Tag: organization (page 1 of 2)

Minimum Viable Bureaucracy: Introduction

We really are rather fortunate, aren’t we? I mean right now, as I write this there will be conferences all over the world taking place. And a good number of those, especially in my areas of interest, are likely to be livestreamed meaning I can (theoretically) follow along at home. But more than that, these live streamed sessions are often also recorded meaning that these talks can kept for posterity and used as learning materials in a course (like a MOOC).

The difficulty with the super-abundance of learning resources is that it’s difficult to know where to begin. It’s hard to know what’s worth paying attention to – hence the Web Literacy Standard (“here’s the things you should pay attention to if you want to get better at reading, writing and participating on the Web”). At Mozilla we have ‘brown bags’ every so often – talks that take place at a Mozilla office (often Mountain View) that are streamed out via Air Mozilla. As with any kind of event, some of these are of more or less interest to me and/or feature people who can present better than others.

Recently I my colleagues directed my attention towards a brown bag given by Laura Thomson entitled Minimum Viable Bureaucracy. It’s so good that, after giving the talk at OSCon Laura was asked if she could repeat it so it could be streamed and recorded via Air Mozilla. It’s an hour long so I’ve taken the video, extracted the audio and created a separate MP3 file from each section of Laura’s talk.

So what’s it about? What is ‘Minimum Viable Bureaucracy’ (MVB)? Well, as Laura rather succinctly explains, it’s the difference between ‘getting your ducks in a row’ and ‘having self-organising ducks’. MVB is a way of having just enough process to make things work, but not so much as to make it cumbersome. It’s named after Eric Ries’ idea of a Minimum Viable Product which, “has just those features that allow the product to be deployed, and no more.”

The contents of Laura’s talk include:

  • Basics of chaordic systems
  • Building trust and preserving autonomy
  • Effective communication practices
  • Problem solving in a less-structured environment
  • Goals, scheduling, and anti-estimation
  • Shipping and managing scope creep and perfectionism
  • How to lead instead of merely managing
  • Emergent process and how to iterate

I truly believe that MVB is an approach that can be used in whole or in part in any kind of organisation. Obviously, a technology company with a talented, tech-savvy, distributed workforce is going to be an ideal testbed, but there’s much in here that can be adopted by even the most reactionary, stuffy institution.

My posts writing up Laura’s ideas can be found below. The original talk is on Air Mozilla, the slides are on Speakerdeck, and there’s a backup of the slides and audio on the Internet Archive.

  1. Introduction
  2. Scale, Chaordic Systems & Trust
  3. Practicalities
  4. Problem Solving and Decision Making
  5. Goals, scheduling, shipping
  6. Minimum Viable Bureaucracy: Why have managers?

Also, you might be interested in following Laura on Twitter – she’s @lxt.

Image from Bonkers World

How to implement technology successfully in your organisation.

Technology adoption

I spent some time in a local school this week talking to some members of staff about implementing educational technology. It made me realise that I haven’t talked nearly enough here about how to do that successfully. It’s simultaneously straightforward and painfully difficult.

Let me explain.

Technically, pretty much anything is possible. Short of thought-transfer and teleporting to the moon we live in a world with endless possibilities on the technical front. Whatever it is you want to do is probably possible.

Sucessfully implementing technology in your organization is therefore not a technology issue. Yes, it’s important to get right. But no, if you just focus on that your technology implementation will not work.

Here’s some advice for those seeking to introduce a new technology into their organisation.

1. Solve other people’s problems

This is the number one priority. If technology isn’t solving someone’s problem somewhere, somehow, then it’s superfluous. My experience is with educational institutions where I’d very much focus on solving teachers’ problems if you want any meaningful traction.

2. Get other people to evangelise for you

If you’re known as technically competent, then any success you have with technology is not necessarily seen as replicable by others. Get influencers on board. Embrace skeptics. Again, solve their problems.

3. Embrace constraints

You will always face constraints. These could be financial. They could be political, social, emotional or hierarchical. Whatever they are, if you can’t change them easily there’s no point whinging: you need to use the difficulty.

There might be a certain technology you’re being forced to use. So use it.

There might be some awkward members of staff or departments. So convert them or avoid them to begin with.


4. Have a strategy

This is blindingly obvious, but if you don’t have a strategy you can’t be strategic about your deployment of technology. “We want to introduce iPads to improve engagement” is not a strategy. It’s a hope. It’s a wish.

Strategies should be user-focused and have appropriate timescales. There’s a lot of talk around technology changing so fast that most strategies are meaningless.


When technologies evolve rapidly, then strategies are more important than ever. They’re not perfect but use research such as the yearly (free!) NMC Horizon report to see which way the wind is blowing.

5. Turn on everything / default to open

You don’t know where innovation’s going to happen. In fact, it usually happens at the edges, at the places where you least expect it. That’s certainly been my experience.

So, when you’re deciding which features of a platform to turn on, first look at your strategy. If that doesn’t tell you what to do, turn the feature on. Let the users drive the innovation.

And, finally, default to openness. It’s what makes the world go around. Don’t hide behind e-safety. Don’t hide behind ignorance. Don’t hide behind what you think other people will think. You’ll be pleasantly surprised if you let go of the reins a little. 🙂

Image CC BY Veribatim

PRINCE2 for schools (or, why don’t schools have project managers?)

I spent last week studying for and taking my Foundation and Practitioner PRINCE2 examinations. Programme and project management is an expected part of the world I now work; in fact, funding and facilitating projects too risky for institutions to take on individually is pretty much what JISC does.

PRINCE2 logo

PRINCE 2 is a project management method standing for PRojects IN Controlled Environments. It’s generic and applicable to everything from painting and decorating your house through to the machinations of multinational corporations. Granted, at first the rather abstract concepts seem needlessly convoluted (‘dis-benefits’ anyone?) but the commonality of language and ability to tailor a workable organizational structure make sense in the end.

What I can’t understand is why most schools shun formal project management methods? More than any almost any other type of organization, schools have to deal with constant change: personnel, curricula, buildings – so many different elements! Whilst it would be overkill (and the cost prohibitive) to have everyone within an organization PRINCE2-ceritified, I would definitely recommend the following:

Senior & Middle Leadership – full PRINCE2 Practitioner status

Teachers, Learning Support Assistants and Site staff – PRINCE2 Foundation status

If tied to professional development activities, the 7 PRINCE2 principles could really make a difference to organizational efficiency:

  1. Continued business justification
  2. Learn from experience
  3. Defined roles and responsibilities
  4. Manage by stages
  5. Manage by exception
  6. Focus on products
  7. Tailor to suit the project environment

The three I’ve highlighted would in particular benefit schools and make them much less frustrating (and much more productive) places to work. To explain those three:

  • Continued business justification – at the end of each stage the Executive (usually be the Headteacher) decides if the ‘business case’ is strong enough to continue the project.
  • Defined roles and responsibilities – project roles are based upon the ability of the person’s role within the school to allocate resources and carry out the task (and not on personalities).
  • Manage by exception – once each stage plan is agreed with specified tolerances, the project manager gets on with it, only raising exceptions to the Project Board if the tolerances (time, cost, scope) are exceeded.

I’ll explain more about PRINCE2 if there’s enough interest. I may not be qualified to give the training, but I am qualified to write explanatory blog posts. 😉

Greplin: potential solver of a huge problem?

I’m not Stephen Fry. Nor Ashton Kutcher.

What I mean is that I don’t have enough followers on Twitter for each of them to realise that I can’t keep up with them all. At the time of writing this post, I’ve 3,615 Twitter followers – 3,465 more than Dunbar’s number. In other words, people expect me to be able to remember my conversations with them when I can’t even remember who they are.

This is potentially embarrassing within the increasingly business-focused world I’m operating. I need a quick way to find out if I’ve spoken/tweeted/emailed/shared a doc with someone very quickly.

Enter Greplin. When I read about it on TechCrunch yesterday, it was a bit of a eureka moment:

It’s a personal search engine for all that data you keep locked away in the cloud. If you’ve used desktop search like spotlight, you’ll get Greplin right away. It’s like spotlight for your cloud data.

After you use it for the first time you’ll understand that you’ll never not use it again. And there are nice touches like showing real time results as you type. And Greplin only uses OAuth and other APIs for authorization, so they never see your third party site credentials.

I’ve signed up and added the services (GMail, Twitter, Dropbox, LinkedIn, Google Calendar, Google Docs) that I want Greplin to index. If it’s as good as it look in the video below, I may just drop the $45/year required to ‘go Pro’ and unlock indexing of Evernote and email attachments…

In terms of user outcomes, this is awesome. It provides ‘just-in-time’ data to allow you to make decisions, have meaningful conversations, and (perhaps most importantly) prevent social awkwardness. 😀

Weeknote #13

This week I have been mostly…

In the office

I had a rare week where I spent each day in the office. But then it’s August – not exactly busy time on the education and/or conference front…

Helping with #edjournal

I was pleased to be able to connect James Michie and Nick Dennis, who each independently came up with the idea for a learning-focused educational journal. They’ve run with the idea and #edjournal: where’s the learning? looks like it’s soon going to be a reality. I’m delighted! 😀

Setting up a touchscreen kitchen PC

This has been too long in coming, but finally we’ve got a solution for family organization and cohesion. I’ve sold some stuff on eBay and have bought an MSI Wind Top AE1900 touchscreen PC. It fits rather wonderfully in the kitchen. We’re using it for calendars (Cozi.com), news (newsmap.jp), music (Spotify) and  TV/radio (BBC iPlayer). It’s on been in there three days but now I can’t imagine life without it!

Watching the Wrestler

My Dad and I attempted to go and see The A-Team movie on Wednesday. Not a good time to go as Orange Wednesdays meant we couldn’t even get near the box office! We came back to my house and watched The Wrestler in our cinema room. What a powerful and well-written/directed/produced film! Moving.

Being lax on the exercise front

I only ran twice this week and did my weights once. Must. Do. Better. It really does affect my productivity! 😮

#onfire: ignite your productivity [free ebook – please RT!]

Productivity’s not hard. Sometimes you just need a kick up the ass and pointing in the right direction.

Let me oblige (click in centre to view fullscreen):

URL: http://issuu.com/dajbelshaw/docs/onfire

Whaddya reckon to #onfire?survey software

How to use Netvibes as a project management hub.

This guide is most easily done through screenshots. Apologies for the blurring out of information, but it’s necessary I’m afraid…

I’ve got lots of different projects on the go at the moment in my new role. I had to find a way to keep track of them fairly sharpish if I wasn’t going to fall behind. Thankfully, I’ve found a system that works really well for me. Here’s how to set up a system similar… 🙂

The first thing is to head over to Netvibes and sign up for a free account (if you haven’t done so already). When you’ve done that, start customising your ‘Home’ (dashboard) page:

I’ve used an iFrame to bring in the excellent TeuxDeux webapp here as well as a bookmark, webnote and holiday widgets. More on that later. Go ahead and set up your project tabs by clicking on the little ‘+’ icon to the right of Home. Add a little icon to make them stand out from one another:

For the project pages, I’ve chosen the following standard layout. It means I can see pretty much at-a-glance what needs doing (the to-do list) as well as notes to myself. The iFrames can go down at the bottom for things that I need to access often:

I use the following widgets in my project pages:

Adding these widgets in the relevant places and configuring them ends up with something similar to the screenshot below. Now rinse and repeat for the rest of your projects in other tabs and you’re sorted! 😀

How do YOU keep track of your projects? Do you use Netvibes differently? Explain in the comment section below!

How to ‘chapter’ your life to make it more productive.

I was again asked this week how I do it. How on earth do you fit in studying, a young family, blogging each day, and everything else you do? Of course, I pointed them towards #uppingyourgame: an educator’s guide to productivity, but it also got me thinking again about those things I do by habit, by intuition.

One of these is ‘chaptering’. In fact, I’m doing it right now. It can be done on a micro or a macro level and is a very simple concept. For example, I’ve just finished reading a chapter of a book I’m reviewing for an academic journal. Now I’m doing the first draft of this blog post. Then I’ll go back to the book.

Most people, I suppose, if given the same ‘to-do’ list that I wrote into my Moleskine notebook would chunk tasks. That is to say do all of the book-reading, then do all of the blogging, then all of the washing-up, and so on.

The difference between chunking and chaptering is that the former is time-agnostic, whereas the latter divides time into roughly equal sections. By this I mean that I’m likely to spend 15-20 minutes on each activity when chaptering, whereas the ‘chunker’ would spend as long as it takes to get the task done.

Inevitably, then, chaptering involves breaking down large tasks into smaller ones. Whilst I won’t set arbitrary time limits on activities, it does mean that I have a change of scenery and activity at least once every 30 minutes. I’ve found that associating certain geographic areas with certain activities works well. So, for example, whilst I’ll still be using my Macbook Pro, I may deal with my emails in my study whilst writing blog posts might be done on the dining room table.

I find this chaptering method not only keeps me focused, but means I can ‘parallel-task’. It works best when the activities are qualitatively different. Whilst I’m washing-up, for instance, I can still be thinking about the article I’ve just read.

On a macro level, chaptering can be applied not only to your working week (spending time on different projects and tasks on different days) but on different months (e.g. having a slightly different focus each month), and even on years and decades.

So I encourage you to have a go at chaptering. It works well for me. I’m confident it can work for you, too! 😀

How I organize my Ed.D. thesis

Sticky notes


I’ve been studying towards my Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) qualification for almost 6 years now. My PGCE (teacher training qualification) at Durham University was the equivalent of the first year of an MA in Education. I thought it a waste not to continue with that on a part-time basis whilst I was teaching.

When it came to write the dissertation for my MA it wasn’t the greatest period in my life. I was told by my MA supervisor that I had the grades required to transfer to the Ed.D. if I wanted. At first I couldn’t see her logic; if I wasn’t in a position to complete my MA how would I be in a position to move up to a doctorate? But then she explained. If I transferred, I’d be able to take higher-level modules the next academic year rather than having to churn out a dissertation that academic year. I’d always had at the back of my mind that I’d like to do a PhD and so this made sense!

Tool choice: wiki

All of a sudden, then, I was a doctoral student. I didn’t quite fall into it, but even so it was going to take a step-change in attitude and organization. Going to get my Durham University student card replaced I laughed at it’s new expiration date: July 2012. That seemed a very long way off!

Up until starting my Ed.D. I’d had a fairly ad-hoc way of organizing my academic work. After all, although I’d written 20,000 words for my MA in Modern History in 2003, I’d organized my notes chiefly on paper – using my chunky (although at the time, stylish) laptop merely to write. I could see that this approach was going to change. Thankfully, when in 2006 I wanted to change programme, blogs, wikis and podcasts had just become all the rage.

I’ve used a wiki and a blog with my Ed.D. from the start. After toying with various wikis courtesy of the comparison at wikimatrix.org I decided it was important that I owned my own data. In effect, I sacrificed a little bit of ease-of-use and prettiness for speed, functionality and full control of my data. Whilst services such as Wikispaces, PBwiki and Wetpaint would have done the job admirably, they didn’t quite fit the bill.

I came across TiddlyWiki via Lifehacker. It’s an extremely lightweight wiki designed primarily for personal use. There’s a learning curve in terms of the syntax used to create, for example, things in bold and italics but once you’ve got used to this it’s second-nature. The standard version of Tiddlywiki is merely an HTML file. The massive advantage of this is that you can put it anywhere and it ‘just works’. Put it on a USB flash drive and you can work on it from any machine; put it on your website and you can read it from anywhere.

Although you could download the HTML file, work on it, and then re-upload it, I found this a little clunky in practice. After all, I wasn’t always in a position to fire up an FTP client to do so. On top of that, sometimes I would forget and/or have multiple versions of my wiki. Looking around, I came across ccTiddly, a server-side implementation of TiddlyWiki. In layman’s terms this meant that, upon installing it on my webhost’s server, I could not only access it from anywhere, but edit it from anywhere. In addition, clicking on a link means I can take it all offline quickly-and-easily when I want to. 🙂

Tool choice: blog

It’s amazing how quickly things change. At one time, the obvious choice for anyone creating an education-focused blog was Eduspaces. This aimed – and succeeded, to a degree – in creating a ‘community’ feel to blogs surrounding educational practice and research. You can still see the original blog I created there at eduspaces.net/dougbelshaw/weblog although when the owners announced it was shutting down, I transferred the posts first to teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk and ultimately to here, dougbelshaw.com/blog.

I enjoy the amount of control that WordPress, my blogging software of choice, gives me over what I do with my thesis. More recently, I decided that having a separate category for my thesis-related posts here wasn’t enough; I went ahead and created another blog at dougbelshaw.com/thesis. WordPress is easy to extend and customise through the use of themes and plugins. One extremely useful plugin is digress.it (formerly CommentPress) which allows commenters to easily comment on particular paragraphs in addition to the whole post. 😀

Tool choice: mindmap

After doing a great deal of reading on the ‘literacy’ aspect of digital literacy (the construct which I’m analysing in my thesis) I realised that I had no real idea how to start to put it all together. I needed a visual way to represent what I’d learned and to plan out what I was going to say. I looked at various options for mindmaps but found the online ones (such as Bubbl.us) a little clunky and the offline ones inflexible.

I was delighted, therefore, when I came across XMind. The beauty of XMind is that not only is it free and Open Source, but the offline program allows you to put your mindmap online in an embeddable, zoomable way. Perfect! You can view the mindmap I created for that digital literacy overview here.


My studying, then, tends to go something like this:

  1. Skim-read article or chapter in book. Attempt to the main arguments to myself.
  2. Go back through article or chapter with sticky notes, adding them at quotable/important parts.
  3. Add relevant sections (highlighted with sticky notes) to my Ed.D. wiki, commenting on them as I go.
  4. Come up with idea for synthesis/analysis of what I’ve been studying.
  5. Create mindmap.
  6. Write section/blog post.

It seems to work fairly well for me, but I’m always looking to improve! Recently, I’ve stuck a pinboard to the wall next to my desk. It allows me to keep those important, but sometimes fleeting, ideas buzzing around.

How do you organise YOUR studies? :-p

(Image CC BY Tom Coates)

Has WordPress-powered P2 left me ‘more organized and productive’?

Doug's work record - search for 'Google Apps'

Last month I wrote a post entitled How WordPress-powered P2 is (hopefully) going to leave me more organized and productive. If you haven’t read that yet, you probably should do now so that you understand what follows… :-p

There’s several reasons for my wanting to keep a record of the stuff that I do in my role as Director of E-Learning. These include:

  • Performance Management
  • An aide-memoir when dealing with other people
  • Interest – how much of my time do I spend on various activities?

Does it work?

If you’ve got this far into a second post on the subject, the question you’re probably asking is probably something like Does it work? or Is it useful? The answer to both of those questions is YES!

What’s harder to answer is whether it’s left me more organized and productive. After all, entering even a one-liner (and adding tags) takes time. When you’re flat-out busy (like I am most days at the Academy!) that could be seen as a bit of a waste of time.

So I suppose the best way to answer questions relating to organization and productivity are to take the politician’s approach and not really answer them. Instead, I’ll tell you what I’ve used the WordPress + P2 system for. So far, it’s been for three things:

  1. Checking when I emailed someone and tasked them with a particular activity.
  2. Counting how many of a particular meeting I’ve been to.
  3. Seeing which individuals I interact with most often (the tag cloud is very useful for this!)

I can’t help but think that this system would go from good to great if it were being used by more than one person. For example, ICT technicians could use it to keep a record of what’s going on, cropping up, and taking their time. This could be viewed by their line manager, who could make comments. And as with my personal work record, it could be password-protected yet internet-based for secure yet easy access! 🙂

P2 is available as a pre-installed theme at WordPress.com. A standalone version for self-hosted WordPress-powered blogs can be downloaded at p2theme.com.

So why not give it a go? It’s free! 😀