The missing Ps – Process

The Missing Ps framework is my attempt to generate a way of identifying the flaws in the methods used by Universities to select an LMS.

In this section I’m expanding out my thoughts associated with process. It will include

  • The plan-driven assumption
    The almost automatic assumption that a plan-driven process will be adopted. The almost complete ignorance of the adaptive alternative.
  • IT governance model
  • Process and tool alignment
  • The importance of process change

The Plan-driven assumption

Over emphasis on plan-driven development at the cost of adaptive approaches
This is the one I’ve banged on about in previous papers (e.g. an early one, and the most recent one). The on-going acceptance of agile development methodologies, the Enterprise 2.0 meme incorporating emergence and the idea of rapid incrementalism from the two Johns make pushing this view a bit easier.

There are a number of reasons why this plan-driven approach is not appropriate to elearning

  • elearning, what it is and how best to do it are two very open questions.
    It is impossible to properly plan because what we know now is not going to be the best practice into the future. Examples include the arrival of blogs and social software onto the scene. Also LAMS and the learning design folks.
  • A large portion of any system cost is enhancement.
    This is a finding from software engineering research.

There are problems with the plan driven approach

  • The blind men and an elephant story
    The type of top-down design characteristic of plan driven development leads to the loss of the whole.

Some Peter Drucker quotes

from “The Effective Executive”

“Most discussions of the knowledge worker’s task start with the advice to plan one’s work. This sounds eminently plausible. The only thing wrong with it is that it rarely works. The plans always remain on paper, always remain good intentions. They seldom turn into achievement.”

“Innovation and Entrepreneurship”

“‘Planning’ as the term is commonly understood is actually incompatible with an entrepreneurial society and economy….innovation , almost by definition, has to be decentralized, ad hoc, autonomous, specific and microeconomic.”

IT Governance

The Wikipedia defintion

Corporate governance aims to:

  • align the actions of the individual parts of an organisation toward aggregate mutual benefit
  • provide the means by which each individual part of the organisation can trust that the other parts each make their contribution to the mutual benefit of the organisation and that none gain unfairly at the expense of others
  • provide a means by which information can quickly flow between the various stakeholders to ensure that the changing nature of both the stakeholder needs and desires and the environment in which the organisation operates get effectively factored into decision processes

Need to look more into the idea of IT governance and get some nice definitions.

How this is typically implemented in organisations is through a hierarchical committee structure. i.e. there is some central committee that meets to decide what should happen with IT. That committee has representatives from each part of the organisation. If someone at the coal-face identifies a way to make a potential large improvement their suggestion has to climb up the hierarchy, either within their part of the organisation or up the IT division, until it makes it to the committee. Along the way some small suggestions may get implemented, but anything that is large, crosses organisational boundaries or is a significant change from current practice will generally have to wend its way to the committee.

This is a rather negative description of the problem. On the surface this approach does appear to be somewhat logical if you buy into the rational model of people, organisations and decision making.

The problems with this model include

  • Even if it works it is incredibly slow.
    Often this committees meet no more than 4 times a year. Not exactly agile.
  • At any stage the idea can get knocked on the head.
    Any one of the people on the ladder up to the committee can kill off the idea, especially if it is perceived as significantly different, difficult or threatening.
  • It assumes the committee itself always acts rationally in the best interests of the organisation.
    e.g. the killing off of the AIS idea.
  • It assumes that the decisions of this committee will actually be followed and acted upon.
  • It assumes that people at the coal-face will even bother to start the ball rolling
    This working paper from the Harvard Business School reports on research that indicates that people don’t speak up.

    Qualitative data collected in 190 interviews with employees from all levels and functions suggest that fear of speaking up, even with pro-organizational suggestions, is pervasive and, for many, a source of intense negative affect.

Process and tool alignment

When you’ve been told to use a particular tool, you can’t use a process that doesn’t fit the tool. Or if you do there are going to problems of inefficiency or poor quality.

The implication for higher education when adopting an LMS (or any information system) is that how things are currently done and the system being adopted have to achieve some sort of alignment.

The problem with the implementation of many information systems is that it is assumed that it is the tool that cannot be changed and instead how things are done in the organisation must be changed to meet the tool. With enterprise resource planning systems this is seen as a good thing because these systems are meant to encapsulate “best practice”. But this assumption is highly questionable.

It also ignores the difficulty of forcing process change on an organisation. Especially when the organisation is full of knowledge workers, like a University. This difficulty often means that process change is often ignored or not completed and consequently leads to inefficiencies and poor quality.

Need to mention the idea that the organisation now becomes captive to the system. When the system changes, often due to the vendors needs, not the organisations, the organisation must go through yet another round of difficult process change (or simply ignore it).

There is an alternative. Modern information technology can be implemented in a way when it becomes significantly more malleable than previously thought. It is possible to mould the technology to fit the organisation. This makes it possible to enable a conversation between the organisation, it’s members and the technology where both are modified to provide significantly improved processes. .. this needs to be expanded.

The importance of process change

One way to build a comprehensive model is to place IT in a historical context. Economists and business historians agree that IT is the latest in a series of general-purpose technologies (GPTs), innovations so important that they cause jumps in an economy’s normal march of progress. Electric power, the transistor, and the laser are examples of GPTs that came about in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Companies can incorporate some general purpose technologies, like transistors, into products, and others, like electricity, into processes, but all of them share specific characteristics. The performance of such technologies improves dramatically over time. As people become more familiar with GPTs and let go of their old ways of thinking, they find a great many uses for these innovations. Crucially, general purpose technologies deliver greater benefits as people invent or develop complements that multiply the power, impact, and uses of GPTs. For instance, in 1970, fiber-optic cables enabled companies to employ lasers, which had already been in use for a decade, for data transmission. (McAfee 2006)

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