One solution to PowerApps login problems on Android phones

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Tonight I had an issue where I was unable to log into one of my client’s PowerApps tenant using PowerApps from the app store. I tried with several android phones and all had the same issue (although iPhones did not). The symptom was that after entering my email address, I was redirected to a loading screen for a short time and then returned to the logon page. While the PowerApps client was not playing ball, I was able to connect to PowerApps site via the Chrome browser on the device.

Now my client uses their own ADFS, so I felt the issue might be related to local configuration or a certificate problem. After doing a little bit of reading, I came across this article, which let me to the SSL analyser tool at ssllabs.com. As the article predicted, when I ran SSL analyser against my client’s ADFS URL, my issue was related to certificate paths.

The article states that is you see “extra download” in your certification paths as shown below, Android will have an issue with it. Quoting from the support article: “Android does not support downloading additional certificates from the authorityInformationAccess field of the certificate. This is true across all Android versions and devices, and for the Chrome browser. Any server authentication certificate that’s marked for extra download based on the authorityInformationAccess field will trigger this error if the entire certificate chain is not passed from Active Directory Federation Services (AD FS).”

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Now the article talks about a change to your ADFS configuration to address this issue, but I also wanted to make it clear that this can be addressed (at least for PowerApps) on a per-device basis. In my client’s case, the problematic certificate was an Entrust certificate called Entrust Certification Authority – L1K.

All I did to fix it was using my phone, visited the Entrust root certificates page and clicked on the “Entrust Certificate Authority L1K” link. The certificate was downloaded and when I ran it, I was presented with a screen to give it a display name and confirm it was to be used for “VPN and apps”.

Screenshot_20171120-221647

Once I did this. I could log into PowerApps again.

 

Hope this helps someone else out there…

 

Paul Culmsee

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Rediscovering my curiosity at Creative Melbourne

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As I write this I am somewhere over the middle of Australia, flying back to Perth after participating in a 3 day event that was fun, challenging and highly insightful. The conference was Creative Melbourne, and I am proud to say I was one of the inaugural speakers. If they want me back again, I will do it in a heartbeat, and I hope a lot of you come along for the ride.

CreativeMelbourne-1

The premise: practical co-creation…

First the background… I have known the conference organiser, Arthur Shelley, for a few years. We first met at a Knowledge Management conference in Canberra and though I have no recollection of how we got talking, I do recall we clicked fairly quickly. At the time I was starting to explore the ideas around ambiguity, which eventually formed my second book. Back then I had a chip on my shoulder about how topics like complexity, Design Thinking and collaboration were being taught to students. I felt that the creative and fun parts glossed over the true stress and cognitive overload of wicked problems. This would produce highly idealistic students who would fall flat on their face once they hit a situation that was truly wicked. I therefore questioned whether anything was being built into students mental armory for the inevitable pain to come.

Now for some people who operate and teach in this space, making such a statement immediately and understandably gets their defenses up. But not Arthur – he listened to everything I had to say, and showed me examples of how he structured his courses and teachings to deal with this challenge. It was impressive stuff: every time his students thought they had a handle on things, Arthur would introduce a curveball or a change they were not anticipating. In other words, while teaching the techniques, he was building their capacity for handling ambiguous situations. Little did I know his conference was about to do the same to me…

One thing about Arthur that blows me away constantly is his incredible network of practitioners in this space. Arthur has long had a vision for bringing a constellation of such practitioners together and he hand-picked a bunch of us from all over the world. The premise, was to create an event that had a highly practical focus. He wanted practitioners to help attendees “Discover creative techniques to enhance performance and engage your team back at the office to increase productivity.”

Now where did I leave my curiosity?

While I am a sensemaking practitioner, I’ll admit straight up that I get irritated at the “fluffiness” and rampant idealism in this space. A good example is Design Thinking in this respect. While I like it and apply ideas from it to my practice, I dislike it when Design Thinking proponents claim it to be suited to wicked problems. The reality is the examples and case studies often cited are rarely wicked at all (at least in the way the term was originally conceived). When I see this sort of thing happening, it leaves me wondering if proponents have truly been in a complex, contingent situation and had the chance to stress test their ideas.

Now I don’t apologise for critically examining the claims made by anyone, but I do apologise for the unfortunate side effect – becoming overly contrarian. In my case, after all these years of research, reading and practice in this field, I am at the point where I see most new ideas as not actually new and are rediscoveries of past truths. Accordingly, it has been a long time since I felt that sense of exhilaration from having my mental molecules rearranged from a new idea. It makes sense right? I mean, the more you learn about something, the more your mental canvas has been painted on. In my case I already have a powerful arsenal of useful tools and approaches that I call upon when needed and more importantly, I was never on a spiritual quest for the one perfect answer to the mysteries of organsiational life anyway.

In short, I have what I need to do what I do. The only problem is somewhere along the line I lost the very sense of curiosity that started me along the path in the first place. It took Arthur, fellow presenters like Stuart French, Jamie Bartie, Jean-Charles Cailliez, Meredith Lewis, Brad Adriaanse, Vadim Shiryaev and a diverse group of participants to help me rediscover it…

Disrupting the disruptor…

Imagine someone like me participating in day 1, where we did things like build structures out of straws, put on silly hats, used the metaphor of zoo animals to understand behaviors, arm-wrestled to make a point about implicit assumptions and looked at how artists activate physical space and what we could learn from it when designing collaborative spaces. There was some hippie stuff going on here and my contrarian brain would sometimes trigger a reflexive reaction. I would suddenly realise I was tense and have to tell myself to relax. Sometimes my mind would instinctively retort with something like “Yeah right… try that in a politicised billion dollar construction project…” More than once I suppressed that instinct, telling myself “shut up brain – you are making assumptions and are biased. Just be quiet, listen, be present and you might learn something.”

That evening I confided to a couple of people that I felt out of place. Perhaps I was better suited to a “Making decisions in situations of high uncertainty and high cognitive overload” conference instead. I was a little fearful that I would kill the positive vibe of day 1 once I got to my session. No-one wants to be the party pooper…

Day 2 rolled around and when it was my turn to present. I held back a little on the “world according to Paul” stuff. I wanted to challenge people but was unsure of their tolerance for it – especially around my claims of rampant idealism that I mentioned earlier. I needn’t have worried though, as the speaker after me, Karuna Ramanathan from Singapore, ended up saying a lot of what I wanted to say and did a much better job. My talk was the appetizer to his “reality check” main course. He brilliantly articulated common organsiational archetypes and why some of the day 1 rhetoric often hits a brick wall. It was this talk that validated I did belong in this community after all. Arthur had indeed done his homework with his choice of speakers.

That same afternoon, we went on a walking tour of Melbourne with Jamie Bartie, who showed us all sorts of examples of cultural gems in Melbourne that were hiding in plain sight. The moral of the story was similar to day 1… that we often look past things and have challenge ourselves to look deeper. This time around my day 1 concerns had evaporated and I was able to be in the moment and enjoy it for what it was. I spoke to Jamie at length that evening and we bonded over a common childhood love of cult shows like Monkey Magic. I also discovered another kung-fu movie fan in Meredith Lewis, who showed me a whole new way to frame conversations to get people to reveal more about themselves, and develop richer personal relationships along the way.

Petcha Kucha – Getting to a point…

Day 3 was a bit of a watershed moment for me for two reasons. Months prior, I had accepted an invitation from Stuart French to participate in his Petcha Kucha session. At the time I said “yes” without really looking into what it entailed. The gist is you do a presentation of 20 slides, with 20 seconds per slide, all timed so they change whether you are ready or not. This forces you to be incredibly disciplined with delivering your talk, which I found very hard because I was so used to “winging it” in presentations. Despite keynoting conferences with hundreds of people in the room, doing a Petcha Kucha to a smaller, more intimate group was much more nerve-racking. I had to forcibly switch off my tangential brain because as soon as I had a thought bubble, the slides would advance and I would fall behind and lose my momentum. It took a lot of focus for me to suppress my thought bubbles but it was worth it. In short, a Petcha Kucha is a fantastic tool to test one’s mental muscles and enforce discipline. I highly recommend that everyone give it a go – especially creative types who tend to be a bit “all over the place”. It was a master-stoke from Stuart to introduce the technique to this audience and I think it needs to be expanded next time.

I presented the first Petcha Kucha, followed by Stuart and then Brad Adriaanse, who described the OODA Loop philosophy. OODA stands for observe, orient, decide, and act, providing a way to break out of one’s existing dogma and reformulate paradigms, allowing you to better adapt to changing circumstances. Dilbert cartoons aptly shows us that we all have incomplete (and often inconsistent) world views which should be continually refined and adapted in the face of new observations. Brad put it nicely when he said OODA was about maintaining a fluid cognitive state and that assumptions can be a straightjacket and dogma can blind us. This really hit home for me, based on how I reacted at times on day 1. Brad also said that the OODA loop can be internalised by adopting a lifelong learning mindset, being curious and become more and more comfortable with ambiguity.

It was at this exact moment where I rediscovered my latent curiosity and understood why I felt the way I did on day 1 and 2. It was also at this moment that I realised Arthur Shelley’s genius in why he made this event happen, who he brought together and what he has created in this event. All attendees need to be disrupted. Some need their idealism challenged, and some, like me, need a reminder of what started us on this path in the first place.

I have returned a better practitioner for it… Thankyou Arthur

 

Paul Culmsee

p.s Arthur Shelley is still a giant hippie

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My new book about Teddies and fetishes is out…

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cover7

 

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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Rewriting the knowledge management rulebook… The story of “Glyma” for SharePoint

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“If Jeff ever leaves…”

I’m sure you have experienced the “Oh crap” feeling where you have a problem and Jeff is on vacation or unavailable. Jeff happens to be one of those people who’s worked at your organisation for years and has developed such a deep working knowledge of things, it seems like he has a sixth sense about everything that goes on. As a result, Jeff is one of the informal organisational “go to guys” – the calming influence amongst all the chaos. An oft cited refrain among staff is “If Jeff ever leaves, we are in trouble.”

In Microsoft’s case, this scenario is quite close to home. Jeff Teper, who has been an instrumental part of SharePoint’s evolution is moving to another area of Microsoft, leaving SharePoint behind. The implications of this are significant enough that I can literally hear Bjorn Furuknap’s howls of protest all the way from here in Perth.

So, what is Microsoft to do?

Enter the discipline of knowledge management to save the day. We have SharePoint, and with all of that metadata and search, we can ask Jeff to write down his knowledge “to get it out of his head.” After all, if we can capture this knowledge, we can then churn out an entire legion of Jeffs and Microsoft’s continued SharePoint success is assured, right?

Right???

There is only one slight problem with this incredibly common scenario that often underpins a SharePoint business case… the entire premise of “getting it out of your head” is seriously flawed. As such, knowledge management initiatives have never really lived up to expectations. While I will save a detailed explanation as to why this is so for another post, let me just say that Nonaka’s SECI model has a lot to answer for as it is based on a misinterpretation of what tacit knowledge is all about.

Tacit knowledge is expert knowledge that is often associated with intuition and cannot be transferred to others by writing it down. It is the “spider senses” that experts often seem to have when they look at a problem and see things that others do not. Little patterns, subtleties or anomalies that are invisible to the untrained eye. Accordingly, it is precisely this form of knowledge that is of the most value in organisations, yet is the hardest to codify and most vulnerable to knowledge drain. If tacit knowledge could truly be captured and codified in writing, then every project manager who has ever studied PMBOK would have flawless projects, because the body of knowledge is supposed to be all the codified wisdom of many project managers and the projects they have delivered. There would also be no need for Agile coaches, Microsoft’s SharePoint documentation should result in flawless SharePoint projects and reading Wictor’s blog would make you a SAML claims guru.

The truth of tacit knowledge is this: You cannot transfer it, but you acquire it. This is otherwise known as the journey of learning!

Accountants are presently scratching their heads trying to figure out how to measure tacit knowledge. They call it intellectual capital, and the reason it is important to them is that most of the value of organisations today is classified on the books as “intangibles”. According to the book Balanced Scorecard, a company’s physical assets accounted for 62% of its market value in 1982, 38% of its market value in 1992 and only 21% in 2003. This is in part a result of the global shift toward knowledge economies and the resulting rise in the value of intellectual capital. Intellectual capital is the sum total of the skills, knowledge and experience of staff and is critical to sustaining competitiveness, performance and ultimately shareholder value. Organisations must therefore not only protect, but extract maximum value from their intellectual capital.

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Now consider this. We are in an era where baby boomers are retiring, taking all of their hard-earned knowledge with them. This is often referred to as “the knowledge tsunami”, “the organisational brain drain” and the more nerdy “human capital flight”. The issue of human capital flight is a major risk area for organisations. Not only is the exodus of baby boomers an issue, but there are challenges around recruitment and retention of a younger, technologically savvy and mobile workforce with a different set of values and expectations. One of the most pressing management problems of the coming years is the question of how organisations can transfer the critical expertise and experience of their employees before that knowledge walks out the door.

The failed solutions…

After the knowledge management fad of the late 1990’s, a lot of organisations did come to realise that asking experts to “write it down” only worked in limited situations. As broadband came along, enabling the rise of rich media services like YouTube, a digital storytelling movement arose in the early 2000’s. Digital storytelling is the process by which people share stories and reflections while being captured on video.

Unfortunately though, digital storytelling had its own issues. Users were not prepared to sit through hours of footage of an expert explaining their craft or reflecting on a project. To address this, the material was commonly edited down to create much smaller mini-documentaries lasting a few minutes – often by media production companies, so the background music was always nice and inoffensive. But this approach also commonly failed. One reason for failure was well put by David Snowden when he saidInsight cannot be compressed”. While there was value in the edited videos, much of the rich value within the videos was lost. After all, how can one judge ahead of time what someone else finds insightful. The other problem with this approach was that people tended not to use them. There was little means for users to find out these videos existed, let alone watch them.

Our Aha moment

In 2007, my colleagues and I started using a sensemaking approach called Dialogue Mapping in Perth. Since that time, we have performed dialogue mapping across a wide range of public and private sector organisations in areas such as urban planning, strategic planning, process reengineering, organisational redesign and team alignment. If you have read my blog, you would be familiar with dialogue mapping, but just in case you are not, it looks like this…

Dialogue Mapping has proven to be very popular with clients because of its ability to make knowledge more explicit to participants. This increases the chances of collective breakthroughs in understanding. During one dialogue mapping session a few years back, a soon-to-be retiring, long serving employee relived a project from thirty years prior that he realised was relevant to the problem being discussed. This same employee was spending a considerable amount of time writing procedure manuals to capture his knowledge. No mention of this old project was made in the manuals he spent so much time writing, because there was no context to it when he was writing it down. In fact, if he had not been in the room at the time, the relevance of this obscure project would never have been known to other participants.

My immediate thought at the time when mapping this participant was “There is no way that he has written down what he just said”. My next thought was “Someone ought to give him a beer and film him talking. I can then map the video…”

This idea stuck with me and I told this story to my colleagues later that day. We concluded that the value of asking our retiring expert to write his “memoirs” was not making the best use of his limited time. The dialogue mapping session illustrated plainly that much valuable knowledge was not being captured in the manuals. As a result, we seriously started to consider the value of filming this employee discussing his reflections of all of the projects he had worked on as per the digital storytelling approach. However, rather than create ‘mini documentaries’, utilise the entire footage and instead, visually map the rationale using Dialogue Mapping techniques. In this scenario, the map serves as a navigation mechanism and the full video content is retained. By clicking on a particular node in the map, the video is played from the time that particular point was made. We drew a mock-up of the idea, which looked like the picture below.

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While thinking the idea would be original and cool to do, we also saw several strategic advantages to this approach…

  • It allows the user to quickly find the key points in the conversation that is of value to them, while presenting the entire rationale of the discussion at a glance.
  • It significantly reduces the codification burden on the person or group with the knowledge. They are not forced to put their thoughts into writing, which enables more effective use of their time
  • The map and video content can be linked to the in-built search and content aggregation features of SharePoint.
    • Users can enter a search from their intranet home page and retrieve not only traditional content such as documents, but now will also be able to review stories, reflections and anecdotes from past and present experts.
  • The dialogue mapping notation when stored in a database, also lends itself to more advanced forms of queries. Consider the following examples:
    • “I would like any ideas from lessons learnt discussions in the Calgary area”
    • “What pros or cons have been made about this particular building material?”
  • The applicability of the approach is wide.
    • Any knowledge related industry could take advantage of it easily because it fits into exiting information systems like SharePoint, rather than creating an additional information silo.

This was the moment the vision for Glyma (pronounced “glimmer”) was born…

Enter Glyma…

Glyma (pronounced ‘glimmer’) is a software platform for ‘thought leaders’, knowledge workers, organisations, and other ‘knowledge economy participants’ to capture and trade their knowledge in a way that reduces effort but preserves rich context. It achieves this by providing a new way for users to visually capture and link their ideas with rich media such as video, documents and web sites. As Glyma is a very visually oriented environment, it’s easier to show Glyma rather than talk to it.

Ted

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What you’re looking at in the first image above are the concepts and knowledge that were captured from a TED talk on education augmented with additional information from Wikipedia. The second is a map that brings together the rationale from a number of SPC14 Vegas videos on the topic of Hybrid SharePoint deployments.

Glyma brings together different types of media, like geographical maps, video, audio, documents etc. and then “glues” them together by visualising the common concepts they exemplify. The idea is to reduce the burden on the expert for codifying their knowledge, while at the same time improving the opportunity for insight for those who are learning. Glyma is all about understanding context, gaining a deeper understanding of issues, and asking the right questions.

We see that depending on your focus area, Glyma offers multiple benefits.

For individuals…

As knowledge workers our task is to gather and learn information, sift through it all, and connect the dots between the relevant information. We create our knowledge by weaving together all this information. This takes place through reading articles, explaining on napkins, diagramming on whiteboards etc. But no one observes us reading, people throw away napkins, whiteboards are wiped clean for re-use. Our journey is too “disposable”, people only care about the “output” – that is until someone needs to understand our “quilt of information”.

Glyma provides end users with an environment to catalogue this journey. The techniques it incorporates helps knowledge workers with learning and “connecting the dots”, or as we know it synthesising. Not only does it help us with doing these two critical tasks, it then provides a way for us to get recognition for that work.

For teams…

Like the scenario I started this post with, we’ve all been on the giving and receiving end of it. That call to Jeff who has gone on holiday for a month prior to starting his promotion and now you need to know the background to solving an issue that has arisen on your watch. Whether you were the person under pressure at the office thinking, “Jeff has left me nothing of use!”, or you are Jeff trying to enjoy your new promotion thinking, “Why do they keep on calling me!”, it’s an uncomfortable situation for all involved.

Because Glyma provides a medium and techniques that aid and enhance the learning journey, it can then act as the project memory long after the project has completed and the team members have moved onto their next challenge. The context and the lessons it captures can then be searched and used both as a historical look at what has happened and, more importantly, as a tool for improving future projects.

For organisations…

As I said earlier, intangible assets now dominate the balance sheets of many organisations. Where in the past, we might have valued companies based on how many widgets they sold and how much they have in their inventory, nowadays intellectual capital is the key driver of value. Like any asset, organisations need to extract maximum value from intellectual capital and in doing so, avoid repeat mistakes, foster innovation and continue growth. Charles G. Sieloff summed this up well in the name of his paper, “if only HP knew what HP knows”.

As Glyma aids, enhances, and captures an individual’s learning journey, that journey can now be shared with others. With Glyma, learning is no longer a silo, it becomes a shared journey. Not only does it do this for individuals but it extends to group work so that the dynamics of a group’s learning is also captured. Continuous improvement of organisational processes and procedures is then possible with this captured knowledge. With Glyma, your knowledge assets are now tangible.

Lemme see it!

So after reading this post this far, I assume that you would like to take a look. Well as luck would have it, we put out a public Glyma site the other day that contains some of my own personal maps. The maps on the SP2013 apps model and hybrid SP2013 deployments in particular represent my own learning journey, so hopefully should help you if you want a synthesis of all the pros and cons of these issues. Be sure to check the videos on the getting started area of the site, and check the sample maps! Smile

glymasite

I hope you like what you see. I have a ton of maps to add to this site, and very soon we will be inviting others to curate their own maps. We are also running a closed beta, so if you want to see this in your organisation, go to the site and then register your interest.

All in all, I am super proud of my colleagues at Seven Sigma for being able to deliver on this vision. I hope that this becomes a valuable knowledge resource for the SharePoint community and that you all like it. I look forward to seeing how history judges this… we think Glyma is innovative, but we are biased! 🙂

 

Thanks for reading…

Paul Culmsee

www.glyma.co

www.hereticsguidebooks.com

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“Assumption is the mother of all f**k ups”

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My business partner, Chris Tomich, is the John Deacon of Seven Sigma.

In case you do not know who John Deacon is, he is the bass player from Queen who usually said very little publicly and didn’t write that many songs (and by songs I mean blog posts). But when Deacon finally did getting around to writing a song, they tended to be big – think Another One Bites the Dust, I Want To Break Free and Your My Best Friend.

Chris is like that, which is a pity for the SharePoint community because he outstanding SharePoint architect, software engineer and one of the best Dialogue Mappers on the planet. If he had the time to write on his learning and insight, the community would have a very valuable resource. So this is why I am pleased that he has started writing what will be a series of articles on how he utilises Dialogue Mapping in practice, which is guaranteed to be much less verbose than my own hyperbole but probably much more useful to many readers. The title of my post here is a direct quote from his first article, so do yourself a favour and have a read it if you want a different perspective on sense-making.

The article is called From Analyst to Sense-maker and can be found here:

http://mymemorysucks.wordpress.com/2014/01/07/from-analyst-to-sense-maker/#!

thanks for reading

 

Paul Culmsee

HGBP_Cover-236x300.jpg

www.hereticsguidebooks.com

p.s Now all I need to do is get my other Business Partner, mild mannered intellectual juggernaut known as Peter (Yoda) Chow to start writing Smile

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What does project management mean to me – a Project Manager’s sermon

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The "message"

What does project management mean to me?

Well if you want me to give you the ‘glass half empty’ perspective, it’s easy. What project management means to me is a confused discipline where practitioners routinely do really dumb shit in its name.

Sermon over – go forth and spread the word…

Okay so that was fairly blunt, so I had better elaborate and perhaps take a more positively framed ‘glass half full’ approach to this sermon. To do that, I need to tell you about the legacy that Cleo magazine has left on society.

When I was younger, I used to skim through magazines like Cosmopolitan and Cleo while waiting in line at the checkout. Now you might think that I must really be in touch with my feminine side in admitting this, but no: the reality is that raw testosterone was the motivator. You see, Cleo would have headline articles like “10 great sex tips (in 50 words or less)” Or “The 10 things he doesn’t want in bed.” Titles like that dangled the possibility in front of me of finally understanding women, with the added bonus of developing Olympic class skills in the bedroom. Of course, each and every time the actual article never lived up to the catchy title. I rarely learnt anything new and in fact the “10 things” were usually pretty banal, self-evident and left me none the wiser.

So as our collective attention spans diminish via constant exposure to “5 steps to success with [insert buzzword here]” articles (articles designed more for search engine placement than actually informing an audience), the curse of Cleo-like catchy titles telling you stuff of little value is now so commonplace that it is hard to suss out the stuff that really makes a difference in outcomes.

So where does one go to find out the answers in project management? Should aspiring Project Managers master the dark arts of their craft by learning everything there is to learn from one or more of the bibles that contain the word “BoK” in them? On the surface it would seem so, given all of the past collective wisdom that is claimed to be codified therein – as well as shiny certification proving that one has passed the multi-choice exam on its contents.

But wait…which BoK is best? After all, we have multiple to choose from, with each making their own claims to the truth. Some BoKs even reject the key tenets of other BoKs, arguing that theirs offers a better answer. Of course, this leads to an endless stream of debate by their respective proponents as to which is really best and who is really the wisest. Not to mention that over time, new and updated BoKs emerge like phoenixes from the ashes of older BoKs. (Sometimes they are so cool that they don’t even claim to be a BoK at all).

It’s little wonder that Project Management is a confused discipline. No matter where you turn, someone is bound to tell you that you are doing it wrong.

While I am on the subject of doing it wrong, let’s poke a stick in one of the well-known project management hornets-nests: the “Waterfall vs. Scrum” argument. We all know that any self-respecting Scrum guy will not miss an opportunity to tell you about the evils of Waterfall – and for the most part they are right too, as Waterfall has a dubious history of which most people are not aware.

But that is not the reason I chose this particular topic, even though it is much loved by PMs who spend endless hours filling up the forums of various LinkedIn groups with discussion. I chose it simply because it’s fun to mess with Scrum guys – particularly the zealots. So if you have a “scrumdamentalist” in your midst, try this question on them:

Would Waterfall work if one could create an environment where all parties—as soon as they become aware of something that might affect a project materially—communicate it to all other parties involved in the project in a full, sincere and open way?

I have posed this question to many Scrum people. Most will think about it for some time, before answering a grudging “possibly” or “I don’t see why not.” Try it yourself… it’s fun pulling the rug out from under their firmly held convictions.

The best answer I have ever got to this question was from Chris Chapman – an Agile coach from Toronto. He gave me what I think is the perfect answer when he astutely observed that in the environment I described, Waterfall would actually not exist in the first place!

Therein lies the heart of my sermon. I contend that the endless debates over the efficacy of methods, tools and even BoKs are answering the wrong question! Don’t worry though, Project Management is not the first, nor the last discipline to lean their ladder against the wrong wall in this regard. To explain, let me introduce you to the work (and genius) of J Richard Hackman.

From the late sixties, Hackman spent his career researching and teaching about team performance, leadership effectiveness, and the design of self-managing teams and organizations. He died in 2013 and one of his last papers he published was called “From causes to conditions in group research.” In this swansong paper, Hackman explained how he spent years examining the factors that made teams work really well. He studied hundreds of teams (not just project teams mind you, but sporting teams, orchestras and flight crews), with the aim to distil the causes of success. Each time Hackman thought he had the causes figured out he would create a model, plug his model into a stats program, and work with real teams to see if the application of his model led to better performance.

On the surface, this approach seems like a logical thing to do. After all, if we can work out the magic levers that cause team success, then organisations would surely work better because they can start to pull those same levers. This is precisely the value proposition offered by the aforementioned BoKs as well.

When Hackman applied the models he lovingly researched and developed, he found they did not make a significant difference in outcomes. Being an academic, he did what most academics do: he spent years trying to refine his models and then re-tested them against real life teamwork situations. But this didn’t work either; his models got no closer to predicting or influencing outcomes in a reliable fashion. Reality it seemed, never fitted the models he developed.

At this point, Hackman began to question whether he was looking at the problem through the right lens. He wondered if trying to determine the causes of team efficacy by looking at successful teams retrospectively and then codifying these into causal models was the best approach. So he changed his focus and asked himself a very different question – a question that every project management practitioner (and project team member) should be asking themselves:

What are the enabling conditions that need to exist that give rise to great outcomes?

Now if, at this point, you think that this is the same question as “What are the causes of successful projects” you would be mistaken. Think about the BoKs and consider this: if you have ever argued with someone about whether a tool, methodology or some process is great or completely sucks, eventually someone will say something like “Well it can work for the right organisation.”

The implicit point here is that depending on the conditions, something that works for one organisation may completely suck for another (thereby invalidating the notion of a “best” practice). The genius of Hackman is that he challenges us to stop arguing about whether one methodology or model is better than the other and focus on what the enabling conditions are instead. Think about it – if project managers and developers did this, we would be able to avoid low value arguments like earned value management versus burndown charts.

In the case of Hackman, he re-examined all of his work on teams and boiled it down to six essential conditions, arguing that irrespective of what else you did or what methodology you used, having these conditions tended to lead to better results. Hackman did not rank any one condition over any other, instead arguing that all were needed for teams to have a greater chance of being high performing. The conditions are:

  1. A real team: Interdependence among members, clear boundaries distinguishing members from non-members and moderate stability of membership over time
  2. A compelling purpose: A purpose that is clear, challenging, and consequential. It energizes team members and fully engages their talents
  3. Right people: People who had task expertise, self-organised and skill in working collaboratively with others
  4. Clear norms of conduct: Team understands clearly what behaviours are, and are not, acceptable
  5. A supportive organisational context: The team has the resources it needs and the reward system provides recognition and positive consequences for excellent team performance
  6. Appropriate coaching: The right sort of coaching for the team was provided at the right time

There is more to that list than what I am covering here, and it is important to note that I’m not saying that Hackman’s conditions are *the* conditions. But I would contend that they are a pretty good start. Look at Hackman’s conditions for teams above and think about your projects and how you manage them. Did you have these conditions in place when you started? If you had them, would it have led to better outcomes?

I believe that it is a huge mistake to attribute success or failure of projects to methods, processes and models used to manage them rather than the conditions in which those processes operate. As long as this attribution error persists, people will continue to get suckered into B-grade verbal-slugfests about whether method X is better than method Y.

What exacerbates this “causes over conditions” problem is that enabling conditions rarely get codified in procedures, governance models, bodies of knowledge or certifications. As a result, the very factors that leads to success (the conditions) are entirely absent from the models that we use. My contention is that most organisations, when delivering projects, do not have the right enabling conditions in place to begin with. If your organisation has a blame culture, then chances are that any process, no matter how noble its design or intent, has the potential to become a blame apportionment mechanism or a responsibility avoidance mechanism.

So Hackman, despite looking at a different discipline of teamwork and leadership, gives us an important clue about what ails project management and how to we might improve it. Focus on enabling conditions rather than attributing causes!

Let’s get back to Chris Chapman’s answer to my Waterfall question. His assertion that Waterfall would not exist in the conditions I described holds a less obvious lesson. That is, the way project management tools or methods are used will affect conditions as well. So if you have ever said to yourself “I can’t believe that I am being forced to follow this wrong-headed process” chances are you have been on the receiving end of negative conditions created by application of a process. (So in this sense the agile dudes have it right.)

So what does project management mean to me? In short, focusing on creating the enabling conditions for great performance, and then getting out of the way!

 

Thanks for reading

Paul  Culmsee

 

Epilogue:

In this sermon I cannot hope to cover all of the things I would like to cover but never fear, Kailash Awati and I already piled some of our thoughts into 420 pages of goodness known as the book “The Heretics Guide to Best Practices” – so if you like what you read here, you will really like what is in there.

Acknowledgements:

As usual I have to thank Kailash for reviewing this post and making it suck much less than it did 🙂

Further reading:

  1. My series on rethinking SharePoint maturity: Don’t let the title put you off – the material here further explores the conditions for great project performance: http://www.cleverworkarounds.com/2013/08/19/rethinking-sharepoint-maturity-part-1-conditions-over-causes/
  2. Jon Whitty’s brilliant work on memeplexes and reconceptualising project management: http://espace.library.uq.edu.au/eserv/UQ:8801/sjw_ijpm_05.pdf
  3. Pretty much anything on Kailash Awati’s blog, but in particular his sermon in this flashblog: http://eight2late.wordpress.com/2013/09/25/what-project-management-means-to-me-a-metalogue/
  4. Stephen Duffield’s work on project knowledge management and risk: http://www.invictaprojects.com.au/pmlessonslearnedblog/?p=850

p.s: This post is published as part of a first ever project management related global blogging initiative to publish a post on a common theme at exactly the same time. Over seventy bloggers from Australia, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, France, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, UK and the USA have committed to make a blogging contribution and the fruit of their labor is now (literally NOW) available all over the web. The complete list of all participating blogs is found here so please go and check them out!

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