Thoughts in Between Ed and Tech #6: Scope Doesn't Creep, Understanding Grows 🌱🌳
Prioritizing systems over goals
From watching it grow … to growing out of control.
That’s about how the last month has felt somewhere between ed and tech.
Things are ramping up. In a great, uncomfortable way. It’s definitely stretching my Zone (of proximal development).
As always, when things stretch too far in one direction, something’s gotta give. I have no excuses. My content creation has been deprioritized.
I’m reminded of a lesson I learned not too long ago, although I can’t remember who pointed it out to me.
Prioritization is meant to be singular.
That is, it is either THE priority, or it’s not. Definition two from Dictionary.com reads:
the right to precede others in order, rank, privilege, etc.; precedence.
So I guess the question that I’m asking myself is “what has taken pre-cedence over my content?”
The answers are manifold and they come like wildfire. Easter. Family issues. Halfway there. No train rides. Worked full days for more than two weeks in a row non-stop. Stuck in execution mode. Course launches. On and on the excuses list piles up…you get the idea.
But alas, such is life.
We aim. We miss the target. We adapt to the new circumstances. We grow in our understanding and in our capabilities.
My 🎯 at #unautomatable consistency was originally 26 weeks in a row.
Substack made it 13 weeks before a miss.
YouTube made it 10 weeks. Then I fell off the wagon and haven’t made a public, personal video since March 16th
I might say “but wait! when I set out on this next milestone of content creation, I had no plans of accepting a new startup leadership role! I thought I’d be in my happy little PM role the whole time.”
“And as Head of Product / Courses / Curriculum / Content, I’m constantly creating, curating, and coordinating course content.”
I could’ve realigned my aim the second that I got the job. I could’ve forced myself to make time for my own content creation, which I already know that if I don’t make time for, I don’t feel whole, I don’t feel right. I don’t feel like I’m “on the path.”
Well, with that dragon confronted, I want to take a minute to reflect on how I’m working to make sure that I don’t make the same stupid mistakes in the future.
As I map my story through the process of becoming unautomatable, learning experiences like this feel to me like some of the most valuable.
I’m reminded of the infinite wisdom of the process of mapping user stories and journeys in general. As Jeff Patton reminds us,
Scope doesn’t creep, understanding grows.
Where From Here?
Based on the new workload that I can see is the minimum necessary for me to be successful in my role as Head of Product & Courses at FourthBrain, and also based on the new personal life schedule that has begun for me and will continue to get more taxing in the coming months (stay tuned!), I’ve decided on a more antifragile way to proceed.
Rather than focus on delivering a blog once per week, I’m implementing systems over goals. I’m going to spend at least 20 minutes (maximum 30 minutes) every day of the week, Monday through Friday, starting at 7:30 AM, writing.
Friday train rides (while they last) will also be welcome times for me to continue getting thoughts together, and I will still aim to publish on Sundays and share on Mondays, generally. But the key fact is that I will write every single weekday at the same time and in the same place.
My goal is to surmount this writing habit dragon while balancing my AM workout routine and my PM wind-down routine, all within the context of my role as HoP in a high-powered AI Fund startup.
From there, I have more plans to layer things in. But right now that’s enough for me to balance, and I know that. 1% improvement. That’s how I’ll get to where I want to be.
Catching Up on the Journey!
So what exactly have I been up to since we left off on April 10th? Well, here’s the quick synopsis:
Week of April 11 - April 15: I traveled back to Dayton, Ohio to see and support my family. Also, Easter.
Big realization: I must figure out a way to decrease the proportion of my time spent in the implementation and operation of our courses. While it’s incredibly important and necessary work, the system of flat teams breaks down very quickly as the number of courses and cohorts scale.
Action item: I must articulate and build systems of part-time contractors with well-defined roles to help build and run courses, abstracting myself as quickly as possible from getting caught in the execution trap.
Week of April 18 - April 22: Coming back into town I realized that nothing ever goes according to plan. Whatever can go wrong usually does.
Big realization: It’s true; when it comes to brass tax, distribution is more important than the product. But, no one working on the product that you lead actually cares.
Action item: Prepare for next week’s cohort launch, in all the ways; whatever it takes.
Week of April 25 - April 29: Ready, set, launch. And while doing so, prepare for future launches.
Big realization: Orchestration isn’t only something that brings to mind containers and Kubernetes. It’s actually a meta-skill that describes much of what needs to be done in a small, scrappy startup team looking to grow. Piloting, building, and orchestrating is precisely what one must do to automate pipelines and build MLOps systems. The same steps are required to automate any aspect of a business.
“The system isn’t something you bring to the business. It’s something you derive from the process of building the business.” ~ Michael E. Gerber, The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It
Action item: systematize and codify everything that was needed to orchestrate the launch into checklists, not just for future launches, but for each subsequent week in the cohort. Also, break up the work done into skillsets that job descriptions can be written for. Instructional staff unicorns do not, in general, exist.
“under conditions of complexity, not only are checklists a help, they are required for success.” ~ Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right
Week of May 2 - May 6: Let the abstraction begin! And, remember to let fires burn.
Big realization: Sometimes when you think you’ve made the handoff, you’re wrong. It takes two, and oftentimes, many more people to completely buy in to the new systems and routine.
Action item: Keep iterating, keep backfilling, keep checklisting, and keep abstracting. I can see and feel more light than ever, while having a larger purview and bigger impact than ever. I feel like I’m on the path.
So that’s the quick breakdown of how things have been going, and what I’ve been taking away as key lessons from each of the last four weeks.
My first 60 days are now complete. This past week has really been a time to reboot, recalibrate, reengage, and go out on the attack.
The battle for today is also won. Resistance has been defeated. The third day in a row blogging.
Quality is up and spirits are high, from FourthBrain to #unautomatable me.
More cohorts are coming soon.
More products and courses are on their way as well.