Archive for December 2010



Stuff and Conversations About Stuff

A friend of mine once told me that there are two types of things related to getting work done in an organization. There’s “stuff” and there’s “conversations about stuff.” It’s clear that in the world of learning the emphasis as been on the “stuff” – the content – and conversations about stuff are not tracked, assessed, or considered as central to the learning process. Of course this is complete hogwash, as everyone who has ever learned things at work (aside from learning professionals) understands instinctively.
As we deploy large-scale learning initiatives with our customers, we find that the same duality exists in managing our engagements. Most project management systems focus on the “stuff” – the dependencies, the work breakdown structures, the PERT charts, etc. Honestly, however, we’re not building a space shuttle – what we need to ensure is that people coordinate their decisions, their reviews, the drafts of their work samples, etc. In short, we’ve found that it’s extremely important to manage the “conversations about stuff” flawlessly; when this is done, it’s relatively simple to manage the milestone dates and other “stuff”.
As a result, for years we’ve managed our customer engagements using structured discussion forums that we call “Production Studios,” which provide places to discuss each milestone in the project, post drafts, submit reviews, and obtain sign-offs. Everyone has visibility; there’s a historical archive of decision processes; and new team members rapidly come up to speed. ¬†We’ve used a separate on-line application called Intervals for traditional project management and time accounting.
This year, however, we’ve moved in a new direction, by leveraging new APIs provided by Intervals so that we can embed information about milestones, slippage, cost overruns, etc. right into the discussions. This keeps the focus where we think it belongs – on conversations – but integrates the stuff about which the conversations take place.
Check out the webcast about it here.

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