A foundation for technical investigations

Most of the work that I do can be boiled down to trying to help people make better things with the web, in better ways. ‘Better’ is a nice vague term, isn’t it? In this case ‘better’ can mean things like faster, cheaper, or more effectively, but it can also mean cutting-edge, delightful, more ethical, or even simply happier. It’s a nice mix.

I’ve spoken often about the importance of having a balanced view of change - of how simply swapping one technology for another won’t magically solve all of your problems - but this also goes hand in hand with another truth: in this day and age how you work with technology plays a huge part in the success of whatever you’re trying to do.

A lot of my projects start of by capturing an view of how things are at the moment, and there are an absolute ton of ways to do that. We have canvases galore, formal methodologies, and entire products are built around the diagrams that we produce. When it comes to digital, the web, and technical aspects, I really like being able to balance a high-level strategic view with more specific details.

Over the years I’ve asked a lot of people a lot of questions, to help understand how things are and identifying how they might be. I decided to collect together some of the broad themes that I tend to focus on and turn them into a resource, both in case it helps others, and to give it a place to live for my own future reference!

Exploring the themes

When collected together, it looks a little bit like this. I started off by talking about broadness, and this is indeed broad. No project is exactly the same - for some I tend to drill-down into very specific areas and ignore the rest; others may be a light pass across everything.

Image of the resource
A larger version of this is available as a PDF

There are four key areas, intended to look at how an organisation (or a project) is thinking, what they’re doing or planning, how they’re doing it, and the beliefs that underpin everything. Within each area there are sub topics for conversation, which may help you to uncover areas that need an additional bit of care and attention, or things that just haven’t been fully considered. The last section is the one that changes the most. I’ve included some representative topics, but you may wish to swap these out for others.

Whilst this is a single file, it works best when used alongside additional activities in workshops, or as a prompt for interview discussions. I often use a digital version (e.g. within RealTimeBoard) to let me quickly add individual notes and share with others, but you can also use the same headings to create more detailed collections of assets and notes in physical form - whatever works for you!

Other uses

Of course, using these kind of areas to explore improvements is just one potential use. When you’re capturing this kind of information it can often be beneficial to other people too - for instance many of the things on the above example could be useful to new starters, or as a reference point between teams.

If you’d like to use this to build up your own reference framework, then you’re very welcome to. I’ve released this under a Creative Commons — Attribution 4.0 International — CC BY 4.0 licence, so please feel free to take it and create your own.