Disaster response learning

Kerrie Christian recently posted a fantastically detailed and passionate post about her experiences in disaster management on actKM.

One of the things that struck me is that her experiences and the stories she was told serve as a really important mental reinforcement. By having a highly emotive reminder on why these lessons matter, Kerrie was more likely to remember them.

Basic principles of safe-fail experimentation

Complex environments are best described as a system where cause and effect are not obvious, and may not ever be fully known. In these environments, traditional tools such as outcome-based project management and scientific methods are a poor fit.

Safe-fail experimentation is a problem solving technique that emphasizes controlled failure through the conduct of many varying experiments. It is particularly effective in a complex environment as a method of learning.

Thought of the Day: Three Cs

All projects are accomplished through a trio of things: communication, coordination and collaboration.

Communication is about establishing a common understanding of what needs to be done and the impact of doing it.

Coordination is the process of making decisions and scheduling actions based on those decisions.

Collaboration is when people work together to accomplish the various tasks assigned to them through the coordination process.

Business Basics Series

When I first switched from a technical role to a management-level position, I found myself struggling with an unfamiliar vocabulary. More unexpectedly, I found that I wasn't able to write documents in a way which was suitable for the purposes of upper-level management.

Strategies, policies and other management planning tools need to communicate more than just short-term implementation details, but clearly convey long-term implications and a sense of how the documents fit into the broader picture of the organisation.

Collaboration & workplace interruptions

Recently I have been thinking a lot about the impact of collaborative tools on workplace interruptions.

In the old days of computers, PCs could only work on one task at a time. This naturally discouraged task switching, since there was a cost of setting up and quitting the application. Instead, people completed the task they were on before moving on to the next one.

Not coincidentally, this habit also closely mirrored the traditional "in-tray" approach of business. Take the first piece of paper; deal with it; move on to the next. The only difference was that it encouraged "clumping" of tasks. Deal with all tasks requiring Application A, then move to all those requiring Application B.

Once multitasking became widespread with Windows 3.1, this approach no longer had to hold. People could partly complete one task; switch to another task on demand; and switch back. However, my memory of these early days is that multi-tasking was generally reserved for reference purposes. You might run multiple windows, but generally the new task supported the completion of the original, "master" task.

The advent of email and the internet changed all that.

Creating a balanced scorecard

The Balanced Scorecard is a common tool used to measure the success of a strategy. It is normally a whole-of-organisation tool, but can also be used to articulate how progress will be measured for an individual strategy.

Balanced scorecards emphasize the idea that if you can't measure it, you can't manage it. A typical Balanced Scorecard consists of four stages:

  • articulating your strategy

Writing a charter

A charter or terms of reference (TOR) document outlines a basis for the exercise of authority by a group. The group may be an existing team, or specially formed for the purposes of fulfilling the charter or TOR.

The two terms are often interchangeable. However, terms of reference is more appropriate for a group that is responsible for reviewing and monitoring, whereas a charter is more appropriate for a team charged with actually executing a project.

Writing a policy document

Policy documents and strategy documents actually have a lot in common. They both express a desired state of the organisation.

However, where a strategy document recognises that an organisation's current state does not match the desired state and needs to be changed, a policy document expresses the desired state in terms of the status quo.

Creating strategic initiatives

Okay, so you've written your strategy document and got it signed off by management. Now the hard work begins.

Each of your strategic goals will require one or more initiatives that move the organisation towards that goal. Each initiative needs to be described in enough detail that management feels comfortable that the initiative will (a) work and (b) help deliver the goal or goals in question.

Writing a strategy document

Strategy documents need to outline two key things -- the objectives of the strategy, and the goals which are necessary to achieve these objectives.

Bob Lewis explained the difference between objectives and goals to me this way:

[An] objective [is] the point of it all, described from the perspective of business benefit. So if what's being proposed is a so-called CRM system (customer relationship management) the objective might be to increase revenue and decrease the cost of sales.