Monday, June 29, 2009

Combining Collective Intelligence

I just stumbled across an interesting website created by IDEO called Patterns. For those few who don't know, IDEO is widely known as a permier design and innovation company, thanks in large part to articles in BusinessWeek (2004), Harvard Business Review, and a 60 Minutes segment, now available on YouTube.

IDEO has an interesting premise for their Patterns site:

"PATTERNS are how we capture and share some of the common insights we see bubbling up across projects, as well as out and about in the world. They are a foundation for intuition. A way to elevate insights to the level of cultural impact. And a way to tap into IDEO’s collective intelligence to do better work for our clients—even faster."

Their current issue/topic, titled Designing for Life's Changes, has good succinct stories about change, and a plain-English 5 step action framework. This along with their past

I wonder what process they use to identify, discuss, decide and capture the insights and stories that they expose on their site - it could be very useful in other settings when the importance of understanding overall trends and patterns is made extremely difficult by busy schedules and siloed work.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Great Leadership Video

A great video on leadership from the creative people at XPLANE.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

What If It All Disappears?

Blogger, Facebook, Twitter, Wordpress, PBWiki, Slideshare, Delicious, LibraryThing, Trumba, Google Apps, Zoho etc. etc. etc. As sers of these and other similar systems on the internet we are all creating and sharing a significant amount of information in all forms that does not exist elsewhere. Much of this information has significant value to the creator, as well as the consumer.

What happens if it disappears?

We live in turbulent, complex times. Companies can easily come and go through bankruptcies, mergers and acquisitions, or off-shoring.

What happens to the content then?
Will it just be deleted?
Will it be organized differently and be difficult find and render past links unusable?
Will it be sold off to someone else?
Will the company acquiring the content be a data miner/aggregator?
Will the company acquiring the company / content be from a different country with different privacy legislation?
Will we have reputation management challenges if content is merged / combined and paints a different picture than we intended?
Will the company doing the acquiring maintain the system and data (As Yahoo has done with Flickr and Google with YouTube)?

If the content is important to us (even something as simple as a Delicous link to a reference that supports important research conclusions), or possibly "mission critical," how can we ensure continued access?

Should we PDF and save our blogs, comments, web links etc. on our local systems?
Should we create a time/date stamped index/diary of comments we've made on various blogs, LinkedIn discussion forums, Digg, Redit, Technocrati?

If we continue to use free, or even paid, services on the Internet, can we count on enduring content availability? Or are we all just creating fundamentally highly disposable information of no lasting value?

Provacative Thoughts from Managing the Crowd

Thanks to strong recommendations from a number of colleagues, I've been reading Managing the Crowd - rethinking records management for the web 2.0 world by Steve Bailey. In the context of challenging traditional records management perspectives in the context of current / future trends in social collaboration technologies, he raises some very provacative points:

  • given that all information regardless of source, format, media or medium is in scope of access to information requests, e-discovery / litigation, why bother identifying and managing a subset of corporate information as records?
  • ensuring that documents, emails etc. that that could potentially reflect badly on an organization are disposed of is somewhat analagous to "accessory after the fact", and in contradiction to the traditional value of the records management function
  • if no one appears to have effectively managed email records beyond minimum compliance, how can we realistically presume to be able to implement large scale content management systems to manage records and information that users will enthusiastically embrace as a productivity improver?
  • is it realistic, or even possible, to effectively manage records that are created in an ever-increasing number of information silos and the exponential proliferation and use of un-connected Web 2.0 applications?
  • if organizations are using platforms outside their firewall for social networking, collaboration, and content creation (e.g. Google Docs, Zoho, WetPaint etc.), how can records, let alone information, be managed in them from a corporate perspective?
  • is effective records appraisal possible given the increasing complexity of the world around us and the the resulting shifts organizational context, the sheer volume and type of information being created from any number of business and personal contexts, and the inabilty to accurately predict future value?
  • does using evidential value as the key criteria for managing records potentially harm an organization by allowing information that has information value to be disposed of?
These and other questions that emerge from the book itself, or from reading and considering it, and the challenges associated with integrating social collaboration platforms inside and outside the organization, would certainly seem to indicate the need to examine the 'traditional' approaches to implementing document and records management.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Fun with Archetypes

For a recent project management community of practice meeting I was asked to facilitate an "ice breaker" activity for the group. Having read and heard about some of the great work that Dave Snowden (Cognitive Edge), Patrick Lambe (Straights Knowledge/Green Chameleon), Shawn Callahan (Anecdote) and others are doing with narrative patterning, fables, archetype creation, I thought I'd facilitate a fun, short exercise to create a archetype of a project manager in the context of the community members' organization.

I certainly didn't follow any of the specific detailed processes as modeled by the experts above, given that I only had about 10-15 minutes on the agenda. I instead I simply:

  • introduced the concept of an archetype
  • showed the session participants a few examples of archetypal expressions to provide a picture of the desired outcome
  • formed small groups of twos and threes
  • asked the small groups to discuss, capture and present their observations of project managers (whether real or tongue in cheek) in areas such as social style, behavour and manerisms, posture, actions, speech patterns, appearance, how they interact with others, what they think and value etc.
It was fascinating watching what happened. Stories naturally emerged and were shared throughout the exercise. The energy in the room was palatable. Time flew for everyone - what was to be about 15 minutes of an ice breaker ended up filling the entire hour allotted for the meeting.

And the combined results of all the groups not only painted a clear and unique picture of a project manager in the organizational context of the PM community, but also some important and noticeable characteristics of the cutlture within which they function as a discipline.

 I think I'm going to keep this type of exercise in my "back pocket" for reuse in the future.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Psychology of Groups

Jeremy Dean at PsyBlog just posted on Social Loafing: When Groups Are Bad for Productivity as a first in a series about the psychology of groups. I'm looking forward to the series, and hope he somehow links the subject, even implicitly, to how people share knowledge and collaborate.  In this most recent post, Jeremy makes some interesting points on the role of expectations, anonymity, standards and feelings of importance in group psychology. 

Monday, June 01, 2009

Strategic Partnering In Corporate Administration from the "Ground Up"

Despite all the promise for more democratic, collaborative organizations predicted in much of the management literature today, stove pipes / silos still exist, often deeply ingrained in the fabric of corporate culture. Internal service groups (ISGs), such as human resources, IT, audit, communications, facilities, finance and so on genuinely look for ways to improve how they collaborate with their partners, but efforts often fall short. Pressures to focus on narrow departmental work group outcomes/objectives, affinities aligned with technical expertise, difficulty communicating due to lack of common language, mismatched workflow and planning processes, and vertical rather than horizontal / group rewards and recognition are only some of the barriers to effective internal service partnerships.

ISGs exist to enable business / management processes / practices, and support managers and staff in fulfiling their roles and responsibilities in these areas. But because of partnership and collaboration challenges across the service groups, staff and manager workloads are often added to rather than reduced, and the value ISGs deliver to their customers, and to each other as partners and customers, is less than desired.

There is a lot of good literature about stratetic planning processes, but there is one necessary element I would like to point out - the definition of "we."

It's no surprise that ISGs need to be part of the strategy development process, and not just recipients of the final strategy document, to have a clear understanding of where their customers are heading and why, along with current needs and challenges they face.

Each ISG does their best to be "at the planning table" and engage in strategic conversations with their customers. The challenge is that ISGs often compete for that valuable chair at the table. They compete for attention to sell their solutions and /or draw attention to services, for funding the projects that are sold and the services they deliver, for more attention during the projects and associated change management initiatives, and for validation of benefitis realization after the projects are complete.

Imagine, instead, redefining "we," how people refer to the group that they belong to / have affinity with, to be larger than their specific ISG or discipline.

Imagine, in over simplified terms, a planning process that looks a bit like this.

The ISGs assemble integrated / multi-discipline planning teams (an new "we") who participate directly in customer planning processes and workshops. The IGS team hears first hand about the trends / external forces the customers are considering, challenges and opportunities in the current state discussed, and strategic direction decided.

In the context of the workshops the cross-discipline ISG team has the opportunity of asking clarifying questions and building collective understanding of the customers' position - and of course everyone hears the question and participates in the ensuing discussion. The ISG team then works together as a group to create, test and position draft joined-up solutions in the workshops as part of the customers' strategic plan.

Then all the ISG teams come together with their leadership teams to form a larger "we" and blend their commitments and findings from the different workshops into a set of operational and strategic plans that establish clear linkages of collaboration, cooperation and partnership and joined-up accountability for management, acitivies, results and performance measures across the ISGs. (A colleague of mine calls this part "dukeing it out for the customer.")

In this approach, synergies of group work are leveraged in developing shared understanding and making common sense of the customers' views, developing innovative collaborative solutions and proposals, respecting customers' scarcity of time and attention, serving mutual customers efficiently and effectively through partnership based on process and practices and not lip-service, and making best use of available corporate funding.

Some organizations I know of are taking a participative/collaborative approach to internal service planning and delivery, and I'm sure there are lots more out there. With increasing complexity of the world we work in, I think that horizontal / collaborative sense-making, planning, delivery, reflection and action are the keys to ISG success.