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The Ice Cream Fork of Productisation

Did you know that ‘spork’ is a registered trademark? Me neither. So in this post we’re going to refer to the original fork/spoon hybrid from the early 20th century: the venerable ice-cream fork.


Our ice-cream fork has three prongs and a spoon-like bit. Let’s use this as a metaphor for getting started with productisation, the process of turning internal business capability into commercially viable products.

Let’s also use an acronym, ‘SIR’ to remember this:

  • Sense-check — is what you’ve already built wanted by other clients?
  • Insight — what have existing clients told you about their needs/problems?
  • Research — what kind of jobs do potential customers have to be done?

Once you’ve scooped up all of this creamy goodness into the spoon-like bit of your ice-cream fork, then you’re ready to give it a taste. Is it what you were expecting?


What comes next is the exciting part! It involves spending time with your team coming up with potential ways of taking what you’ve already got and making it relevant for new audiences. But that’s a whole other series of posts.

To me, the value of the Ice Cream Fork of Productisation is that it provides a nice balance between researching and building. I’ll leave you with my favourite quote to illustrate what I think is an appropriate balance between the two:

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.

Abraham Lincoln

This post is Day 60 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com

How to build ideological products that delight users

On Friday, I read this in a book that had been recommended to me:

Making a product decision from a perspective of ideology is either brave or stupid.

Jon Kolko, Well-Designed: How To Use Empathy To Create Products People Love, p.19

I’ve made product decisions which I’d say were ideological, so it gave me pause. Then, this morning, I read a short blog post from Seth Godin in which he said:

A principle is an approach you stick with even if you know it might lead to a short-term outcome you don’t prefer. Especially then.


It’s this gap between the short-term and the long-term that makes a principle valuable. If your guiding principle is to do whatever benefits you right now, you don’t have principles of much value.

Seth Godin, Principle is inconvenient

This produced a tension: who was right?

Then, picking up same book again this afternoon, I read an interview with Josh Elman, who has led product at a number of high-profile tech companies:

The hardest part of building something comes down to this: are you building it for yourself, or are you building it for how you believe most people will react and interact? It’s important and really powerful to get out of your own head and think about how other people will engage with a system or a product, and make sure you are making choices that are meaningful to them, not to you.

Jon Kolko, Well-Designed: How To Use Empathy To Create Products People Love, p.63

I feel like this helps to resolve the tension.

First, I start from the tech equivalent of the Hippocratic oath (“do no harm”). So I’m not going to work on betting apps, anything which negatively affects our societal response to the climate emergency, or ‘addictive’ services.

Second, I continue from the position of identifying communities of people to help. I spend time finding out, both directly and indirectly, where their pain points are and what would delight them.

Third, I put together a team to design and build prototypes to test with these people. We then iterate based on that feedback.

By doing this, you can have your ideologicical cake and eat it. When your values are in line with those of your users, then everyone wins.


This post is Day 59 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com 

Weeknote 41/2020

Traffic cones in a large puddle

This week has been much like last week — busy, somewhat fraught, and involving lots of thinking about the future. It’s been typical autumn weather, with bright sunshine one moment and a torrential downpour the next!


I applied for a role at the Wikimedia Foundation entitled Director of Product, Anti-Disinformation after a few people I know and respect said that they thought I’d be a good fit:

The Wikimedia Foundation is looking for a Director of Product Management to design and implement our anti-disinformation program.  This unique position will have a global impact on preventing Disinformation through Wikipedia and our other Wikimedia projects.  You will gain a deep understanding of the ways in which our communities have fought disinformation for the last two decades and how this content is used globally.  You will work cross-functionality with Legal, Security, Research and other teams at the Foundation and imagine and design solutions that enable our communities to achieve our Vision: a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.

As a result, I ended up writing about my issues with Twitter’s attempts at anti-disinformation in the run-up to the US Presidential election.

On Friday evening, a recruiter for a different global product director role got in touch seemingly slightly baffled that I’d applied for it, given my career history and credentials. I suppose it’s easy to undervalue yourself when various people chip away at your self worth over a period of months during a pandemic.


I’m very much enjoying working with Outlandish at the moment. It’s particularly nice to work alongside people who not only work openly and co-operatively, but are genuinely interested in improving communication, trust, and empathy within their organisation.

During October, due to my commitment to a four week Catalyst-funded discovery programme with nine charities, I’m only working with Outlandish the equivalent of one day per week. However, from November to January, I’ll be spending half of my week (2.5 days) divided between two things:

  1. Helping them productise existing projects, and training/supporting new ‘product managers’ (although that role will look slightly different initially)
  2. Working on helping them expand their ‘Building OUT’ programme which stands for Openness, Understanding, and Trust.

One of Outlandish’s values is that they are ‘doers’, meaning that the space between verbally proposing something, gaining the consent of colleagues, and getting on with it is really short. It’s so refreshing, and meant that on Friday I was able to publish the MVP of a playbook using existing Building OUT-related resources.


On Thought Shrapnel this week I published:

Here, I published:


Other than the above, I’ve been making final preparations for a milestone birthday for my wife, Hannah, next week. I’ll reach the same age as her in a couple of months’ time, so at the start of 2020 we’d begun to draw up plans to celebrate both birthdays. Those plans went out of the window due to COVID-19, so I’m trying to make the day as nice as possible, with an eye on a belated celebration later.


Image of traffic cones in large puddle at Morpeth, UK.

Weeknote 36/2020

Trees and path at Thrunton Woods

This week I got into a new rhythm with Thought Shrapnel, restoring it to something approaching its strapline – i.e. a stream of things going in and out of my brain. I’m pleased with the result, although it will evolve and change as I do.

As a result of that focus, I only wrote a couple of posts here, which both happened to be framed as questions: What’s the purpose of Philosophy? and What do we mean by ‘the economy’? They’re part of my ongoing contribution to the #100DaysToOffload challenge, and I’ve been enjoying reading contributions by other writers. There’s an RSS feed if you choose your reading (rather than have it served up algorithmically by social networks) 😉

This week featured a Bank Holiday in the UK, so it was a four-day working week. Team Belshaw spent Monday in Thrunton Woods, which we’ve never been to, despite only being 25 minutes away from where we live. Of course, we decided to do the red walking route, despite the fact that our two children were on their mountain bikes. Cue me and our son having to carry bikes up a very steep section, broken up with tree roots. Still, it was fun, and we went out for lunch afterwards.

Despite the four day working week, I managed to fit in the same number of hours of paid work as usual. I ended up doing four half-day for Outlandish, continuing to help them with productisation and in particular developing what they offer to help teams work more effectively. There’s only a couple of places left on their upcoming Sociocracy 101 workshop.

For my home co-op, We Are Open, I’ve been mainly focusing on business development, submitting three funding bids on Friday. We’ve got some things to work through internally as the co-op expands and grows. That can lead to difficult conversations, some of which we’ve been having this week.

Those connecting with me via video conference in the last few days would have seen something new behind me in my home office: a full-size dgital piano, and a tiny Korg NTS-1 synth. Inspired by Mentat (aka Oliver Quinlan) I decided that it’s been too long since I tried making my own music. 25 years, in fact.

The piano was my parents’ and was at our house while my two children had piano lessons. Given our eldest gave up a few years ago and our youngest decided she no longer wanted to play during lockdown, it’s been sitting in our dining room gathering dust. I noticed it has MIDI ports to the rear, so I’ve hooked it up to the Korg synth and experimenting with the noises I can make. And they are definitely ‘noises’ at the moment…

This weekend, my wonderful wife and I celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary. We’re pretty much middle-aged now, so celebrating it by going for a child-free long walk and having coffee and cake. Our children will be at my parents’. It’s a shame we can’t really go away, but on the plus side the pandemic has meant we’ve explored many more places locally than we have previously!

Talking of children, they were back to school this week, both starting new schools. They seem to be really enjoying it, especially being back among their friends rather than mainly connecting with them via Fortnite.

Next week I’ll be working a couple of days for Outlandish and getting started on a new piece of work for Greenpeace through We Are Open. Other than that, I’m still looking for a bit more work, so hit me up if you see anything Doug-shaped!


Image shows path through trees at Thrunton Woods

Giving consent

At the moment I’m working two days for Outlandish, a fellow member of CoTech. They’re big believers in, and practitioners of, Sociocracy.

When I wrote about Sociocracy in a previous post I neglected to use the word ‘consent’, but I’ve come to realise (partly through reading Many Voices One Song) just how fundamental it is to a harmonious workplace culture.

Consent is the default decision-making method in sociocracy.

[…]

By consent, a group can decide to do anything. We often jokingly say, you want a dictator for your organization? We can decide that by consent. (We recommend that the dictator role have a term end, however!) Groups can decide by consent to vote. Groups decide what their governance system looks like at all times. The only thing one cannot do is ignore reasoned objections.

Ted J. Rau & Jerry Koch-Gonzalez, Many Voices One Song, p.25-26

Many of the problems I’ve encountered in my career have been directly related the abuses of power that come with the ‘default operating system’ of hierarchy thoughtlessly adopted by most organisations.

Rather than the politics of the playground, Sociocracy is an grown-up approach to organisational power-sharing based on consent.

The assumption of sociocracy is that sharing power requires a plan. Power is everywhere all the time, and it does not appear or disappear – someone will be holding it. We have to be intentional about how we want to distribute it. Power is like water: it will go somewhere and it tends to accumulate in clusters: the more power a group has, the more resources they will have to aggregate more power. The only way to counterbalance the concentration of power is intentionality and thoughtful implementation.

Ted J. Rau & Jerry Koch-Gonzalez, Many Voices One Song, p.17

The authors recognise the limits of the water metaphor, but continue with it to help make their point:

One can think of a sociocratic organization as a complicated irrigation system, empowering each team to have the agency and resources they need to flourish and contribute toward the organization’s mission. We avoid large clusters of power, and we make sure there is flow. Water that is allowed to flow will stay fresh and will reach all the places in the garden, nourishing each plant to flourish. Sociocratic organizations nourish and empower each team to have the agency to flourish and contribute toward the organization’s mission.

Ted J. Rau & Jerry Koch-Gonzalez, Many Voices One Song, p.17

Consent is a great place to start without having to commit to overhauling your entire organisation overnight. It will improve decision-making and make your workplace environment more harmonious. You can simple as using the following structure in your next meeting:

  1. Someone makes a proposal
  2. Whoever’s chairing/facilitating the meeting gasks for any clarifying questions (which are then answered by the proposer)
  3. The facilitator asks for a show of thumbs (up, down, sideways). If it’s all thumbs up, the proposal is passed, if not…
  4. Participants are asked by the facilitator for ‘critical concerns’ (i.e. not just preferences). These are noted down.
  5. The group address the critical concerns by trying to find a way that the proposal would be agreeable.
  6. A new proposal is made (and the process is repeated through several ’rounds’) until the proposal is accepted, or you run out of time to discuss it.

I will, of course, have simultaneously over-simplified this and made it sound more complex than it is in practice. For that, I apologise. However, it’s definitely worth thinking about consent within the context of your team and organisation.

I’m helping Outlandish with the productisation of their offerings around Sociocracy at the moment, so am probably biased, but you might want to check out their upcoming workshops to find out more if any of this interests you


This post is Day 29 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com

Weeknote 30/2020

I’ve written quite a bit this week as part of my #100DaysToOffload challenge:

Over and above what’s detailed in these posts, I’ve been splitting my time between working on projects for We Are Open and Outlandish this week. For the former, my ‘home’ co-op in the CoTech network, I’ve been mainly focusing on work for Catalyst and the Social Mobility Commission. We’re working with Erica Neve and Pedram Parasmand on three contracts, helping charities who are rapidly undergoing digital transformation. We had a really successful retrospective on Friday with UpRising, who we’ve been helping in more depth.

With Outlandish, I’m helping with some productisation of similar projects they’ve worked on for a range of clients. I find this really interesting as it’s simultaneously about meeting user needs and about organisational development. I’m also advising around ways in which they can develop the workshops they offer.

I’m fortunate to work with organisations which are so emotionally intelligent, and which go out of their way to be so. One of the reasons for working with Outlandish is to give them some short-term help with project management while they’re a bit stretched. But another reason is to learn from their processes and procedures; although they’ve only been a co-op for as long as us (four years), they’ve been together and honing things for a decade.

When I was at Jisc, one thing that always impressed me was their internal knowledgebase. They used PBworks for that, while Outlandish uses a WordPress installation with a theme called KnowAll. I’ve been wanting to experiment with wiki.js and so this week Laura Hilliger and I set up an instance at wiki.weareopen.coop and copied over existing pages from our GitHub wiki. I’ve set user permissions so that only logged-in members can edit the wiki, and indeed see any pages that are ‘internal’ only.

We finally got sign-off from Greenpeace for one of the best things I think I’ve written for a while: HOWTO: Create an Architecture of Participation for your Open Source project. As Stephen Downes mentioned when mentioning it in OLDaily it’s perhaps applicable to wider contexts than just open source projects.

Other than that, I’ve just been reviewing a document Laura put together for some work we’re doing with Red Hat, doing a small amount of work for our ongoing work with Greenpeace, and contributing to a ‘playback’ of some recent work we did for Catalyst.

Next week, I’m tying up work for We Are Open on Monday, and for Outlandish on Tuesday, before turning everything off and going on a family holiday for 10 days. As my therapist said in our meeting on Friday, as I’m a bit of a perfectionist, there’s no guarantee that I will actually relax during my holiday just because I’m away from home. So I’m actively trying to cut myself some slack. I deliberately went for a slow run this morning and I even had an afternoon nap yesterday. Small steps.


Header image is a selfie I took on a family walk in the Northumbrian hills last Sunday. Inspired by Low-tech magazine’s solar powered website, I loosely followed this guide to create the ‘stippled’ effect. This reduced the size of an 8.6MB image to a mere 36.6KB.

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