Paper has a place in my toolkit

At work I’m known for being paperless. Like everyone else I use a computer at my desk. During meetings I switch to using my phone around folks who I work with often. It feels more comfortable than using the iPad but I feel less comfortable using my phone around new folks with the whole “I’m using my phone for work I promise” vibe. In this cases I use the clunky ipad. We have Apple TV and Chromecast devices in all our primary meeting spaces so I can show what’s on my devices to the big screen eg Trello or Basecamp.

So when I occasionally whip out my paper index cards or field notes notebook someone usually remarks in surprise. I’m surprised that they are surprised. I’m only human after all. Being human means I forget to charge my devices and need an alternative. Or I know I need to conserve battery life for something later that day. I try to follow Cory Doctorow’s ABCs “Always Be Charging” but alas again I’m only human and easy access sockets aren’t a thing.

I love index cards because they are affordable and I only ever write outline notes to jot my memory. I love field notes because they are small, the cover is indestructible and I heart the company behind them. So next time you see me with paper don’t be surprised…I always forget a pen though (or on purpose as I live in fear of pen eruption in my bag)…

So can I borrow a pen?

So…five years at Bristol City Council

1st July 2018 is a significant personal milestone for me as I turn five as an employee of Bristol City Council’s Culture team. Most importantly I’m happy. I absolutely love what I do and where I work. As a Bristolian, I feel immensely proud of helping the Council run such a great cultural service.

If you’ve ever heard me give a talk there is a good chance you have heard my tongue in cheek remark that “I originally came on a 18 month fixed term contract and by the time they work out how to get rid of me I’d be out the door anyway”.

In reality I set about using that first 12 months to show that digital was a key ingredient to the museum’s current and future success. I got to build a digital team from the ground up and since those early days my role has grown from one team to ten as well as shedding two job titles through promotion.

“We” have delivered lots of pieces of work in the past five years. I say “we” as no project is shipped without the effort from some of the most talented people I’ve had the delight to work with. We do so much that it is literally impossible to keep track 100% of what is delivered even though I try my best. Across the team’s there is at least 1-2 people working 7am to 2am most days of the week which is mind-blowing.

We are a team of teams and these five years have taught me a great deal about other people’s passions within the Culture team. I really love that both digital and transformation get to weave around all the corners of the Culture service so I get a glimpse behind the curtain of a much bigger picture.

I have met hundreds if not thousands of people across the globe who care deeply about using Culture as a force of good in the world. I have spoken at dozens of events and had the privilege of learning from lots of people who care enough to share time with me and the sector.

Do. Try. Deliver. Learn. Repeat.

I just wanted to pause to take the time to say thank you to anyone I’ve come into contact with, worked with, agreed with or “respectively disagreed” with. Transformation is a process not a project. Looking ahead, I continue to work on growing as a leader and helping the greatest city on Earth to deliver the best cultural offer. Getting better means regularly asking my colleagues what can I do more of, less of or what is good enough that should be kept as it is. Seth Godin says be “defenseless” in order to grow …also helps to keep the old ego in check.

I remember reading a guidance document that said a museum professional is somebody with “five” years or more experience. Totally incorrect way to foster good relations eh. I guess my tenture means I need to drop my joke that I’m a professional unprofessional…. and go make a ruckus.

1000 true fans

According to Kevin Kelly, every organisation has 1000 true fans. We have approximately 1,000,000 museum visitors per year. Some come for the gardens, to research, to play, to use the WiFi, to duck the rain, to feel safe, to pique their curiosity and many more reasons.

We tend to lump them together as a whole, as “1,000,000+” which also happens to be our only core required KPI measure. Get a million and get a small pat on the back.

We then group these visitors into segments – cohorts that as a group have meaning to staff for our own ends. Within this large number hiding in plain sight are 1000 true fans or 0.1% of our 1,000,000. These 1000 fans are the backbone to our service. They REALLY use one or more of our services. The daily coffee buyers who we know by name, the frequent Archive researchers or young parent support group who come together every single week.

These fans can’t be put into our “average user” boxes. They will tell us how great we are or how disappointed they are if we make a change they don’t like. We should listen as failing to heed their warning will only end badly. A slow death.

It’s far easier to think of our visitors as a whole and offer everybody the same industrial interactions, time after time. Instead, let’s delight each of these 1000 true fans. The impact of meeting their needs is far greater than a generic cohort who could take it or leave it. Let’s not look at the averages which feels like “chasing ghosts” but instead ask ”who are my 1000 true fans?”.

2018 Shopify POS wish list

Since 2015 when we launched Shopify POS for our shops we’ve put over £1.75m through the app (about £800K this year alone). So yes I trust it. We’e just signed up for another three years in fact to take advantage of the multi year discount. I was recently testing a new feature which reminded me to jot down a few wish list features i’m hoping Shopify will make on the POS app or admin:

  1. Provide Cost of Goods (COGS) feature by default
  2. The ability to have more granular account types so I can restrict the majority of the team to only edit a product’s quantity. At the moment in order to allow staff to alter quantities when products get delivered you must be an admin which is overkill and leads to tinkering of product information
  3. Allow admin to  force all accounts to use two-step authentication to provide better security for web facing accounts
  4. STOP forcing POS app updates to occur at 11am GMT…. right in the middle of our trading. Consider a European update time window or alternative from US to Europe so you can see how it feels!
  5. Allow the mobile app to read the barcode of a product and show its quantity to enable quick stock counting
  6.  Allow a toggle to switch off online shop features if you are POS only
  7. Give me an easy way to connect to Google Sheets so I can play with the data as your reports are ok but I Google Sheets is way more powerful

Google yourself

Transformation starts with Googling yourself. No not You. I mean your organisation. What do you see first, second and third ? Wikipedia, TripAdvisor and the like ? Good. Now read what they have to say. Don’t flatter yourself. Read the 1-2 star reviews. Ouch. Fix those things. Can’t find the lift? Fix the way-finding. Messy floors? Pick up the rubbish. Terrible website lacking basic information? Sort it out. Chip away at those problems. Go back in 3-6 months and repeat.

Pssst people still can’t find our lift despite the huge signs and our toilets are like marmite.

Tip: Google personalises your search results so you’ll need to clear your cache and log out of your Google account to see what the average person sees. Otherwise you’ll see what Google thinks you want to see based on your search history. Confused? just use somebody else’s computer or phone basically.

Embrace constraints

There is always more work than the time you’ll ever be able to commit to making that perfect outcome/project/painting. Thus you find all the reasons you can’t ship/finish your workload. ‘I don’t have enough time’ is a common cry in the workplace. But instead of procrastinating use constraints to your advantage.

Pssst “constraints are essential for being somebody who wants to ship their project”.

If you know the edges, limitations of resource and/or time [constraints] you can ensure your project doesn’t become a never-ending saga. Too many projects seek perfection. Nothing good comes from chasing perfect. I used to push lines of code around trying to “improve” the code base and make it “perfect”. Or that’s what I was kidding myself thinking. I was wasting time. I didn’t know about constraints. You should be embracing the constraints as these prevent you from chasing perfect and will help you ship. If you needed 100 days for that perfect project execution but only have 20? great that will focus the mind and deliver “good enough”.

We all wish we had more time but the people who ship work have accepted that their work will never be perfect enough no matter how long they are given. So they ship. They get known for delivering and they ship some more. Embrace the constraints.

How to be considered for stocking your products in our shops

Dear XXX

Thank you for your interest in wanting to sell your product(s) in one or more of our shops (including online). We run a successful profitable commercial business. We have over 1000 individual products but we’re always looking for new products to add to our range and the best way to get considered is outlined below. Please note that due to the high volume of enquiries we receive we will only respond if we wish to take the offer to the next stage of consideration. We aim to get in touch within 10 working days for suppliers we wish to consider further.

Please note that the decision for taking new products sits with the Retail Manager and any decision is final.

  1. Send a brief introductory email to museumretail@bristol.gov.uk with product photos and descriptions including SKUs, cost prices, RRP, timescales for delivery and if these are firm sale or ‘Sale or Return’
  2. We will take an initial look and see if the margins, business terms and products meet any of our requirements.
  3. If we think the product(s) have potential we’ll be in touch within 10 working days. We read every email but if we don’t reply within 10 days unfortunately we don’t think your product(s) will be right for our retail operation and wish you all the best.
  4. Please don’t just turn up to a shop and do a sales pitch. We’re all very busy and need to set appointments. We only book appointments following steps 1-3. If you just turn up then the answer no matter how great the product will be a “no thanks”.

How do we choose products?

We review the following in our consideration:

  • We’re a £500,000+ operation so every product should be able to sell in the dozens/hundreds and have an individual value of £400+ in annual sales to be considered
  • Do the products have relevance to our collection and values?
  • Do we have an existing product that is very similar ? – for example we only use 3-4 card suppliers for all our range. Whilst we’d love to have more unique cards the admin effort makes this not viable for us
  • IS the product suitable all year around or is it seasonal, exhibition  or event specific e.g. Valentine’s day or “Christmas”
  • What’s the product story? for example one of our local suppliers, Emmeline Simpson, has a great story “Contemporary gifts celebrating British cities
  • Do any of our nearby competitors already stock the range? – we avoid selling identical products to competitors in 99% cases unless we were first!
  • Is the profit margin within expectations – whilst this can vary we aim that across our range we have a 50% or greater margin. We will never stock a product with less than 45% margin sorry
  • Can we get a very similar product from an existing suppler?
  • Can the supplier demonstrate strong sales in a related shop ?
  • Do all the products have barcodes as this is a requirement from 2018 unless there is a very good reason
  • Can we store the product(s) effectively?
  • Will the supplier regularly come into the shop, check the visual merchandising and ensuring the products work effectively?
  • Will the supplier exchange slow sellers ?
  • If the product sells quickly, how fast can the stock be replenished ?
  • Is the product local or Made in the UK?
  • Can we have square photos [100kb max file size) and product descriptions to sell online?
  • Do you offer dropshipping?