Saturday, September 24, 2005

Read all the way to Q4...

At last the weekend, when I can do some serious wiki-ing. But I thought before I got started, I'd drop in a quick post to address some questions that have come up this week.

Q1: What happened to the WebDev podcast?

A: This past Tuesday I did a question and answer session with the WebDev group. The podcast of that session is available here. Another discussion of the wiki based strategy process, this one focused on Academic Technology and It's another hour of your life.

Q2: This Wiki is just another form of meeting. Its the same old arguments people have been having for years. There's an article up there that is so off base I don't even no where to start. I don't even want to dignify it with a reply. This is not going to work.

A: Have some faith. At this stage of the game, if there's an article that you feel is way off base, don't feel your only option is some sort of point by point refutation. Instead, think about a new article that puts forward an alternative conception.

If the wiki space is not filled with the ideas you think are important, whose fault is that? Mine? The Wiki's? The people who don't share your views? I don't think so.

So inject your ideas into the process in a non-defensive, positive way. Don't allow your initiative to be extinguished. You do not have to respond or cross edit a page that does not serve as a basis for what you think is important. Instead, present an alternative view. If you have something to say, say it. Rally people to your conception. Don't just complain because others with different viewpoints are embracing the process.

Q3: Some of the articles on the wiki seem more like arguments than articles. Shouldn't argument be reserved for blogs? This is nothing more than a chatboard, a soapbox, where people are spouting their biased points of view. Nothing significant can come of it...

A: I think that at the outset activity on the wiki of almost any kind is good. That's people beginning to feel their feet, which is fine. As we go, I hope the moderators will begin to move the argumentative and informal articles off to the talk/discussion pages, where those discussions can rage, and move the tone of the articles toward something we can advance as a plan. But I am confident that all that will happen. Remember, we've been at this less than a week.

So moderators, please move the debates to the talk pages. Use respect for others points of view wherever possible. If you feel that the opinions expressed in a section are not valid, present a considered alternative. You don't have to counter an idea you don't agree with, you can simply present an alternative. In the early stages its not so hard to show respect for alternative points of view. The first idea is not necessarily the best idea.

Q4: This question is my favorite. I didn't receive it directly. Apparently its a comment a manager was circulating around by email on Friday that someone finally forwarded to me:

There are so many problems with this process... but the fact that we are using a wiki to conduct an extended group-feel discussion is exacerbating them. IT has a staff of hundreds dealing with thousands of problems every day, and we are going to reach some kind of consensus on how to solve problems whose solutions have eluded us for years, through the magic of the wiki? WTF! This is just insane. This is a smoke screen. And in a sense, its just another committee, but an online one. In a real "enterprise," management is informed by staff, and important decisions are made based on input to upper management from lower management (who in turn trust the advice of key EXPERIENCED staff members). I'll admit this isn't always perfect, but if it ain't working, you fire the management and hire someone who can provide sound advice. Can you imagine Ford asking the guy on the assembly line, who's job it is to make sure the valve cover seats correctly on the engine block, to put forth a corporate marketing strategy? I'm all for getting input. That's a big part of a manager's job. Another part is filtering out the inane dribble [sic], rather than posting it on the corporate website for everyone to get worked up over. This is slowing down the process of improvement, because we are now in a position of having to respond to every nut job that crawls out of the woodwork. The faculty must be reading this and laughing their a**** [moderated] off.
I just don't know where to begin.

A:As I understand this viewpoint, the commenter is feeling extreme frustration with the strategic planning process we are engaged in. That frustration arises from several sources:

  1. The process is attempting to solve problems whose solutions have eluded us for years

  2. The wiki approach is an insane, gimmicky smoke screen

  3. The wiki is just another committee

  4. The process bypasses the existing management structure

  5. The process provides the wrong people too broad a forum

I'd like to take these arguments in inverse order.

5. This process allows the wrong people too broad a forum.
Well, one of two things is going on here. If our enterprise is overrun by "nut jobs" creating "inane dribble" that is a management failure. It means we aren't hiring the right people, and we aren't giving people clear feedback at review time. I find myself wondering how many people were told by their managers during their last review that they are incapable of providing sound advice.

On the other hand, to the extent that we aren't overrun by "nut jobs", this commenter shows a remarkable contempt for the people working in the organization. The wiki process works on respect for alternative viewpoints.

4. The process bypasses the existing management structure.
I disagree. I think that the wiki process is designed to engage the management team and the employees together to investigate our strategy comprehensively, in parallel. One of the external criticisms of the existing team is that it has no history of comprehensive strategic planning. So clearly a new mechanism is called for. Furthermore, since speed is an issue, I did not feel we had the luxury of waiting for the existing management chain to gather input from the staff and develop the plan in the normal course.

If the commenter truly believes that :

" is informed by staff, and important decisions are made based on input to upper management from lower management (who in turn trust the advice of key EXPERIENCED staff members)..."

then he/she should be relieved to learn that that is precisely the modality that is being followed here. The early stages of the wiki allow anyone to put forward ideas, in any form. It will be the job of moderators, chosen from the management team and experienced staff, to structure those ideas into a coherent form, making decisions all along the way. Finally, this plan will be reviewed by "upper management", to decide on the direction in each of these areas. The only difference I suppose is that the ideas are written, and the process is open.

3. The wiki is just another committee.
Not exactly. For example, no-one had to sit through hours of meetings as these ideas were repeated over and over again by "nut jobs". If an idea is unconvincing to you, you can give it as much attention as you choose. Further, to the extent that the ideas are written as opposed to spoken, it is possible to improve them by editing and amending them. Or they can simply be ignored. As I said, this is not a vote. It is not an argument. It is a moderated, distributed, open strategic planning tool.

2. This wiki is an insane, gimmicky smoke screen.
Smoke screen implies that the approach is covering something up. I think this process does the opposite of that.

Insane and gimmicky, well that sort of depends on who shows up and how they behave when they get there. If this fails, it will be my fault, but only because I failed to connect with and energize the people with the ideas to move us forward. This is the best way I know of to do that.

If, unlike the commenter, you believe in this process and think its high time to improve the strategic role that IT plays here at ASU, the defense is to do what is necessary to make this process work. As Bob Dylan would say, "Keep your eyes wide, the chance won't come again."

1. The process is attempting to solve problems whose solutions have eluded us for years.
As Ben Franklin said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. The only way to solve problems whose solutions have eluded you for years is to find a different way to solve them. I am betting that the wiki is the way.

So glad to get an opportunity to address these concerns, and put them out there where the debate can have a positive effect on the process. I only wish the commenter had expressed these concerns directly, in the open, and perhaps with more temperate language. Maybe next time. Please encourage others with similar concerns to engage in a positive way.


Jeni,  September 24, 2005 at 10:03 AM  

Hear, hear. This is a risky process for all. Those who sincerely hope for a real change of some sort are dependent on the top-level commitment and ability to deliver real change. If we jump in with enthusiasm and stay up late reading and discussing and stumbling together toward some sort of critical mass, we run the risk of being disappointed at having wasted our energy (in many cases, *again*) on a process that failed to follow through. That's a risk.

On the other hand, if we sit back in a pool of self-righteous cynicism and keep our thoughts to ourselves (or to destructive back channels), we run the risk of being left behind as the university moves off on a radical new course -- set by whoever had the most time on his hands.

Adrian (and, by extension, President Crow) is taking a tremendous risk by throwing open the gates and inviting a free-for-all to find the best rough ideas and polish them in the tumbler of mass scrutiny. If we don't deliver with the thought process, we can't expect him to deliver with the change.

I've been naive and enthusiastic in my career with ASU. I've also been cynical and jaded. I think I'm more useful to the university, not to mention happier, when I'm naive and enthusiastic.

So what the heck. This is an approach we haven't seen before. It may tumble out with a nice shine on it. Let's at least not grind it into the dirt before we see what kind of stone it is.

Rick September 26, 2005 at 11:23 AM  

Gosh, I wish I had more time. What I really wish is that we could do the last part first; where we can see what good things we need to stop doing, so that we can do other good things that we should be doing. My day is filled, and in my spare moments I hit this blog and am all inspired and ready to contribute (or, ready to rebut!), but I don't have time! When are you all finding the time to compose and send these messages? After hours and weekends? I have noticed that the post time on my messages is coming in with some unrealistic value, so that's no clue.

I do appreciate the forum of ideas, and the clarification (above) of the expectations on the wiki itself. I'm not familiar with it, and yet it is inviting. I do feel invited, and encouraged.

Ooops. Gotta run.

Jeni September 26, 2005 at 5:31 PM  

Hey Rick,

Yeah, my timestamps are real... the time I'm spending here is in the middle of the night, on weekends, and my day off. If your post times are inaccurate, it's probably because your time zone is still at the default UTC instead of UTC-7... at least that's the case on the wiki.

Adrian said in his podcasts that he's looking for people to stretch. I'm with you; I'm already stretched a *lot* professionally and personally; but I find it's almost always possible to squeeze a little extra time out here and there.

It's overwhelming if you take it all in and try to respond to everything at once. Not so much if you focus on whatever single thing really grabs you at the moment and just respond to that. And if you get the thoughts out there, somebody else can pick up and run with them too. You don't have to do it all alone, and it doesn't have to be perfect. I think that's the great thing about this wiki approach.

shsalik,  September 29, 2005 at 3:42 AM  

In response to our anonymous poster who is essentially advocated business as usual:

You can’t have it both ways, you’re essentially saying business as usual isn’t working yet we should continue to use that process. Isn’t that a little nuts?

As to your question “Can you imagine Ford asking the guy on the assembly line, who’s job it is to make sure the valve cover seats correctly on the engine block, to put forth a corporate marketing strategy?”, well, I’m not immediately sure about Ford but I am sure about Ingersoll-Rand. They did it, and it created one of the most successful products they’ve ever had by increasing sales 65% over their previous equipment and moved them into first place in the marketspace. Read about it here:

Ingersoll-Rand Cyclone Grinder