I’ve only just started to think about how these eight roles interact, where each of their responsibilities lay, and how they can all be aligned to work effectively together, but as part of my ‘charities need good product management‘ thing I’m keen to explore other models of developing products and what effective product management looks like in different contexts.
And what I read this week:
Digital exclusion: a growing threat to your charitable impact, strategic objectives and funding, looks at digital transformation in the voluntary sector and what impact it might have on the digital exclusion of those the voluntary sector organisations are trying to help. The article suggests three ways that can contribute to tackling digital exclusion, which is really just social exclusion; grassroots action, funding, and campaigning. Including people in society, which is very much digital, requires a far bigger approach. So whilst tackling digital exclusion is undoubtedly a good thing, it seems to me like an impossible problem to solve. The use of digital in society is going to increase and it won’t be long until all cars are computers on wheels, money is a virtual number on our phones, and accessing any service will require digital literacy. As these changes, which are predicated on a certain level of wealth accelerate, more people will become digitally excluded than can be caught up. The argument that as digital technologies become more ubiquitous and every one alive has grown up with them is like assuming that everyone knows how to fix an internal combustion engine because they’ve been around for a while, or that everyone knows how to drive because there is an infrastructure in place to teach (some) people. I don’t know what the solution is, but it’s good that more organisations are recognising digital exclusion as an issue and looking for ways to contribute.
I really liked this Twitter thread, 14 habits of highly effective Product Managers, from Lenny Rachitsky. My top three are ‘quality of thinking’, ‘hunting for misalignment;, and ‘sending good vibes’. Lenny says that quality of thinking shows in the quality of documentation PMs produce. I think high quality documents are essential for good asynchronous working but they depend on having the time (among other things like practicing writing well) to do the thinking. Hunting for misalignment and getting things into alignment is so important for effective working, but is so hard to achieve. There are so many contextual and points-of-view barriers that we don’t even recognise well enough as misalignments, as well as the obvious and known misalignments. Good vibes make all the difference. Anything that can be approached with a negative, defeatist attitude and can be approached with a positive attitude.