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

The Informed Life with Margot Bloomstein

Episode 56 of The Informed Life podcast features a conversation with brand and content strategist Margot Bloomstein. Margot is the author of Content Strategy at Work, and now she’s written a new book called Trustworthy: How the Smartest Brands Beat Cynicism and Bridge the Trust Gap. Our conversation focused on the subject of the latter: building trust.

Specifically, the book deals with how organizations (businesses, governments, non-profits, etc.) can build trust with their customers and prospects in a time when trust in institutions, politicians, organizations, and even capitalism itself, is waning. As Margot diagnosed the situation,

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The Informed Life with Hà Phan

Episode 55 of The Informed Life podcast features a conversation with Hà Phan, the Director of Discovery at Pluralsight. Hà came to this role from GoPro, where she was a principal UX designer. Our conversation focused on the transition from UX design to product leadership.

Among the differences between the two roles, Hà called out the fact that leaders must provide their teams with a path to clarity:

I think the difficulty was between the role I have now, or the delta between the role I have now versus being a UX designer is that, you know, it’s really a leadership role to basically provide the path to clarity. When you have a vision, even as a seasoned UX designer, you’re going to present forth this vision. And usually there’s a thousand questions and a thousand steps before you get there, right? And usually, you don’t get there entirely. You know, you don’t get to the vision entirely the way you had envisioned it. You’re going to take turns, right? And I think in this role, what I get to do is that I get to enable the team to find that path to clarity, and to provide the milestones or the mission for each of the goals along the way.

Finding and illuminating this path requires (among other things) asking the right questions and making things:

when you’re faced with a lot of unknowns, whether it’s feasibility or just the problem is vast, what I normally do is I try to get the engineering team to build something, anything.

Hà’s approach strikes me as a designerly way of leading; an inspirational example for designers tasked with taking on broader responsibilities. I hope you find as much value in our conversation as I did.

The Informed Life Episode 55: Hà Phan on Product Leadership

The Informed Life with Kourosh Dini

Episode 54 of The Informed Life podcast features a conversation with psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and productivity expert Kourosh Dini. Over the last couple of years, I’ve been using DEVONthink as a knowledge management repository. DEVONthink is a powerful and complex tool, and I only really started to see real productivity gains in using it after I read Kourosh’s book, Taking Smart Notes with DEVONthink, so I wanted to know how Kourosh uses the tool.

We started by discussing the idea of ‘smart notes’:

You have a single note that has maybe a single idea to it, and then you connect that to other notes. And what makes it smart, I think, is where you start to reflect on those notes. How you start to develop them over time, how they start to argue with each other in time because what you’ve written now is different than what you’ve written in the past, and you start discovering things. It’s not so much the notes themselves, so much as the effect they have on you, I suppose.

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The Informed Life with Jason Ulaszek

Episode 53 of The Informed Life podcast features an interview with Jason Ulaszek. Jason is the founder of Inzovu, a design collective, and UX for Good, a nonprofit dedicated to providing “elegant solutions to messy problems.”

Our conversation focused on healing Rwandan society after the 1994 genocide. Alongside with others, Jason worked on the design of the Kigali Genocide Memorial, which commemorates the genocide and serves as the burial ground of over 250,000 victims. This required that Jason interview genocide survivors – people lived through horrors, including seeing loved ones brutally assassinated. And yet, Rwandan society has survived. As Jason put it,

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Finding Our Way Podcast, Ep. 24

My friends Peter Merholz and Jesse James Garrett invited me to be a guest on their podcast, Finding Our Way. Our conversation focused on architecture, design education, standards, and whether designers should be certified, much like architects are licensed.

As I mentioned in the show, I’m undecided about certification. On one hand, I understand why some folks want it: the systems we’re designing today have an oversized impact on people’s well-being. On the other hand, the basic technologies are still evolving too fast; we risk formalizing interaction mechanisms that would be quickly made irrelevant.

There’s much more in the show. I greatly enjoyed this conversation. I hope you find it valuable too.

Listen here:

Or visit the Finding Our Way podcast, which includes a transcript if you’d rather read the conversation.

The Informed Life with Grace Lau

Episode 52 of The Informed Life podcast features an interview with Grace Lau. Grace is an information architect and UX designer based in the Greater Los Angeles area. Since early in her career, Grace has been organizing local professional community events. Now she’s a leader in two important information architecture events: the IA Conference, where she’s one of the 2021 chairs, and World IA Day, which she co-presides.

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