Improving project performance – applying an ecosystem framework to project management

ThreeApproachesHot off the Press, I am really excited about a half day workshop in Birmingham on 2nd December I am facilitating for the Association for Project Management (APM) Knowledge SIG on Improving Project Performance – applying an ecosystem framework to project management.

For the event I have simplified my Ecosystem Framework down to its three essential approaches, see above, where I believe I have brought together the very best of the best that allow you to take a full ecosystem view of  the business area you are working within. By combining these approaches and being especially true to the  Participatory Narrative Inquiry (PNI) ethos of Cynthia Kurtz (see below) I hope to demonstrate how a project and project management can be improved strategically and tactically to improve decision making, collaboration and adaptability to name but three potential impacts.

Participatory Narrative Inquiry is an approach in which groups of people participate in gathering and working with raw stories of personal experience in order to make sense of complex situations for better decision making. – Cynthia Kurtz

Anyway, it is safe to assume that this will be an enjoyable afternoon engaging and collaborating with others on the perspective of Project Management. Further details including how to book the workshop can be found here.

Two More Masterclasses for 2014

masterclass banner

For all those people who expressed an interest but were unable to make the last Masterclass in Peterborough I am running at least three more in the coming months in London 18th November, Birmingham 1st December and hopefully Amsterdam in early 2015…


will take participants step by step through:

  • increased participation and communication using story,
  • problem solving,
  • prioritising and storyboarding actions,
  • feedback & measurement
  • developing communities
  • how to manage your knowledge for strategic advantage

leading to a comprehensive Ecosystem framework that can be used to highlight, develop and improve:

  • awareness of the present
  • resilience
  • agility
  • adaptability
  • decision making
  • leading to sustainability

More details and how to book are available on the Eventbrite site here.

Earlybird discounted tickets are available so please book early.

Alternatively I am happy to discuss running this event in-house or exclusively for your group or community

Natural Capital and Storytelling

naturalcapitalinitiativeI am hugely honoured to have been invited to co-facilitate a session (with Sarah Jane Chimbwandera, Director of Biodiversity, Evidence and Policy of the Surrey Wildlife Trust) at the Natural Capital Initiative ‘Valuing our life support Systems’ natural capital summit in November in London.

The summit will:

  1. Derive a common understanding of what natural capital really means
  2. Understand in plain language the natural and social science behind it
  3. Find and demonstrate ways in which sectors and initiatives can work, and are working, together to apply it
  4. Identify ways of ensuring that practical responses have scientific rigour
  5. Communicate recommendations for ways forward across the sectors

Our Session, on the morning of day 2, is entitled:  Natural capital and storytelling - This session will investigate innovative ways to communicate the concept of natural capital to the public. Our aim being to gain maximum participation  of the delegates as to what is important, what can be done and how to put this into a story.

And what is ‘Natural Capital’? you might still be asking…

Natural capital refers to the elements of nature that produce value (directly and indirectly) to people, such as the stock of forests, rivers, land, minerals and oceans. It includes the living aspects of nature (such as fish stocks) as well as the non-living aspects (such as minerals and energy resources). Natural capital underpins all other types of capital… and is the foundation on which our economy, society and prosperity is built.”
- The Natural Capital Committee

I ran a very successful Participatory Narrative Inquiry workshop for the Surrey Trust back in May and we have designed our session at the summit around the ‘best bits’. We are hoping to do an early trial with local businesses in early October as a trial run. I will post the outcome and lessons learned shortly after.

Composite Materials and Resilience


On Friday I spent a very enjoyable night at the Bourne Corn Exchange watching what I believe must be the best tribute band in existence, Limehouse Lizzy.

Now I never switch off at gigs looking for examples of innovation and this night was no exception. Singer Wayne Ellis (in the centre of the picture) is a hugely powerful vocalist and bass player but tonight he had a very bad throat infection. After a couple of songs he looked ready to give up when up stepped guitarist Tim Read, on the left and sang lead vocal through the rest of the set.

I realised three important lessons watching the band with its new dynamic:

  • When the Russian, Altshuler analysed the patent database in the 1960s to come up with his 40 TRIZ inventive principles, number 40 was ‘Composite Materials’ and here it was being illustrated by a guitarist who had the ‘composite’ skills of being able to sing and play guitar at the same time.
  • When a system, such as a band like Limehouse Lizzy needs to be resilient, they have to maintain some surplus capacity ie the ability of band members to sing. If the band had simply recruited guitarists who could play guitar they would have had to have cancelled the gig.
  • When he realised the vocals would be taken care of, Wayne simply smiled and told us gruffly “ I will just sit back and play bass then” which made me realise sometimes that the striker needs to get back and help out in defence.

Postcards from the Edge

Experiment04 Postcards from the Edge

Biggest Anecdote Circle.

anecdoteThis was my naive approach to Anecdote Circles where I believed then that it was more important to get convergence by everyone than to allow everyone the space to engage and make sense together. This was the Cumbria Team in Kendal, when I worked at English Nature and ran a series of 26 separate anecdote circles to explore ‘Customer Service’ by encouraging them to share their anecdotal experiences, capture ‘what they got’ from each story,  then to make sense of the patterns that emerged. 28 participants.

Biggest Cynefin Framework

cynefin bigThis was my facilitation of the wrap up learning at KMUK 2011 in London. A huge cynefin framework used to capture the participants lessons to make sense of whether they were Simple: Complicated : Complex or (at least 2) Chaotic.

Biggest Future Backwards

backwardsMore an outcome of my workshop than a direct output. After I had facilitated the lessons learned review of the recent Bee Campaign for Friends of the Earth they have printed and created this timeline of their achievements in the new social space of their new HQ in London.

The Benefits of Lessons Learned


I had one of my regular skype calls with Ron Young and the Knowledge Associates Team on Monday to review and share what we know about ‘Lessons Learned’. We shared our experiences and discussed what would we might advise others.

It dawned on me afterwards that the whole reason for carrying out safe to fail experiments when your situation is uncertain (in the cynefin Complex domain) is not just to find out what works, but to probe the situation, cause an action or reaction of some sort and gain knowledge in the form of the feedback you receive. Hence you have ‘learned a lesson’.

Where you are gaining knowledge in the specific business area that you have chosen to focus your work in, this effectively becomes knowledge that you can apply to your Strategic advantage as your competitors may not have such knowledge.

I love Ron’s story that Ernst & Young had told him, during a collaborative project, that they would often turn down work if it did not involve them gaining new knowledge. So:

“will I gain new knowledge (learn new lessons) from this project?”

should be a key question when assessing a new project, if learning, resilience and sustainability is important to you.

With unbelievable timing and serendipity, I was clearing out my office and came across a couple of my ‘experiments’. I have very rarely used explicit feedback sheets at the end of workshops. At one workshop a few years ago, for a huge international client, I was asked to facilitate a ‘Lessons Learned’ workshop after a big project bid. At the end of the workshop, I handed out, what I called at the time ‘Workshop Satisfaction Sheets’ and as an experiment, to get the client to self-realise the importance of such a workshop, I added a box that asked:

“How much money could the organisation save if all the lessons discussed today were heeded?”

I will let you self-realise the benefits of running such a workshop from the following selection of returns… [click on the image to enlarge]

lessons in a million