Product instead of project – this is the future

Mon 28 March – Sun 3 April 2022

I was feeling anxious when I wrote my previous blog – read it here. Largely based around tension in doing the Third Sector CEO Summit on Wednesday where we were running our roundtable session on ‘Products over Projects’. Reconciled myself that it might be a failure not least as I could be judged on its success from many different angles and outcomes.

Products in everyday life

Needless to say, I think all went well – see below. Indeed, as Woody Allen is once supposed to have said, ‘50% of success is simply turning up’. This blog largely reflects on the summit and our roundtable. But I have also incorporated my thoughts on how products feature in other aspects of my life.

Not least as a key difference between products and projects is between creating instead of just doing. Products are crafted to fulfil needs and are adaptable for the future. Whereas projects are simply about doing stuff, often within constraints such as for a temporary period.

‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well’

Julia of Norwich

Tech for Good

Third Sector CEO Summit: Product over project roundtable

Walked to the conference centre on Wed morning. Exercise helps me relax. Met my boss and colleagues from Citizens Advice who I was presenting with. Also met the summit organisers and all was well despite us not always seeing eye to eye in the run-up to the event LOL. Shows how electronic comms can sometimes create misunderstanding.

General theme #1: Relief and reflection

There were two big things I took away from the event. First, a very human sense of people being relieved to meet again. Indeed, for many, this was their first big face to face meeting without masks for over 2 years.

And there was a general reflection on the difficulties we’ve all been through during the pandemic. Indeed, for me it was the period when I was laid off from Comic Relief after 11 years of loyal service and I wondered if I would work again. So many people related to times when they wondered what would happen next and how they would deal with it. But everyone had adapted and survived.

over-thinking and anxious

General theme #2: Change really is constant

The other big thing I took away from the event was that the last 2 years had made everyone accept that change really is a constant. Fascinating to think what this conference would have been like if the pandemic had not happened.

What it has created is realisation that charities and non-profits have to be constantly adapting and changing. This is good news as in the tech area at least, the third sector is less likely to be doing things differently than in the past compared to other sectors.

In my role at Thoughtworks, I can see the product development that our private and public clients are doing. They are not just doing fixed-term projects nor just seeking to keep on doing what they do. Rather they are creating new products that will keep them in demand and stay relevant with their customers. And these products are designed to continually develop as time goes on.

Surprised monkey

The roundtable went well

We were talking about the importance of creating products rather than just doing projects. If you want more details, there is a great article here explaining the difference. Though I will accept that in the third sector we often do projects as that is easier to sell to donors and funders frequently only fund for fixed terms.

On a practical level, I was pleased I insisted on a display screen which enabled us to show our presentation and video. And the input from Citizens Advice colleagues was vital as they made the theory real. Both these thing meant participants could see and understand the digital referral product we were talking about and centring the roundtable on.

We ran the roundtable six times on the day. That was quite exhausting but also a great example of agile and permanent beta working. Basically every time we were able to learn from went well or not so well and then adapt the next session. Pretty much meant the final session was the best one so long as our own tiredness didn’t come through too much.

The key role of digital

Important to say that not all products are digital products. But I think it is almost impossible to deliver any kind of product now without it having a digital element. Traditional Third Sector projects are based on funding just for a fixed period either with staff delivering a service or the development of a physical space. But now even people based products will have a tech element such as those people using software to deliver a service.

Internal products as important as external ones

And products don’t just have to be B2C – Business to Customer i.e. about service delivery to external ‘customers’. Products can also be internal to an organisation ensuring that it is able to do things more productively, efficiently, and consistently.

Man with binary code projected on his face

Citizens Advice

Sadly our project with Citizens Advice finished last week. We have built them a digital referrals product. The aim is to make it as easy as possible for people to be referred for support and help.

All went well though with occasional hiccups as happens. Product management is partly about keeping things on track and dealing with stuff that (inevitably) goes wrong at some point. Really great to handover to Citizens Advice’s own tech team to manage and develop the product from now on.

I popped in to see the delivery team after the gym on Tues. They were doing a rare session in the office to handover. Fascinating that basically this whole product has been built and coded remotely with people communicating by zoom. I’m really proud we created this and hope it ensures more people in need get the help and advice they need.

Be happy and grateful about good things

Health and Efficiency

It definitely helps to think of the work we do to keep ourselves healthy as creating a product. And we are that product. We want something that is healthy, attractive, and will live longer. Particularly important to note that this is never finished (as a project) but in continual development and adaptation (as a product).

Gym – building a body for the future

Sadly only one gym session last week. Should have been two but a knock on effect of doing the roundtable was that Thursday’s session didn’t happen – see below.

A nice session on Tuesday. Usual focus on legs to help counter-act the osteoarthritis in my knees. But also upper body (chest in particular) to boost my lung capacity. My lungs have never been great after the pulmonary embolisms I developed several years ago.

19 sessions in total since the start of the year when I restarted going to the gym = £26 per session.

World's strongest man

Weight – not a good week

If the product I am seeking through going to the gym is a body able to cope with the ageing process, then I am not making progress on the aspect of that which is to lose weight. A slight increase to just over 14 stone.

I have written much previously on how the weight loss process is complex and last week was not good with the tension in the run-up to doing the roundtable then the recovery period. I really look forward to a period in the future when I can get my mental and physical body into the right position to lose weight.

man weighing himself

Mental health

I suppose good mental health is a product in that we are trying to craft something that is flexible and can change to adapt to whatever situation we face. It’s not a project that we just do over a fixed period of time and it is ‘done’. So lots of tension before Wednesday and then recovery afterwards. Perhaps people think I am over-reacting to doing the roundtable. We can all be sensible for other people but our emotions are our emotions.

Dealing with feeling knacked

I felt totally knacked once we had finished the summit on Wed evening – mentally and physically. A combination of a whole day intense physical event (first time in two years), repeating the same session six times, relief at getting it done, and being dehydrated due to being stuck in a hot room all day. Several people who left the room and came back stated how warm it was. I suspect I was like the frog in boiling water who failed to appreciate the temperature increase.

Positive nothingness

My main way of immediately dealing with this was to go for a long walk to the UJC where I met Dave for dinner and drinks as part of the unwind. A good night’s sleep – nothing to worry about, the deed was done. But when I awoke on Thursday morning, I decided I wanted to do nothing on my day off apart from a work zoom meeting in the afternoon. So skipped the gym and pottered about reading and having coffee. Sometimes you need positive nothingness.

“The beginning is always today.”

Mary Shelley

Books and Reading

‘Nod’ by Adrian Barnes

Just one book read last week and this was it. Very poignantly, the author had a savage brain cancer diagnosed whilst he wrote this novel. And he died a few years after it was published basically making it the only book he wrote. It is a book heavy with promise. I thought it wasn’t perfect but it showed his future books could have been amazing. Indeed, this was planned as the first in a trilogy.

It’s a sinister apocalyptic sci-fi story. For no clear reason, nearly everyone in the world loses the ability to sleep. The main group unaffected are children though with a few adults like the ‘anti-hero’ of our story. The world descends into chaos and brutality. Our hero has to try to survive long enough until most of the ‘awakened’ are completely disorientated and dead through lack of sleep – about 3 weeks.

Personal Development

The language learning app Duolingo is an example of a great digital product. It is effective, ‘scratches an itch’ (people want to learn languages in easy bite-sized chunks), and continues to develop. I love it and continue to try to do at least one lesson each day. Fundamentally focusing on Spanish but also trying to venture into German which is a language I already have some experience with.

One of the things I will be doing when I properly retire (or semi-retire) is to spend my days learning languages.

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.”

George Eliot

Family and friends

Dave

One of those weeks when I realised the value of a supportive partner and family. Though they can drive me mad as well.

Dave came back from his mum’s on Monday – she’s recuperating OK, hopefully she will be able to leave her flat soon. I actually spent a lot more time with him than usual as I based myself at his flat because it was easier to get to and from the summit on Wed. A few moments when we grated up against each other (particularly as he had a big thing to do on Tues) but, overall, we got on OK.

Mum

Took my mum out on Sat for her delayed Mother’s Day lunch. The fish and chips planned for the previous week were made possible because the tube line we needed was operating without engineering works. Dave was able to come as well. A nice, relaxed lunch and we didn’t over-eat – no mushy peas or bread & butter. Took mum back home and spent the weekend with her.

Dying but still beautiful flower

Sustainability

Anti-product

This aspect of my life is all about getting rid of products. Or reusing existing products to create new ones. The best thing that could happen for the planet now is a rule that no more physical products can be made anew, rather we can only reuse existing ones. Don’t forget:

  • Refuse (if you don’t need it)
  • Reduce (consumption)
  • Reuse
  • Repair
  • Recover (from waste)
  • Recycle

Are digital products environmentally friendly?

Theoretically digital products (i.e. software) are better for the environment than physical ones. Though the manufacture of digital equipment (i.e. laptops and servers) can be very damaging to the environment. Also, some non-physical digital products can be very destructive as with the crazy amounts of electricity used to create crypto-currencies. There is a good way to see how much carbon is created simply by working in the cloud by using the Cloud Carbon Footprint tool.

An exciting speaker

This week was also about me carrying on with setting up an event for the Green Software Foundation’s Global Summit. Delighted to say that looks like I will be running a UK event with an excellent remote speaker based in Ireland. This is Gerry McGovern who has written and spoken a lot about the importance of tackling digital waste. Find out more about him here. Event should be taking place at lunchtime on Thurs 9 June – tune in!

The importance of planting trees

The Week Ahead

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” 

Muriel Strode (an American poet)
  • We are in the two week countdown to Easter. This is one of my absolute favourite times of the year. Enforced time off and the official end of winter with the joy of summer light and heat to come.
  • Main thing is a trip to our Newcastle office Wed – Fri. Talking to our team up there about social change. Also meeting someone from VONNE and some people from an environmental charity. My first stay over in the UK for work reasons in over two years.
  • Visit to Newcastle will mean only one gym visit on Tues morning. And suspect my eating won’t be healthy especially when I am away. So much for the product I am trying to create of ‘healthy Billy’.
  • Have started reading a new historical crime fiction novel by Andrew Taylor – very good. Plus will carry on with ‘Shadowlands’ and ‘The Magician’. Hope to finish one of these by next week.
  • Must try to get some real art and culture in my life beyond just books and TV

And Finally…

Note ‘gas’ in the USA = ‘petrol’ in the UK

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