Welcome to part 3 in this series about rethinking what SharePoint “maturity” looks like. In the first post, I introduced the work of JR Hackman and his notion of trying to create enabling conditions, rather than attribute cause and effect. Hackman, in his examination of leadership and the performance of teams, listed six conditions that he felt led to better results if they were in place. Those conditions were:
- A real team: Interdependence among members, clear boundaries distinguishing members from non-members and moderate stability of membership over time
- A compelling purpose: A purpose that is clear, challenging, and consequential. It energizes team members and fully engages their talents
- Right people: People who had task expertise, self organised and skill in working collaboratively with others
- Clear norms of conduct: Team understands clearly what behaviours are, and are not, acceptable
- A supportive organisational context: The team has the resources it needs and the reward system provides recognition and positive consequences for excellent team performance
- Appropriate coaching: The right sort of coaching for the team was provided at the right time
I then got interested in how applicable these conditions were to SharePoint projects. The first question I asked myself was “I wonder if Hackman’s conditions apply to collaboration itself, as opposed to teams.” To find out, I utilised some really interesting work done by the Wilder Research Group, that produced a book called “Collaboration: What Makes It Work.” This book distilled the wisdom from 281 research studies on collaborative case studies and their success or failure. They distilled things down to six focus areas (they ended up with the same number as Hackman). Their six were:
- Membership characteristics: (Skills, attributes and opinions of individuals as a collaborative group, as well as culture and capacity of orgs that form collaborative groups)
- Purpose: (The reasons for the collaborative effort, the result or vision being sought)
- Process and structure: (Management, decision making and operational systems of a collaborative context)
- Communication: (The channels used by partners to exchange information, keep each-other informed and convey opinions to influence)
- Environment: (Geo-location and social context where a collaborative group exists. While they can influence, they cannot control)
- Resources: (The financial and human input necessary to develop and sustain a collaborative group)
If you want the fuller detail of Hackman and Wilder, check the first and second posts respectively. But it should be clear from even a cursory look at the above lists, that there is a lot of overlap and common themes between these two research efforts and we can learn from them in our SharePoint work. I strongly believe that this sort of material constitutes a critical gap in a lot of the material out there on what it takes to have a successful SharePoint deployment and offers some excellent ideas in further developing ideas around SharePoint maturity. I started to develop a fairly comprehensive Dialogue Map of both of these research efforts so I could synthesise them to create my own set of “conditions” in the way Hackman describes. While I was doing this, I met a fellow via LinkedIn who opened my mind to further possibilities. Everybody, meet Stephen Duffield…
Duffield’s SYLLK model for lessons learnt
I met Steve because we both shared a common interest in organisational knowledge management. In, fact Steve is working on his PhD in this area, focussing on addressing the pitiful record of organisations utilising lesson learnt practices on projects and then embedding them into organisational culture and practices. If you have ever filled out a lessons learnt form, knowing full-well that it will disappear into a filing cabinet never to be seen again, Steve shares your frustration. For his PhD, he is tackling two research questions:
- What are the significant factors that negatively influence the capture, dissemination and application of lessons learned from completed projects within project-based organisations?
- Can a systemic knowledge model positively influence the capture, dissemination and application of project management lessons learned between project teams within the organisation?
Now if you think it was impressive that Wilder researched 281 studies on collaboration, Steve topped them by miles. His PhD literature review covered over 500+ papers on the topics of project lessons learned, knowledge management, risk management and the like. 500! Man, that’s crazy – all I can say to that is I am sure as hell glad he did it and I didn’t have to!
So what was the result of Duffield’s work? In a nutshell, he has developed a model called “Systemic Lessons Learned Knowledge” (SYLLK), which was influenced by the Swiss Cheese model for risk management, originally proposed by Dante Orlandella and James T. Reason.
Why SYLLK is important for SharePoint
Before I explain Duffield’s SYLLK model, it is important I briefly explain the Swiss Cheese model for risk management that inspired him. The Swiss Cheese Model (see the image to the left) for risk management is commonly used in aviation and healthcare safety. It is based on the notion that systems have potential for failure in many areas and these are analogous to a stack of slices of Swiss cheese, where the holes in each slice are opportunities for a process to fail. Each of the slices are “defensive layers” and while an error may allow a problem to pass through a hole in one layer, in the next layer the holes are in different places, allowing the problem to be caught before its impact becomes severe.
The key to the Swiss Cheese Model is that it assumes that no single defence layer is sufficient to mitigate risk. It also implies that if risk mitigation strategies exist, yet all of the holes are lined up, this is an inherently flawed system. Why? because it would allow a problem to progress through all controls and adversely affect the organisation. Therefore, its use encourages a more balanced view of how risks are identified and managed.
So think about that for a second… SharePoint projects to this day remain difficult to get right. If you are on your third attempt at SharePoint, then by definition you’ve had previous failed SharePoint projects. The inference when applying the Swiss cheese model is that your delivery approach is inherently flawed and you have not sufficiently learnt from it. In other words, you were – and maybe still are – missing some important slices of cheese from your arsenal. From a SharePoint maturity perspective, we need to know what those missing slices are if we wish to raise the bar.
So the challenge I have for you is this: If you have had a failed or semi-failed SharePoint project or two under your belt, did you or others on your team ever say to yourself “We’ll get it right this time” and then find that the results never met expectations? If you did, then Duffield’s (and my) contention is you might have failed to truly understand the factors that caused the failure.
Back to Duffield…
This is where Duffield’s work gets super interesting. He realised that the original Swiss cheese “slices” that resolved around safety were inappropriate for a typical organisation managing their projects. Like the Wilder work on collaboration, Steve reviewed tons of literature and synthesised from it, what he thinks are the key slices of cheese that are required to enable not only mitigation of project risks, but also focus people on the critical areas that need to be examined to capture the full gamut of lessons learnt on projects.
So how many slices of cheese do you think Steve came up with? If you read the previous two posts then you can already guess at the answer. Six!
There really seems to be something special about the number 6! We have Hackman coming up with 6 conditions for high performing teams, Wilder’s 6 factors that make a difference in successful collaboration and Duffield’s 6 areas that are critical to organisational learning from projects! For the record, here are Duffield’s six areas (the first three are labelled as people factors and the second three are system factors):
- Learning: Whether individuals on the team are skilled, have the right skills for their role and whether they are kept up-skilled
- Culture: What participants do, what role they fulfil, how an atmosphere of trust is developed in which people are encouraged, even rewarded for truth telling– but in which they are also clear about where the line must be drawn between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour”
- Social: How people relate to each-other, their interdependence and how they operate as a team
- Technology: Ensuring that technology and data supports outcomes and does not get in the way
- Process: Ensuring the appropriate protocols drive people’s behaviour and inform what they do (gate, checklists, etc.)
- Infrastructure: Environment (in terms of structure and facilities) that enable project outcomes
Duffield has a diagram that illustrates the SYLLK model, showing how his six identified organisational elements of learning, culture, social, technology, process and infrastructure align as Swiss cheese slices. I have pasted it (with permission), below (click to enlarge).
Duffield states that the SYLLK model represents “the various organisational systems that collectively form the overall behaviour of the organisation. The various modes of social and cultural learning, along with the organisational processes, infrastructure and technology that support them.” Notice in the above diagram how the holes in each slice are not lined up when the project arrow moves right to left. This makes sense because the whole point of the model is the idea of “defence in depth.” But then the holes are aligned when moving from left to right. This is because each slice of cheese need to be aligned to enable the feedback loop – the effective dissemination and application of the identified lessons.
The notion of the Swiss cheese model for mitigating risk makes a heck of a lot of sense for SharePoint projects, given that
- a) there is a myriad of technical and non technical factors that have to be aligned for sustained SharePoint success, and
- b) SharePoint success remains persistently illusive for many organisations.
What Duffield has done with the SYLLK model is to take the Swiss Cheese model out of the cloistered confines of safety management and into organisational learning through projects. This is huge in my opinion, and creates a platform for lots of innovative approaches around the capture and use of organisational learning, all the while framing it around the key project management task of identifying and mitigating risk. From a SharePoint maturity perspective, it gives us a very powerful approach to see various aspects of SharePoint project delivery in a whole new light, giving focus to aspects that are often not given due consideration.
Like the Wilder model, I love the fact that Duffield has done such a systematic and rigorous review of literature and I also love the fact that his area of research is quite distinct from Hackman (conditions that enable team efficacy) and the Wilder team (factors influencing successful collaboration). When you think about it, each of the three research efforts focuses on distinct areas of the life-cycle of a project. Hackman looks at the enabling conditions required before you commence a project and what needs to be maintained. Wilder appears to focus more on what is happening during a project, by examining what successful collaboration looks like. Duffield then looks at the result of a project in terms of the lessons learnt and how this can shape future projects (which brings us back to Hackman’s enabling conditions).
While all that is interesting and valuable, the honest truth is that I liked the fact that all three of these efforts all ended up with six “things”. It seemed preordained for me to “munge” them together to see what they collectively tell us about SharePoint maturity.
… and that’s precisely what I did. In the next post we will examine the results.
Thanks for reading