Decision Journals and Framing Your Bets

Decision journals are designed to create a log of the decisions you’ve made and why you made them. To both capture a snapshot of your thinking at the start, then use the notes to improve your decision making process when you review it later.

I first heard about decision journaling when Ian Stewart pointed to a Farnham Street post a few years back. Then it came up again in late 2017 via Matt on the OFF RCRD podcast. I decided to take another look.

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Screenshot of the Farnham Street post about decision journals, highlighting the need for quality control of our decisions.

“You can think of a decision journal as quality control” for your decisions — yes, that fits my mindset. A quality check in six months or a year to prevent hindsight bias.

Here’s the Farnham Street template as a downloadable PDF: Decision Journal Template.

I haven’t made this a standard practice yet, probably because it feels like too much overhead. These days when reviewing success and failure I find myself reflecting back without a full picture of where my mind was at the start. What have a I learned in between? Will I repeat the same mistakes? How can I repeat the top bets that paid off?

For example, for a given decision, what do I expect to change? What am I betting on, and how will I know if I’m right or wrong?

In 2018 I hope to be better at stating my intentions ahead — taking the time to create the snapshot of my thinking at the start. Blogging this publicly to keep myself accountable for journaling the decisions at the start.


Bonus: Two recent mental models for framing your decisions as “bets” that I’ve come across, in case you find them helpful.

  1. Mind the Product’s bet matrix, via Brie Demkiw. “I bet that [this decision] will create [this outcome]. I’ll know I’m right when I see [this evidence].

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    Screenshot of the Bet Matrix by Mind the Product.
  2. Ray Dalio’s expected value calculation in Principles (see my book review):

    Make your decisions as expected value calculations. Think of every decision as a bet with a probability and a reward for being right and a probability and a penalty for being wrong. Suppose something that has only a one-in-five chance (20%) of succeeding will return ten times (e.g., $1,000) the amount that it will cost you if it fails ($100). Its expected value is positive ($120), so it’s probably a smart decision, even though the odds are against you, as long as you can also cover the loss.

 

Stripe Connect, Frontend Experience

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Connect: behind the front-end experience is an extraordinary frontend engineering knowledge drop from Stripe’s design team — how they built engaging landing pages with next-generation technologies like CSS 3D, CSS Grid, and the Web Animations API — including the (new to me) Intersection Observer API to detect the visibility of an element. A must-read.

Via Twitter / johnmaeda.

Exclusion Example: Emoji in Twitter Titles

A thread this week about emoji in Twitter titles provided me an instant treasure trove of design exclusion lessons — broadening my perspective and building empathy for non-visual people using Twitter.


First, though, let me back up a step to explain why it’s a gem. Why it illustrates the need for first thinking about exclusion when approaching inclusion.

Inclusive design became a major learning trend for me in 2017 — starting with fresh perspectives arriving in my life via the designers and developers at Automattic, especially our Head of Design John Maeda.

In April I jumped straight in via the Design and Exclusion conference we launched in collaboration with Twitter, NextDoor, Airbnb. Listening to debiasing stories where people shared intimate details of feeling excluded rocked my boat a bit.

My mind really cracked open in August when I become aware of Kat Holmes and her work on this crucial topic. Previously with Microsoft and now via her own company, Kata, Kat presented the foundations of inclusive design internally at work over a video call. She then presented a longer, in-person version at our Grand Meetup in September; and later in 2017 Kat became an official advisor to Automattic, also. Hurray to that!

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Photo showing the Design.blog page on inclusive design.

For a great introduction to Kat and her work, see Kat Holmes: Who Gets To Play? on design.blog.


OK, back to the Twitter emoji in titles thing.

What. The. Heck. Like most lessons I’m learning about building inclusion into designs, this one hit me straight in the temple. Painfully. Why hadn’t I thought of this before? I mean, “duh.”

The author, a blind person named Sassy Outwater, not only points to something incredibly real and timely — but then proceeds to share a master class in accessibility in the reply threads that follow.

Here are a few highlights; check out the full thread for more as they come in.

Memes and GIFs are hard because the screen reader technology can’t figure out any optical character recognition (OCR) on the moving bits:

Tips and tricks for including blind people using screen readers:

Here are the current screen readers people love best:

Here’s the survey she mentioned: Survey of Preferences of Screen Readers Users on WebAIM.

Shedding the light on the fact that in today’s world, mobile devices are the most universally accessible devices because — they’re small and with you always — and they have default voice-over utilities:

And then a question I had, she answered perfectly, which in my mind was, “OK, so how does it sound when the screen reader comes across the non-text symbol?”

Hah! (smile) (laughing)

Learning, not shaming:

I don’t expect everyone to use the word please but I appreciate those who do. Common courtesy is society’s problem, not an issue to drop on developers. That’s ableist. Universal design says we are all sharing the same space. Courtesy goes a long way. — Sassy Outwater

 


Eye-Mind-opening, thank you Sassy — and Kat, John, Ashleigh, Lori, Anne, Cate, Maria, Davide, DK — and many others who’ve taught me so much about this topic.

I mentioned that this is timely — one reason is for learning and improving. The other is sharing what I’ve learned: if you’re in Arizona come to my talk about inclusive design at WordCamp Phoenix 2018 in February.

 

If You Love Being Limited

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Screenshot from a phone showing the reasons why the narrow options on Squarespace can limit your site’s potential.

Laura Sorensen — the talented designer behind Atelier LKS (and my first cousin) — explains why Squarespace might not be a great for fit for your website in 10 Reasons to Choose WordPress Over Squarespace.

First of all, their templates virtually require high-end photos to not look odd or underwhelming.

Some Squarespace sites are gorgeous, but you can bet they have a full stable of high-resolution professional photography to accomplish that, because their templates virtually require it. If you lack professional photography, your Squarespace site could easily look odd or underwhelming.

Other reasons to choose WordPress over Squarespace include: flexibility, lower cost, freedom from limitations of many kinds, and better help + community.

My favorite part of her 10 reasons list:

You love being limited. If the simplicity of being told what to use or having narrow options makes your life easier (rather than limiting your site’s potential), then Squarespace might be for you!

WordPress will grow with you. It’s unlimited, built for freedom, and you can do more with less.

The Real Reason People Won’t Change

I first heard the concept of uncovering competing commitments in a talk by Rich Sheridan of Menlo Innovations. On the topic of embracing change he pointed to the act of uncovering as a key activity when teams are blocked. And when addressing low performance.

In the Q & A of this session I asked:

When someone isn’t performing well, how do you motivate them to change in the positive direction — without using fear-based tactics around losing their job, if they don’t turn things around?

Rich answered:

For general performance issues, always check in with them as a person first. What are their other commitments? [He then referenced the HBR article about reasons for people’s resistance to change]. If it’s truly a performance issue that needs addressing, and the fear is no longer artificial, communicate that clearly as you kick it off.

Curious to dig in more, I thought: what are other possible causes of low performance, and how am I doing in my assessment of those cases to separate the perception from the truth?

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Screenshot of the Harvard Business Review article, “The Real Reason People Won’t Change” (2001).

Competing commitments are detailed in the article Rich shared: The Real Reason People Won’t Change. The authors describe concealed commitments that block change where people hold on to and hide their assumptions. To get to the truth, they suggest an exercise is to turn the questions or complaints around — rephrasing them — to find out what they are worried about and how it’s preventing their success. And more important, which part they play in resolving it.

At the team level this exercise often takes a deeper dive over a long period of time. Something I haven’t found on my teams that we take time to do, especially with large groups of people, many moving parts, and urgent deadlines. Partly because taking the time derails progress; the abstraction of examining complaints and gathering enough data to find the source of low performance. That takes precious time away from shipping continuous product iterations for customers, which is our primary mission.

One pattern I’ve seen with projects that go on too long, the responsible parties in the end often admit they didn’t know quite how to solve the problem. Or, they ran into a blocker that needed help outside the team. But they didn’t feel comfortable openly admitting it.

Based on this research, I can now say that disagreements passively held are often indistinguishable from poor performance.

A lack of passion or drive — which in turn blocks progress to follow up or complete something — could indicate someone isn’t connecting personally to the goal, or to our company culture, or their team.

Which helps answer the questions: 1) Why does someone “go dark?” and 2) Why does a team underperform?

A key point from my experience is that when you uncover the assumptions behind the low performance, you might find out that the underlying fear or disagreement is real. By pointing to something real — together — you can discover the missing alignment. The commitments made after that discovery shine the light on the truth and guide the next steps. Steps toward clarity and alignment.

A Conversation Shines the Light

When you need to find common ground, a conversation shines the light.

Talking with Group A:

“Oh, they’ll [the “others” in Group B] never go for that.”
“Have you asked them yet?”
“Well, no. We tried to get a meeting and they declined.”
“What about just quickly posting your questions?”
“Oh, OK.”

Later, talking to Group B:

“What do you think about the proposal?”
“Well, we had some alternate ideas but they [the “others” in Group A] would never want that.”
“Oh? What did they say when you brought it up?”
“We haven’t talked to them about it yet.”

Facepalm moment for me as the facilitator. It turned out the two groups hadn’t ever connected on this topic. Once a conversation shined a light on it, we saw the shared goal in plain sight. Assumptions dissolved.

Alignment is knowing versus thinking we know.

Continue reading “A Conversation Shines the Light”

Amazon’s Leadership Principles

Still haven’t found a better list than Amazon’s Leadership Principles. Concise, clear, ambitious. A benchmark.

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Bookmarked this in 2017, now printed it (on paper!) for a weekly read and review.

Here are my favorites.

Bias for Action
Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.

Insist on the Highest Standards
Leaders have relentlessly high standards – many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and driving their teams to deliver high quality products, services and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.

Customer Obsession
Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.

Ownership
Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say “that’s not my job.”

Gutenberg is the Next-Generation Engine for WordPress

If you use and love WordPress, this is must-watch TV: Gutenberg showcased during the annual State of the Word including a bit of amazing live editing by Matías Ventura. We’ll be seeing much more in 2018, and as everyone starts testing it more — the team improves it daily and progress ramps up — and eventually it comes to the rest of the world via an official WordPress release.

Matt previously laid out the vision with We Called it Gutenberg for a Reason (August 2017).

The Automattic VIP team shared a useful overview: The New WordPress Editor: What You Need to Know about Gutenberg. My colleague Ian Stewart gives his angle in Why I’m so excited about the Gutenberg Editor for WordPress.

I also highly recommend watching Morten Rand-Hendriksen’s Gutenberg and the WordPress of Tomorrow presentation from WordCamp US 2017.

If you’re brand new to the project, start here: Introducing a new way to WordPress.

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Introducing a new way to WordPress: Gutenberg.

 

 

 

To get involved with Gutenberg, head over to GitHub for design and development, follow along with team updates on Make WordPress, and — of course install the plugin and start using it if you haven’t already.

 

2017 Daily Reads: Dalio and Drucker

Two books made a big impact on my year in 2017, transforming my thinking. One for a massive amount of new insights and the other for improving my thought patterns.

Both books I’d buy again and give away—both are now open on my reading table each morning.

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A photo of two books that became a daily ritual in 2017.

The Daily Drucker by Peter Drucker (2004)

(Edited by Joseph Maciariello—note: Drucker died in 2005, soon after this book came out.)

Here’s an example of a daily insight I wrote about: A Decision Without Action Is Only a Hope.

This book is now a “daily devotional” for me; less holy scripture and more mindset for effectiveness in business, life, relationships. The improvement on my thought patterns was immediate: I noticed the ideas and principles coming up in daily work and life conversations, the mindset for effective time tracking and outward focus on contributions accelerated my career growth, and I deepened my understanding of business and how best to run an organization.

My all-time favorite — now well-worn and bookmarked — is September 4, “Practices of Effective Executives.” A distilled summary from his bestselling book of the same name.

The September 4 “Daily Drucker” reading details the five practices for effectiveness: 1) know where your time goes 2) focus on outward contributions 3) build on strengths 4) concentrate on superior performance and 5) make effective decisions.

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A photo of the Daily Drucker reading for Sept. 4th, with a handwritten card I used to hold the spot.

Which ties perfectly into Ray Dalio’s masterpiece where decision making is a key theme.


Principles by Ray Dalio (2017)

See a brief example of the insights I gained: Synthesis: Navigating Levels Effectively.

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A photo of the Principles book open to page 336; talking about meaningful work and relationships.

As I said in the beginning, this book hit me with a wall of new insights. I’m still processing it after 3 reads! Hat tip, Matt.

Top highlights of the book for me:

A winning formula: meaningful work + meaningful relationships + making a living. This ties in well with the freedom and mission that WordPress and Automattic stand for—a livelihood for anyone in the world with a website, blog, or shop.

Good principles are effective ways of dealing with reality.

Beware ego block by remembering that you’re looking for the best answer, not simply the best answer that you can come up with yourself.

Use pain to trigger quality reflections, learn what causes your pain and what you can do about it. This is the most effective habit Ray developed over 40 years.

Practice being open-minded and assertive at the same time, and think about your and others’ believability when deciding what to do. Find the most believable people possible who disagree with you and try to understand their reasoning.

Ideas versus decisions. Meritocracy is for hearing everyone’s voice — not for everyone making the decision.

You’ll find much, much more in the book; see also the book’s website: principles.com and social media. On LinkedIn Ray’s been sharing the most popular principles as readers give him feedback — with short audio clips.

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A screenshot of Ray Dalio sharing a top insight from his book, on LinkedIn.

I suggest buying both electronic and the hard copy. In 2018 I’ll share more thoughts and insights from the book, plus share experiences and learnings from putting the principles into practice.

What were your top books from 2017? Did anything become a must-read or daily habit?

A Product Lead is a Quality Driver

As my product lead role evolves I’ve started to see patterns emerge in my work across WordPress.com teams at Automattic. Two that keep coming up for me are focus on people, not technology and be a quality driver. I’d like to dig into the Quality Driver aspect in this post.

A Quality Driver navigates all the levels, end-to-end

Here’s a recipe for success as a product lead that I’ve now written down on a paper card near, and placed on my desk. I’m working on internalizing it as I put it into practice.

+ Obsess over customers.
+ Know how we want to communicate our message.
+ Understand our business goals and core mission.
+ Keep in touch with where the technology is headed.

Driving quality as a product lead takes place at many levels, from strategy to operations to tactics. At the highest level we write stories — sometimes framed as bets — to set the vision. Then working with teams on projects, schedules, organization — all the way through to the details of design, engineering, marketing, and support.

The key for me as I grow into this role is to synthesize everything as I navigate through the various levels. (For more, see my previous post on Synthesis: Navigating Levels Effectively.)

Another way I’ve to frame this Quality Driver  is in the form of a job description. A bit aspirational and ambitious to motivate me to grow and scale my product leadership. It’s my new mindset.

Quality Driver as a job description

Strategic — Raise awareness for the top issues facing our customers, and coordinate with teams to make the needed product changes. Pay attention to the end-to-end experience of our products, acting as the chief quality officer. Hold a holistic view across the business and own every aspect of the customer journey.

Operational — Act as an effective facilitator between developers, team leads, and company leadership. Align team resources to company goals and product initiatives. Engage with product teams for effectiveness, motivation, and project management. Build a culture of trust, quality, and high performance.

Strategic — Communicate a strategic vision and turn it into action. As a compassionate and effective product steward, use the ability to succinctly communicate our CEO’s vision to teams, as well as communicate everyone’s aspirations to the CEO. Find the gems, bring them to light, and move the needle. Work on the right things, avoid crashes, and be a few steps ahead of everything — knowing how every change fits in with our plans. Help everyone understand the context of their work and the broader vision for our products.

Knowing my success

Following the recipe I started with above, I can measure my impact as a product leader by watching for:

  1. Business growth for a sustainable and profitable future.
  2. Better customer engagement and satisfaction.
  3. A natural and healthy flow of communication.
  4. The happiness and effectiveness of teams.