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.

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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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Teddies, Fetishes and the Management Consulting Scam

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jediteddy.jpg

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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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

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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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Rethinking SharePoint Maturity Part 5: From Conditions to Actionable Lessons Learnt

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Maturity
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Hi all

Welcome to part five of my quest to improve people’s awareness and understanding of what SharePoint maturity is really all about. For those new to this series of articles, we have traversed a bit of territory to get here, and during the journey there has been not a single SharePoint site column, content type or site collection in sight. In fact, I have not touched any of the topics that many would traditionally view as a sign of SharePoint maturity. Instead, I have been taking readers on a fun-filled journey examining three nerdy, yet highly interesting areas of research in team development, collaboration and organisational learning. Along the way we defaced the Mona Lisa, looked at SharePoint through holes in slices of Swiss Cheese and channelled the number of the beast.

After all that, we ended part 4, by arriving at this odd looking diagram below…

What you are looking at is something called the CALL model, which stands for “Conditions to Actionable Lessons Learnt”. I originally developed the model with Dialogue Mapping and knowledge management in mind – essentially to help my clients do a better job of integrating double loop learning into their projects. However, it soon became apparent that it was valuable in various SharePoint contexts too.

Single vs. double loop learning

In the previous paragraph I made a reference to “double loop learning” without explaining what it was, so let’s quickly make amends because it is interesting stuff. The idea of single and double loop learning has been around for close to 40 years – it was in 1974 when Chris Argyris came up with the idea. To explain, let’s bring back our trusty SharePoint 2010 governance poster that I trash-talked in the first and fourth articles…

If you have not seen this poster before, it represents what Microsoft believe to be the focus areas for SharePoint 2010 governance. Many people – consultants in particular – will take the information in this poster for granted and create SharePoint governance plans that try to cover off the various areas it suggests to be covered. Everyone will feel good because they have ticked all the boxes of this authoritative fountain of SharePoint wisdom.

Then, if SharePoint then fails to live up to expectations, many will look at the poster and wonder which areas they did not adequately cover. They will study the poster, search Google or Wikipedia for better definitions of the terms listed and then make another reattempt, trying to do an even better job of implementing the wisdom contained therein.

This my friends, is a shining example of single loop learning. Single loop learning, as described in this article “seems to be present when goals, values, frameworks and, to a significant extent, strategies are taken for granted. The emphasis is on techniques and making techniques more efficient.” In single loop learning, the fundamental premise of a course of action remains unchanged. All of the energy of learning is directed to making sure “we get it right this time.” In short, in a single loop learning scenario, repeated attempts are made at solving the same issue, but no-one questions the underlying premise of the strategy.

Now in case you haven’t noticed, I spent the first three posts of this series “questioning the underlying premise” of the above SharePoint governance poster. So in effect I’ve been introducing you to the notion of double loop learning already. Double-loop learning involves taking a deeper look at what is going on. In double-loop learning, having attempted to achieve a goal on different occasions, the goal itself may be modified, re-framed or rejected in the light of the experience gained in trying to achieve it. Think about it – double loop learning actually happened in organisations people would never say things like “well that’s always how we have done it here.”

I see a lot of single loop learning in SharePoint land, and I want to help people break out of their existing framing of the issue – compassionately, of course Smile

Enter the CALL Model

So getting back to my CALL model, I propose it as a multi-purpose tool that can be used for various SharePoint related stuff. It is based on the Swiss cheese risk management model; a metaphor which suggests most strategies have gaps that create risk. These gaps are analogous to holes in slices of Swiss cheese. In terms of the SharePoint governance poster, think of each of the areas it suggests to be covered as slices of cheese. This key to this model is that it assumes that no single defence layer is sufficient to mitigate risk. It also implies that if risk mitigation strategies are set up with all the holes lined up, there is a systematic flaw, since it would allow a problem to progress all the way through to adversely affect the organisation. Accordingly, the Swiss cheese model encourages a more balanced view of how risk is managed.

You can think of the CALL model as a SharePoint optimised Swiss cheese model. CALL extends the Swiss cheese model by incorporating cutting edge research in enabling team performance (Hackman), collaboration (Wilder) and knowledge management (Duffield). It outlines 8 actionable areas (Swiss cheese slices) that operate at the individual, team and organisation levels. These focus areas can be thought of as enabling conditions that mitigate risk, as well as focus areas for identification and application of lessons learnt. In other words, my contention is that for SharePoint maturity, you should strive to create these 8 conditions and then consider them when evaluating project performance.

image

The image above is another drawing of the model minus the pretty colours I used earlier. In this version, I am showing the path of a SharePoint project flows through these 8 areas. Note how the arrow from left to right deviates because we are seeking to use them to mitigate risk via defence in depth. But when it comes to applying learnings from a project (arrow now moves from right to left to close the loop), the flow is designed to be smooth and unencumbered to ensure that the opportunity for double loop learning takes place.

Here is a description of each of the 8 focus areas:

Skills and expertise

This focus area is concerned with ensuring individuals are selected with the right skills and task expertise to perform their role in delivery and operation of services. In SharePoint this is critical because of the technical depth and breadth of the product. Want to deploy SharePoint 2013 request routing in dedicated mode? Go see Spence so he can tell you not to. Want to learn how the new WOPI protocol works with Office Web Apps? Sign a cheque for Wictor to help you.

Skills is closely associated with high IQ. In other words, specialist skills require smart, dedicated people. Therefore this also incorporates ensuring staff have appropriate qualifications and certifications, that education, training and ongoing development practices are properly targeted, and that individuals are willing to learn new skills and be proactive in keeping themselves up-skilled. (In other words, all of the hallmarks of those brilliantly talented people who completed the now defunct Microsoft Certified Masters program).

Collaborative Maturity

Ever heard of the term “dumb smart guy”? Usually it is someone who is intellectually smart, but has all the emotional maturity (EQ) of a potato. Collaborative maturity is all about ensuring that individuals have skills in working collaboratively with others. It signifies a willingness to listen, empathy, mutual respect, understanding and trust. Collaboratively mature people have a tolerance for ambiguity and have the ability to engage in genuine dialogue to reach compromise. Collaboratively mature people also see collaboration in their self-interest and foster develop deep ties with colleagues in order to work interdependently.

Being in the IT industry, I’m not sure if this person actually exists, but hey – this description gives us all something to aspire to!

Role clarity

Role clarity is concerned that the role of each team member is understood by everyone within the team and it is clear how much authority is vested within each role. This in turn provides task clarity, fosters interdependency among a team and reduces process loss. (Process loss is difficulty in knowing who is doing what and how it is done). Where roles are clear and understood, team members are appropriately appointed to tasks according to their capacity (see “skills and expertise” above) and character (see “collaborative maturity” above).

Goal clarity

Goal clarity relates to purpose, direction and goal alignment between members of a team is essential for good team performance. A compelling purpose energizes team members, orients them toward their collective objective, fully engages their talents and motivates them to resolve conflicts. A compelling purpose should be underpinned by concrete, attainable goals and objectives, both short and long term. Knowing where you are heading focuses the team’s energy in directive meaningful activity. This also helps build team efficacy, which is the belief within teams of their ability to solve problems and deliver great solutions. On the other hand, lack of goal clarify is one of the classic symptoms of wicked problems.

Participation safety and decision influence

Ever been on a project that’s taking on water, but nobody seems to be willing to listen? Ever had any critically important topics not discussed because they are simply taboo and unmentionable? It is not fun – and little breakthrough thinking or innovation can exist without participation safety and decision influence. When a team has a high level of participation safety, members feel safe to share ideas, raise unpopular views or opinions, or speak their truth to one another. This reduces groupthink and social loafing, encourages breakthrough and can lead a collaborative team and a collaborative organisational culture. There are countless case studies of major disasters (such as the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill), where a culture of “only tell me the good news” prevented critical information from being raised that could have averted the issue. In fact ‘communication’ (or lack of it) is probably the most commonly cited project failure factor.

Having said all that, while participation safety is critical, the ideas that team members put forward need to influence the direction and outcome of the team. A manager who says “my door is always open”, but then ignores feedback creates dissonance among team members because what is espoused is not practiced. The simple facts of the matter is that a key element for peak performance is to provide an environment safe enough for team members to speak their truths, to be rewarded for doing so and for truth telling to actually influence direction.

Enabling Technology

Technology underpins all aspects of organisational systems and projects and provides the means to generate leaps in performance and capabilities of users, as more broadly, team and organisational productivity. Technology at its best facilitates the delivery of timely, relevant information for decision making, co-ordination and collaboration. Thus it is critical that technology does not get in the way of delivering value. How often have you worked on a project when you have been forced to use technologies that stifle productivity, create frustration and reduce collaboration between team members? How often has that technology been SharePoint?

Enabling Process

How often have you said to yourself “I can’t believe I have to follow this braindead process.” Process is the glue that provides the rules of behaviour in delivering on goals and like technology, underpins all aspects of organisational systems and projects and is a key part of performance and productivity. It is critical that process, like technology, is always driven by purpose and that it does not get in the way of delivering value. Inappropriate process can make a huge difference in how team members interact with stakeholders and each-other.

Enabling Resources

Enabling resources is concerned with the financial, material and human input necessary to develop and sustain delivery of services. Put simply, even the best teams with the most compelling direction can falter if they are under-resourced. It is critical that sufficient funds, staff, materials and time are provided to get the job done.

Applications for the CALL model

The CALL model can be used in many ways, given its heritage of Hackman, Wilder and Duffield. Examples include:

  • A model for performing SharePoint governance health check/assessment
  • A model for assessing the makeup of a SharePoint team
  • A model for assessing the complexity of a proposed SharePoint solution
  • A model for assessing departmental readiness for SharePoint
  • A model for developing SharePoint Business Continuity planning

It is worthwhile noting that Hackman developed a team performance instrument called a Team Diagnostic Survey based around his 6 enabling conditions. Since the CALL model is so closely aligned to Hackman, it should also be able to be used in a similar fashion. The same goes for the Wilder research on collaboration, that developed an instrument called the Collaboration Factors Inventory.

So given the source material, the CALL model also has applicability in the areas of:

  • An set of enabling conditions to establish to develop high performing teams
  • An set of enabling conditions to successful collaborative delivery of projects
  • A focus area for the identification of risks (and opportunities) on organisational initiatives
  • A framework for the systematic capture of project lessons learnt
  • A framework for assessing change and other organisational initiatives
  • A governance maturity model
  • A knowledge management and organisational learning maturity model

Conclusion

The CALL model reflects a synthesis of three highly rigorous research efforts. All three seemed to gel really well when they were put into the melting pot and I was pleased with the result. In the next post, I will show you how I have used the CALL model when developing a SharePoint Business Continuity Strategy for a client. I’ll also talk about how I have used it in lessons learnt workshops.

Thanks for reading

 

Paul Culmsee

www.hereticsguidebooks.com

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Rethinking SharePoint Maturity Part 4: The number of the beast…

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Maturity
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Hi all

This is part four of a series I am writing on my ideas about how the SharePoint community can revitalise how SharePoint maturity is understood and communicated. If this is your first time reading this series, then I urge you to go back and read the first three posts in the series because I covered a bit of ground to get to here. For those of you who will not do that, here is a super quick recap.

As part of doing some book research, I came across three distinct bodies of work that I think can help Microsoft and their customers better understand, foster and cultivate SharePoint maturity. To set the scene, I started this series by taking a few cheap potshots at the SharePoint 2010 governance poster that many people use as a guide to ensure they are doing SharePoint “right”. I highlighted some of the less obvious risks with it, by comparing it to a paint by numbers representation of the Mona Lisa. While people seem to understand implicitly that colouring in a Mona Lisa template will not make it a Mona Lisa (far from it), there same cannot be said for our SharePoint paint by numbers poster. The result is a skewed version how SharePoint ‘maturity’ is perceived, because this poster ignores some critical factors.

image_thumb2image_thumb5

To shine a spotlight on areas not covered by the above poster, I introduced you to the work of JR Hackman, who’s pioneering work in the area of leadership and team development contains important lessons for SharePoint teams. Hackman urges people to stop trying to look life through simplistic cause and effect lens of “If you do Z, you will get Y” and instead focus on the conditions that enable or disable success. Hackman, in his examination of leadership and the performance of teams, listed six conditions that he felt led to better results if they were in place (none of which make much of an appearance on the above poster):

  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

I sometimes challenge agile development evangelists by saying “If Scrum was ‘the answer’ then there would be no need for Scrum coaches.” When you speak to good agile coaches, what they strive to do is create the sort of enabling conditions conducive to getting the best out of Agile – exactly what Hackman is urging us to do. Hackman’s insight is super important because It is incredibly common for people to say things like “now this will work for the right organisation…” or “this will work provided the right culture is there to support it,” but they do not elaborate further on what “right” actually is. Hackman challenges us to actually focus on the enabling conditions that underpinning a process, not the other way around.

To see if Hackman’s 6 conditions were applicable outside of his interest area of team development, I then examined the work done by the Wilder Research Group. This group published a book “Collaboration: What Makes It Work” which distilled the wisdom from 281 research studies on successful collaboration. Importantly for me, they looked at very different research than Hackman did, yet also broke it down to six quite similar focus areas:

  1. Membership characteristics: Skills, attributes and opinions of individuals as a collaborative group, as well as culture and capacity of orgs that form collaborative groups
  2. Purpose: The reasons for the collaborative effort, the result or vision being sought
  3. Process and structure: Management, decision making and operational systems of a collaborative context
  4. Communication: The channels used by partners to exchange information, keep each-other informed and convey opinions to influence
  5. Environment: Geo-location and social context where a collaborative group exists. While they can influence, they cannot control
  6. Resources: The financial and human input necessary to develop and sustain a collaborative group

Finally, I examined the work of Stephen Duffield, who took the Swiss Cheese model for risk management (which is popular in safety circles) and adapted it for organisational learning for projects. This is brilliant because the Swiss cheese model assumes that any one mitigation strategy has holes in it (hence the Swiss cheese metaphor). If you consider the SharePoint governance poster above as listing particular slices of cheese, then if you still have not met with the success you were hoping for, some important slices of cheese must be missing. So what are they?

To develop his project learning model (called SYLLK), Duffield distilled the wisdom over 500 papers on the topics of project lessons learned, knowledge management and risk management. Like above two research efforts, he also distilled it down to six key areas. Duffield’s slices of cheese were:

  1. Learning: Whether individuals on the team were skilled, had the right skills for their role and whether they were kept up-skilled
  2. Culture: What participants do, what role they fulfil, how an atmosphere of trust is developed in which people are encouraged, even rewarded for truth telling– but in which they are also clear about where the line must be drawn between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour”
  3. Social: How people relate to each-other, their interdependence and how they operate as a team
  4. Technology: Ensuring that technology and data supports outcomes and does not get in the way
  5. Process: Ensuring the appropriate protocols drive people’s behaviour and inform what they do (gate, checklists, etc.)
  6. Infrastructure: Environment (in terms of structure and facilities) that enable project outcomes

Why does all this stuff matter?

Now I am hoping this is not the case, but I would not be surprised that some readers have gotten to this point and are thinking “What the hell does all this have to do with SharePoint maturity?” (particularly if you have not read the 3 articles that preceded this one). So let’s address this one now…

Since 2009 I have taught a SharePoint Governance and Information Architecture class to BAs, PMs, CIOs, consultants, as well as developers and IT Pros. I’ve taught the class around the world and in every class I start by asking students to articulate what they feel is the hardest thing about SharePoint delivery. Take a look at the answers for yourself…

A Brisbane 2012 class said:

  • Explaining what SharePoint is
  • User uptake (“People do not like new things”)
  • Managing proliferation of SharePoint sites
  • Too much IT ownership (“Sick of IT people telling me that SP is the solution”)
  • Users don’t know what they want
  • Difficulties around SP ownership because of a lack of accountability

Not too many technical answers here it seems – in fact I am seeing connections to Hackman, Wilder and Duffield already. Looking at the seven points, they indicate we are missing some key enabling conditions like a compelling purpose, role clarity as well as the collaborative skills and attributes needed in the SharePoint team to address them (“User uptake” and “Difficulties around SP ownership because of a lack of accountability”). Perhaps we are also missing product skills (“proliferation of SharePoint sites”) and have an issue with process and structure, given the complaint of “too much IT ownership”.

Not convinced? For what it’s worth, Melbourne 2010 answered with:

  • Every project is “new” (“Traditional ASP.NET web site development is ‘same old same old’)
  • The solution is never the same as the initial design and the end client may not realise this. The implication is gaps between expectation and delivery
  • Stakeholders don’t know what they want (“First time around what they sign off on is not what they want “)
  • Projects launched as “IT projects” with no clear deliverable and no success indicators
  • Lack of visibility as to what other organisations are doing
  • Determining limits and boundaries (“Doing anything ‘practically’ in SharePoint is hard”).
  • Managing expectations around SharePoint.
    • Clients with no experience think it can do everything
    • Difficulties getting information from and translating into design, so it can be implemented
  • Legacy of bad implementations makes it hard to win the business owner
  • Lack of governance
    • Viral spread of unmanaged sites
    • No proper requirements of “why”
    • No-one managing it

… and if you want to move further afield, Singapore 2012 said:

  • Trying to deal with the sheer number of features
  • “A totally different kind of concept”
    • A little knowledge can be dangerous
    • If you start with the wrong footing, you end up messing it up
  • Trying to deal with “I need SharePoint”
  • SharePoint for an external web site was difficult to use. Unfriendly structure for a public facing website
  • Trying to get users to use it (Steep learning curve for users)
  • The need for “deep discussion” to ensure SharePoint is put in for the right reasons. Without this, the result is messy, disorganised portals
  • The gap between the business and IT results in a sub optimal deployment
  • Demonstrating value to the business (SharePoint installed, but its potential is not being realized)
  • Stakeholders not appreciating the implication of product versus platform
  • You are working across the entire business (The disconnect between management/coalface)
  • “Everything hurts with SharePoint”
  • Facilitating the discussion at the business level is hard when your background is IT

Once again, if you start to distil the underlying themes behind the above answers, you can start to see how Hackman’s conditions are not met and how we are missing some of Duffield’s slices of cheese. So at this point if you are not convinced of the relevance of Hackman, Wilder and Duffield’s research by now, then I can confidently tell you two things…

  • 1) I am not the SharePoint consultant that you need!
  • 2) I am eventually going to become the SharePoint consultant you need! (You will see the light eventually Smile)

The number of the beast…

Hopefully by now I have given you an appreciation of Hackman, Wilder and Duffield’s work and its relevance to SharePoint maturity. All of them have made highly rigorous research efforts, each asking different questions and utilising different research. Those of you who are more superstitiously minded might feel that I am meddling with the forces of darkness here, given that each of the three distilled 6 themes – 666 Surprised smile

While there is no fire and brimstone nearby as I write this text, my next job was to indeed meddle with dark forces in the sense that I had to perform my own analysis of their work to draw out the commonalities and gaps. I figured that this would go a long way to laying the groundwork for gaps I see in SharePoint maturity. I won’t bore you with too much of the detail on this effort, except to say that I used Dialogue Mapping techniques to perform the synthesis. Below are a couple of screenshots illustrating the maps I built which give you a feel for what was done (click to enlarge)…

 

In a nutshell, I mapped out each authors six constructs and then mapped their behind the scenes detail. As expected, while some terminology differed somewhat , by in large there was a lot of commonality. I linked all the commonalities together in my maps and slowly, a new picture began to emerge…

Meddling with forces…

When you think about it, my synthesis of this research is not all that different from what SharePoint people do all the time when developing an information architecture to store organisational data in a meaningful and intuitive way. Just like when you have to determine an appropriate navigation structure for your SharePoint sites, with this work I had to first think about the basis for how I wanted to structure things.

First up, I found Duffield’s use of Swiss cheese model for risk inspiring and absolutely applicable for SharePoint maturity. The metaphor of holes in each slice of SharePoint governance “cheese” is vivid and confronting. The commonality in the answers I got to the above “What is the hardest thing about SharePoint?” question speaks to the fact that there are universally common missing slices of SharePoint governance cheese. I also felt strongly that there was huge potential for a clearer relationship between Hackman’s enabling conditions and Duffield’s lessons learnt. My logic was pretty basic here: Surely organisational lessons learnt (if actually learnt), should be enabling conditions next time around? It seemed to me that Hackman “conditions” and Duffield “lessons” are looking at the same thing, just from different points in time. So my intention was to develop my own Swiss cheese model using constructs (navigation labels if you will) that could be lessons learned focus areas as well as enabling conditions. That way one could truly gauge if lessons really had been learnt, because by definition they would be the enabling conditions to strive for next time around.

The other thing I was looking to do was to make things more actionable. Saying things like “have the right people”, “the right membership characteristics” or “the right culture” are not easily actionable because what exactly is “right” anyway? To that end, I think all of the authors suffered from creating constructs that were fine for their purposes, but were a bit wishy-washy when trying to be more directive and action-focused.

One particular anomaly I noticed when comparing the research was the lack of “purpose” as a construct in Duffield’s work. Hackman and Wilder both list “purpose” as one of their six factors, but Duffield’s SYLLK model makes no mention of purpose at all. I felt this needed to be addressed because lack of purpose is one of the classic symptoms of a wicked problem – a topic I have been writing about for years now. So for me, clarity of purpose is a very big slice of Swiss cheese!

I also felt that Hackman was a bit weak on some of the process/system areas. Duffield lists “process”, “technology” and “infrastructure” as key focus areas for lessons learnt on projects and the closest Hackman comes to that is “Supportive organizational context”. This is understandable when you remember that Hackman was talking only about teamwork in general. Nevertheless for our SharePoint context, I thought that Duffield was closer to the mark. Wilder turned out to be a bit in between – as they list “Process and structure” and “Resources” as two of their six areas.

There were other various things that influenced my synthesis as well, but none of them matter for this discussion. I guess you want to see the results no?

The CALL model

The result of this work is a model I have called the CALL model (Conditions to Actionable Lessons Learnt). Since this post is getting long, I will defer a detailed description of the model for the next article. But to whet your appetite, below is an image that shows what I ended up with. It adopts Duffield’s SYLLK model as its base, but highlights 8 enabling conditions (or learning areas), split across individual, team and organisation lines. Additionally, distinction is also made between the soft (people) factors and the harder (system) factors. The arrows are there to help convey the “defence in depth” idea of the Swiss cheese model.

If you go back to the start of this article and examine Hackman, Wilder and Duffield’s work, you will see all of them represented here, except I used more action focused labels. My contention is that these eight areas are what you should be considering when judging your organisation’s SharePoint maturity. The importance of considering these as enabling conditions, to be put in place right at the start cannot be underestimated. Going back to Hackman, here is what he said about the importance of enabling conditions for team performance (emphasis mine):

Let me go out on a limb and make rough estimates of the size of these effects. I propose that 60 per cent of the difference in how well a group eventually does is determined by the quality of the condition-setting prework the leader does. Thirty per cent is determined by how the initial launch of the group goes. And only 10 per cent is determined by what the leader does after the group is already underway with its work. This view stands in stark contrast to popular images of group leadership—the conductor waving a baton throughout a musical performance or an athletic coach shouting instructions from the sidelines during a game

I note that Hackman’s view doesn’t just stand in stark contrast to “popular images of group leadership” – it also stands in stark contrast to Microsoft’s SharePoint governance poster too!

Conclusion

Now I am sure that some of you are still trying to decipher the model above, or feel the urge to tell me that something is missing or that the labels for each of my slices of SharePoint maturity cheese don’t do it for you. In the next post I will spend more time going over the model and what each slice really means. Given the heritage of the source material that inspired it, I feel that it can be used in various SharePoint and non-SharePoint scenarios. So I will also spend some time talking about that.

Finally, I don’t know if any of you have noticed, but I didn’t actually develop this model just for SharePoint! In fact I have already used this model in various non-SharePoint ways too. We will also take a look at this…

thanks for reading

 

 

Paul Culmsee

www.hereticsguidebooks.com

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Rethinking SharePoint Maturity Part 2: What Makes Collaboration Work

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Maturity
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Hi all

Welcome to part 2 about my research efforts that has led me to thinking a little differently in how we understand and measure SharePoint and organisational “maturity”. In the first post, I gave a glimpse into the work of JR Hackman, who had presented some really interesting ideas about what leads to outstanding team performance. In case you have not read the first post (damn you!), Hackman presented the notion that trying in vain to come up with the causes of team efficacy was a rather dumb idea and instead, looking at the conditions that enable great teams was a much more productive approach.

This notion of conditions over causes is really important to understand, because we all routinely get suckered into conversations about whether one process, approach or model is objectively “better” than another. This sort of discussion frustrates me and I usually find it all rather pointless because it all but ignores the underlying conditions that enabled or disabled things. As a result, we misattribute success or failure of SharePoint to how we used methods, processes and models, rather than focus on what really matters – the conditions under which those methods, processes and models operated.

Now Hackman was not looking at SharePoint projects when he came to this realisation. He was looking at leadership and the performance of teams in general. He synthesised his years of research work down to six conditions that he felt led to better results if they were in place. Those 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

So I very much bought into Hackman’s conditions over causes argument, but wasn’t sure whether his six conditions were directly applicable to SharePoint projects. To find out, I got lucky, coming across some really great work on the subject of collaboration by the Wilder Research Group.

Collaboration: What Makes it Work

Earlier this year, I  bought a crapload of books on the topic of collaboration. One of them had the rather long title of “Collaboration: What Makes It Work, 2nd Edition: A Review Of Research Literature On Factors Influencing Successful Collaboration” written by Paul W. Mattessich, Marta Murray-Close, Barbara R. Morrisey and published by the Wilder Research Group.

This book is quite short – just over 100 pages, but it packs a heavy punch nevertheless. The core question asked in this book was “What makes the difference between your collaboration’s failure or success?” and it sought to answer the question by providing an in-depth review of lots (and lots and lots) of academic research on collaboration. In all, the authors examined more than 281 research studies on collaborative initiatives (and their success or failure) and synthesised them. I love these sort of meta-analysis studies, because I am lazy and its terrific when someone else has done the rigorous hard work!

Why Wilder matters for SharePoint

The intent of the report is to help readers expand their thinking about ways to help projects succeed, gain background information before beginning a collaboration, compare their situation with others, determine collaboration strategy including necessary ingredients, uncover and resolve trouble spots. It also provides a tool called the “The Collaboration Factors Inventory which allows you to self-assess how your collaboration is doing against the success factors they came up with. Examples are also provided of how organizations have used the inventory as well as a case study illustrating how one collaboration assessed itself and how it  used the results to take action to improve its success.

Thus, it should be fairly obvious why this particular work should be of interest to SharePoint practitioners. After all, improving collaboration in organisations and teams is one of the core value propositions that underpins SharePoint and has done so for years now. Under the guise of “governance”, we do lots of work and produce processes (and usually lots of documentation) in the hope that we have put in the necessary plumbing for collaboration to take root and blossom. So when someone has taken the time to distil the learnings from 281 research efforts into collaborative success, there is bound to be valuable takeaways to be had for us SharePoint peeps – especially if our organisations have bought heavily into “social” features of the product.

Now while that all sounds good, there is another less obvious, but cooler reason to be interested in this book – especially given my examination of Hackman in part 1. The Wilder team found a total of 20 factors that were identified as “ingredients” for successful collaboration and guess how many categories they distilled them down to?

Six! – precisely the same number of conditions that Hackman distilled for great team performance. So, wouldn’t it be interesting to see how much overlap there is between what Hackman says are the six conditions for great teams versus Wilder’s six “differences” between collaboration failure and success?

I thought so too…

Back to the Wilder team…

So what are the factors that make a difference in successful collaboration identified by Wilder? Below are their twenty ingredients, divided into the aforementioned six categories…

  • 1. Membership characteristics: (Skills, attributes and opinions of individuals as a collaborative group, as well as culture and capacity of orgs that form collaborative groups)
    • – Mutual respect, understanding and trust: Members of the collaborative group share an understanding and respect for each other and their respective organizations: how they operate, their cultural norms and values, limitations, and expectations.
    • – Appropriate cross section of members: To the extent that they are needed, the collaborative group includes representatives from each segment of the community who will be affected by its activities.
    • – Members see collaboration as in their self interest: Collaborating partners believe that they will benefit from their involvement in the collaboration and that the advantages of membership will offset costs such as loss of autonomy and turf.
    • – Ability to compromise: Collaborating partners are able to compromise, since the many decisions within a collaborative effort cannot possibly fit the preferences of every member perfectly.
  • 2. Purpose: (The reasons for the collaborative effort, the result or vision being sought)
    • – Concrete, attainable goals and objectives: Goals and objectives of the collaborative group are clear to all partners, and can realistically be attained.
    • – Shared vision: Collaborating partners have the same vision, with clearly agreed-upon mission, objectives, and strategy. The shared vision may exist at the outset of collaboration, or the partners may develop a vision as they work together.
    • – Unique purpose: The mission and goals or approach of the collaborative group differ, at least in part, from the mission and goals or approach of the member organizations.
  • 3. Process and structure: (Management, decision making and operational systems of a collaborative context)
    • – Members that share a stake in both process and outcome: Members of a collaborative group feel “ownership” of both the way the group works and the results or product of its work.
    • – Multiple layers of participation: Every level (upper management, middle management, operations) within each partner organisation has at least some representation and ongoing involvement in the collaborative initiative
    • – Flexibility: The collaborative group remains open to varied ways of organising itself and accomplishing its work
    • – Development of clear roles and policy guidelines: The collaborating partners clearly understand their roles, rights, and responsibilities, and they understand how to carry out those responsibilities.
    • – Adaptability: The collaborative group has the ability to sustain itself in the midst of major changes, even if it needs to change some major goals, members, etc., in order to deal with changing conditions.
    • – Appropriate pace of development: The structure, resources, and activities of the collaborative group change over time to meet the needs of the group without overwhelming its capacity, at each point throughout the initiative.
  • 4. Communication: (The channels used by partners to exchange information, keep each-other informed and convey opinions to influence)
    • – Open and frequent communication: Collaborative group members interact often, update one another, discuss issues openly, and convey all necessary information to one another and to people outside the group.
    • – Established informal relationships and communication links: In addition to formal channels of communication, members establish personal connections — producing a better, more informed, and cohesive group working on a common project.
  • 5. Environment: (Geo-location and social context where a collaborative group exists. While they can influence, they cannot control)
    • – History of collaboration or cooperation in the community: A history of collaboration or cooperation exists in the community and offers the potential collaborative partners an understanding of the roles and expectations required in collaboration and enables them to trust the process
    • – Collaborative group seen as a legitimate leader in the community: The collaborative group (and by implication, the agencies in the group) is perceived within the community as reliable and competent—at least related to the goals and activities it intends to accomplish.
    • – Favourable political and social climate: Political leaders, opinion-makers, persons who control resources, and the general public support (or at least do not oppose) the mission of the collaborative group
  • 6. Resources: (The financial and human input necessary to develop and sustain a collaborative group)
    • – Sufficient funds, staff, materials and time: The collaborative group has an adequate, consistent financial base, along with the staff and materials needed to support its operations. It allows sufficient time to achieve its goals and includes time to nurture the collaboration.
    • – Skilled leadership: The individual who provides leadership for the collaborative group has organizing and interpersonal skills, and carries out the role with fairness. Because of these characteristics (and others), the leader is granted respect or “legitimacy” by the collaborative partners.

Now that you have seen Wilders six factors that influence successful collaboration, think about where you focus on your SharePoint projects in the name or guide of “governance”. How many of these factors did you consider when you started on your quest to use SharePoint for improved collaboration? Which of these really scream out at you as something worth pursuing? Go back in time and with hindsight, imagine if you had considered these and acted on it… Would it had led to better outcomes?

Conclusion

I have previously stated that collaboration is a classic SharePoint platitude, and chasing goals like “improved collaboration” are a sure fire way to create elaborate SharePoint solutions that miss the mark. Thus, this work by Wilder is a crucial resource in helping organisations determine what collaboration means to them. Furthermore, anyone interested in assessing SharePoint “readiness” (whatever your interpretation of readiness), would be well served to think about how they can incorporate the Wilder work into their readiness or maturity models. After all, how many other meta analyses of 281 studies on the topic have been done, eh?

Consider also that the Wilder team asked themselves a different question than Hackman. While Hackman framed his question around “What are the enabling conditions?” the Wilder team asked “What makes the difference?” This more broader question posed by the Wilder team explains a lot about their results. Some of their collaboration success factors can be seen as potential enabling conditions as Hackman described, whereas others are a more retrospective look on what successful collaboration looks like during and after collaboration has taken place. Consider also Hackman and the Wilder team used very different areas of research to come up with their answers. Wilder examined 281 case studies on successful collaboration, whereas Hackman used decades of research in teamwork and leadership. While research on collaboration might seem related to teamwork and leadership, in the world of academic research, you are talking about completely different bodies of knowledge.

Nevertheless, if you compare Hackman’s six conditions to Wilder’s six collaboration factors, there are more overlaps than there are differences. This I find exciting because it tells me that these independent research efforts are coalescing around the same themes. But I am going to defer a detailed examination of them both in context till a future post, because as I started to synthesise Hackman and Wilder together, I came across a third area of research that also led to some important insights – perhaps the most important ones of all… the work of PhD candidate Stephen Duffield in the area of risk and organisational learning on projects.

That my friends, is the topic of the next post…

 

 

Thanks for reading

Paul Culmsee

www.hereticsguidebooks.com

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Powerful questions part 3: The “I told you so” question

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Hi all

I just recorded the third video on the topic of powerful questions. The purpose of this series of videos is to help facilitators, project managers, business analysts and SharePoint peeps ask better questions of their stakeholders. The first video introduced the platitude buster question and the second video unveiled the key focus area question. Both are hugely important – especially for SharePoint projects and any SharePoint governance efforts because failure to answer these two will positively kill your project. This 3rd powerful question is related to risk perception and how you can frame questions to get a much better sense of what the real risks are in projects or problems. In this video, I made the contention that asking “What are the risks” is not a great way to identify and subsequently manage risks. The inference for SharePoint people here is that if you think you have done your job by creating a risks and issues list (ala Project Server) and asking for people to fill it in, I am here to tell you that there is much more to the story…

Don’t believe me? Then watch the video. 

Like the previous post, I suggest you watch this video in full screen. Enjoy!

How to find out what the real risks are…
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