Have you ever noticed how powerful a real example is in cutting through confusion, disagreement or hyperbole?

In pragmatic product management I’ve found use cases helpful to draw a line of logic between a product feature specification, the user benefit and the product cost incurred in delivering that feature.  In setting performance boundaries to decide what’s realistically useful and what’s just “specmanship”.  In designing product portfolios to define product adjacencies and overlaps.

Use cases also enable marketing people to illustrate segmentation.  Is this use case plausible among this target audience?  Really?

Nice new product?  Loads of clever features? So what?  Educate customers (and sales people beforehand) with plausible and engaging use cases.  (And if they’re not plausible use cases then why did you build the features in the first place?)


Many people think that getting R&D to communicate with marketing is difficult.  Not if you communicate via use-cases.  Engineers and developers can easily translate technology mysteries to sales people by describing the use case that a new technology enables.  And, importantly, the use case provides a common language to negotiate the art of the possible and the art of the saleable.  Where I’ve been involved in choosing new technology directions, I’ve found that the discussion partners, be they sales people or the board, engage with, understand and explore use cases.  Then it’s no longer ‘technology push’ but rather ‘market pull’ via benefits offered and sought.  The debate is real rather than superficial hyperbole.

Similarly, in exploring opaque new research offerings, a key question is how would the customer use it?  But also look at other use cases.  How would we sell it?  How would we make it?  How would we repair it?

Risk management?  Dig into the detail with a use case to illustrate aspects that may be missed – for example, as we build redundant systems how will we know the extent of failure?  And how will the system inform the decision-makers?  What will they see?  Be specific and avoid management jargon which may hide a failure to think things through.

I’m just embarking on a project to ‘research research’ – how does research deliver value in practice in a particular sector?  Loads of hypotheses, plenty of generality, and some plausible claims.  But we need use cases to bring it to life – both to explore the reality and then later to communicate results to an audience that will include scientists and non-scientists.

In the tower of Babel, the use case is the lingua franca.


Signs for adults

July 8, 2018

Parking isn’t exactly forbidden…


No Parking t

Before and after.

Before the fence 180528Fence at Westfield 180527

End of an era.


You’ve been warned

December 30, 2017

You've been warnedI really like this sign.

There is a suggestion of the risks you might be running (but no more), advice (but the decision is up to you) and clear information about the risk recovery mechanisms and constraints.

No nanny state here.

You’ve been warned – now make your decision.


Another brilliant weekend at Goodwood – wondering at intriguing solutions….

B type 50 brake 1With cable brakes it really spoils your day if, in turning the front wheels, the geometry change causes the brakes to be applied because the path length of the brake cables changes.  So you want to put a lot of effort into designing a system where the tangent of the brake cable path is always aligned with the centre line of rotation of the steering hub.  And on the 1930 Bugatti Type 50 this is achieved through an elegant little offset sprocket.

B type 50 brake 2















Have you seen all the recent hype about “augmented reality” so that manufacturers can provide service information just at the point where it’s needed by the technician doing the work? (If you haven’t seen it – this is typical: https://9to5mac.com/2017/08/07/augmented-reality-car-maintenance-genesis/)

Invicta had this cracked in 1931 with a gorgeous engraved plate mounted just where you’d need it as a reference.

AR 1931

Invicta 1931



Then there was the amazing Delage 1926 gearbox with a very unusual shift pattern – reverse is beyond 1st gear – yes, in a straight line!

Delage box


And leaping to the present, Gordon Murray’s iStream technology (which was mooted to massively reduce investment costs in manufacturing: http://istreamtechnology.co.uk/, and was expected to appear in city cars http://gordonmurraydesign.com/GMD/T25.html) actually appears in its first customer car – the new TVR


See also https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=URzSrI-3_PY

Just a few examples from across 50 years of automotive innovation …














Technology Venturing Forum

September 30, 2017

TVFAn interesting couple of days this week at the Technology Venturing Forum in Cambridge (https://www.ifm.eng.cam.ac.uk/events/technology-venturing-forum/).  This is developing into a very promising community for leading edge thinking about new ventures in all their forms in an ever more digital world.  I presented my thinking on the increasing sophistication of academic engagement with industry, the emerging role of the post-doc and the move from relationships between companies and universities to relationships between ecosystems. Others covered IP, corporate venturing, business models, open innovation and tools to explore the innovation space.  Usefully, it was all firmly grounded in pragmatic reality and experience.

I’ve been enjoying Neil Crompton’s wonderful commentary on the V8 Supercar series (for years now).

Fascinating to see how, by knowing what to look for, he spots and comments on minutia that presage unfolding events.  This from his experience driving as well as commentating.

Multiplies my enjoyment by orders of magnitude.

And just one specific instance of a general truth.

Frank Pick

September 1, 2017

The other day, I dropped by Piccadilly Underground Station specifically to see the Frank Pick memorial.  These words were found in his manuscript notes for (a talk to?) to Workers’ Guild in 1917.

Sentiment (170901)

And I couldn’t have phrased better the summary description of how the initiatives of this remarkable man seem to me to have been years ahead of his time – see below.

Plaque (170901)


I find Pick’s sentiments thought provoking, and I have to wonder what he meant by “<”; simple inequality or something more profound?

And why didn’t he reverse the words and use “>” which would be a far more obvious sentiment?

How do others see risk?

July 26, 2017

Surely one aspect of a good conference is one which opens up new questions and perspectives on a topic – and by this definition “Sharing an Uncertain World – Lessons in Managing Risk” in mid-July was a good one (https://www.geolsoc.org.uk/uncertainworld17).

Under Chatham House rules – so no attributions in what follows (which I’ll correct as and when the presentations are published).

Examples of interesting questions and perspectives were:

  • The discussion of how organisations are motivated to downplay the risks of hazards which they feel they can’t afford to mitigate.  The topic was raised as follows “The appetite to accept risks is inextricably linked to the willingness to invest resources in their mitigation”.  But a pithy version arose in subsequent conversation “We can’t afford to handle it, we can’t ignore it, so maybe we should just downplay its importance”.


  • If there is a dominant model for the underlying phenomenon or mechanism by which risk arises, then beware the dangers of discarding data that doesn’t fit the model.  Easily done with the best of (scientific) intentions – but could hide the fact that the model is wrong or incomplete, together with one’s grasp of the risk itself.  Which suggests that adaptability in your assessment of risk may be the most important attribute in the face of uncertainty.


  • This was developed further with a question about the dangers of consensus opinions about data, models or issues.  If reaching consensus requires excluding (or quelling) the outliers then how best to manage the risk of accidentally excluding valuable insights or the weak signals that hint at different causal mechanisms?


  • Compelling evidence of why and how the megatrends (climate change, urbanisation, globalisation and the digital revolution) interact to increase risk levels as people and wealth become more geographically concentrated in riskier places, and increasingly interlinked via systems of ever-faster dynamics.


  • The interesting phenomenon whereby those who manage risk well have increasing difficulty communicating the reality of remaining (or even of increasing) risk to an increasingly complacent audience.  This was supported by Simon Day’s work suggesting that fatality rates from tsunamis are an order of magnitude greater among communities that don’t see many compared with those communities for which they are a recognised reality.  (reported earlier as http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2007AGUFMOS23B..04D )


  • Nice idea of the metaphor of risk as a commodity – created by some, bought by others and absorbed by yet others.  Where is value created, destroyed and realised?


  • An excellent exploration of the intrinsic difference of ensemble modelling which shows up the sensitivity to parameters but tells you nothing about uncertainty.  To explore uncertainty you need to compare multiple models based on different presumptions.  Then you can go on to usefully explore risk thresholds and appetite for risk without getting confused by modelling issues.


  • Widespread agreement about the difficulties that humans have in coping with large or small numbers and the continuing search for visualization tools to help communication.  But one intriguing communication idea was to check whether you can summarise the core of your message into 140 characters (there goes any nuance!)


  • Risk appetite – and two interesting questions
    • You’re always facing risk – either accepting it, avoiding it or mitigating it.  Here’s a key question.  Are you doing that from knowledge or ignorance?
    • And does your risk appetite increase the more you engage with a specific risk because your knowledge enables you to recognise and mitigate the risk – or because you become desensitized?


  • Exploration of compound processes – because a disaster is never a single event.



  • No particular insights shared, but a widespread recognition of the difficulties of combining quantitative information (of possibly spurious precision) with qualitative information into a framework to allow decision making.  (Again, something faced by IPCC) And, of course, the narrative later to explain and sell the decision.  With the open question of the alignment of the narrative with the reality of the decision.  Represented by whose reality?


Smith's geological map of UK

Held in the Royal Geographical Society, we were also treated to the story of the world’s first national geological map by William Smith (https://www.geolsoc.org.uk/Library-and-Information-Services/Exhibitions/William-Strata-Smith) – a story of politics, passions and professional competitiveness as much as of cartography.  But striking to see how much Smith influenced all subsequent geological mapping conventions.

The rocking microtome (a device for creating thin sections of material for examination under a microscope) was invented by Horace Darwin in the early 1880s.  Horace, son of Charles, was a co-founder of the Cambridge Scientific Instrument Company and they were manufacturing their microtome in 1885


And in 1957 they were still making the same instrument – very little different.


The company was sold in 1968 and disappeared in a series of mergers over the next 20 years.  But others make the instrument today …




How many other technology products are so little changed over 130 years?  Surely it says something about the initial design concept.


(There’s a fascinating display of scientific instruments and of the history of the CSIC in the Whipple Museum in Cambridge: http://www.sites.hps.cam.ac.uk/whipple/. All sorts of ideas on display.)