Uncategorized #3 – Projects vs. Products

January 19, 2020 in Uncategorized

Adoption has stalled. We’re stuck at 42 subscribers, myself included. The inbox can be a scary place for some. For others, it’s a well organized machine, spewing relevant communication, and hiding away the “save for laters” of our lives—notifications wired in to a telephony system of the early 1980s.

That said, I’m glad you’re here. You know how to inbox, and I appreciate it. 

Previously

Admittedly, last week was a little random. I am still trying to sort out exactly what the purpose of this newsletter is, how it’s organized and who I am talking to. Currently 42 of us, a good, strong number made famous in an excellent science fiction story that I am already beginning to feel is working its way into the tone of this very paragraph.

[Last week] was a barrage of random things I noticed on Twitter and a little self-promo for my “[Stupidly Simple CRM]” I built on AirTable. I am pleased to say that we are still using the Stupidly Simple CRM at The Studio and it’s been proving itself a little useful so far!

This Week

This week at [The Studio], I’ve been thinking a lot about the projects we’ve been involved in building for our clients and the products we’ve been working on internally as a team. I’ve been thinking about how some of these same kinds of projects happen within the organizations we serve, and what the landscape of options for cultural orgs looks like today. I dunno, this is probably the part where I start rambling about museums for a few paragraphs—so feel free to skip ahead to the Playlist if you’re just not into this kind of thing.

OK, here’s what I’m thinking about. I worked in a museum for about 7 years. Before then I was a freelance programmer, a freelance photographer, and a few other things here and there. While I was at the museum, I was eventually on a [team that did big awesome projects together] and with the help of many vendors, partners, and individuals who were just eager to help. 

At some point, some of us started thinking of the projects we were developing as “products.” The difference being that while a project typically had a beginning and an end (the launch, the delivery, etc.) a “product” was an ever-evolving idea—something sustainable and useful long after the exhibition is over. I think the product vs. project conversation is pretty well in hand, but even so, I often think about how either of these ideas are able to take place inside a cultural organization like a museum. Here’s the options for making a thing at a museum.

  1. Hire a vendor to build you a thing. For example, let’s say your org needs a new custom events website. You could easily hire [Micah Walter Studio] to design and code one up. At the end of the process you’d have what you ordered. Done!
  2. Hire a team internally to build you a thing. But, committing to staff long term can be hard, especially when your org has a fixed head-count to deal with.
  3. More typically, it’s some kind of hybrid of 1 & 2 where a leader type person at the org uses the resources at hand to do part of the work with internal staff and hires external vendors to build the things that can’t be done in house. This can be nice if the parts you hire out are still the mostly the ephemeral parts or hardware that has a shorter life-span, and the things you do internally are the building blocks, and sustainable pieces that can live on into the future.

This is starting to feel like the standard insourcing vs. outsourcing conversation every business is faced with at some point. Even when you outsource, often that vendor may outsource a part of the job as well, and whoever they outsource, well you get the idea. Eventually someone is actually doing the work!

But I think when it comes to product development, there’s some problems at hand. Products need to evolve, and live, and figure out how to sustain themselves somehow. So how do you develop something with a third party, one who is likely eager to deliver the goods and cash their check, and still allow the delivered thing to grow and evolve over time? And, maybe more importantly, what happens when the internal team who helped build the foundation, have all moved on?

One idea we’ve been playing with at The Studio is how we can help organizations to build the building blocks by partnering with them to develop their ideas into long term sustainable products that can benefit the whole sector. The basic concept is, we work with an organization, or perhaps a consortium of orgs to develop the initial idea. Then, once we’ve gotten to a certain point, The Studio takes over stewardship of the product and makes it available to the entire sector as a service.

If there’s a reasonable business model in place for the thing we are working together on, it makes sense that other orgs might want the same thing, and might be willing to pay for it as a service, which could allow for it to grow over time. The original “founding orgs” wind up having a huge amount of say in how the product is developed, how it continues to grow, and The Studio winds up with something they can sell to a much wider audience in a way that might be affordable for orgs who can’t make a large initial investment, or that aren’t ready for it just yet. It’s an interesting idea I’ve been fiddling with.

We’ve actually got two products in the works that fit this exact model. One is called [Accession], which you will be hearing lots and lots about in the coming months, and the other is called [Collecting Social Photo], which is a project organized by a group of museums and archives on the Scandinavian Peninsula. Both of these products are being developed with partner institutions, and both will serve the wider cultural sector when they are ready. In a way, these feel like community or open source type projects, and that may very well be what they wind up being, but I think the big distinction is the willingness of these founding organizations to put up some initial investment to get things moving quickly. At least there’s more of a long term strategy vs. another one off portfolio piece.

Playlist

I didn’t listen to much this week. I guess I was finding myself spending more time reading and doing lots of random tasks. Listening always seems like it happens when I have more focused time to do deeper work. It’s kind of a good indicator for me though. When I’m not actively listening to music, it probably means I’m more scattered and less focused. Hopefully this week will look a little different.

I did however, discover this really awesome Apple radio station called Lullabies. I was trying to find something to sooth our feverish son one afternoon and this was just right. It had a nice mix of soft classics and xylophone renditions of popular songs by the likes of Drake and U2. [https://music.apple.com/us/station/lullabies/ra.985498391]

So for this week’s playlist, please excuse this unedited collection of 80’s new wave bands. If you need to rewind back to a time of rayon shirts and acid washed jeans, this might do the trick.

[https://music.apple.com/us/playlist/episode-03-2020/pl.u-RmZxC9yr4r]

Reading List

Oh man. I discovered “[Libby].” I know I’m very late to the game, but this app is really great. I set it up in the middle of the night, added my New York Public Library card (which I only got a year ago and have never used even once) and within a few seconds checked out and downloaded two books, delivered directly to my new Kindle.

So here’s this week’s reading.

  1. I finished Adaptation by Malinda Lo. It was pretty good in the end. [https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/10744752-adaptation]
  2. I got back to reading Machine Learning by Hugh Howey. It’s a collection of short stories including a really great follow up to his incredible Silo Series, which I read a few years back. [https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/33503613]
  3. I also checked out Sand by Hugh Howey. [https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20509356-sand-omnibus]
  4. I also checked out Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. I actually have the hardcover of this, but I’ve been having trouble finding time to sit with it and so now I have it from NYPL on my Kindle. [https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27833670-dark-matter]
  5. And, I checked out Tales of Pirx the Pirate by Stanislaw Lem (one of my favorite authors). [https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15870166-tales-of-pirx-the-pilot]

I’m hoping to get through Machine Learning and Dark Matter by next week.

Epilogue

I think this one came out a little better! It sort of had a beginning a middle and an end, even. Of course, I appreciate you continuing to invest your own time in reading these, and if you have a comment or any feedback, please feel free to just reply to this email! If you are reading this on the web somewhere, subscribe, and join our little band!

Lastly, if anyone know how to fix my exclamation key on my MacBook Pro, please let me know—it’s hard to express my unending enthusiasm for everything without it.

I hope you have a great week!

-micah


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