White Paper: Deliberate Collaboration

Deliberate Collaboration
To manage projects in complex situations, all participants need to collaborate and agree on the project requirements and business objectives in order to move forward. It sounds simple, and yet these elements are extremely hard to get right in practice because the building blocks of effective collaboration – starting with basic conversation – are often not taken into consideration.

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“A long time ago, I made the difficult choice to remain in practice. I have been lucky to be able to teach and grateful that people are keen to learn from a reflective practitioner. In amongst teaching and practice, there is little time to write. Many people have experienced the methodologies that I use or teach, but have never seen the underlying theory-in-use that drives me in practice. I believe that reflective practitioners can develop robust theories worth sharing and I hope mine makes a valuable contribution to anyone struggling as I once did.”

~ Julian Day (PhD)

Could better conversation design boost project success rates?

Projects fail when there is a lack of agreement or no shared belief to motivate the commitments necessary to drive action. And this happens at an astonishing rate – more than half the time by some estimates – with huge repercussions for business and the wider economy.

belief drives commitment

A practical theory to create manageability in complex situations

This white paper, which advances a practical theory of human collaboration to boost project success rates, is written from a practitioner’s perspective. The work stems from Dr Day’s observations during his early career in IT in the 1980s and 1990s that mainstream project management is not founded on explicit theory, which undermines its ability to create ‘manageability’ in complex situations.

A paradigm shift from how to why

A good theory enables people to understand, predict, and master situations they need to manage. However, if the theories people are depending on are flawed or missing altogether, they will struggle to cope, and life can seem unmanageable.

Mainstream project management methodologies tell people how to manage projects. They provide tools and techniques for gathering requirements, often assuming the existence of predefined business rules and based on unquestioned assumptions. What’s missing is a better understanding of the why. In fact, there has been no explicit theory to help project participants understand why they need to do things underpinning mainstream project management – until now.

Theory for Project Management

A uniquely human trait, deliberately applied

Dr Day’s ground-breaking theory is not about doing project management better, but about starting again with a whole new approach and premise that puts effective conversation between human beings at the centre of the process.

The ability to converse and to think about what other people are thinking is one of the things that sets humans apart from all other animals. By the age of four, children are already skilled at understanding what’s going on in the minds of others. However, mind reading can be disastrously inaccurate leading to misunderstandings and potential dysfunctionality, which is why meaningful conversation – to check assumptions among other things – is indispensable.  

The paper argues that the success of projects depends largely on the design of the conversations in which project commitments are made, and that ‘contagious manageability’ can be achieved by redesigning the cognitive environment of the conversation system to create a ‘small world’ where it is possible and easier to achieve a workably accurate understanding of what is going on in everyone’s mind.  As such, this practical theory of human collaboration has far-reaching implications for all situations where cooperation between humans is necessary in both the professional and personal sphere.

Do the extraordinary

The Systemic Stairway™ methodology is a robust conversation design that helps teams and groups collaboratively make high-leverage decisions and strategies that help them better manage and create real change in any complex situation. 

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