Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Agile findability: Use of Concept Maps for Revise, Reconstruct and Resume from Problems

De-construction of a system into its constituent parts to study the underlying problem of parts and prescribe fixes has these days been devoured as a bad idea. The basic premise of these arguments is that while individual parts work in a whole system, there are interfaces, handshakes and undercurrents that bind the parts together to function better as a whole.

This is true. But I don't agree that deconstruction is a bad idea. Initial practitioners, start with Root Cause Analysis by deconstructing the problems into parts and mostly report the findings using a fish bone diagram. Lot of us taste initial success with this method of studying parts and applying solutions to the systems.

However, stopping here means you lose the plot when you enter solving realms of complexity something like relationships and interactions with people, systems, groups, communities, projects, clients etc. While deconstructing these systems, we always need to
  1. Connect and construct them to the source(s).
  2. Always seek to find sources (as problems are inherently complex because of not a single lead, but because it has built up over time in multiple occasions).
  3. Investigate how these parts enabled/disabled others functions in the system or discover the objectives for which the individuals and independent resources were integrated.
  4. Determine the crucial factors among the canvas that needs to be leveraged better to set right actions.

This is where applying Agile principles, we could see a better problem solving approach. To apply the Agile findability of
Revise, Reconstruct and Resumefrom problems, I am going to introduce you to a new thinking and software tool that enables a better approach to fix complex problems.

Concept maps provide much better insights into problem solving techniques. Google for the term and you could learn from articles that suit your reading styles. For this post, I refer to CMAP or VUE ways of using concept maps. I highly recommend downloading both of them and you could be on your way to solve complicated problems by uncovering relationships, the troubles, weaknesses in the links and exposing them solves the problems.

Rather than asking "How did we come to this stage", it is better to ask "What all contributed to this snap". Answering the question then lays emphasis on all connected and unconnected incidents (individuals and interactions in Agile terms) and using any of the concept map tools lay them on a timeline.Using prepositions to illustrate the connections and showing the multiple tracks in a timeline, problem solvers can evaluate the entire map and take a holistic relationship view of the problems depth and solutions at hand.

In many incidents involving people, bringing the connections and non-connections(people not in loop) out is the critical step. Once the information is in public domain, solutions emerge and the problems get solved in a much better fashion than forcing one with own prejudices and perceptions.

While you draw concept maps, make sure you use prepositions to explain the link between nodes. The standard connections and often missing lines (floating nodes) are the sources of the crisis. Reconstructing the lines and visualizing how the links could have been better between entities (nodes in concept maps) gives multiple solution threads to approach a given situation.

Lay emphasis to links and the phrases that determine the relationships. Treat multiple nodes and their linking branches as factors that influences a particular node (Responding to Change vs following a Plan). You are now better prepared to learn from mistakes and make them better by leveraging the factors to turn them to your advantage.

Going back in time to the step that is right is not an option and never a great step. We desire to rewind and start again from where things were right. Hardly this is going to guarantee that problems vanish. Alternately changed equations will force a new set of problems at our hand.

Hence it is important to lay the solution options as a separate concept map on table and see the multiple tasks and confidence building measures from where the links can be strengthened, not only for current job but lay a stronger and confident foundation for future relationships (customer collaboration vs contract negotiation).

After few years of practice, am sure these connections can run in your head and you are the best troubleshooter, deal maker and most effective relationship manager for your organization.

Let me know your disagreements and we can have an interesting discussion :)

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