What Haven't I Told You?
by Rick Brenner
When a project team hits a speed bump, it often learns that it had all the information it needed to avoid the problem, sometimes months in advance of uncovering it. Here's a technique for discovering this kind of knowledge more systematically.
Oliver was stunned. "Let me see if I understand — Dana, you're saying that the reason we can't get the emulator to run is that we need the 4.03 system upgrade? And Jan, you knew the emulator wouldn't run in 4.01, but you thought Dana wouldn't need the emulator before March? Do I have this right?"
"Yep," from Dana.
"Right," from Jan.
"Well," Oliver continued, "how come Jan didn't know we would need the emulator in January?"
"Easy," Jan replied. "The schedule said March."
Dana added, "Back when we were scheduling, the Ajax Phase 2 tests didn't need the emulator, so I didn't tell you I needed it."
Oliver, Dana, and Jan are caught in a trap that awaits many project teams. Together, they had all the information they needed to avoid the trap. They just didn't know they did. Each one of them thought everything was OK — until the problem arose. And it was only when the problem arose that they found out, together, that if they had only shared what they already knew, they could have avoided the problem altogether.
You've probably had this experience yourself, but you can reduce the chances of having it again by playing a game called "What Haven't I Told You?" It's similar to brainstorming.
are often emergent.
They're made of
each of which was
known to somebody.You play the game with a small group of about ten or fifteen people, and it helps if someone acts as a facilitator and scribe. In each round, the players think of something that they know but haven't talked about, and that they haven't heard anyone else talk about. Then in turn, the players describe their items to the group. The scribe records each item. As in brainstorming, there is no evaluation.
As a player, you try to think of something so detailed or arcane that other people probably don't know it or haven't thought of it. And it should be important enough that it has implications for at least some other people on the team.
After the ideas stop flowing, the group can rank them according to relevance, cluster them according to relationship criteria, or apply morphological analysis.
Here are some tips for finding good stuff for your next game of What Haven't I Told You? Ask yourself these questions:
- If I wanted to sabotage the team's effort in a subtle way, what information would I withhold? What would I change? What would I lie about?
- If someone else were trying to sabotage my efforts, what information would they want to withhold from me, or change, or lie to me about?
- Aside from my formal deliverables, what am I doing that anyone on the team could conceivably care about?
You don't need to be a team to benefit from playing this game. What haven't you told yourself? Top Next Issue
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
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See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness, Effective Meetings and Problem Solving and Creativity for more related articles.
Forthcoming Issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 11: Historical Debates at Work
- One obstacle to high performance in teams is the historical debate — arguing about who said what and when, or who agreed to what and when. Here are suggestions for ending and preventing historical debates. Available here and by RSS on March 11.
- And on March 18: Suspense Is Not Your Friend
- Most of us have to talk to other people at work. Whether to peers, subordinates, or superiors, sometimes we must convey information that can be complicated when delivered in full detail. To convey complicated ideas effectively, avoid suspense. Available here and by RSS on March 18.
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