Friday, May 18, 2007

Breathe in, breathe out--
In my last blog I spoke about the importance of collaborative walk-throughs, and I wanted to reflect a little on what behaviors seem to make them more effective.

In a sense there are two complimentary activities that should occur in a collaborative walk-through in the early phases of a project:
  • On the one hand, you want to uncover and illuminate a diversity of approaches and opinions.
  • On the other hand, you want to get convergence around a set of standards and best practices for going forward.

Opposing goals? Not at all, it's more like the breathing in and breathing out that sustains life. Both are necessary. And to ride the metaphor a little longer, just as individual stress can be managed by seeking a rhythmic balance to one's breathing, collaborative stress can be managed by trying to seek a good balance between diversity-seeking and convergence-reaching.

Diversity-seeking needs to be openly valued and encouraged. Differences need to be viewed as the natural outcomes of multiple perspectives and not as competing ideas. Phrases such as "I disagree" or "You're wrong" need to be replaced with "I did it a different way," or "I see the probelm a little differently."

Convergence-reaching is the necessary coming together around an agreed upon standard or way to do something. A good exercise during a walk-though is to conduct a claims analysis on each different approach, that is, articulate the positives and negatives of an approach. And ALL approaches have positives and negatives. Concise must be balanced against incomplete, accurate against pedantic, good for novices versus inefficient for experts, etc. Bear with the following anecdote for an illustration.

The Shark
When I was ten years old, my brother and I were swimming in the surf at Gulf Shores. There are certain events in your life that cause what I call "moments of crystal clarity." A shark's dorsal fin breaking the water (when you are a swimmer) is one of those moments. Well, that happened to us and we were doing a nightmarish run through waist-high water trying to get back to shore. With safety just yards away, we were suddenly confronted by a viscious dog on the beach. To make matters worse, the dog had only three legs, thus adding credence to the bad feeling we already had about the shark. Shark behind us, dog in front of us...and then it happened, an insight of crystal clarity: We had to find the depth of water that was too shallow for the shark and too deep for the dog. We did and we walked home safely. This summarizes for me what is the essence of design, finding the right path between the shark and the dog, and claims analysis is a good way to get there.

More reflection later, the day job calls and I can see the fins and hear the snarling already :-)

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