The Informed Life with Jim Kalbach

Episode 66 of The Informed Life podcast features a conversation with Jim Kalbach. Jim is the Chief Evangelist at MURAL, and author of Designing Web Navigation (O’Reilly, 2007), Mapping Experiences (O’Reilly, 2016), and his latest, The Jobs to Be Done Playbook (Rosenfeld, 2020). In this conversation, we dive into Jobs to Be Done, how it relates to design, and how jobs can create an “out-of-body experience” for organizations.

As Jim sees it, JTBD is an innovation framework above all:

The first question that I always teach people to answer in defining the jobs that they’re going to be targeting is, “where do you want to innovate?” And once you’re able to answer that question, what Jobs to Be Done brings is a lot of focus and clarity to that.

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The Informed Life with Udhaya Kumar Padmanabhan

Episode 65 of The Informed Life podcast features a conversation with Udhaya Kumar Padmanabhan. UKP, as he is known to his friends and family, is a Global Strategic Design Director at Designit, an international strategic design consultancy. He is based in Bangalore, and in this conversation we talk about challenges and opportunities inherent in designing information systems for the Indian market.

As you’ll hear in the interview, I was especially interested in learning more about the diversity of languages spoken in India, which present interesting challenges to stewards of information environments. UKP explained:

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The Informed Life with Sarah Barrett

Episode 64 of The Informed Life podcast features a conversation with Sarah Barrett. Sarah is a Principal Information Manager at Microsoft. She’s been writing compellingly about information architecture in Medium, and I wanted to discuss one of her recent posts: Websites are not living rooms and other lessons for information architecture.

Sarah makes excellent points about how the type of thing you’re making changes how you approach its design. As she put it, “you have to be really clear about what you’re building, so you know what kinds of rules to use.”

In particular, we discussed four factors to keep in mind when designing digital systems:

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The Object-Oriented UX Podcast, Ep. 15

Sophia Prater invited me to be a guest in her Object-Oriented UX podcast. Sophia is a UX design consultant and evangelist for OOUX, which is a methodology that helps teams tackle complex design challenges. She was my guest on episode 63 of The Informed Life, where she explained OOUX in more detail.

However, our conversation in her podcast focused on my book, Living in Information. Among other things, we discussed information environments, the tension between top-down and bottom-up structural directions, and greedy environments. Also, UFOs.

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The Informed Life with Sophia Prater

Episode 63 of The Informed Life podcast features an interview with UX design consultant Sophia Prater. Sophia evangelizes object oriented UX, a methodology that helps teams tackle complex design challenges. In this conversation, we discuss OOUX and how it differs from other methodologies.

Sophia described OOUX as a philosophy “that respects and acknowledges the fact that people think in objects.” What are objects?

An object is a thing that has value to the user. So, when I say objects, I’m not talking about your navbar or your calendar picker or your dropdown. All those things are valuable, but they are a means to an end. And I often say no user is coming to your site for your calendar picker. It could be the best calendar picker in the whole world, but that’s not what they’re coming for. They’re coming for the event, or they’re coming for the people that they can invite to the event.

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The Informed Life with Alla Weinberg

Episode 62 of The Informed Life podcast features a conversation with work relationship expert Alla Weinberg. You may be wondering, what does a ‘work relationship expert’ do? According to Alla, it entails:

looking at and mapping — actually creating visual maps — of how people relate to each other at work. And when I say relate, I mean think, feel, and behave, towards each other. I do that for a team, and I create visual maps so the team can visualize their own dynamics and see what’s working relationally on a team and what’s not working, with the thought that seeing something, making the invisible visible, you can improve it. It doesn’t necessarily have to be anything’s going wrong. It can be just how can we even be better at working together at relating to each other so that we can, as a team, use our collective intelligence to serve the work that we’re doing to serve the company in the greater purpose that we have as a team.

Alla recently published a book called A Culture of Safety, which explains how teams and organizations can create work contexts that allow people to do their best work. The goal is to establish conditions that enable psychological safety and trust. Doing so reduces anxiety, which is an obstacle to performance.

if a team leader or manager wants their team to move fast, wants their team to be able to solve complex problems, wants their team to have access to their intelligence — all the things that they’re wanting, all the outcomes that they’re wanting, this performance outcome that they’re wanting — to get there, the team needs to feel safe in working together.

Our conversation was on my mind as the Basecamp mess played out in public. As an outsider, it’s impossible for me to know exactly what happened there, but from reading media reports, I suspect the company didn’t create a culture of the type Alla describes.

Which is to say: this has long been an important topic, but it’s now more important than ever. Organizations ignore the expectations of people entering the workforce at their peril. I suspect Alla’s book is a good primer on this issue.

The Informed Life episode 62: Alla Weinberg on Work Culture

The Informed Life with Matt LeMay

Episode 59 of The Informed Life podcast features a conversation with consultant and author Matt LeMay. Matt is a co-founder and partner at Sudden Compass and author of Agile for Everybody and Product Management in Practice, both for O’Reilly. In this conversation, Matt shares with us One Page / One Hour, his pledge to make project collaboration more agile.

The interview kicked off with a discussion of Matt’s background in music, and how it relates to product management. Musicians in a band must think beyond their individual desires (“make my instrument louder in the mix!”) to what benefits the band as a whole. This ethos also applies to product development:

If everybody has their feature that they want to build, if everybody wants to highlight their own individual contributions, you very quickly get to a point where the thing you’re building no longer makes any sense. Where if you can’t prioritize, if you can’t think systematically and then think structurally about how everybody’s contributions come together to create something new and meaningful, then you wind up with something which is just a collection of features, or a collection of ideas that really don’t coalesce into something interesting or powerful, or that solves a problem.

Knowing what to keep out is as important as knowing what to include:

both in music creation and in software product management, you really learn to recognize the power of subtraction. That the most meaningful work you can do is often subtractive work, not additive work. That constraints and subtractions and blank spaces are really what define the work that you’re doing more so than features and additions and things that you add in.

This discussion served as the perfect introduction to One Page / One Hour, Matt’s subtractive technique for more effective collaboration. In his work, Matt recognized a tendency to overproduced deliverables. In response, he

wrote up this pledge to my business partners saying I’m willing to forego the sense of individual accomplishment that comes from presenting finished and polished deliverables to my colleagues. I promise that I will spend no more than one page and one hour working on any deliverable — any document — before I bring it to the team. In other words, if I show up with five beautifully formatted pages or a one-page that took me 10 hours to create, I want you to hold me accountable to that.

The result is a more agile approach to collaboration. I also asked Matt about communication practices suited to this approach, and he brought up the “synchronous sandwich,”

an asynchronous pre-read, a synchronous meeting, and an asynchronous follow-up. In other words, you send something through as a pre-read, using a lot of these same concepts. So, you time box how long you expect somebody to take to send the pre-read and how long it will take them to read the pre-read. Then you work through the document or do something synchronously together, and then you send through a follow-up or a revised copy of that deliverable or whatever it is afterwards.

I was inspired by talking with Matt to think of ways to make my work more agile. I hope you get as much value from our conversation as I did.

The Informed Life episode 59: Matt LeMay on One Page / One Hour

The Informed Life with Jesse James Garrett

Episode 58 of The Informed Life podcast features a conversation with Jesse James Garett. Jesse is author of The Elements of User Experience and co-founder of Adaptive Path. Now, he coaches design leaders, and in this podcast we explore the relationship between IA and leadership.

Why does this matter? As Jesse put it,

any leader, anyone who gives direction to people in an organization, is on some level a steward of the organization’s understanding of the problems that the team is trying to solve.

Leaders do this through storytelling, which Jesse described as a “sense-making activity” that “gives people an understanding of the world.”

So, if the leader is noticing and attending to sense-making as a core part of the value that they bring to the organization as a leader, then they can look across their communications and the various pools of data that they may be responsible for tending and to interpret what they’re doing in terms of creating more robust and more nuanced and more accurate information structures.

Such sense-making is the responsibility of leaders in all fields. When I asked Jesse how leaders might develop these skills, he suggested that those in design approach it as a design problem:

It is a creative problem-solving task. It is a systems-thinking task, as a leader. So, looking at the ways that you’re already doing that systems-thinking, the ways in which you already doing that architecture for yourself in the work that you’re already doing, and those will be your strengths.

I was excited to hear Jesse touch on this subject on episode 25 of the Finding Our Way podcast, and I was thrilled to have him say more about it on my show. I hope you find our conversation valuable.

The Informed Life episode 58: Jesse James Garrett on Leadership and Information Architecture

The Informed Life with Ben Mosior

Episode 57 of The Informed Life podcast features a conversation with consultant Ben Mosior. Ben teaches clients how to visualize strategic intent using Wardley Maps, which are the focus of this episode.

What are Wardley Maps? As Ben described it,

Wardley mapping is a visual way of representing systems: its users, its needs, its capabilities, its relationships between all those three things. And then it’s also positioning those things in a way that helps their qualities become more apparent.

So, a type of systems diagram that is particularly effective at capturing context and intent. But more than an artifact; the mapmaking process itself brings clarity and alignment to teams:

By making visual artifacts — by talking about our systems visually — we can come together, look at a specific part of it, appreciate its qualities, and then together determine what our collective intent is about that part of the system.

This allows teams and organizations to act with greater focus, an ability many are missing. As Ben put it,

the most common mistakes that organizations make is they spread [their investment in time, attention, and resources] too wide. [They’re not] intentional about what they’re doing, and the result is they don’t make progress quickly. They don’t actually achieve what they set out to achieve. And you have an organization full of individuals just showing up to work every day, not really connecting to that bigger purpose, not really making a difference in the world. And it’s a system that actively trains you, that what you do doesn’t matter.

One way to overcome this lack of strategic intent and alignment is through what Ben described as “ontological map-making” — a phrase that resonated with me given my focus on helping teams ‘see the big picture.’ Wardley mapping offers a structured approach to creating such shared ontological maps.

I’m grateful to Ben for sharing his knowledge with us; I hope our conversation proves as valuable to you as it did to me.

The Informed Life episode 57: Ben Mosior on Wardley Maps