Weeknotes 307

This week I did:

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

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

Digital you

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

What does the charity sector think product managers do?

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

Your website sucks

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

And I read:

A (functioning) digital society

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

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

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

Data about the sector

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

Wicked Problems in Public Policy

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

Not starting a transformation programme

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

103 Pieces of Advice That May or May Not Work

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

And thought about:

Hand signs

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

Is product management a spectrum-friendly discipline?

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


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