Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Early Compendium catchphrases

The other day I passed some time by jotting down a few phrases that we've used over the years about Compendium as an approach. In this post I list some of the early ones, and give some definitions. Most of them are still valid even though they date from our pre-historical age (1992-1999). They include World Modeling, Conversational Modeling, First Be Useful, Value Now, Value Later, Granular Knowledge Reuse, Rapid Knowledge Construction, Representational Morphing, and Collaborative Sensemaking

World Modeling
Approximate birthdate: 1992

Unlike most of the other catchphrases here, which I came up with at one time or another, this one was the brainchild of Maarten Sierhuis and Rob van der Spek. It predates Compendium, though was one of the chief factors in its later emergence. World Modeling describes a framework for modeling work systems, or really any system. It was based on CommonKADS and Yourdon systems modeling, but extended by Maarten and Rob to incorporate ideas about the social dimensions of work systems in addition to the more technical aspects.

World Modeling prescribed four 'quadrants' to characterize a system -- Current Implementation (how the system existed in the real world at present, in all its messy detail), Current Essential (an abstract view of the way things currently work), Future Essential (an abstract view of the target state), and Future Implementation (the way things would really work in the target state). Each quadrant had a defined set of models you could build, such as Knowledge, Process, Timing, Problems, Opportunities, Resources, Communication, Objects, and Organization.

World Modeling has never received the full writeup it deserves (the world is still waiting, Maarten), but there are pieces in many papers, and a decent description here.

Conversational Modeling
Approximate birthdate: 1993

This describes the original idea for what we later called Compendium (Compendium as a name didn't emerge until 1997 or so*). It was a technique that combined elements of group process facilitation (based on IBIS and other approaches), structured modeling (based on World Modeling), and hypermedia repository building, intended for cross-functional teams engaged in work process and systems design. In fact, CM and Compendium were really born when I was messing around with QuestMap in a NYNEX meeting in 1993, and had the thought that its IBIS-based representation could be used as a tool to implement World Modeling.

We wanted to make system modeling something that you could do with non-experts, engaging them directly in the process (we were heavily influenced by ideas about Participatory Design) without them having to learn some arcane set of symbols and techniques. It mainly (at first) consisted of a set of techniques and templates to use with the QuestMap tool.

Conversational Modeling was first documented in a 1993 NYNEX Science & Technology Technical Memo (thanks to Philip Johnson who suggested the TM's creation**) which doesn't live on the web, but most of the ideas can be found here.

First Be Useful
Approximate birthdate: 1994

Compendium was born in a time -- the early 90s -- when the air was full of putatively transformative methods, slogans, and tools. It was the era of Business Process Re-engineering and similar approaches that promised re-invention of the workplace, heightened consciousness, and better communication. Grand claims were made for the application of ethnography, systems dynamics, action workflow modeling, discrete event simulation, and so on.

We were not immune to this, and indeed the original emphasis for Compendium was for BPR and other cross-functional teams engaged in work process design (see Conversational Modeling). But we did see that a lot of the other methods flying around required a huge investment in time, preparation, and expensive professionals before they yielded any benefit, and indeed often the claims as well as results stayed on the theoretical plane.

We wanted to provide something that, in contrast, could provide benefits, if more everyday ones, within the first few minutes of use, by (for example) helping to facilitate a meeting and get people on the same wavelength, capture action items, and start to build models, without any need for elaborate preparation or training. You could just start using it and it would be helpful right away, even if you weren't yet able to do the fancy stuff. So before making the grand claims, First Be Useful even in a humble meeting or planning session.

Value Now, Value Later
Approximate birthdate: 1996

In many ways this catchphrase is related to First Be Useful. But it especially referred to the hypermedia repository dimension of Compendium -- the idea that you were not only building models and representations that would be of use down the road, but also providing facilitative value in the moment -- helping to keep meetings on track, improving dialogue and shared understanding among the participants, and providing a visual focus that everyone could refer to.

The more and better you could employ the techniques we provided, the better able you'd be both to shape maps for immediate usefulness as well as downstream value (such as being able to retrieve information efficiently, track action items and issues over long periods of time, capture and utilize design rationale, and provide data to other tools and systems.

We thought "Value Now, Value Later" would be a compelling marketing-type statement, and maybe it would have been in more marketing-adept hands (for some reason, Compendium has attracted few -- ok, none -- people who are good at marketing).

Granular Knowledge Reuse
Approximate birthdate: 1996

Another idea related to what for me is the true heart and soul of Compendium -- the hypermedia aspect and particularly the idea of transclusion (the same idea/concept/node in multiple views). As described above, from the beginning we thought about building large-scale models of things like work systems, that would involve looking at something like a business process from many viewpoints and perspectives.

For example, we wanted to provide (a la World Modeling) ways to construct models of tasks, processes, knowledge, problems, opportunities, and so forth, in which the same elements (say, a particular person, task, or system) would recur over and over again. The hypermedia functionality let us copy a node from one view (say, a process model) and paste it another (say, a discussion about that process's problems) and have it be the same thing in both places. Even more, we could right-click on that item and see all the views it appeared in. As the overall set of maps got built up, these transclusions would increase in number, and the modeling approach and other techniques we came up with would help you keep track of, and get value from, all those appearances.

For example, we did a project (documented here) that involved constructing hundreds of models of tasks, systems, and processes for a Y2K contingency planning project. There were about 350 systems identified, each represented with their own node, that were transcluded in all the 300+ business processes and tasks they played a role in. Using Compendium techniques, we could quickly see which systems played critical roles in the business processes that could not be allowed to fail in the event of a Y2K problem (such as emergency communications).

Granular Knowledge Reuse was written about here.

Representational Morphing
Approximate birthdate: 1998

The birthdate of this phrase can be traced with precision. It came out of a dinner discussion at a Russian restaurant in Helsinki, Finland, in December 1998, with Simon Buckingham Shum, Michael Bieber, and Janne Kaipala, after a Hypertext Functionality workshop at that year's ICIS conference. We were talking about the kinds of techniques we'd been playing with in the area of Granular Knowledge Reuse (see above), especially some hacking around with QuestMap export files to create MS-Word, Visio, and other documents automatically.

The idea was that, unlike other modeling approaches that you'd have to manually create different sorts of representations from for different communities, we could automate that process so that you only did the manual work once (in Compendium), then could press a button and spit out a requirements document or set of data flow diagrams in another tool. Someone at the table (not sure who it was) described this as "Representational Morphing."

Simon and I wrote about this in a number of subsequent papers, including this one.

Rapid Knowledge Construction
Approximate birthdate: 1999

As we got better and better using the Compendium set of techniques with groups, we got very fast at being able to create templates, models, and other forms of representations, on the fly, with groups, in live settings. As mentioned earlier, we always had the goal of being able to jump into any situation and start adding value as quickly as possible, but doing so in such a way that more formal and structured uses of a group's work could be created and extracted at any point later on. So beyond just capturing a discussion, we also wanted to be able to create "knowledge" representations (structured ways of showing how ideas, concepts, etc. relate to each other) that could be used in structured models, by other systems and tools, and by later, possibly different, groups of people.

We wanted to describe what we'd come up with in a way that fit it into the then-very active Knowledge Management research community, distinguishing the particular contribution we felt (and still feel) we were making, especially since a common criticism of KM techniques was the so-called "capture bottleneck", that Compendium appeared to overcome. Rapid Knowledge Construction seemed a good name for this. It is written about here.

Collaborative Sensemaking
Approximate birthdate: 1999

Sensemaking, as written about by researchers like Karl Weick and Brenda Dervin, was an idea gaining momentum in the late 1990s, though it far predates that time. In fact, a paper by Dervin that I'd read in grad school in 1982 had always stayed in the forefront of my thinking about groups, tools, and communication. As we began the Conversational Modeling and Compendium work, it felt to me that we were making a contribution in the ability of not only individuals but groups to work together to make sense of their problem situation. Collaborative Sensemaking seemed a good way to describe this.

As far as I know, that term had not been used previously to when we first wrote about it here (may not be a live link any more; can also go here), though I have lately seen some new interest in it.

In a future post I'll write about some of the other Compendium catchphrases that came later. But the above now-hoary chestnuts encompass a lot of what we'd been trying to achieve in the early days -- and still.

* In fact, "Compendium" as a name was suggested by my wife Debbie in 1997 or so. It was during a time that Maarten and I were struggling to think of a better name for our approach than "Conversational Modeling," which no one liked (except us). All we had come up with were even worse alternatives, like "HIM" for 'Holistic Information Modeling' or something like that). I was sitting at our dining room table trying to think of something more accessible. I asked Debbie (who is not a computer- or business-type person), who was sitting on a couch across the room, what she thought a good name would be for something that allowed you to create collections of ideas that could be related to each other. She proposed "Compendium", and it stuck.

** It was this TM that convinced Maarten that the Conversational Modeling approach might be viable. Up until then, just hearing me talk about it, he predicted it would fail. Seeing it on paper seemed to make a difference.

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