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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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).

jediteddysithteddy

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.

Paul

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The ASS Scale. The best 2*2 management model ever!

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So today I was inspired to come out of blogging hibernation because I saw possibly the worst dodgy 2*2 management matrix ever. The piece below was something that was originally going to be part of my next book with Kailash – as we spend some time on why models like this are so popular. Unfortunately this piece never made it, but Craig Brown told me I had to release it or he would. Thus, I feel it is now appropriate to unveil the greatest 2*2 dodgy management model ever! Without further ado I present to you the ASS Scale…

Does your team kick ass?

Want to improve team performance? Do you want your teams to be more agile, resilient, flexible, strategic, emergent, dynamic and follow orders without question?

The Agile Synergy Scale (ASS)™ is a cutting edge team diagnostic tool that provides a typology of team states. This provides CEO’s and other people who control the budget a sure-fire way to bring the best out of your people, help them reach their full potential and Kick Ass!.

The Agile Synergy Scale draws on several beers worth of research into all the latest literature from Wikipedia and Social Media, such as Big Data Analytics, Neuroscience, Holocracy, Transdisciplinary Intelligence, Innovation Ideation, Neurolinguistic Complexity Theory, Tasseography, Graphology, Craniosacral Therapy and 3D Printing. It explores the relationship between people, motivation and intelligence and unlocks an entirely new way of thinking about all forms of organisational awesomeness.

The framework consists of 4 domains – or “ASS cheeks” as shown below. There is a fifth domain – but we will get to that in a moment. These domains are illustrated in the diagram below.

assscale

The X axis represents team ability from low to high – and incorporates all of the sheer talent and expert knowledge necessary to probe for outstanding achievement for team and organisational excellence. The vertical scale represents a team desire – the lube of synergy that is the difference between accommodating maximum motivation versus constricted performance.

Let’s examine each ass-cheek in more detail and see where you and your team sits.

High Desire, High Skills: Kick Ass!

You and your team are as awesome as the Avengers. Perfectly balanced between brain, brawn and beauty, there is no challenge too tough for you and a Nobel prize in the category of legendaryness is a foregone conclusion.

High Desire, Low Skills: Kiss Ass

You and your team so want to be awesome, you all read the clickbait pearls of wisdom on your LinkedIn feed and therefore “talk the talk” with the best of them, but when the rubber hits the road and pressure is on, there is nothing under the hood. A dangerous sub-variety of kiss-asses are scary-asses (those who think they are kick-asses but are blind to their skill deficiencies.)

Low Desire, High Skills: Slack-ass (or “Can’t be assed”)

You all know your stuff as good as anybody, but nevertheless, you all withhold your discretionary effort (loafing). This is likely because the psychological needs of your team and individual members are not being met – either that or you are all whiny bitches.

Low Desire, Low Skills: Suck-ass

This quadrant has two sub-types. Rational suck-asses and stupid suck-asses. Rational suck-asses have the self-awareness to know they suck-ass and remedial action can be undertaken. Stupid suck-asses unfortunately have their head so far up their asses that they have little awareness of how much they suck-ass.

The toxic hole of chaos

There is a fifth domain (in the middle of the diagram): The toxic hole of chaos, which is the state of not knowing what sort of ASS cheek your team aligns with. It is extremely important you avoid this area in the long term as prolonged exposure can stifle and suffocate your team.

How to measure your ASS

We measure your teams ASS by administering a Rate of Extrinsic Collaboration and Team Agile Leadership Exam. This psychometric instrument can be administered by one of our certified Agile Synergy Scale PROfessional Business Excellence Reviewers. Our ASS PROBERS have gone through an extensive vetting process via a comprehensive multi-choice exam, and can administer a RECTAL exam with minimum discomfort.

So what are you waiting for? Sign your team up for a RECTAL exam today and measure your ASS.

 

Paul Culmsee

www.hereticsguidebooks.com

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Join me learning Dialogue Mapping in the UK/Ireland in September

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Hi all

I will be in the UK in the first week of September for various matters (like watching Kate Bush in concert) and while I am there will be running a 2 day Dialogue Mapping introductory class. If you liked Heretics Guide to Best Practices, or If you simply want to learn a great collaborative approach to help groups solve complex problems, then this is a great opportunity to add a powerful and practical technique to your arsenal.

Dialogue Mapping has had a massive impact on me professionally and personally, and in this intimate, face-to-face class I’ll be covering all of my learnings and insights in applying this technique in hundreds of different workshops. Just to be clear, this is not a SharePoint, nor an IT class. It is open to anybody of any discipline and is very activity driven, to help you acquire a hugely valuable life skill. Not only does it only equip you with a great technique for tasks like business analysis, requirements elicitation and design thinking, but also allows you to get involved with more complex problem solving scenarios like strategic planning and team development work.

Where, when and how much?

Plans are still being finalised, but at this point I can confirm that one class will be held in Dublin thanks to my old friends at Storm Technology. Storm are Ireland’s leading Microsoft Business Technology Consultancy and are well known for their expertise with Microsoft technologies. Storm have great team of consultants who really understand how to harness  information- structured, unstructured, digital and tacit – to create transformation business solutions for clients. Thanks to Storm’s help, I am very pleased to be able to bring this class to you at less than half the usual cost. As a result, this 2 day class will be around £420GBP instead of the usual price of £995.00.

I also hope to get a London class off the ground, and will let you know as soon as I have confirmation. No matter that the city, if you are interested in attending this class, it is super-important to let me know. Part of the reason we can bring it to you at such as great price is we have access to some great facilities, but numbers are limited. So please register your interest as soon as you can at this site. More information on the class, and Dialogue Mapping itself check out the resources and information below…

  

  

 

Why Dialogue Mapping?

  • Maps decision and detailed rationale behind decision-making; maps the thinking process of the group
  • Concentrates on pros and cons to an idea, encourages and explores all view
  • Promotes greater shared understanding of the problem at hand
  • Represents and clarifies diverse points of view, conflicting interpretations and goals, inconsistent information and other forms of complexity
  • Opportunity for all to be heard, contributions acknowledged
  • Keeps participants on topic – they can see the progress of the discussion visually, the bigger picture can be absorbed better and they can appreciate the validity and value of a larger perspective
  • Helps participants come up with better ideas and avoids jumping to simplistic answers and superficial conclusions
  • Promotes deeper reasoning, rigor and crowd wisdom
  • Supporting information (such as documents and images) can easily be attached to map to back up group reasoning
  • Participants can see the effectiveness of mapping and genuinely will try to make the discussion more productive

Class audience

Perfectly suited to both IT and non-IT audience; those involved in highly complex projects, including:

  • Leaders
  • Consultants
  • Facilitators
  • Strategic planners
  • Organisational development professionals
  • Business analysts
  • Change agents
  • Managers and engineers

Class aims and outcomes

  • Create great maps – clear, coherent and inviting
  • Immediately start mapping effectively in your work and life; the class will focus on practical experience and map building
  • Command a rich range of options for publishing and sharing maps
  • Lead with maps; create direction, momentum and energy with dialogue maps
  • Quickly and effectively do critical analysis in dynamic situations
  • Organise unstructured information and discover patterns and connections within it
  • Make critical thinking visible for inspection and analysis
  • Recognise early, the symptoms of wicked problems and the forces behind group divergence
  • Start capturing the rationale leading up to the decisions by using IBIS and Compendium software
  • Recognise the importance of capturing the rationale behind decisions, as well as the decisions themselves
  • Rethink the traditional approach to meetings and decision making
  • Gain a deeper understanding of:
  • The fundamentals of IBIS and Compendium
  • The structural patterns that give clarity and power to dialogue  maps
  • How decision rationale is represented in a map

How Seven Sigma uses Dialogue Mapping

  • Strategic planning workshops
  • Envisioning workshops
  • Goal alignment workshops
  • Requirements gathering
  • User engagement/ User adoption
  • Training
  • Internal meetings
  • Client status meetings
  • … and more

Class requirements

This class will be hands on. Please bring your own laptop with Compendium software installed (we will help you with this).

Class duration

2 intense days with homework after the first day and optional homework after course completion

What’s included

The Issue Mapping manual, morning/afternoon tea breaks, lunch, tea/coffee throughout the day.

Cancellation Policy

Event cancelled by Seven Sigma:

A full ticket refund will be given, minus the registration fee. The class will be confirmed 21 days prior to the event date. Should you be flying over for the event, we advise that you leave flight and accommodation bookings ’til we send you the confirmation as these bookings will not be covered by Seven Sigma should we cancel the class.

Booking cancelled by the registrant:

(a) 14 working days prior to the event, 50% refund given

(b) within 14 days of the event, and no shows – no refund given.

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A Very Potter Audit – A Best Practices Parable

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Once upon a time there lived a rather round wizard named Hocklart who worked at the FogWorts school of witchcraft and wizardry. Hocklart was a very proud wizard, perhaps the proudest in all of FogWorts. His pride did not stem from being a great wizard or a great teacher; in reality, he was neither of those. In fact Hocklart was never much good at wizardry itself, but he knew a lot of people who were – and therein lay the reason for his pride. For what Hocklart lacked in magic ability, he more than made up for with his attention to detail, love of process and determination to rise to the top. From the day he arrived at FogWorts as one apprentice amongst many, he was the first to realise that the influential wizards liked to unwind on Friday nights with a cold ale at the Three and a Half Broomsticks Inn. Hocklart sacrificed many Friday nights at that pub, shouting rounds of frothy brew to thirsty senior wizards, befriending them all, listening to their stories and building up peerless knowledge of FogWorts organisational politics and juicy gossip.

This organisational knowledge brought just enough influence for Hocklart to climb the corporate ladder ahead of his more magically adept colleagues and presently he was very proud. As far as Hocklart was concerned, he had the most important job in all of FogWorts – Manager of the Department Responsible for the Integrity of Potions (or DRIP for short).

You see, in schools of witchcraft and wizardry, wizards and witches concoct all sorts of potions for all sorts of magical purposes. Potions of course require various ingredients in just the right amount and often prepared in just the right way. Some of these ingredients are highly dangerous and need to be handed with utmost care, while others might be harmless by themselves, but dangerous when mixed with something else or prepared incorrectly. Obviously one has to be careful in such a situation because a mix-up could be potentially life threatening or at the very least, turn you into some sort of rodent or small reptile.

The real reason why Hocklart was proud was because of his DRIP track record. You see, over the last six years, Hocklart had ensured that Fogwarts met all its statutory regulatory requirements as per the International Spell-casters Standards Organisation (ISSO). This included the “ISSO 9000 and a half” series of standards for quality management as well as the “ISSO 14000 and a sprinkle more” series for Environmental Management and Occupational Health and Safety. (Like all schools of witchcraft and wizardry, Fogwarts needed to maintain these standards to keep their license to operate current and in good standing).

When Hocklart became manager of DRIP, he signed himself up for a week-long training course to understand the family of ISSO standards in great detail. Enlightened by this training, he now appreciated the sort of things the ISSO auditors would likely audit FogWorts on. Accordingly, he engaged expensive consultants from an expensive consultancy to develop detailed management plans in accordance with wizardry best practices. To deliver this to the detail that Hocklart required, the consultants conjured a small army of business analysts, enterprise architects, system administrators, coordinators, admin assistants, documenters, quality engineers and asset managers who documented all relevant processes that were considered critical to safety and quality for potions.

Meticulous records were kept of all activities and these were sequestered in a secure filing room which was, among other things, guaranteed to be spell-proof. Hocklart was particularly fond of this secure filing room, with its rows and rows of neatly labelled, colour coded files that lovingly held Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for each potion ingredient. These sheets provided wizards the procedures for handling or working with the ingredients in a safe manner, including information of interest to wizards such as fulmination point, spell potency, extra-magical strength, reversal spells as well as routine data such as boiling point, toxicity, health effects, first aid, reactivity, storage, disposal, protective equipment and spill-handling procedures. All potion ingredients themselves were stored in the laboratory in jars with colour coded lids that represented the level of hazard and spell-potency. Ever the perfectionist, Hocklart ensured that all jars had the labels perfectly aligned, facing the front. The system was truly was a thing of beauty and greatly admired by all and sundry, including past ISSO auditors, who were mesmerised by what they saw (especially the colour coded filing system and the symmetry of the labels of the jars).

And so it came to pass that for six years Hocklart, backup up by his various consultants and sub-contractors, saw off every ISSO auditor who ever came to audit things. All of them left FogWorts mightily impressed, telling awestruck tales of Hocklart’s quality of documentation, attention to detail and beautiful presentation. This made Hocklart feel good inside. He was a good wizard…nay, a great one: no one in the wizard-world had emerged from an ISSO audit unscathed more than twice in a row…

On the seventh year of his term as FogWarts head of DRIP, Hocklart’s seventh audit approached. Although eagerly waiting to impress the new auditor (as he did with all the previous auditors), Hocklart did not want to appear overly prepared, so he tried to look as nonchalant as possible by casually reviewing a draft memo he was working on as the hour approached. Only you and I, and of course Hocklart himself, knew that in the weeks prior to today, Hocklart was at his meticulous best in his preparation. He had reviewed all of the processes and documentation and made sure it was all up to date and watertight. There was no way fault could be found.

Presently, there was a rap on the open door, and in walked the auditor.

“Potter – Chris Potter,” the gentleman introduced himself. “Hocklart I presume?”

Hocklart had never met Potter before so as they shook hands he sized up his opponent. The first thing he noticed was that Potter wasn’t carrying anything – no bag, notebook and not even a copy of the ISSO standards. “Have you been doing this sort of work long?” he enquired.

“Long enough,” came the reply. “Let’s go for a walk…”

“Sure,” replied Hocklart. “Where would you like to go?”

For what seemed like an uncomfortably long time to Hocklart, Potter was silent. Then he replied, “Let’s go and have a look at the lab.”

Ha! Nice try, thought Hocklart as he led the auditor to the potion laboratory. Yesterday I had the lab professionally cleaned with a high potency Kleenit spell and we did a stocktake of the ingredients the week before.

Potter cast his sharp eyes around as they walked (as is common with auditors), but remained silent. Soon enough they arrived at a gleaming, most immaculate lab, with nothing out of place. Without a word, Potter surveyed the scene and walked to the shelves of jars that held the ingredients, complete with colour coded lids and perfectly aligned labels. He picked up one of the red labelled jars that contained Wobberworm mucus – a substance that, while not fatal, was known to cause damage if not handled with care. Holding the jar, he turned to Hocklart.

“You have a Materials Safety Data Sheet for this?”

Hocklart grinned. “Absolutely… would you like to see it?”

Potter did not answer. Instead he continued to examine the jar. After another uncomfortable silence, Potter looked up announcing, “I’ve just got this in my eyes.” His eyes fixed on Hocklart.

Hocklart looked at Potter in confusion. The Wobberworm mucus was certainly not in Potter’s eyes because the jar had not been opened.

“What?” he asked hesitantly.

Potter, eyes unwaveringly locked on Hocklart, remained silent. The silence seemed an eternity to Hocklart. A quick glance at his watch then Potter, holding up the jar in his hand, repeated more slowly, “I’ve just got this in my eyes.”

Hocklart’s heart rate began to rise. What is this guy playing at? He asked himself. Potter, meanwhile, looked at his watch again, looked back at Hocklart and sighed. “It’s been a minute now and my eye’s really starting to hurt. I risk permanent eye damage here… What should you be doing?”

A trickle of sweat rolled down Hocklart’s brow. He had not anticipated this at all.

Potter waited, sighed again and grated, “Where is the Materials Safety Data Sheet with the treatment procedure?”

A cog finally shifted in Hocklart’s mind as he realised what Potter was doing. Whilst he was mightily annoyed that Potter had caught him off guard (he would have to deal with that later), right now however he had to play Potter’s game and win.

“We have a secure room with all of that information,” he replied proudly. “I can’t have any of the other wizards messing with my great filing system, it’s my system…”

“Well,” Potter grated, “let’s get in there. My eye isn’t getting any better standing here.”

Hocklart gestured to a side door. “They are in there.” But as he said it his heart skipped a beat as a sense of dread came over him.

“It’s… “ he stammered then cleared his throat. “It’s locked.”

Potter looked straight into Hocklart with a stare that seemed to pierce his very soul. “Now I’m in agony,” he stated. “Where is the key?”

“I keep it in my office…” he replied.

“Well,” Potter said, “I now have permanent scarring on my eye and have lost partial sight. You better get it pronto…”

Hocklart continued to stare at Potter for a moment in disbelief, before turning and running out of the room as fast as his legs could carry his rotund body.

It is common knowledge that wizards are not known for being renowned athletes, and Hocklart was no exception. Nevertheless, he hurtled down corridors, up stairs and through open plan cubicles as if he was chased by a soulsucker. He steamed into his office, red faced and panting. Sweat poured from his brow as he flung a picture from the wall, revealing a safe. With shaking hands, he entered the combination and got it wrong twice before managing to open the safe door. He grabbed the key, turned and made for the lab as if his life depended on it.

Potter was standing exactly where he was, and said nothing as Hocklart surged into the room and straight to the door. He unlocked the door and burst into the secure room. Recalling the jar had a red lid, Hocklart made a beeline for the shelf of files with red labels, grabbed the one labelled with the letter W for Wobberworm and started to flick through it. To his dismay, there was no sign of a material safety data sheet for Wobberworm mucus.

“It’s…it’s not…it’s not here,” he stuttered weakly.

“Perhaps it was filed under “M” for mucus?” Potter offered.

“Yes that must be it”, cried Hocklart (who at this stage was ready to grasp at anything). He grabbed the file labelled M and flicked through each page. Sadly, once again there was no sign of Mucus or Wobberworm.

“Well,” said Potter looking at his watch again. “I’m now permanently blind in one eye… let’s see if we can save the other one eh? Perhaps there is a mismatch between the jar colour and the file?”

Under normal circumstances, Hocklart would snort in derision at such a suggestion, but with the clock ticking and one eye left to save, it seemed feasible.

“Dammit”, he exclaimed, “Someone must have mixed up the labels.” After all, while Wobberworm mucus was damaging, it was certainly not fatal and therefore did not warrant a red cap on the jar. This is why I can’t trust anyone with my system! he thought, as he grabbed two orange files (one labelled W for Wobberworm and one labelled M for mucus) and opened them side by side so he could scan them at the same time.

Eureka! On the fifth page of the file labelled M, he found the sheet for Wobberworm mucus. Elated, he showed the sheet to Potter, breathing a big sigh of relief. He had saved the other eye after all.

Potter took the sheet and studied it. “It has all the necessary information, is up to date – and the formatting is really nice I must say.” He handed the sheet back to Hocklart. “But your system is broken”

Hocklart was still panting from his sprint to his office and back and as you can imagine, was absolutely infuriated at this. How dare this so-called auditor call his system broken. It had been audited for six years until now, and Potter had pulled a nasty trick on him.

“My system is not broken”, he spat vehemently. “The information was there, it was current and properly maintained. I just forgot my key that’s all. Do you even know how much effort it takes to maintain this system to this level of quality?”

A brief wave of exasperation flickered across Potter’s face.

“You still don’t get it…” he countered. “What was my intent when I told you I spilt Wobberworm mucus in my eye?”

To damn well screw me over, thought Hocklart, before icily replying “I don’t care what your intent was, but it was grossly unfair what you did. You were just out to get me because we have passed ISSO audits for the last six years.”

“No,” replied Potter. “My intent was to see whether you have confused the system with the intent of the system.”

Potter gestured around the room to the files. “This is all great eye candy,” he said, “you have dotted the I’s, and crossed the T’s. In fact this is probably the most comprehensive system of documentation I have ever seen. But the entire purpose of this system is to keep people safe and I just demonstrated that it has failed.“

Hocklart was incredulous. “How can I demonstrate the system works when you deliberately entrapped me?”, he spat in rage.

Potter sighed. “No wizards can predict when they will have an accident you know,” he countered. “Then it wouldn’t be an accident would it? For you, this is all about the system and not about the outcome the system enables. It is all about keeping the paperwork up to date and putting it in the files… I’m sorry Hocklart, but you have lost sight of the fact the system is there to keep people safe. Your organisation is at significant risk and you are blind to that risk. You think you have mitigated it when in fact you have made it worse. For all the time, effort and cost, you have not met the intent of the ISSO standards.“

Hocklart’s left eye started to twitch as he struggled to stop himself from throwing red jars at Potter. “Get out of my sight,” he raged. “I will be reporting your misconduct to my and your superiors this afternoon. I don’t know how you can claim to be an auditor when you were clearly out to entrap me. I will not stand for it and I will see you disciplined for this!”

Potter did not answer. He turned from Hocklart, put the jar of Wobberworm mucus back on the shelf where he had found it and turned to leave.

“For pete’s sake”, Hocklart grated, “the least you could do is face the label to the front like the other jars!”

=========================

 

I wrote this parable after being told the real life version of a audit by a friend of mine… This is very much based on a true story. My Harry Potter obsessed daughter also helped me with some of the finer details. Thanks to Kailash and Mrs Cleverworkarounds for fine tuning…

.

Paul Culmsee

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Confessions of a (post) SharePoint architect: Yellow belt platitude kung-fu

This entry is part 5 of 10 in the series confessions
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Hi all. It’s been a while I know, but it is time to continue along my journey of confessions of a post SharePoint architect. As I write this, the SharePoint community is in Vegas, soaking up the love of the biggest SharePoint conference yet. For the other twelve SharePoint professionals who are not there, I know your pain.

If this is your first  foray into this series of articles, consider it the closest I will ever get to a SharePoint governance book. Since all new knowledge is gained through the lens of existing knowledge, it is important to note that my world view has been shaped by the increasing amount of non IT work I do in various complex problem solving areas. Essentially this work has had a major effect on the lens that I view SharePoint projects and the approaches I use to steer them. When developing a class on the topic of SharePoint Governance and Information Architecture, I found a fun yet effective way to put coherence around things via Russell Ackoff’s concept of f-laws. These are simple home truths about the way people behave in organisations than explain much more than the complex ones proposed by theorists of various persuasions.

So far in this series we have explored three f-laws, namely:

The next f-law is straight from Ackoff himself and is a universal truth in any project, but absolutely chronic in SharePoint projects as well as many SharePoint slide decks:

F-Law 4: Most  SharePoint governance objectives are platitudes. They say nothing but hide behind words

Most people in the IT industry (with the obvious exclusion of sales guys, Office365 MVP’s and Google employees) tend to inwardly cringe or outrightly roll their eyes when the word “cloud” is uttered during conversation. This is because people instinctively know that what follows is either:

  • Gushing hyperbole squarely aimed at getting you to part with some cash
  • Gushing hyperbole squarely aimed at convincing you that they know what they are talking about
  • Gushing hyperbole in the form of FUD laden counter-arguments from server hugging sysadmins who reject “cloud” outright because they fear irrelevance

These reactions in such conversations result from the term “Cloud” being used in a platitudinal sense. In case you were not aware, a platitude is referred to as “a trite, meaningless, biased, or prosaic statement, often presented as if it were significant and original”. Platitudes are everywhere and usually unavoidable since many people use them unconsciously – especially politicians, senior executives and the aforementioned sales guys. Want proof? Just look on the wall behind the reception area of your office – chances are there is a mission statement there somewhere that would read something like:

“We are dedicated to ensuring a long-term commitment to stakeholder value from performance and improved returns at all levels.”

Does a mission like that sound familiar? What if I told you the line above was generated from a website that generates mission statements like a poker machine. Just pull the lever and within a few seconds, a random assortment of small quotes are mashed together to create a cool sounding sentence. If you enter your company name into it, you can even print a certificate.  I generated this  one for the Heretic’s Guide book. Neat, huh?

clip_image002

The problem, of course, with a platitude is that while it sounds significant, it doesn’t actually tell you much at all. So this f-law states that most SharePoint governance objectives are platitudes. One of the core reasons for this is a side effect of Microsoft’s marketing approach. Consider Microsoft’s SharePoint marketing material as it has evolved. Take a look at how many words survived the transition from Microsoft’s SharePoint pie of 2007, the Frisbee of 2010 and now the square of 2013. Do you see a pattern? What is the average shelf life of a word in each of these diagrams?

image image

Now, let me start out by stating that I have no problems with any of these diagrams. Microsoft is perfectly entitled to develop the message it wants to convey in whatever means it sees fit. The biggest travesty is when people frame the above words as deliverables. They take a superlative word like “improved”, “best practice” or “effective” and then add one of the above words to it. This combination inevitably forms the basis for the justification of putting SharePoint in.

The classic example that still pervades SharePoint projects to this day is the perennial mirage of “Improved Collaboration.” If we return to the “here” and “there” diagrams of the previous posts, it looks like this… note the aspiration goal has a happy smiley on it!

Snapshot

Platitude detection 101

So the first thing you have to do as a SharePoint architect or practitioner is to develop a finely tuned platitude radar. The thing to be aware of is that platitudes come in many forms – some which are obvious and some much more subtle. Thus we will start your platitude radar calibration via a quick and easy method that Ackoff came up with. Years ago, Russel Ackoff critically examined mission statements and said that a mission statement that merely restates the obvious does not say anything that is truly aspirational. To quote from Ackoff:

They often formulate necessities as objectives: For example, ‘to achieve sufficient profit’. This is like a person saying his mission is to breathe sufficiently.

Ackoff’s test to judge the quality of a mission statement was to inverse the statement and see it still made logical sense. If you could not reasonably disagree with this negative version, then the original statement was a platitude. As an example, consider this mission statement from a well-known global organisation:

… our mission and values are to help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential.

So, our inverse here is that we are working to hinder people and businesses to realise their full potential. Who in the hell would ever do that? Well – given this is Microsoft’s mission statement, suddenly Windows Vista is finally starting to make sense to me. Smile

Now, go and take any word from the 3 diagrams above and put a superlative like “biggest”, “best”, “optimum” or “improved” in front. If I use my example – “Improved Collaboration” – Ackoff’s inversion approach results in “Worse Collaboration” and is therefore a platitude. I mean – aside from the odd command and control boss, would anybody seriously want to make collaboration less effective?

So, to put it simply – stop stating the bloody obvious! If your SharePoint goal doesn’t satisfy Ackoff’s simple platitude test, you have a problem.

The seeds of doom are sown at the start…

Now that I have wired up your platitude detector via Ackoff’s inversion test, you will start to notice how utterly pervasive they are in SharePoint projects and beyond. As Kailash and I state in the Heretics Guide book:

A platitude is a mental shortcut we take, a deceptively quick way to cut through uncertainty. We clump our unclear, unarticulated aspirations in a bunch of platitudes. It is easy to do and it gives us a sense of achievement. But it is a mirage because the objective is not clear and we cannot define sensible measurements of success if the goal is fuzzy. It never fails to amaze us that many organisational endeavours are given the go-ahead on the basis of platitudinous goals. Mind-boggling, isn’t it?

What is really amazing and sad at the same time is how badly the platitude problem is misattributed. One of my students at a recent SPGovIA class said that with SharePoint projects “the seeds of doom are sown at the very beginning”. He’s right too…project teams will commit significant time and money into a project that is chasing a platitude, and when things inevitably go haywire, will blame the process, methodology, people… everything but the mirage at the root of it all.

The seduction of a platitude is strong. Many have been entranced by some nice sounding desirable future state incorporating some superlative like “Improved quality” or “Best practice collaboration”. But the key point is this: The platitude becomes a sort of proxy for the end in mind rather than the real end. We have no shared understanding of what where we want to get to. Empty words preclude a shared understanding because they mean nothing at all.

The image below illustrates the effect of a platitude being confused with the actual desired state. We do not have an aspirational future state at all. Instead, we have many possible, fuzzily-defined future states.

Snapshot

If you look really closely, the future state is a sad smiley. This is because the visible symptoms of a project with a divergent understanding among participants are well documented. Scope creep and vague requirements mean that the project will start to unravel, yet the platitude-driven journey towards the mirage will continue. The project will lurch from crisis to crisis, with scope blowing out, tensions and frustrations rising. This is accompanied by classic blame-shift or hind-covering moves that people make when they realise that their ship’s taking water.

How to defeat a platitude…

I am going to conclude this post at this point because it is starting to get too long. But I will leave you with a teaser about the next post…

One of the most important things about dealing with a platitude is knowing what *not* to do. I know that what I am about to say may sound counter intuitive to many readers, but trust me when I tell you that there are two things you should avoid doing.

  1. Never, never, never ask someone what they mean when they use a platitude
  2. Never try and come up with a definition for a platitude

In the next post, I will elaborate on these two contentions and provide you with a much better way to get past the seductive danger of platitudes, so you can find out what really matters to your stakeholders.

Until then, thanks for reading…

 

Paul Culmsee

www.sevensigma.com.au

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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?

image

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…

image

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.

image

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

www.sevensigma.com.au

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Save the date in October: SharePoint Governance and Dialogue Mapping in the UK

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Hi all

Just to let you know that in October, I will be in the UK to run a SharePoint Governance and Information Architecture class with Andrew Woodward. Additionally, I am very pleased to offer a Dialogue Mapping introductory course for the first time in the UK as well. Work has been extremely busy this year and this is my only UK/Europe trip in the next 9-12 months. In short, this is likely to be a once-off opportunity as I travel less and less these days.

Introductory Dialogue Mapping October 17-18, 2012

  • Venue: The Custard Factory, Birmingham, UK
  • Cost: £995

Eventbrite - UK: Solving Complex Problems with Issue Mapping

The introductory Dialogue mapping class will arm you with a life skill that can be used in many different situations and has changed my career. If you have been following my “confessions of a (post) SharePoint Architect” series, a lot of the content is based on my experiences of Dialogue Mapping many different projects in many different industries. Dialogue Mapping is a novel, powerful and inclusive method to elicit requirements, capture knowledge and develop shared understanding in complex projects, such as SharePoint or broader strategic planning. It was pioneered by CogNexus Institue in California, and is used by NASA, the World Bank and United Nations.

My book, “The Heretics Guide to Best Practices” is based on my Dialogue Mapping work and if you liked the book, then I know you will love the course!

What does a map look like? Check out my map of the AA1000 Stakeholder Engagement Standard or my synthesis on problems with intranet search below…

image  image

I should stress that this is not a SharePoint course. If you are an organisational development practitioner, facilitator, reformed project manager, all-round agitator or are simply interested in helping groups make sense of complex situations, then you would find this class to be highly valuable in your personal arsenal of tools and techniques. When performed live during a facilitated session, it is a highly efficient and engaging experience for participants.

Please note that seats are limited in this class and it cannot be more than  10.

  • Date: October 17-18, 2012
  • Venue: The Custard Factory, Birmingham, UK
  • Cost: £995

Eventbrite - UK: Solving Complex Problems with Issue Mapping


Aligning SharePoint Governance & Information Architecture to Business Goals October 15-16 2012

  • Venue: The Custard Factory, Birmingham, UK
  • Cost: £995
  • Limited seats available: 12

Eventbrite - #SPGov+IA Aligning SharePoint Governance & Information Architecture to Business Goals with Paul Culmsee

Previous Master Class Feedback:

  • "This course has been the most insightful two days of my SharePoint career"
  • "…Was the best targetted and jargon free course I’ve ever been on"
  • "Re-doing my draft SharePoint Governance. Moving away from blah, blah technical stuff"
  • "Easily one of the best courses I’ve been to and has left me wanting more!"
  • "Had a great couple of days at #SPIAUK loving IBIS"
  • "The content covered was about the things technically focussed peeps miss.."

Most people understand that deploying SharePoint is much more than getting it installed. Despite this, current SharePoint governance documentation abounds in service delivery aspects. However, just because your system is rock solid, stable, well documented and governed through good process, there is absolutely no guarantee of success. Similarly, if Information Architecture for SharePoint was as easy as putting together lists, libraries and metadata the right way, then why doesn’t Microsoft publish the obvious best practices?

In fact, the secret to a successful SharePoint project is an area that the governance documentation barely touches.

This master class pinpoints the critical success factors for SharePoint governance and Information Architecture and rectifies this blind spot. Based upon content provided by Paul Culmsee (Seven Sigma) which takes an ironic and subversive take on how SharePoint governance really works within organisations, while presenting a model and the tools necessary to get it right.

Drawing on inspiration from many diverse sources, disciplines and case studies, Paul Culmsee has distilled in this Master Class the “what” and “how” of governance down to a simple and accessible, yet rigorous and comprehensive set of tools and methods, that organisations large and small can utilise to achieve the level of commitment required to see SharePoint become successful.

Seven Sigma, together with 21apps, are bringing the the acclaimed SharePoint Governance and Information Architecture Master class back to the UK, October 2012.

  • Date: October 15-16, 2012
  • Venue: The Custard Factory, Birmingham, UK
  • Cost: £995
  • Limited seats available: 12

Eventbrite - #SPGov+IA Aligning SharePoint Governance & Information Architecture to Business Goals with Paul Culmsee

 

Thanks for reading

Paul Culmsee

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Confessions of a (post) SharePoint Architect: Don’t define “governance”

This entry is part 2 of 10 in the series confessions
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Hi all and welcome to the second post of a series that I have been wanting to write for a while. In this series, I am going to cover some of the lesser considered areas of being a SharePoint architect and by association, key aspects to SharePoint governance. In the first confessional post I alluded to the fact that a good SharePoint architect also need to architect the right conditions for SharePoint success. As I work through this series of articles, I will elaborate further on what those conditions are and how to go about creating them.

To do this, I am drawing from my non IT work as a Dialogue Mapper and facilitator, and where applicable, will cover these case studies to see if they give us any insights for SharePoint. I also hope to dispel some common myths and misconceptions about SharePoint project delivery in organisations. Some of these might challenge some notions you hold dear. But for the most part, I hope that many of you reading this find this material to be instinctively compatible with what you have already come to believe. If you are in the latter group and feel as if you are an organisational agitator, this just might give you that rigour and ammo that you need when getting through to the powers that be. Better still, tell them to read this series and let them decide for themselves.

Backstory: Ackoff and f-Laws

image

For what it’s worth, a fair chunk of this material comes from my book, as well as the first module of my SharePoint Governance and Information Architecture class that I run a few times a year in various places around the world. When I designed that class, I was inspired by Russell Ackoff, who co-wrote a funny and highly readable book called “Management f-LAWS: How organisations really work”. F-Laws were defined as:

“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”

In case you hadn’t noticed, if you remove the hyphen, each f-law become a flaw. You could also consider them as #fail laws. Years ago, I laughed and at the same time, inwardly cringed when I read each f-Law that Ackoff and his co-authors had come up with. I came to realise that SharePoint problems are simply a microcosm of broader issues that plague organisations. If you read Ackoff’s book (and I highly recommend it), you will soon realise that the word “Management” could easily be substituted with “SharePoint” and it doesn’t take much to come up with a few of your own f-laws. This is exactly what I did and at last count, I have 17 of them. In this post, I will detail the very first one.

F-Law 1: The more comprehensive the definition of governance is, the less it will be understood by all

The first condition that I need to design as a SharePoint architect is to put to bed the many misconceptions about SharePoint governance. In this f-Law, I state that the more you try and define what SharePoint governance is, the less anybody will actually understand it. If you consider this counter-intuitive, then let me take it even further. For any project that has a change management aspect (SharePoint projects often are), definitonising not only doesn’t work, but it is actually quite dangerous to your projects health.

To explain why I have come to this conclusion, I’d like to tell you a little story from my non IT work. Several years ago, I was working in a sensemaking capacity with an organisation to help them come up with a strategic plan and performance framework for a new city. This was not a trivial undertaking. The aim was to create a framework with an aligned set of KPI’s to realise the vision for what the city needed to be in the year 2030. While the vision for the city had been previously agreed and understood, the path to realise that vision had not been.

Now if you have ever been involved in strategic plan development, and think that working out your corporate strategy is difficult, I have news for you. Aligning an organisation to a 3 year plan is one thing. Working with a diverse group to determine performance measures of a future city 25 years away is a different thing altogether. I never realised at the time we did this work, just how unique and (dare I say) “cutting edge” it was. Participants were highly varied in skills and areas of interest, and to say each had their own world-view was an… understatement to say the least.

I my book I describe this case study in detail but for the sake of post size, let’s just say that the opportunity to do this work arose from a failed first attempt to create the framework. The first time around an excel spreadsheet was projected onto the wall that looked like the example below. Attempts were made in vain to fill in the strategic outcomes, strategic objectives, key result areas, key performance indicators and measures. After a frustrating few hours of trying this approach, we gave up because participants spent all of their time arguing over the labels and got bogged down in a tangle of definitions and ambiguous terminology. Was it a KPI (Key Performance Indicator) or a KRA (Key Result Area)? Was it a Guiding Principle or a Strategic Objective? Was it a KRA or a Critical Success Factor?  Attempts to resolve this issue with definitions got nowhere because even the definitions could not be agreed upon.

image

In the end, we solved this issue via a rather novel use of Dialogue Mapping along with a problem structuring approach outlined in a book called Breakthrough Thinking. If you’d like to know more on how it was done, then take a look in chapter 12 of the Heretics Guide.

The criticality of context…

The core problem boiled down to context – or lack of it. What I learnt from this is that in situations without a shared context (and the wrong tools to deal with it), we fall back to using definitions to try and fill the gap. When faced with a blank spreadsheet and just some labels, participants attention was fixated on the definitions of the labels, rather than the empty cells where the focus needed to be. This resulted in a bunch of long winded discussions about what terms meant. This seriously stymied efforts aimed at making progress.

I have since performed many workshops, both SharePoint and non SharePoint ones and the pattern is clear. In fact I contend that if you proceed down the road of trying to build context via definitions for complex problems, one of three things will happen.

  1. The definition becomes more verbose. There are a couple of reasons for this:
    • – The definition is expanded to incorporate new aspects of the topic space. In an organisational setting, this creates confusion because the definitions of multiple disciplines can often seemingly contradict each other and thus, careful “wordsmithing” is required to navigate a path through it.
    • – New qualifications or exceptional situations have to be excluded. This leads to more new terms being used in the definition.
  2. As a result of #1, a broader, fundamental definition is developed. This broader definition encompasses more and so is prone to motherly sounding platitudes. Further, such definitions also run the risk of being interpreted in ways other than the one intended by those who worked so hard on the definition.
  3. As a result of #1 and #2, a new word is used or an existing word is used in a new context to try and convey the new meanings or concepts proposed. I have heard governance described as “stewardship”, “risk management” and (guilty as charged), “assurance”.

The effect of this can be far reaching in a bad way because definitionising has a habit of blinding people to what really matters. This leads to terrible project decisions being made up front that have serious consequences. To understand why, consider the image below:

Snapshot

This image represents how governance of a SharePoint project should be viewed. A SharePoint initiative takes time and effort which costs money. We presumably have recognised that the present state is lacking in some way and want to get to somewhere better – an aspirational future place (if you look closely in the left above image note the happy and sad smilies). Accordingly we accept the cost of deploying SharePoint because we believe it will make a positive difference by doing so. If this was not the case, you would be wasting your time and resources on a pointless initiative. Therefore, it is the difference made by the initiative that will tell you if you have succeeded or not. As a result, we have to have a shared context on what that aspirational future looks like!

Don’t confuse the means with the ends…

Governance is, therefore, the means by which you will achieve the end of getting to some better place. It is informed by the end in mind and this is why I drew it in the star in the middle of the above diagram. For example; If the end in mind was compliance, then I will govern SharePoint a heck of a lot differently than say, if the end in mind was improving collaborative decision making.

But consider the diagram below. In this context, it should be clear why working from a definition of governance is often problematic. It implies that:

  1. Governance is not being informed by the end in mind;
  2. Your team do not have a shared understanding of what the end in mind actually looks like.

When this happens, project teams rarely realize it and respond by substituting the end with the means. We overly focus on governance via definition without any clarity or context as to what the aspirational future state actually is. Like the example of the blank spreadsheet example I started with, reality starts to look more like the diagram below: (note the happy smilie is gone now)

Snapshot

Steering…

So how do we steer out of this definition pickle? Interestingly “steer” is a appropriate choice of word if we look at the origin of the word “Govern”. This is because “Govern” is a nautical term from Latin and actually means “to steer”. So if your SharePoint project has been more like the Titanic, and hit a giant iceberg along the way, then clearly you need to focus your governance efforts to looking at what is in front of you, rather than scrubbing the deck or keeping the engine room well oiled. The latter tasks are important of course, but you can do all that, still hit an iceberg and waste a lot of money.

To steer, we all have to understand what the destination is, or at the very least, all agree on the direction. To help you with that journey, consider my final diagram. To steer SharePoint the right way for your organisation requires you to answer four key questions:

  1. What is the aspirational future state and what does it look like?
  2. Why is this the aspirational future state we want?
  3. Who will do what to get us to that state?
  4. How will we get to that state?

Snapshot

The fundamental problem with most SharePoint projects is that questions 1 and 2 are not answered sufficiently, if at all. The next few posts will explore why this is the case, but in the meantime, remember that we could do a SharePoint project that is to scope, time and cost, yet still have no user up-take if we are solving the wrong problem in the first place. Therefore remember that:

  1. Governance is a means to an end, and not the end in itself.
  2. We shouldn’t undertake a “SharePoint governance” project, or consider “SharePoint governance” as deliverable on a project plan. The act of developing a shared context of what the problems are and using that to always steer the governance decision making is paramount. Failure to do this and and your best plans will not save you.

Conclusions and coming next…

This is the second post on what will be a large series – possibly the largest series I have written so far. In the next post in this series, I will continue into our journey of SharePoint governance mistakes and along the way, start to identify what we can do to better answer the “What”, “Why”, “Who” and “How” questions. If you enjoy this series, then consider signing up to one of my classes if one is running in your neck of the woods.

 

Thanks for reading

Paul Culmsee

www.sevensigma.com.au

www.hereticsguidebooks.com

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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!

CoverProof2

Thanks for reading

Paul

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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