Teddies, Fetishes and the Management Consulting Scam

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What if I told you that the key to becoming a successful management consultant was to become a Teddy Bear?

What if I also told you that it involves fetishes? You might be re-checking the URL to make sure you are on the right site!

Fear not, this article is definitely not “50 Shades of Management Consulting Grey”. Nor is it about donning a cuddly animal suit as a mascot for a football team. To borrow from the much loved children’s TV show “Playschool,” there’s definitely a bear in there, but not the one you might be thinking!

You see, for many people, modern corporate life is now at a point where pace of change is accelerating, unrelenting and fatiguing. In my home state of Western Australia, businesses are reeling from unprecedented levels of disruption and uncertainty, be it the end of the commodity boom, the impact of global competition or disruptive, technology-enabled innovation. It is now difficult to think of any industry that has not had the ground shift beneath it in some way — except perhaps, for Management Consulting.

Management Consulting thrives in an environment of fear, ambiguity and doubt, principally because its business model is based on the presumption that they can make it go away. It’s lucrative too — ambiguity is such a powerful force that executives will part with copious amounts of cash in attempts to escape it…

read the full article at medium.com

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Explaining the new book in 3 minutes…

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The power of video as a means to convey a message and engage an audience cannot be under-estimated. For my new book, The Heretics Guide to Management, we decided to record a video after Kailash had played around with VideoScribe for some of his blog articles. My daughter, Ashlee is a talented artist and she and I fleshed out a basic script to explain the book with some imagery ideas.

The net result is the video below. The narrator is my son Liam, and I think the theme of “teddies for grown ups” really works when narrated by a child.

Both Ashlee and Liam did an amazing job and we were absolutely stoked with the result. For the record, the tools used were Camtasia for the recording, VideoScribe for the visuals and Ashlee’s Intuous Comic touch tablet.

Hope you enjoy the video… Let me know what you think Smile

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My new book about Teddies and fetishes is out…

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Hi all

I am pleased to announce that my new business book, The Heretic’s Guide to Management: The Art of Harnessing Ambiguity is now available in ebook format (The print edition is still a couple of weeks away). Once again I wrote this with Kailash Awati and is a loose sequel to our first book, The Heretics Guide to Best Practices.

Many reviewers liked the writing style of our first book, which combined rigour with humour. This book continues in the same vein, so if you enjoyed the first one we hope you might enjoy this one too. The new book is half the size of the first one, and I would say, less idealistic too. In terms of subject matter, I could probably just say “Ambiguity, Teddy Bears and Fetishes” and leave it at that. I’m sure someone would think that we have moved into erotic fiction Smile

Unfortunately for those looking for some titillation, I’m afraid we did not write a management version of Fifty Shades of Grey. Instead, we aim to help readers understand how ambiguity affects the human behaviour and more importantly how it can be harnessed it in positive ways. We noticed that most management techniques (eg strategic planning, project management or operational budgeting) attempt to reduce ambiguity and provide clarity. Yet in a great irony of modern corporate life, they often end up doing the opposite: increasing ambiguity rather than reducing it.

On the surface, it is easy enough to understand why: organizations are complex entities and it is unreasonable to expect management models, such as those that fit neatly into a 2*2 matrix or a predetermined checklist, to work in the real world. In fact, expecting them to work as advertised is like colouring a paint-by-numbers Mona Lisa and expecting that you can recreate Da Vinci’s masterpiece. Ambiguity remains untamed, and reality reimposes itself no matter how alluring the model is…

It turns out that most of us have a deep aversion to situations that involve even a hint of ambiguity. Recent research in neuroscience has revealed the reason for this: ambiguity is processed in the parts of the brain which regulate our emotional responses. As a result, many people associate ambiguity with feelings of anxiety. When kids feel anxious, they turn to transitional objects such as teddy bears or security blankets, providing them with a sense of stability when situations or events seem overwhelming. In this book, we show that as grown-ups we don’t stop using teddy bears – it is just that the teddies we use take a different, more corporate, form. Drawing on research, we discuss how management models, fads and frameworks are actually akin to teddy bears. They provide the same sense of comfort and certainty to corporate managers and minions as real teddies do to distressed kids.

base teddy

Most children usually outgrow their need for teddies as they mature and learn to cope with their childhood fears. However, if development is disrupted or arrested in some way, the transitional object can become a fetish – an object that is held on to with a pathological intensity, simply for the comfort that it offers in the face of ambiguity. The corporate reliance on simplistic solutions for the complex challenges faced is akin to little Johnny believing that everything will be OK provided he clings on to Teddy.

When this happens you, the trick is finding ways to help Johnny overcome his fear of ambiguity (as well as your own).


Ambiguity is a primal force that drives much of our behaviour. It is typically viewed negatively – something to be avoided or to be controlled. The truth, however, is that it is a force that can be used in positive ways too. The Force that gave the Dark Side their power in the Star Wars movies was harnessed by the Jedi in positive ways.This new management book shows you how ambiguity, so common in the corporate world, can be harnessed to achieve outstanding results.

The book should be available via most online outlets.


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Confessions of a (post) SharePoint Architect: The self-fulfilling governance prophecy

This entry is part 4 of 10 in the series confessions
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Hi and welcome to another SharePoint (post) architect confessional post. In case you are here via the good grace of whatever Google’s search relevance algorithm feels like doing today, I need to give you a little context to this post and the larger series of which it is a part. These days, I spend a lot of time working on projects beyond the cloistered confines of SharePoint; in fact, beyond the confines of IT altogether. Apart from being a cathartic release from SharePoint work, I’ve had the privilege to work with various groups on solving some very complex problems in a collaborative fashion. As a result of these case studies, I’ve become a bit of a student of various collaborative problem solving approaches and recently released a business book on the subject called “The Heretics Guide to Best Practices” co-written with mild-mannered mega-genius Kailash Awati. Despite (or because of) the book having no absolutely SharePoint content whatsoever, it managed to win an Axiom Business Book award and I feel it’s indirectly a good SharePoint governance book in its own right.

Now, for the rest of you who have been following my epic rant thus far, you will now be familiar with the notion of Ackoff’s f-laws: “truths about organisations that we might wish to deny or ignore – simple and more reliable guides to everyday behaviour than the complex truths proposed by scientists, economists, sociologists, politicians and philosophers.” Via the f-law metaphor, you now also understand why midwives are more valuable than doctors, the word “governance” should not be defined if you actually want people to understand it and that people should not be penalised for their learning.

The next f-law that we will explore provides an explanation to why organisations so consistently and persistently apply the wrong approaches to SharePoint-type projects. IT departments have genetic predisposition to falling into this trap, as do other service delivery departments such as Finance and HR when they put in ERP systems. To explain my assertion, we are going to revisit the governance diagram that I used in the first f-law. You can see it below:

I used the above diagram to to explain f-law 1 which was “The more comprehensive the definition of governance is, the less it will be understood by all”. The above diagram serves to point out that governance is not the end in mind, but the means by which you achieve a desirable future state. Without any context to an end in mind, we have to accommodate many vague potential ends. To deal with this uncertainty, we inevitably look to definitions to provide clarity about what governance means. Unfortunately, this form of “definitionisation” tends to confuse more than clarify because it sneakily starts to drive the end, rather than be the means. This inevitably results in over-engineered, over-complicated and likely inappropriate governance approaches that do more harm than good.

It should be noted that “governance” is by no means the only word that falls into this trap. Words like quality, effective, “best practice” and even “SharePoint” should all be put in the green star above too because all of these words have no inherent meaning until they are applied to a given situation or context. This point is echoed by people like Andrew (“SharePoint by itself knows nothing”) Woodward, Dux (“SharePoint doesn’t suck – you suck.”) Sy and Ruven (“Can I use this diagram in my Information Architecture book?”) Gotz.

To that end, our next  f-law expands on this notion of means vs. ends and provides you with a practical way to assess the clarity of a SharePoint goal or outcome.

F-Law 3: The probability of SharePoint success is inversely proportional to the time taken to come up with a measurable KPI

Hmm… f-law 3 is a mouthful isn’t it. For a start I used the acronym of “KPI”, which in case you are not aware, stands for Key Performance Indicator – something that we can measure to visibly demonstrate that we have not sucked and actually achieved what we have set out to do. In essence, this f-law states that the longer it takes to determine a reasonable and measurable indicator that SharePoint has been a success, the less likely your SharePoint project is to succeed.

To demonstrate this, I am going to give you one of my patent pending techniques that is highly useful in client engagements to get people to think a little differently about their approach. Let’s reuse my “from here to there” diagram above to perform a basic experiment. Check out the project below and tell me … what project is this?


Hopefully, it did not take you long to work out that this project is the Apollo moon missions. Now, for the experimental bit. Grab a stopwatch, start the clock and answer this question:

“How do you know you have succeeded with this project?”

Once you have your answer, stop the clock and note the time. I’m willing to bet that you gave one or two answers:

  • You successfully landed a person on the moon
  • You got the person back to Earth again

I am also willing to bet that you worked out that answer within 2 to 15 seconds of pondering my diagram. Am I right?

Now, consider for a moment the sheer scale of of this project in terms of size, risk, innovation and level of expertise required to land a person on the moon and bring them back safely. Imagine the sheer number of projects within multiple programs of work that had to be aligned. Imagine the tens of thousands of people who directly and indirectly worked on this epic project. It is mind boggling when you think about it and it is little wonder that putting a man on the moon is regarded one of mankind’s greatest technical achievements.

And then we have SharePoint…

Now let’s contrast the moon project with another one likely to be very familiar with readers. So once again, tell me what project this is…


This one takes some people a bit longer to answer, but when I ask this in workshops and conferences I sometimes get people jokingly saying “my SharePoint project!” or “a nightmare.” So once again I want you to answer the following question:

“How do you know you have succeeded with this project?”

I bet this one has you a little more stumped and is much harder to answer than the moon example above. What is funny with this one is that, when you consider that in terms of scope and size, using SharePoint to improve collaboration is a mere pimple on the butt of sending a rocket to the moon. Yet, despite the moon example being much larger in scope, cost, degree of innovation and engineering, the success criteria is clear and unambiguous to all. People can identify what success looks like very quickly. No-one will point to Venus and say “I think that’s the moon.”  You either got there or you didn’t.

Yet, when I show a SharePoint project that is framed like the above example, people have a much (much) harder time describing what success would look like. In fact, I have asked this question many times around the world and most of the answers I am offered do not hold up to any serious form of scrutiny. Consider these common suggestions of SharePoint success and my response to them:

  • “People are using it.” My response: “Yeah, but people use email and the file system now, so why are you putting SharePoint in?”
  • “People are happy.” My response: “I bet if I replaced the crappy coffee with a top of the range espresso machine I could make people really happy and it’s a fraction of the cost of SharePoint.”

Sorry folks, but this isn’t good enough… in fact it’s a recipe for a situation where, in the name of “governance,” you deliver a bloated, over-engineered failure.

When problems are complicated…

My two project examples above highlight a particular characteristic of problems that is at the root of the difference between the moon and SharePoint example. Consider the following common IT projects:

  • Replacing your old email system with Microsoft Exchange
  • Consolidating Active Directory
  • Replacing your old phone system with Voice over IP system
  • Upgrading your storage area network  to new infrastructure

All of these are like the moon example. None of them are easy – in fact you need specialist expertise to get them successfully implemented. But when you put each of these in the green star of my “here to there” picture, criteria for success is fairly clear and unambiguous. For example, if email comes in and goes out of everyone’s inboxes, Exchange is a usually success. If you can pick up the phone, get a dial tone and make a call, then the VOIP upgrade has been a success.

These are all examples of complicated problems. With complicated problems, the criteria for success is clear and unambiguous and there is a strong relationship between cause and effect. You can be highly confident that doing X will lead to Y. In these sorts of problems, experts can come together and analyse the problem by breaking the problem down neatly into its parts to develop a high-confidence solution. Furthermore, there are likely to be many best practices that have emerged from years of collective wisdom of implementing solutions because of that relationship between cause and effect.

Wouldn’t it be nice if reality was always like this. Project Managers and tech people would actually get on with each other! But of course, reality paints a different picture…

When complicated approaches fail…

In a 2002 discussion paper about reform of the Canadian health system, authors Sholom Glouberman and Brenda Zimmerman make a statement that is completely applicable to how most organisations approach SharePoint:

In simple problems like cooking by following a recipe, the recipe is essential. It is often tested to assure easy replication without the need for any particular expertise. Recipes produce standardized products and the best recipes give good results every time. Complicated problems, like sending a rocket to the moon, are different. Formulae or recipes are critical and necessary to resolve them but are often not sufficient. High levels of expertise in a variety of fields are necessary for success. Sending one rocket increases assurance that the next mission will be a success. In some critical ways, rockets are similar to each other and because of this there can be a relatively high degree of certainty of outcome. Raising a child, on the other hand, is a complex problem. Here, formulae have a much more limited application. Raising one child provides experience but no assurance of success with the next. Although expertise can contribute to the process in valuable ways, it provides neither necessary nor sufficient conditions to assure success. []

In this paper we argue that health care systems are complex, and that repairing them is a complex problem. Most attempts to intervene [] treat them as if they were merely complicated. [] We argue that many of these dilemmas can be dissolved if the system is viewed as complex.

The key point in the above quote is that the tools and approaches that work well with complicated problems actually cause a lot of trouble in complex problems, where certainty of an outcome is much less clear. My point is that while the notion of using SharePoint to get from “poor collaboration” to “improved collaboration” might seem logical on the surface, it is hard to come up with any sensible criteria for success. Therefore you are setting yourself up for a fail because you have made SharePoint take on the characteristics of complex problems. Without unpacking these implicit assumptions about “Improved Collaboration,” our aspirational future state will look like the diagram below. The reality is we have many aspirational future states, all hidden beneath the seductive veneer of “improved collaboration” that in reality tells us nothing.


What blows me away is that to this day most project governance material published consistently fail to realise this core issue while trying to treat the very symptoms caused by this issue!  They provide you with the tools, means and methods to chase goals which are little better than an illusion, with no means to measure progress and therefore guide the very decisions that are made in name of governance.

Without unpacking and aligning all of these different future states above, how can any SharePoint architect be sure that they are providing the right SharePoint-based enabler? If you cannot tell me the difference made by implementing a project, how can anyone else know the difference? Even if you can, how do you know that everybody else sees it the same way as you?

Is it little wonder then, that after more than a decade of trying, SharePoint projects (complex problems) continue to go haywire? While approaches to governance force a complicated lens on a complex problem and assume the goal as stated is understood by all, governance itself will be one of the root causes of poor outcomes. Why? Because governance will require people to focus in all the areas except the one that matters. When this gap in focus manifests visibly (for example SharePoint site sprawl), governance is seen as the means to address the gap. Thus governance becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy “We will get it right this time” is the mantra, all the while, we still chase those rainbows of “improved collaboration.”

Conclusion and coming next

I do not recall where I first heard the distinction between “Complicated” and “Complex” problems because I came across it some time after I discovered the term “wicked problem.” I suspect that it was the Cynefin model that first pushed my cognitive buttons on the idea, although I distinctly recall Russell Ackoff also making the distinction between complex and complicated. Irrespective of the source, I find this a hugely valuable frame of reference to examine problems and understand why SharePoint projects are routinely tackled in an inappropriate manner. With it, I have been able to give IT departments in particular, a frame of reference to understand why they have trouble with particular kinds of projects like SharePoint.

Many people in organisations do not discern the difference between a complicated and complex problem and use the tools of the “complicated problem toolkit” to address complex problems when they are inappropriate at best and will kill your project at worst. I will expand on why this happens in the next and subsequent posts. But my key takeaway is that addressing the issue of multiple interpretations of the future is not only the key SharePoint governance challenge, it is the key challenge for any complex project.

The sorts of tools and approaches that are part of the “complex problem” utility belt are numerous and are really starting to gain traction which is great. There is plenty to read on this topic elsewhere on this blog as well as people like Andrew Woodward and Ruven Gotz. The great irony is that if you do manage align people to a shared sense of what the end in mind will look like, things that might have been seen as complex will now become complicated and the traditional tools and approaches will have efficacy because outcomes are clear and the path to get there makes more sense.

In the next post and f-law, I am going to outline another chronic issue that further explains why we get suckered into chasing false goals…


Thanks for reading

Paul Culmsee



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I’m published in a PM Journal

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Hi all

Just a quick note for those of you who are of the academic persuasion or who have an interest in research and academic literature. Kailash and I wrote a paper for the International Journal for Managing Projects in Business. The article is called “Towards a holding environment: building shared understanding and commitment in projects”. The paper is about how to improve shared understanding on projects – particularly at the early stages where ambiguity around objectives tends to be at its highest. While it covers a similar territory to the Heretics Guide, it covers some literature that we did not use for the book. Plus it is peer reviewed of course.

This paper presents a viewpoint on how to build a shared understanding of project goals and a shared commitment to achieving them. One of the ways to achieve shared understanding is through open dialogue, free from political and other constraints. In this paper (and in the Heretics Book) we flesh out what it takes for this to happen and call an environment which fosters such dialogue a holding environment. We illustrate, via a case study:

  1. How an alliance-based approach to projects can foster a holding environment.
  2. The use of argument visualisation tools such as IBIS (Issue-Based Information System) to clarify different points of view and options within such an environment.

This was my first experience with the peer review process of writing a journal paper. I have to say that, despite the odd bit of teeth gnashing, the review process did make this paper much better than it originally was. Of course, none of this would have even happened without Kailash. This was definitely his baby, and this paper would not exist without his intellect and wide-ranging knowledge.

Thanks for reading

Paul Culmsee


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Wohoo! Heretics Guide has won an award

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Hi all

This might count as the winner of the cleverworkarounds “Most enjoyable blog post ever” award. This is because the book I wrote with Kailash Awati has won a medal at the 2012 Axiom Business Book Awards. The Heretics Guide to Best Practices has taken out the bronze medal in the category of Operations Management/Lean/Continuous Improvement. As you can imagine, we are completely thrilled and stoked about winning this, especially as we are first time writers with such awesome competition (there were 381 books entered into these awards).

In case you are wondering what the Axiom awards are all about, they are the largest and most respected critical guidepost for business books. From the site:

These prestigious and competitive awards are presented in 21 business categories and serve as the premier list to help readers discover new and innovative works.

The Axiom Book Awards are the go-to list connecting readers with high-quality, cutting edge, business books that provide information and ideas critical to success in today’s competitive market place. Today’s consumers want to learn about, shop for, and buy books beyond the model of traditional writing and publishing. Today’s world of business publishing gets new ideas and trends to readers faster and more economically. With Axiom Business Book Awards, you know you will be buying the best, cutting-edge business books

There is an awards ceremony on  June 4th, on the eve of BookExpo America in New York. Methinks I will be heading back to US shores after all!

So beers are on us for today!


Thanks for reading


p.s The world needs more heresy. I would be grateful if readers of the blog would be up for a little love on twitter today and help us spread the word!

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On the decay (or remarkable recurrence) of knowledge

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“That’s only 10%…”

One of my mentors who is mentioned in the book I wrote with Kailash (Darryl) is a veteran project manager in the construction and engineering industry. He has been working as a project manager more than 30 years, is a fellow of the Institute of Engineers and marks exams at the local university for those studying a Masters Degree in Project Management. His depth of knowledge and experience is abundantly clear when you start working with him and I have learned more about collaborative project delivery from him than anyone else.

Recently I was talking with him and he said something really interesting. He was telling some stories from the early days of alliancing based project delivery in Australia (alliancing is a highly interesting collaborative project governance approach that we devote a chapter to in our book). He stated that alliancing at its core is the application of good project management practice. Now I know Darryl pretty well and knew what he meant by that, but commented to him that when you say the word “project management practice,” some would associate that statement with (among other things) a well-developed Gantt chart listing activities with names, tasks and times.

His reply was unsurprising: “at best that’s only 1/10th of what project management is really about.”

Clearly Darryl has a much deeper and holistic view of what project management is than many other practitioners I’ve worked with. Darryl argues that those who criticise project management are actually criticising a small subset of the discipline, based on their less than complete view of what the discipline entails. Thus by definition, the remedies they propose are misinformed or solve a problem that has already been solved.

Whether you agree with Darryl or not, there is a pattern here that occurs continually in organisation-land. Fanboys of a particular methodology, framework model or practice (me included) will waste no time dumping on whatever they have grown to dislike and swear that their “new approach” addresses the gaps. Those with a more holistic view like Darryl might argue that crusaders aren’t really inventing anything new and that if a gap exists, it’s a gap in the knowledge of those doing the criticising.

As Ambrose Bierce said, “There is nothing new under the sun but there are lots of things we don’t know.”

From project management to systems thinking…

Now with that in mind, here’s a little anecdote. A few weeks back I joined a Design Thinking group on LinkedIn. I had read about Design Thinking during its hype phase a couple of years ago and my immediate thought was “Isn’t this just systems thinking reinvented?” You see, I more or less identify myself as a bit of a pragmatic systems thinker, in that I like to broaden a discussion, but I also actually get shit done. So I was curious to understand how design thinkers see themselves as different from systems thinkers.

I followed several threads on the LinkedIn group as the question had been discussed a few times. Unfortunately, no-one could really put their finger on the difference. Eventually I found a recent paper by Pourdehnad, Wexler and Wilson which went into some detail on the two disciplines and offered some distinctions. I won’t bother you with the content, except to say it was a good read, and left me with the following choices about my understanding of systems and design thinking:

  • That my understanding of systems thinking is wrong and I am in fact a design thinker after all
  • That I am indeed a systems thinker and design thinking is just systems thinking with a pragmatic bent

Of course being a biased human, I naturally believe the latter point is more correct. clip_image002

From systems to #stoos

Like the Snowbird retreat that spawned the agile manifesto, the recent stoos movement has emerged from a group of individuals who came together to discuss problems they perceive in existing management structures and paradigms. Now this would have been an exhilarating and inspiring event to be at – a bunch of diverse people finding emergent new understandings of organisations and how they ought to be run. Much tacit learning would have occurred.

But a problem is that one has to have been there to truly experience it. Any published output from this gathering cannot convey the vibe and learning (the tacit punch) that one would get from experiencing the event in the flesh. This is the effect of codifying knowledge into the written form. Both myself and Kailash were fully cognisant of this when we read the material on the stoos website and knew that for us, some of it would cover old ground. Nevertheless, my instinctive first reaction to what I read was “I bet someone will complain that this is just design thinking reinvented.”

Guess what… a short time later that’s exactly what happened too. Someone tweeted that very assertion! Presumably this opinion was offered by a self-identified design thinker who felt that the stoos crowd was reinventing the wheel that design thinkers had so painstakingly put together. My immediate urge was to be a smartarse and send back a tweet telling this person that design thinking is just pragmatic systems thinking anyway so he was just as guilty as the #stoos crowd. I then realised I might be found guilty of the same thing and someone might inform me of some “deeper knowing” than systems thinking. Nevertheless I couldn’t resist and made a tweet to that effect.

The decay (or remarkable recurrence) of knowledge…

(At this point I discussed this topic with Kailash and have looped him into the conversation)

Both of us see a pattern of a narrow focus or plain misinterpretation of what has come before. As a result, it seems there is a tendency to reinvent the wheel and slap a new label on claiming it to be unique or profound. We wonder therefore, how much of the ideas of new groups or movements are truly new.

Any corpus of knowledge is a bunch of memes – “ideas, behaviours or styles that spread from person to person within a culture.” Indeed, entire disciplines such as project management can be viewed as a bunch of memes that have been codified into a body of knowledge. Some memes are “sticky,” in that they are more readily retained and communicated, while others get left behind. However, stickiness is no guarantee of rightness. Two examples of such memes that we covered in our book are the waterfall methodology and the PERT scheduling technique Though both have murky origins and are of questionable utility, they are considered to be stock standard in the PM world, at least in certain circles. While it would take us too far afield to recount the story here (and we would rather you read our book Smile ) the point is that some techniques are widely taught and used despite being deeply flawed. Clearly the waterfall meme had strong evolutionary characteristics of survival while the story of its rather nuanced beginnings have been lost until recently.

A person indoctrinated in a standard business school curriculum sees real-life situations through the lens of the models (or memes!) he or she is familiar with. To paraphrase a well-known saying – if one is familiar only with a hammer, every problem appears as a nail. Sometime (not often enough!) the wielder of the metaphorical hammer eventually realises that not all problems yield to hammering. In other words, the models they used to inform their actions were incomplete, or even incorrect. They then cast about for something new and thus begin a quest for a new understanding. In the present day world one doesn’t have to search too hard because there are several convenient corpuses of knowledge to choose from. Each supply ready-made models of reality that make more sense than the last and as an added bonus, one can even get a certification to prove that one has studied it.

However, as demonstrated above with the realisation that not all problems yield to hammering, reality can truly be grasped only through experience, not models. It is experience that highlights the difference between the real-world and the simplistic one that is captured in models. Reality consists of complex, messy situations and any attempt to capture reality through concepts and models will always be incomplete. In the light of this it is easy to see why old knowledge is continually rediscovered, albeit in a different form. Since models attempt to grasp the ungraspable, they will all contain many similarities but will also have some differences. The stoos movement, design thinking and systems thinking are rooted in the same reality, so their similarities should not be surprising.

Coming back to Darryl – his view of project management with 30 years experience includes a whole bunch of memes and models, that for whatever reason, tend to be less sticky than the ones we all know so well. Why certain memes are less successful than others in being replicated from person to person is interesting in its own right and has been discussed at length in our book. For now, we’ll just say that those who come up with new labels to reflect their new understandings are paradoxically wise and narrow minded at the same time. They are wise in that they are seeking better models to understand the reality they encounter, but at the same time likely trashing some worthwhile ones too. Reality is multifaceted and cannot be captured in any particular model, so the finders of a new truth should take care that they do not get carried away by their own hyperbole.

Thanks for reading

Paul Culmsee (with Kailash Awati)


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The end of a journey… my book is now out!

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About bloody time eh?

The Heretics Guide to Best Practices is now available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iUniverse.



In Paul and Kailash I have found kindred spirits who understand how messed up most organizations are, and how urgent it is that organizations discover what Buddhists call ‘expedient means’—not more ‘best practices’ or better change management for the enterprise, but transparent methods and theories that are simple to learn and apply, and that foster organizational intelligence as a natural expression of individual intelligence. This book is a bold step forward on that path, and it has the wonderful quality, like a walk at dawn through a beautiful park, of presenting profound insights with humor, precision, and clarity.”

Jeff Conklin, Director, Cognexus Institute


Hugely enjoyable, deeply reflective, and intensely practical. This book is about weaving human artistry and improvisation, with appropriate methods and technologies, in order to pool collective intelligence and wisdom under pressure.”

Simon Buckingham Shum, Knowledge Media Institute, The Open University, UK.


“This is a terrific piece of work: important, insightful, and very entertaining. Culmsee and Awati have produced a refreshing take on the problems that plague organisations, the problems that plague attempts to fix organisations, and what can be done to make things better. If you’re trying to deal with wicked problems in your organisation, then drop everything and read this book.”

Tim Van Gelder, Principal Consultant, Austhink Consulting


“This book has been a brilliantly fun read. Paul and Kailash interweave forty years of management theory using entertaining and engaging personal stories. These guys know their stuff and demonstrate how it can be used via real world examples. As a long time blogger, lecturer and consultant/practitioner I have always been served well by contrarian approaches, and have sought stories and case studies to understand the reasons why my methods have worked. This book has helped me understand why I have been effective in dealing with complex business problems. Moreover, it has encouraged me to delve into the foundations of various management practices and thus further extend my professional skills.”

Craig Brown, Director, Evaluator

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Seattle (and Bend) here we come!

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Hi all

Just a quick post to let you all know that in around 11 hours I’m off on a long flight back to US shores – my first trip for quite some time. We will be in Seattle, Portland, Bend, San Francisco and Napa. I am really, really looking forward to this trip for a number of reasons.

  • Its my first ever SharePoint Governance and Information Architecture Class in the US and I intend to deliver a knockout class. The class has essentially sold out (at the time of writing one remaining place looks like its about to be filled). Erica Toelle has been absolutely brilliant, has placed a lot of faith in me and I do not intend to let her, or any of the attendees down.
  • I’m also speaking at the Seattle SharePoint User Group in early May 5th (with Ruven) and also speaking at the Bend SharePoint User Group on May 9th, both on some SharePoint Governance Home Truths. I don’t get to the US very often and that is not going to change anytime soon, so I suggest you don’t assume you can wait till next time, because that may be a while! If you know someone who needs a bit of an intervention or some governance “deprogramming”, then send them my way! Smile
  • A major, major milestone this year has been achieved. My Beyond Best Practices book is finally complete! I am super excited by this book too. I think we have really delved into areas that no other book has really done in terms of collaboration and dealing with complex, difficult to solve problems. We are sorting out publishers so hopefully there will be some face to face meetings when I am in San Francisco and I will be able to give you some relatively firm dates on when it might grace a bookshelf, iPad or Kindle. (I’ll cover some stuff from the book in the Seattle class).
  • I’ll have an opportunity to catch up with the likes of Erica Toelle, Ruven Gotz, Christian Buckley, Bill English, Jeff Conklin and a number of other people who I rarely get to see “in the flesh”. Maybe there is time to squeeze in another musical collaboration with Mr Buckley eh?
  • Best of all, my family is coming with me and we are taking a holiday while we are here – wohoo!

So if you are in Seattle between May 1-7, or the Bay Area between May 10-13, get in contact!

See you soon!


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A different kind of SharePoint Governance Master Class in London and Dublin

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The background

Over the last three years, my career trajectory had altered somewhat where I spent half my time as a SharePoint practitioner, doing all of the things that us SharePoint practitioners do, and the other half was spent in a role that I would call sensemaking. Essentially group facilitation work, on some highly complex, non IT problems. These ranged from areas such as city planning, (envisioning and community engagement) to infrastructure delivery (think freeways, schools and hospitals), to mental health, team and relationship building, performance management, board meetings and various other scenarios.

Imagine how much of a different world this is, where a group is coming together from often very different backgrounds and base positions, to come to grips with a complex set of interlocking problems and somehow try and align enough to move forward. We cannot simply throw a “SharePoint” at these problems and think it will all be better. By their very nature, we have to collaborate on them to move forward – true collaboration in all its messy, sometimes frustrating glory.

As a result of this experience, I’ve also learned many highly effective collaborative techniques and approaches that I have never seen used in my 20+ years of being an IT practitioner. Additionally, I’ve had the opportunity to work with (and still do), some highly skilled people who I learned a huge amount from. This is “standing on the shoulders of giants” stuff. As you can imagine, this new learning has had a significant effect on how Seven Sigma now diagnoses and approaches SharePoint projects and has altered the lens through which I view problem solving with SharePoint.

It also provided me the means to pinpoint a giant blind spot in the SharePoint governance material that’s out there, and what to do about it.

The first catalyst – back injury

In January this year, my family and I went on a short holiday, down to the wine country of Western Australia called the Margaret River region. On the very first day of that trip, I was at the beach, watching my kids run amok, when I totally put my back out (*sigh* such an old man). Needless to say, I could barely move for the next week or two after. My family, ever concerned for my welfare, promptly left me behind at the chalet and took off each day to sample wines, food and generally do the things that tourists do.

Left to my own devices, and not overly mobile I had little to do but ponder – and ponder I did (even more than my usual pondering – so this was an Olympic class ponder). Reflecting on all of my learning and experiences from sensemaking work, my use of it within SharePoint projects, as well as the subsequent voracious reading in a variety of topics, I came to realise that SharePoint governance is looked through a lens that clouds some of the most critical success factors. I knew exactly how to lift that fog, and had a vision for a holistic view of SharePoint governance that at the same time, simplifies it and makes it easy for people to collectively understand.

So I set to work, distilling all of this learning and experience and put it into something coherent, rigorous and accessible. After all, SharePoint is a tool that is an enabler for “improved collaboration”, and I had spent half of my time on deeply collaborative non IT scenarios where to my knowledge, no other SharePoint practitioner has done so. Since sensemaking lies in all that ‘softer’ stuff that traditionally IT is a bit weaker on, I thought I could add some dimensions to SharePoint governance in a way that could be made accessible, practical and useful.

By the end of that week I still had a sore back, but I had the core of what I wanted to do worked out, and I knew that it would be a rather large undertaking to finish it (if it ever could be finished).

The second catalyst – Beyond Best Practices

I also commenced writing a non SharePoint book on this topic area with Kailash Awati from the Eight to Late blog, called Beyond Best Practices. This book examines why most best practices don’t work and what can be done about them. The plethora of tools, systems and best practices that are generally used to tackle organisational problems rarely help and when people apply these methods, they often end up solving the wrong problem. After all, if best practices were best, then we would all follow them and projects would be delivered on time, on budget and with deliriously happy stakeholders right?

The work and research that has gone into this book has been significant. We studied the work of many people who have recognised and written about this, as well as many case studies. The problem these authors had is that these works challenged many widely accepted views, patterns and practices of various managerial disciplines. As a result these ideas have been rejected, ignored or considered outright heretical, and thus languish (largely unread) in journals. The recent emergence of anything x2.0 and a renewed focus on collaboration might seem radical or new for some, but these early authors were espousing very similar things many years ago.

The third catalyst – 3grow

Some time later in the year, 3grow asked me to develop a 4 day SharePoint 2010 Governance and Information Architecture course for Microsoft NZ’s Elite program. I agreed and used my “core” material, as well as some Beyond Best Practice ideas to develop the course. Information Architecture is a bloody tough course to write. It would be easy to cheat and just do a feature dump of every building block that SharePoint has to offer and call that Information Architecture. But that’s the science and not the art – and the science is easy to write about. From my experience, IA is not that much different to the sensemaking work that I do, so I had a very different foundation to base the entire course from.

The IA course took 450 man hours to write and produced an 800 page manual (and just about killed me in the process), but the feedback from attendees surpassed all expectations.  This motivated me to complete the vision I originally had for a better approach to SharePoint governance and this has now been completed as well (with another 200 pages and a CD full of samples and other goodies).

The result

I have distilled all of this work into a master class format, which ranges from 1 to 5 days, suited to Business Analysts, Project and Program Managers, Enterprise and Information Architects, IT Managers and those in strategic roles who have to bridge the gap between organisational aspirations and the effective delivery of SharePoint solutions. I speak the way I write, so if the cleverworkarounds writing style works for you, then you will probably enjoy the manner in which the material is presented. I like rigour, but I also like to keep people awake! 🙂

One of my pet hates is when the course manual is just a printout of the slide deck with space for notes. In this master class, the manual is a book in itself and covers additional topic areas in a deeper level of detail from the class. So you will have some nice bedtime reading after attending.

Andrew Woodward has been a long time collaborator on this work, before we formalised this collaboration with the SamePage Alliance, we had discussed running a master class session in the UK on this material. At the same time, thanks to Michael Sampson, an opportunity arose to conduct a workshop in Ireland. As a result, you have an opportunity to be a part of these events.



The first event is terrific as it is a free event in Dublin on November 17, hosted by Storm Technology a Microsoft Gold Partner in Dublin. As a result of the event being free, it is by invitation only and numbers are limited. This is a one day event, focussing on the SharePoint Governance blind spots and what to do about them, but also wicked problems and Dialogue Mapping, as well as learning to look at SharePoint from outside the IT lens, and translate its benefits to a wider audience (ie “Learn to speak to your CFO”).

So if you are interested in learning how to view SharePoint governance in a new light, and are tired of the governance material that rehashes the same tired old approaches that give you a mountain of work to do that still doesn’t change results, then register your interest with Rosemary at the email address in the image above ASAP and she can reserve a spot for you. We will supply a 200 page manual, as well as a CD of sample material for attendees, including a detailed governance plan.



In London on November 22 and 23, I will be running a two day master class along side Andrew Woodward on SharePoint Governance and Information Architecture. The first day is similar to the Ireland event, where we focus on governance holistically, shattering a few misconceptions and seeing things in a different light, before switching focus to various facets of Information Architecture for SharePoint. In essence, I have taken the detail of the 4 days of the New Zealand Elite course and created a single day version (no mean feat by the way).

Participants on this course will receive a 400 page manual, chock full of SharePoint Governance and Information Architecture goodness, as well as a CD/USB of sample material such as a SharePoint governance plan, as well as IA maps of various types. Unlike Ireland, this is an open event, available to anyone, and you can find more detail and register at the eventbrite site http://spiamasterclass.eventbrite.com/. In case you are wondering, this event is non technical. Whether you have little hands on experience with SharePoint or a deep knowledge, you will find a lot of value in this event for the very reason that the blind spots I focus on are kind of universally applicable irrespective of your role.

Much of what you will learn is applicable for many projects, beyond SharePoint and you will come away with a slew of new approaches to handle complex projects in general.

So if you are in the UK or somewhere in Europe, look us up. It will be a unique event, and Andrew and I are very much looking forward to seeing you there!

Thanks for reading

Paul Culmsee


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