Methodology Engine for Consultants

Early wake-up call…well not actually early for me.  Today’s agenda: More Data Mining and evaluating the best course to capture methodology for my consulting firm.   Four primary factors to consider: 1) Knowledge and Skills transfer 2) Job Aid and Execution support 3) Ease of maintenance 4) Accessibility for field consultants

In prior roles I help construct or constructed my own methodology engines for various domains: Marketing Management and Strategic Planning, Enterprise Assessments (e.g., ISO 9000, CALS, etc.).  Depending upon factor four the technology choices I had narrowed down to were: Lotus Notes, SharePoint, and MS Access.  Of all the platforms to build on, MS Access was the most popular as one could carry the engine into a client’s site where Internet access was limited.


I was consider a hybrid on desktop MS Access and Access Services, however, given the uncertain future of both I’m considering another option such as Pega which would have the accessibility limitation pointed our prior, but gains an orchestration engine and data consolidation of multiple engagements for future BI application.  However, to kick start the project I’ll likely use the Methodology Engine I created in ACCESS as it has the basics to capture the workflow, methods and R&Rs


Parallel tracks: Skills transfer at work for colleagues and Structure in Threes book

Started a skills transfer series at work yesterday “Methods in Minutes” with the idea of creating short presentations on Enterprise/Business Architecture and Management Consulting techniques I’ve collected or created over the years.  Originally, I was going to collate about a dozen or so into a single methodology presentation.  However, after coming to the insight that people’s attention span today has gotten much shorter in direct correlation to the time horizon on which they work –that is many colleagues are focusing on getting just today’s stuff done or at best what’s on deck for the week– decided to just create a catalog of methods at their finger tips.  I’ll assemble them later into a IT Management Methodology later as the goal is to help colleagues and team-mate be productive NOW.

Sent out first method draft along with question “would this be useful” to the WW Architecture Community at Microsoft.  Got a resounding “yes” as well as an excellent suggestion to post these in a share or Office365 site rather than distribute via DLs or Yammer.  Looks to be a busy next year as I create and fill the catalog.


Change Challenge

Downloaded Windows 8 and Office 15 Previews yesterday as part of our internal “Dogfood” initiative.  As noted I am working for Microsoft again, and yes employees enthusiastically sign up all throughout the product development process –and after to test it before it is release to market.  Internally they call this “Eating Our Own DogFood”.   My role in the corporation is to think about the future of IT and develop strategy, architecture and guidance for customers so they can realize value from their Information Technology investments.  Basically helping enterprises use their information technology and other informational assets better; change management of a sort. 

With that as a professional focus over the years, one would think I could change how I do things at a drop of a dime.  Not so.  Like others I am working through the new graphical interface that is a key feature of Windows 8.  The rational for the change was to create simplicity for the end-user much akin to the “apps” on smartphones.  I love the idea.  Intellectually it just makes sense.  If you look at our world today it’s a mass of complexity.  We have created so much capability at our command through a host of product features.  However, the price of all that capability in the world is an ever growing complexity.  With all that is going on, people have become overwhelmed by all the details in front of them.  Several years ago I wrote an article on Information Overload aka “InfoGlut”.  The phenomenon was just starting to surface.  Military and Civilian organizations that I had been working with had started to notice that all the additional information constantly bombarding us was causing extreme distractions while performing a task.  In some cases staff were turning off systems as they only provided noise and interference when accomplishing a task.  A decade or so later user interface simplicity is the goal. 

A term thrown around in the information architecture circles is “removing all the chrome” harkening back to the 1950s when automotive manufacturers put chrome on almost everything which did nothing for performance of its main function.  The new Windows 8 and Office User Interfaces (UI) are a well thought out [my opinion].  However, that does not make it any easier to switch to a new model of interaction.  Today, I am in a mass of confusion as I poke around trying to accomplish several tasks I use to do almost blindfolded.  Friends and colleagues consider me reasonably intelligent, maybe even smart, so it become all the more interesting as I step back to watch myself in this condition.  Knowing I am going through a change process does not make it any easier to accomplish, other than realizing that is what it is.

One might theorize that its some hidden subconscious resistance to the change, however, I doubt it.  On an intellectual level I see the benefit.  If fact I had actually done a cost benefit analysis on upgrading my entire household to the new technology when it becomes publically available.   [I’ll be buying a Surface Pro, Upgrading to Windows 8 and Office 15 and using Office 365 to store my content]  The numbers do not lie.  Having made that rational decision myself.  If it makes sense why is it a challenge for me?  Is it some dead emotional conflict; Doubt it.  If it is not an intellectual or emotional resistance reaction it must be something else.

From the research I’ve done over the years some interesting ideas come to mind: muscle memory.  When one practices a task whether physical or mental those patterns are etched into the neurons in our brain.  The more we practice the more they are reinforces.  This enables us to execute these patterns quickly almost without thinking.  Consider typing as an example.  When I starting using a keyboard I was literally a hunt and peck typist.  Over the years I have developed the muscle memory so most of the time I do not require looking at the keyboard or thinking to type.  Bringing this back to my current change challenge I see similarities.  I have practiced using the previous UI to accomplish tasks that it is well etched in my mind.  The intellectual decision to change makes economic sense.  However, adoption into how I do my everyday tasks will take time and opening up how I can exploit these new ways (innovation) will take a little longer as I discover the possibilities.

This brings me to the pondering of whether much of the change management we talk about is focused on the wrong areas.  Maybe organizations and people it them are as ready to change as I am, but are caught with the fact that they have spent years doing things one way creating “Enterprise Muscle Memory” and need a way to practice the future state to develop a new muscle memory?                                                   

Search and Navigation: Taxonomy Usage

Started reviewing my notes from deep dives I conducted at SharePoint 2011 conference last week.  As I focused on the data I continue to brainstorm about revising the SharePoint ISV Partner Ecosystem Taxonomy. 

While the current framework matches the SharePoint 2010 Wheel, the categorizations distort the core capabilities of many of the ISVs.  

The Framework’s secondary level category “Search” is used in the very broad sense which strikes me as a semantic dissonance that navigation is subsumed in that taxonomy.  My belief is that search and navigation are two sides of the same coin; retrieval methods. 

Searching suggests a wide net then filtering down and sorting; while navigation infers production rules to either predict where a member will be or the path where a specific type of member should reside. 

The first methods use keywords and possibly syntax as means to identify membership.  The second has a classification schema which surfaces some aspects of the semantics of the organizational system the author created and is used for direct storage and retrieval in context.  An example of such a simple list:

  • Black
  • Brown
  • Red
  • Orange
  • Yellow
  •  Green
  • Blue
  • Violet
  • Grey
  • White       

It does not follow the ordered hierarchy of the color frequency spectrum, so it’s not a standard spectrum.  It’s not an alphabetic list of color keywords.  Is this a random list of colors or is there some semantic schema behind the order?

If you have some electronic engineering background you might remember it better with the mnemonic:   Bad Boys Ravish Only Young Girls, But Violet Gives Willingly.  This was used in the 50s to remember the resistance color classification:    

While I could sort resistors by color irrespective of the meaning behind the classification scheme, I’m likely to arrange these by color frequency.  This would have the resistors organized out of order by electrical application.  It may be easy to do a quick search by causal users, but an electronics engineer or circuit designer would find this a difficult to use such a navigation system.     

Information Management Segment

The area I’m focused on this month information management (IM) crosses the boundaries of several categories in the current framework.  Examples of members in IM are:

  • Wand
  • Concept Searching
  • Pingar
  • BA-Insight

Wand, ConceptSearching, Pingar  and BA-Insight all appear under the secondary wheel categorization under search.  A tertiary classification would have Wand, ConceptSearching and Pingar listed as Linguistic and Sound Semantics, however, a deep dive would show these products are fundamentally different.  As a result I am theorizing the following revision to this branch of the taxonomy as follows:      

  • Navigation Schemas
  • Organization  Generation [Taxonomy]
  • Content Classification
  • Semantic Analysis
  • Visualization
  • Navigation

This is my current working sub classification as I continue my deep drives which is subject to change based upon feedback and additional analysis.

Information Management: Taxonomy creation methodology

Made more progress on Taxonomy creation methodology yesterday on several front.  Enlisted several peer to collaborate or comment of the core aspects of developing a system to determine taxonomy approach; Richard Harbridge and Ruven Gotz.   I was pleased that Richard had picked up my recommendation and read Patrick Lambe’s Organizing Knowledge.  It gives use some common ground to discuss going forward. 

The materials Lambe covers look to drive core of the methodology.  Richard and I discussed the design of the methodology and agreed on next steps he’d take on.  He pointed out developing key questions to help make assessments possible was a key component and volunteered to develop such.  I’m working on the translation of those questions into matrices.  We had initially some disagreement on whether the results should be a set of matrices or a gradient scale.   We resolved that issue as just a presentation option that consultants can select as per their preference.

The system design appears to have the same pattern as the marketing management process (MMP) I reengineered for IBM ten years ago.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by that as the nature of both problem spaces have similar attributes; both have elements of unstructured and structured knowledge. The mechanisms I used for MMP included: multiple routes through the process; a capability maturity model; ISO9000 verification and validation; and several six sigma measurement methods. 

The key concern both Richard and I share about formalizing an approach is avoiding creating a technical religion with a priesthood. However, I’m sure we can avoid establishing such by putting the approach in the public domain.  As we progress I will continue to post the results on this Blog which is covered by the Creative Commons License or on Microsoft’s Office Templates Online for free downloads.  The only restrictions I believe my collaborators agreed on and I have on reuse are spelled out in that license.  Basically we want to ensure credit is given to those that have either directly contributed or contributed through their published works (e.g., Partrick Lambe, etc.)

Next post will contain the reading list on Information Management topics I’m using.        

Taxonomy Research: Project Strategy Determination for Taxonomy creation

During my flight to SharePoint 2011 continued research on developing Taxonomy creation methodology.  Lambe’s book provided excellent insights.  What I glean from his work was prior to undertaking a taxonomy project its necessary to assess the state of readiness an organization.  The question becomes what you do to assess taxonomy readiness.

Here again Lambe provided excellent insights.  The two major factors to use in an assessment are Information Maturity and Technology/Environment Maturity.  Information Maturity can be partitioned using Cynefin Framework into four state matrixes: Known, Knowable, Complex, and Chaotic.  This matrix infers that level of taxonomy usage that is applicable:  Structure & Organizing, Establish Common Ground, Span Boundaries, Sense Making and Discovery

The assessment of technology maturity spans a range from Ad Hoc Storage, Bucketing, Libraries, and finally Content Management Systems.  These ranges of technology maturity limit to what level of usage are possible in the current enterprise.

By the end of the week I hope to have both an assessment worksheet and guidance selector for how to scope a taxonomy creation project.   

Visual Thinking

This morning I started reading “Turning numbers into Knowledge” by Koomey; an interesting book gear more towards academics and researchers than typical knowledge workers.  When I say geared, it’s the style and tone of writing more so than the information contained within.  The book presents a how-to organize your problem solving.  The small amount I’ve read so far had me thinking about the problem of problem solving and if in the scheme of issues it ranked high on an organization’s the Pareto List of critical items to address.  Combing through my various graphical notes

–I typically create diagrams and sketches for notes rather than text; I had found visual note taking and thinking to be more information intensive than typical text when I was studying architecture.  This was later reinforced by a business associate, Eileen Clegg; I met at the Congress on the Future of Engineering Software (COFES) several years ago.  Her company Visual Insights is a welcomed regular fixture at this annual event.  I think the one year she missed attendance there were several people, myself included, asking why.  Many of the Engineering and Engineering Software community’s best; the most creative, innovative and productive are visual thinkers.  I can’t recall a single member of this esteemed group that didn’t have to have a whiteboard or some graphical tool suite in order to think or relate information during our conversations.

At first I thought it was because these were complex topics with lots of detail, which each could be.  The diagrams and pictures though were for the most part very simple, no more than a few simple lines, circles and arcs, etc.  However, like the Chinese saying “One picture is worth a thousand words” these minimalist sketches were very dense in the information they chaptered and represented.–        

 I bring up graphical notes as to indicate that during my career, as I’ve taken notes, I have captured in my graphical journaling much more details than just the issue that was to be address at the time.  Many times I would capture the process of how the group solved the problem or made the decision.  The various projects I’ve been involved with regarding reengineering processes for Rockwell, Boeing, Microsoft, IBM, Samsung and a host of small companies has introduced me to multiple graphical techniques.  Even as I write this post this morning I find myself drawn to mindmap my thoughts as opposed to writing out these ideas.  Writing –as skill I’m trying to improve upon these past few years—is basically one dimensional while my thinking in multidimensional so relationships between concepts are lost in translation as I peck out the words.  Thankfully Hypertext had been created, so I can come back at a later date and establish those relationships.  This has become a long way around and may still have some missing links between my initial thoughts and the insight below, but I’ll come back at a later time and address that bridging issue.

 What I discover –again, which was the rationale for creating Intellectual Arbitrage Group—was that most problems companies are addressing are the same.  What makes them appear different is the context in which they live.  The majority of the activity people in organizations perform is not really deep problem solving but daily searching and translation to the context they’re working in.  Some of the interesting issues around that is identifying the core solution set.  Often because problem/solution pairs are not well documented, people will take the closest solution metaphor at hand to use.  This from my findings is one of the root causes of project failure as opposed to technical failure.  So the end results of many projects are technical success but not achievement of business objectives.

 The cause of this misalignment and how to avoid such will be the topic of future post as I continue to diagram out a working Information Management Methodology.