In my consulting travels, I’ve come across quite a few organizations who use a bucket of tools approach to their strategy, product development and process improvement (e.g. six sigma) efforts. They offer their teams a dizzying array of techniques, templates, forms and software widgets to use, some training and tips on where and when to use them and black belts to guide them. The tools are generally independent of each other, easy to pick up and use and offer the possibility for a quick win. It seems very empowering; everyone can get into the act and use these tools (well, sort of). This suits our democratic culture of instant gratification and more is better.
As I’ve worked with or alongside such teams, I’ve been underwhelmed with their grasp of the thinking content of what they are really doing and with the results they produce (relative to the real investment and hype). I’m sure there are exceptions, but loosely-coupled tools applied on a spotty basis most often produce lots of small, incremental wins that don’t add up to much. I’ve never seen them trigger a strategic leap, disruptive innovation or process transformation. However, progress is progress and team-building is great for lots of other reasons, so I applaud the effort. But please take the next step!
Each of these point tools is just an out-cropping or manifestation of one of a handful of thinking methods that fit together into a few integrated knowledge flows and situational patterns. All of them create knowledge that has a precise, unambiguous context within the pattern and a stable (comprehensive and universal) information architecture. If you master the basic patterns and information model, every time you use the point tools they build on a holistic picture that can create additional insights and learning cycles. If you use them in isolation, you never see the whole. This makes life and work unnecessarily complex; a jumble of loosely connected parts and lots of unique skills to master and keep track of.
I’m all for skilled flexibility in the way these methods-building blocks are applied; scalable rigor is essential so that you don’t spend $1M making a $1M decision or identify a network of 100 failure modes when a list of 3-5 risks would have been enough. However, you should know once and for all where the basic information objects fit in the scheme of things and the limited set and flow of value-creating thinking operations that can be performed on these objects to improve your world.
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