Saturday, 29 September 2012

Creeping Cluster - Approach to overwhelming challenge or task.

It is human nature to fear that which we don't know and to hesitate in the wake of an overwhelming undertaking. I have found that by methodically increasing our knowledge and coverage we are able to surpass our own expectations.

"How do you eat an elephant? …Bite for bite."

Incremental attempts however in is not enough, we need to channel our efforts to get the best results with the resources available and within the constraint set (Time, money, etc.).

Some steps to consider:

  • What do I know? Any pockets of knowledge or experience on the topic at hand could provide some context to which one can expand knowledge to form clusters.
  • What do we need to know now? You will need to identify key areas in which you are lacking knowledge or progress and wedge an anchor point (A key fact or understanding) into the larger unknown. Use these anchor points and expand them into clusters by deepening your insight on them and the context in which they exist in your challenge/task. Prioritization of clusters and identification of new anchors must be done at regular intervals to ensure focus is on the right areas and that one cluster does not block overall progress (if this happens, consider breaking cluster up into smaller units).

How do we progress into the unknown? 

Grow clusters individually and search for ways to bridge them at which point they will merge and form a bigger network of integrated knowledge. Keep in mind that these units might have multiple overlapping areas and by identifying one could lead to a series of discoveries.

The purpose of this approach is not specifically to guide you to the end but rather to facilitate the discovery phase by gathering knowledge and understanding that will in turn enable you to determine feasibility and equip you to be able to plan its execution. Another thing to keep in mind is that although you will need to get your hands dirty the focus is not on the deliverables yet but rather on gaining structured knowledge and context into the unknown. That being said this might be something you use completely hidden from other stakeholders as mechanism to structure your own efforts without them even knowing about it.

E.g. you employer gives you a promotion to become a manager based on your good performance as an excellent 3d artist. The task requires immediate involvement so the learning curve is in motion and pressure is intensified as the lack of knowledge can backfire at any point. As you take the position you regularly identify areas that you need to understand which is critical and search for a core fact to build your experience and research around. Some of these might include:
  • I need to know how to do the finances for projects (Cluster), but more specifically I need to do time effort  quote now (Anchor) so will focus on understanding this first.
  • I need to ensure the team functions at full potential (Cluster), for now I just need to be able to quantify individual progress (Anchor).
  • I was a 3D artist so I understand the technical details of the projects I will use this knowledge to understand relating projects problems better and address them.
At some point these clusters of knowledge will start to merge into one managing style and the looming uncertainty of the new job requirements will have passed.

In other words, this approach facilitates the process of understanding the unknown, giving you more confidence in the direction you choose take