Oliver was stunned. "Let me see if I understand — Dana, you're saying that the reason we can't get the emulator to run is that we need the 4.03 system upgrade? And Jan, you knew the emulator wouldn't run in 4.01, but you thought Dana wouldn't need the emulator before March? Do I have this right?"
"Yep," from Dana.
"Right," from Jan.
"Well," Oliver continued, "how come Jan didn't know we would need the emulator in January?"
"Easy," Jan replied. "The schedule said March."
Dana added, "Back when we were scheduling, the Ajax Phase 2 tests didn't need the emulator, so I didn't tell you I needed it."
Oliver, Dana, and Jan are caught in a trap that awaits many project teams. Together, they had all the information they needed to avoid the trap. They just didn't know they did. Each one of them thought everything was OK — until the problem arose. And it was only when the problem arose that they found out, together, that if they had only shared what they already knew, they could have avoided the problem altogether.
You've probably had this experience yourself, but you can reduce the chances of having it again by playing a game called "What Haven't I Told You?" It's similar to brainstorming.
are often emergent.
They're made of
each of which was
known to somebody.You play the game with a small group of about ten or fifteen people, and it helps if someone acts as a facilitator and scribe. In each round, the players think of something that they know but haven't talked about, and that they haven't heard anyone else talk about. Then in turn, the players describe their items to the group. The scribe records each item. As in brainstorming, there is no evaluation.
As a player, you try to think of something so detailed or arcane that other people probably don't know it or haven't thought of it. And it should be important enough that it has implications for at least some other people on the team.
After the ideas stop flowing, the group can rank them according to relevance, cluster them according to relationship criteria, or apply morphological analysis.
Here are some tips for finding good stuff for your next game of What Haven't I Told You? Ask yourself these questions:
- If I wanted to sabotage the team's effort in a subtle way, what information would I withhold? What would I change? What would I lie about?
- If someone else were trying to sabotage my efforts, what information would they want to withhold from me, or change, or lie to me about?
- Aside from my formal deliverables, what am I doing that anyone on the team could conceivably care about?
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Although the game of "What Haven't I told You" can be valuable for almost any group to play every once in a while, its value increases as the pace of unexpected events increases. My program, "Managing in Fluid Environments," explores how to apply this process to bring forth valuable but hidden information in situations where changes come along at such a rapid rate that the next change comes along before we reach the "New Status Quo" of the changes we're already dealing with. More about this program.
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 27: Brainstorming and Speedstorming: II
- Recent research into the effectiveness of brainstorming has raised some questions. Motivated to examine alternatives, I ran into speedstorming. Here's Part II of an exploration of the properties of speedstorming. Available here and by RSS on February 27.
- And on March 6: A Pain Scale for Meetings
- Most meetings could be shorter, less frequent, and more productive than they are. Part of the problem is that we don't realize how much we do to get in our own way. If we track the incidents of dysfunctional activity, we can use the data to spot trends and take corrective action. Available here and by RSS on March 6.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.