Sunday, July 29, 2012

Wicked isn't evil

I've been thinking about some unreasonable problems. Some call them 'wicked'. The wicked problem isn't evil. The wicked problem is one where the issues interlock and become interdependent, perhaps even circular: the infamous Catch 22. There's no definitive statement of the problem. In fact, until the problem a solution is proposed, you may not know what the problem is!

In a wicked situation, the solution defines the problem

Climate change may be the ultimate wicked problem of our age. Where do you start? Where do you end? Everyone has a stake, and so everyone is going to be touched; some will lose and others won't.

Actually, in the public policy domain, wickedness is all too common. So, what does a project manager do?

There are a few things that seem to work
  • Assemble a coalitionn of the willing. Keep the number of stakeholders as small as possible
  • Lead with a solution rather than the problem; solve things bottom up. The solution finds its problem, as it were
  • Create a sense of urgency so momentum builds
  • Keep the scope contained; do small-ball things to get started

Some get at this problem with the IBIS, the issue based information system. You can learn more by viewing my IBIS slide share (below) or take a read through this posting from Eight to Late. You'll read this:

IBIS consists of three main elements:
  • Issues (or questions): these are issues that need to be addressed.
  • Positions (or ideas): these are responses to questions. Typically the set of ideas that respond to an issue represents the spectrum of perspectives on the issue.
  • Arguments: these can be Pros (arguments supporting) or Cons (arguments against) an issue. The complete set of arguments that respond to an idea represents the multiplicity of viewpoints on it.
There are some graphical tools that go along with this, and they are discussed and displayed in the posting.