Notes on Paul Culmsee, "Wicked Problems and SharePoint: Rethinking the Approach" (Paul Culmsee, Seven Sigma Business Solutions)

“By itself, SharePoint can neither create nor destroy organizational chaos, but does an excellent job of reflecting the chaos in the organization at the time of deployment.”

Paul is from Seven Sigma Business Solutions in Perth, Australia.

An early client of Paul’s asked “What’s the difference between SharePoint and Skype?” Answering this question has framed Paul’s approach since then.

Paul says that one of the things that different about his session is that he has a way of understanding chaos.

The questions of project pain:
– “they don’t know what they want”
– “the requirements are too vague”
– “if only they had listened to me”
– … and many more

Paul showed a diagram from a facilitation book … about divergence and convergence. Over time, at the beginning of the project, there is divergence of opinion and ideas. Sometime — about the middle of the journey — you need to drive back to convergence towards a solution. In the middle, it’s the “groan zone” (the place of chaos and pain). In a wicked problem, the groan zone is extended, or never ends.

Sources of divergence:
– pace of change
– wicked problems
– technical complexity
– social complexity (when there are too many chiefs, not enough indians)
In most projects, far too much attention is focused on the technical complexity one.

Wicked problems … comes from some thinking in the early 1960s; key characteristics:
– the problem is not understood until after the formulation of a solution (how you describe the problem depends on what you know what the solution could look like; could be called “opportunity-driven solutions”).
– wicked problems have no stopping rule (“when do you stop?” “When is enough, enough?”
– you cannot prove that all solutions have been considered
– solutions differ based on interests, values and ideology of participants
– a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways (serving the intentions of who is explaining it)
– it can be hard to go back — “one shot operation”
– every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem
– there is no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem (a solution may generate a whole lot of other problems)

There are inappropriate methods …
– “it’s a process problem” … process can amplify divergence
– “let’s reduce the scope” … goalposts have moved in the meantime
– authoritative and competitive approach … win/lose
– collaborative strategies

The SharePoint Paradox
The paradox:
– to deal with wicked problems we have to collaboration
– SharePoint is a collaboration tools
– we use a collaborative tool to improve our collaboration
therefore SharePoint becomes a symptom of the problem

Strategic SharePoint Pitfalls
– boiling the ocean
– jumping to the “how” before the “what” … SharePoint should not be a tool looking for a problem; use the “squirm test” (a specific facilitation method)
– painting with the same brush (“Gen Y thinks everyone wants Web 2.0”, “Engineers think everyone wants wikis”, “Some will never break the folder habit”)
– ignoring inherits conflicts within application requirements (“records management” vs “collaborative document management”)
– not accounting for “soft” factors … organizational culture, individual learning styles and behavioural styles, vertical market and sector

Signs on SharePoint Wickedness
– “Budget? There was a budget”
– Users complain that G drive was better
– SharePoint is no longer mentioned by name
– “Governance” is mentioned in every second sentence
– Arguments over accountabilities and ownership
– A service pack installation is a “War and Peace” effort

One “best practice” to rule them all … ensure a shared understanding of the problem among all participants.
– Jeff Conklin, “the holy grail of effective collaboration is a created shared understanding, which is a precursor to shared commitment.

How Do We Do This: IBIS and Issue Mapping
IBIS, is “issue based information system”
– .. complex group discussion broken into basic artifacts (questions, ideas, pros and cons)
– … it’s more than a mind map
– … ti makes critical thinking visible

Paul showed a demonstration of issue mapping … where he translates comments (given in a linear fashion) into issue mapping.
– the “language” of issue mapping gives you an ability to go back and understand quickly what was discussed

The “decision meeting workspace” … it’s back to a linear list … very poor in comparison to issue mapping.

Benefits of issue mapping:
– simple, intuitive, adds clarity to discussion (limited short term memory, all participants have an organized point of reference, we have captured decision rationale and organizational memory)
– it’s democratc … it acknowledges all contributions (disarms “truth by repetition”, disarms “grenade lobbing”)
– takes the interpersonal “sting” out of supporting or objecting to an idea
– it’s faster … allows a group to develop shared understanding quickly
– maintain your other standards or frameworks

The craft of issue mapping:
– issue maps can be sketched on paper, but usually crafted using software … two options Compendium (free) or bCisive (commercial)

Leverage Issue Mapping and SharePoint
– use issue mapping to understand the problem
– use SharePoint to manage and track the solution
– holy grail … present issue maps within SharePoint sites (eg, export to HTML, and stick it in a document library)

Summing Up
– Wicked factors are very common in IT projects
– achieving shared understanding among participants is paramount
– IBIS and issue mapping are key complementary tools
– Issue mapping and SharePoint can be a very potent combination

For more information:
www.cleverworkarounds.com
www.sevensigma.com.au

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