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Product Management Blog

Reading Ideas for 2021

I tend to write up notes from books, or just highlight them as I go. I read when I can, but make no conscious effort to read regularly. It’s worked for me in the past, but when things get busy the learning suffers.

So, this year I’m going to have a commitment to read a book a month every month. It doesn’t seem like much, but it should get me into a good cadence again to help me think differently and continue to learn new things.

What’s on the list?

And, that’s so far.

I’ll dig out some more in the coming months once I begin working through these. Ideas always welcome, ideally in the software architecture space!

Listen, Understand & Nudge

Joining a service when the team have been through discovery, alpha and beta phases together can be challenging.

It’s a team that’ll have bonded through some tough times, and come together to solve problems with their users.

There are no fires to put out, so what do you do in the first 30 days?


I took the first two weeks to listen as much as possible, with as many people as possible.

It’s amazing what you can learn when you care about what the other person has to say.

Ask questions, and listen - product, people, process, technology and finance are good places to start.

Immerse yourself.


Listening helps you understand, which in turn helps you make sense of things.

It’ll be an iterative process in the first few weeks. You’ll think you’ve got it, then you will realise you don’t - and that is OK.

You’ll want to know about the organisation, stakeholders, service proposition, user needs and so much more - it’s a lot to make sense of and understand in such a short space of time.

Beginning to understand things is bringing all this together into a coherent whole.

Don’t rush.


It’s time to begin to make small interventions, where you feel those interventions will be valuable. You can work with individuals where there is something specific, helping move things in the right direction - nudging things in the right direction ;)

Collaborate with the team as a whole to tackle bigger things - such as new problems to solve or questions to answer.

Canvas Conference - An Emotional Rollercoaster

I popped along to a conference for product people in Birmingham last week. Canvas Conference was brimming with great stories from people working in the product space. It included speakers from companies such as Thriva, Microsoft Research, Starling Bank and Monzo this year.

However, I’m not sure I was prepared for one of the presentations - nor were quite a few others whom attended.

Emotionally, it was a bit of a rollercoaster.

Haiyan Zhang is an Innovation Director at Microsoft Research. Haiyan works with people to identify where technology could improve or enrich their daily lives, where medical conditions put them at a disadvantage.

Haiyan talked about quite a few things, including a new platform for participants, and the need for making solutions financially viable further down the line.

Parkinsons is a disease affecting 10 million people worldwide, and leads to a loss of motor control. There is no cure.

I know first hand the effects that this disease has on a human being. It’s been close to me since I was a young boy. It has the ability to strip back all the things you cherish.

So, it was getting into Project Emma that was the most striking for me. It’s ambition was to help Emma, a women diagnosed with early on-set Parkinsons, write and draw again - giving her back a little of what had been taken away.

Haiyan and her team spent vital time sitting with Emma to better understand the importance drawing plays in her life, and more widely how Parkinsons has affected her daily life. Haiyan and her team worked day and night for months to better understand the problem and explore a solution to help Emma.

Remarkable, right?

It’s helped remind me that we all have a role to play. I guess most of us shape solutions for the majority of people, however people and their needs are heterogeneous - with all the complexity that brings.

We have a responsibility to those who have different levels of ability, or who need support to see the benefits that the things we build bring to people.

It’s why research, analytics and how we build things are so important to do right by our users - whoever they are.


Visualising IA with Mind Node

It’s time to break the blogging drought with a hands on post.

When producing an information architecture for a recent website our team decided use mind mapping techniques, as opposed to opting for a more conventional site-tree.

“Information architecture is the practice of deciding how to arrange the parts of something to be understandable” - IA Institute

We decided to use software to help us achieve this. It would have been ideal for us to use a physical space to collaborate. However, one wasn’t available - so we thought this the next best solution.

MindNode2 is a nice little application available from the Mac App Store. It became a our primary method to visualise our early thoughts both within the team, with stakeholders and with users.

You can add nodes as and when new information or topics become available through user research, search demand, conversations with stakeholders and insights from subject matter experts.

Diagram Tips

  • Line Colours - separate different topics, or to highlight different audiences
  • Line Weightings - suggest the volume or the complexity of the information
  • Arrows - highlight related nodes, or vital cross-linking
  • Node Types - suggest the type of content (e.g. video, image etc)
  • Notes - explain where it came from e.g. user research

You can then create a couple of additional main nodes to act as a legend.

It’s all vague enough that people won’t mistake it for a final piece of work. It’s also flexible enough that if you move things around all the nodes will dynamically move and resize.

You can read more about information architecture on Web Designer Depot

So, have a go and let me know how you get on.

Uber should borrow your new driverless car

It’s reported Uber have plans to reduce their dependency on human drivers and their vehicles through introducing driverless cars.

Uber is currently the modern day equivalent of your old school taxi company - just without many of the limitations and drawbacks that these have. However, if it does continue down the route of purchasing driverless cars and operating these directly - it becomes a company managing what could be an extremely large fleet of driverless vehicles.

Given that the rise of driverless cars will also happen within the private car ownership space initially - it strikes me there is actually a better opportunity adopting a hybrid model.

If the current appetite from people for car finance (either ownership or user-ship) continues and there is still a desire to have their own vehicle, would they be willing to offer it up during non-use for companies such as Uber?

When you think about it, people are already willing to fork out money each month for a vehicle which remains unused for the majority of the day, minus the morning and evening commute. So, why wouldn’t this continue with the introduction of driverless cars?

Though this time, your vehicle could have an Uber navigation app installed and be turned into a taxi during it’s downtime - all while you sip on your morning coffee.

Sounds good to me. Uber continues to have a relationship with human drivers, but begins to dip into driverless cars without having a massive upfront investment.