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Handling Action Items

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  • Jeff Conklin
    I just came back from 2 days facilitating for a group working on a very complex problem. Here are some thoughts based on my experience. Some background: There
    Message 1 of 4 , Mar 7, 2003
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      I just came back from 2 days facilitating for a group working on a very complex problem.  Here are some thoughts based on my experience.

      Some background: There were about 25 people in the room, and I was the scribe, not the main facilitator.  Indeed, at times I wasn't even the main scribe (but that's another story!).  The project pulls together a very diverse team representing both industry and government to create a very large joint R&D project that will last 5 years.  This was a meeting for the core group of about 10 people to bring in the next level of participants and bring them up to speed.  As such, it was a briefing-heavy meeting.  My job was to capture any action items as they came up, and to Dialogue Map any discussions that developed around the presentations.

      Observation 1: Wicked problems can be fun. The goals of this project are ambitious, and there are several wicked problems embedded in the sociotechnical matrix. But it was a wonderful group to work with.  The key players have known each other for some time.  They value a good laugh, and  they value straight talk and telling the truth.  I didn't sense much "politics" in the group.  These people were uniformly excited about the project and completely committed to seeing it be successful.  There was a very mature sense of win-win conversations, even among traditional adversaries.   Wicked problems often breed "undiscussables", which have a deadening or overwhelming effect on a group, but in this group the wickedness of the problem seems manageable.  It was a lesson for me to see that wicked problems don't necessarily kill the human spirit!

      Observation 2:  Action items move projects forward.  It was clear that by listening for and capturing action items as they came up I was adding value to the meeting process.  We reviewed the action items at several points, adding names and due dates wherever possible.  At the end of the meeting we spent nearly an hour meticulously reviewing every action item, retiring a couple and adding several new ones.  The meeting notes document I created listed the action items by person responsible (or committee), and arranged them in chronological order.

      Observation 3:  Action items have context.  The beauty of using QuestMap or Compendium to track action items is that its not just a list of things to do.  Actions arise within conversations about issues.  As you map the conversation about the issue, the actions are embedded in the map, linked to the question or idea that the action is about, or unlinked if it is loosely related to everything in the map.  Later, when you are reviewing the action items, it can be very useful to the group to link back to the action item node "in context", which makes it make more sense.  When creating the meeting notes you may need to type some of that context into the action item node itself, so the item is free-standing when printed out in the notes document.  Many people at this meeting were very excited to see a whole new way to capture and track commitments.

      Here are some specific how-to's on capturing and tracking action items during the meeting.

      How-To 1:  Every action item is tagged.  In QuestMap, "$actionitem" is placed in the node Detail, in Compendium the tag "actionitem" is added to the node.  At the end of each session or the whole meeting, the tagged nodes are searched into an Action Items list view.  This is the list you review with the group, and then print out as one of the most critical and valuable products of the meeting.  (Please let me know if it would be helpful to spell out these instructions more completely.)

      How-To 2:  Also tag by the person responsible.  Suppose the action is that Cheryl will have the changes made to the Logo by April 1.  In addition to the" actionitem" tag, create a "cheryl" tag.  (In QuestMap, type "$cheryl" in the node Detail -- make sure you spell it the same every time!!  In Compendium, go to Tag Maintenance, add the tag "Cheryl" or "Cheryl action", then go to Tag Assignment and Add it to the tags for the node.)

      How-To 3: Add the due date at the beginning of the Detail Field.  Later on you may want to sort all the action items by their due dates, so create a "Due date: " or "By when: " field at the beginning of the Detail of each action item node.  That way you can see the date (at the bottom of the map window) simply by moving the cursor over the Action Item node in the map or list (map only in Compendium currently).  Neither QuestMap nor Compendium will be able to sort the nodes by their due dates, but doing it by hand only takes a moment if you can see the dates when the cursor is on the node.

      How-To 4:  Create an Action Item view.  In QuestMap:  create a List "Action Items"; open it and search for "$actionitem" in the Detail.  In Compendium, create a List "Action Items" and open it;  Search for nodes tagged "actionitem" and insert them into the view.  Similarly, create List views for each person who has any action items; in the example above you'll create a list called "Cheryl's Action Items".

      How-To 5:  Create the meeting notes document.  In QuestMap:  in Word create a file called Meeting Notes;  for each map or list that will be in the notes, open that view, Print Text (with Author turned off), while there hit Ctrl-c to capture the pathname for the temporary file on the Windows clipboard, the open Word and Insert File (use Ctrl-v to paste in the file name).  Go back to the title for that map and change it to a Heading 1 style; at the end you can generate a Table of Contents for the meeting notes document that lists each map's notes and page number.


      That's enough how-to stuff for now.  Given the importance and ubiquity of action items in meetings we can look forward to the time, perhaps not far away, when Compendium will automate and simplify this process.  In the mean time, it takes a bit more work ... it took me about 2 hours to create the notes from the 2 day meeting this week.  But it is an essential (sometimes the only) work product from the meeting, and it always adds value.  It is also fun to look forward to the time when action items can flow more directly from the group's shared display into an individual's email in-box or PDA, and there are support tools for reporting back to the group as actions are completed.

      Happy Dialogue Mapping!
      Jeff

      ------------------------
      Dr. Jeff Conklin               <mailto:jeff@...>
      CogNexus Institute ... Collaborative Display, Collective Intelligence
      http://cognexus.org            Phone: 410-798-4495  Fax: 410-798-0806
      304 Arbutus Dr., Edgewater, MD 21037    USA
    • Richard Scott
      Thanks for the coaching Jeff...and very timely as I am about to go into a similar meeting.This information should prove most useful. Richard ... From: Jeff
      Message 2 of 4 , Mar 7, 2003
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        Thanks for the coaching Jeff...and very timely as I am about to go into a similar meeting.This information should prove most useful.
         
        Richard
        ----- Original Message -----
        Sent: Friday, March 07, 2003 9:25 AM
        Subject: [vims] Handling Action Items

        I just came back from 2 days facilitating for a group working on a very complex problem.  Here are some thoughts based on my experience.

        Some background: There were about 25 people in the room, and I was the scribe, not the main facilitator.  Indeed, at times I wasn't even the main scribe (but that's another story!).  The project pulls together a very diverse team representing both industry and government to create a very large joint R&D project that will last 5 years.  This was a meeting for the core group of about 10 people to bring in the next level of participants and bring them up to speed.  As such, it was a briefing-heavy meeting.  My job was to capture any action items as they came up, and to Dialogue Map any discussions that developed around the presentations.

        Observation 1: Wicked problems can be fun. The goals of this project are ambitious, and there are several wicked problems embedded in the sociotechnical matrix. But it was a wonderful group to work with.  The key players have known each other for some time.  They value a good laugh, and  they value straight talk and telling the truth.  I didn't sense much "politics" in the group.  These people were uniformly excited about the project and completely committed to seeing it be successful.  There was a very mature sense of win-win conversations, even among traditional adversaries.   Wicked problems often breed "undiscussables", which have a deadening or overwhelming effect on a group, but in this group the wickedness of the problem seems manageable.  It was a lesson for me to see that wicked problems don't necessarily kill the human spirit!

        Observation 2:  Action items move projects forward.  It was clear that by listening for and capturing action items as they came up I was adding value to the meeting process.  We reviewed the action items at several points, adding names and due dates wherever possible.  At the end of the meeting we spent nearly an hour meticulously reviewing every action item, retiring a couple and adding several new ones.  The meeting notes document I created listed the action items by person responsible (or committee), and arranged them in chronological order.

        Observation 3:  Action items have context.  The beauty of using QuestMap or Compendium to track action items is that its not just a list of things to do.  Actions arise within conversations about issues.  As you map the conversation about the issue, the actions are embedded in the map, linked to the question or idea that the action is about, or unlinked if it is loosely related to everything in the map.  Later, when you are reviewing the action items, it can be very useful to the group to link back to the action item node "in context", which makes it make more sense.  When creating the meeting notes you may need to type some of that context into the action item node itself, so the item is free-standing when printed out in the notes document.  Many people at this meeting were very excited to see a whole new way to capture and track commitments.

        Here are some specific how-to's on capturing and tracking action items during the meeting.

        How-To 1:  Every action item is tagged.  In QuestMap, "$actionitem" is placed in the node Detail, in Compendium the tag "actionitem" is added to the node.  At the end of each session or the whole meeting, the tagged nodes are searched into an Action Items list view.  This is the list you review with the group, and then print out as one of the most critical and valuable products of the meeting.  (Please let me know if it would be helpful to spell out these instructions more completely.)

        How-To 2:  Also tag by the person responsible.  Suppose the action is that Cheryl will have the changes made to the Logo by April 1.  In addition to the" actionitem" tag, create a "cheryl" tag.  (In QuestMap, type "$cheryl" in the node Detail -- make sure you spell it the same every time!!  In Compendium, go to Tag Maintenance, add the tag "Cheryl" or "Cheryl action", then go to Tag Assignment and Add it to the tags for the node.)

        How-To 3: Add the due date at the beginning of the Detail Field.  Later on you may want to sort all the action items by their due dates, so create a "Due date: " or "By when: " field at the beginning of the Detail of each action item node.  That way you can see the date (at the bottom of the map window) simply by moving the cursor over the Action Item node in the map or list (map only in Compendium currently).  Neither QuestMap nor Compendium will be able to sort the nodes by their due dates, but doing it by hand only takes a moment if you can see the dates when the cursor is on the node.

        How-To 4:  Create an Action Item view.  In QuestMap:  create a List "Action Items"; open it and search for "$actionitem" in the Detail.  In Compendium, create a List "Action Items" and open it;  Search for nodes tagged "actionitem" and insert them into the view.  Similarly, create List views for each person who has any action items; in the example above you'll create a list called "Cheryl's Action Items".

        How-To 5:  Create the meeting notes document.  In QuestMap:  in Word create a file called Meeting Notes;  for each map or list that will be in the notes, open that view, Print Text (with Author turned off), while there hit Ctrl-c to capture the pathname for the temporary file on the Windows clipboard, the open Word and Insert File (use Ctrl-v to paste in the file name).  Go back to the title for that map and change it to a Heading 1 style; at the end you can generate a Table of Contents for the meeting notes document that lists each map's notes and page number.


        That's enough how-to stuff for now.  Given the importance and ubiquity of action items in meetings we can look forward to the time, perhaps not far away, when Compendium will automate and simplify this process.  In the mean time, it takes a bit more work ... it took me about 2 hours to create the notes from the 2 day meeting this week.  But it is an essential (sometimes the only) work product from the meeting, and it always adds value.  It is also fun to look forward to the time when action items can flow more directly from the group's shared display into an individual's email in-box or PDA, and there are support tools for reporting back to the group as actions are completed.

        Happy Dialogue Mapping!
        Jeff

        ------------------------
        Dr. Jeff Conklin               <mailto:jeff@...>
        CogNexus Institute ... Collaborative Display, Collective Intelligence
        http://cognexus.org            Phone: 410-798-4495  Fax: 410-798-0806
        304 Arbutus Dr., Edgewater, MD 21037    USA

        To unsubscribe from this group, send an email to:
        vims-unsubscribe@yahoogroups.com



        Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to the Yahoo! Terms of Service.
      • Stephano, John
        Jeff, Good to hear from you. Your description of the project is rich in detail and well-written. I appreciate that. Here s a thought... Is there some function
        Message 3 of 4 , Mar 7, 2003
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          Jeff,
          Good to hear from you. Your description of the project is rich in detail and well-written.  I appreciate that. 
          Here's a thought...
          Is there some function in the Questmap application that allows to tag or otherwise the relationships between persons.  This goes to your discussion on the dynamics of the group -  -  - > My understanding of the tools is to allow capture of both content and context of conversations.  Well formed groups such as the one you describe have a unique flavor to them which directly influences their ability to inform one another.
           
          Second thought...
          I am currently facilitating a number of telecourses for Goodwills across N. America.  At present I am running three sessions which touch 53 people at 25 different Goodwills.  The focus of the course is to educate people promoted into management positions on management functions (Goodwill is not unlike many other organizations in that it promotes people with some technical/functional expertise into management roles w/o any thought to teaching them how to manage).  One of the stated goals for these workshops is to offer networking opportunites that otherwise would not be available.
          Have you done Questmapping for virtual groups and what does that look like?
          ~John
          -----Original Message-----
          From: Jeff Conklin [mailto:jeff.conklin@...]
          Sent: Friday, March 07, 2003 12:25 PM
          To: vims@yahoogroups.com
          Subject: [vims] Handling Action Items

          I just came back from 2 days facilitating for a group working on a very complex problem.  Here are some thoughts based on my experience.

          Some background: There were about 25 people in the room, and I was the scribe, not the main facilitator.  Indeed, at times I wasn't even the main scribe (but that's another story!).  The project pulls together a very diverse team representing both industry and government to create a very large joint R&D project that will last 5 years.  This was a meeting for the core group of about 10 people to bring in the next level of participants and bring them up to speed.  As such, it was a briefing-heavy meeting.  My job was to capture any action items as they came up, and to Dialogue Map any discussions that developed around the presentations.

          Observation 1: Wicked problems can be fun. The goals of this project are ambitious, and there are several wicked problems embedded in the sociotechnical matrix. But it was a wonderful group to work with.  The key players have known each other for some time.  They value a good laugh, and  they value straight talk and telling the truth.  I didn't sense much "politics" in the group.  These people were uniformly excited about the project and completely committed to seeing it be successful.  There was a very mature sense of win-win conversations, even among traditional adversaries.   Wicked problems often breed "undiscussables", which have a deadening or overwhelming effect on a group, but in this group the wickedness of the problem seems manageable.  It was a lesson for me to see that wicked problems don't necessarily kill the human spirit!

          Observation 2:  Action items move projects forward.  It was clear that by listening for and capturing action items as they came up I was adding value to the meeting process.  We reviewed the action items at several points, adding names and due dates wherever possible.  At the end of the meeting we spent nearly an hour meticulously reviewing every action item, retiring a couple and adding several new ones.  The meeting notes document I created listed the action items by person responsible (or committee), and arranged them in chronological order.

          Observation 3:  Action items have context.  The beauty of using QuestMap or Compendium to track action items is that its not just a list of things to do.  Actions arise within conversations about issues.  As you map the conversation about the issue, the actions are embedded in the map, linked to the question or idea that the action is about, or unlinked if it is loosely related to everything in the map.  Later, when you are reviewing the action items, it can be very useful to the group to link back to the action item node "in context", which makes it make more sense.  When creating the meeting notes you may need to type some of that context into the action item node itself, so the item is free-standing when printed out in the notes document.  Many people at this meeting were very excited to see a whole new way to capture and track commitments.

          Here are some specific how-to's on capturing and tracking action items during the meeting.

          How-To 1:  Every action item is tagged.  In QuestMap, "$actionitem" is placed in the node Detail, in Compendium the tag "actionitem" is added to the node.  At the end of each session or the whole meeting, the tagged nodes are searched into an Action Items list view.  This is the list you review with the group, and then print out as one of the most critical and valuable products of the meeting.  (Please let me know if it would be helpful to spell out these instructions more completely.)

          How-To 2:  Also tag by the person responsible.  Suppose the action is that Cheryl will have the changes made to the Logo by April 1.  In addition to the" actionitem" tag, create a "cheryl" tag.  (In QuestMap, type "$cheryl" in the node Detail -- make sure you spell it the same every time!!  In Compendium, go to Tag Maintenance, add the tag "Cheryl" or "Cheryl action", then go to Tag Assignment and Add it to the tags for the node.)

          How-To 3: Add the due date at the beginning of the Detail Field.  Later on you may want to sort all the action items by their due dates, so create a "Due date: " or "By when: " field at the beginning of the Detail of each action item node.  That way you can see the date (at the bottom of the map window) simply by moving the cursor over the Action Item node in the map or list (map only in Compendium currently).  Neither QuestMap nor Compendium will be able to sort the nodes by their due dates, but doing it by hand only takes a moment if you can see the dates when the cursor is on the node.

          How-To 4:  Create an Action Item view.  In QuestMap:  create a List "Action Items"; open it and search for "$actionitem" in the Detail.  In Compendium, create a List "Action Items" and open it;  Search for nodes tagged "actionitem" and insert them into the view.  Similarly, create List views for each person who has any action items; in the example above you'll create a list called "Cheryl's Action Items".

          How-To 5:  Create the meeting notes document.  In QuestMap:  in Word create a file called Meeting Notes;  for each map or list that will be in the notes, open that view, Print Text (with Author turned off), while there hit Ctrl-c to capture the pathname for the temporary file on the Windows clipboard, the open Word and Insert File (use Ctrl-v to paste in the file name).  Go back to the title for that map and change it to a Heading 1 style; at the end you can generate a Table of Contents for the meeting notes document that lists each map's notes and page number.


          That's enough how-to stuff for now.  Given the importance and ubiquity of action items in meetings we can look forward to the time, perhaps not far away, when Compendium will automate and simplify this process.  In the mean time, it takes a bit more work ... it took me about 2 hours to create the notes from the 2 day meeting this week.  But it is an essential (sometimes the only) work product from the meeting, and it always adds value.  It is also fun to look forward to the time when action items can flow more directly from the group's shared display into an individual's email in-box or PDA, and there are support tools for reporting back to the group as actions are completed.

          Happy Dialogue Mapping!
          Jeff

          ------------------------
          Dr. Jeff Conklin               <mailto:jeff@...>
          CogNexus Institute ... Collaborative Display, Collective Intelligence
          http://cognexus.org            Phone: 410-798-4495  Fax: 410-798-0806
          304 Arbutus Dr., Edgewater, MD 21037    USA

          To unsubscribe from this group, send an email to:
          vims-unsubscribe@yahoogroups.com



          Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to the Yahoo! Terms of Service.
        • Jeff Conklin
          ... Hi John, You raise some very interesting points, but I ll keep my response brief for now. There exist approaches to modeling relationships among group
          Message 4 of 4 , Mar 7, 2003
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            At 01:55 PM 03/07/2003 -0500, you wrote:
            Jeff,
            Good to hear from you. Your description of the project is rich in detail and well-written.  I appreciate that.
            Here's a thought...
            Is there some function in the Questmap application that allows to tag or otherwise the relationships between persons.  This goes to your discussion on the dynamics of the group -  -  - > My understanding of the tools is to allow capture of both content and context of conversations.  Well formed groups such as the one you describe have a unique flavor to them which directly influences their ability to inform one another.

            Hi John,

            You raise some very interesting points, but I'll keep my response brief for now.  There exist approaches to modeling relationships among group members, but I don't know much about them.  I use the term "context" to mean a model of a conversation among a group of stakeholders.  In this context (!) the term "context" indicates the more complete record of the interactions among the group members, as opposed to the more traditional meeting minutes document, which is sparse and incomplete.  Context helps you answer such questions as "Why is this important?", "What is the background of the problem?", and "What is the rationale for the decision?".

            Other tools and approaches, e.g. in the OD and facilitation fields, are more appropriate for directly helping a group reach that hallowed state of being "well formed" (as you put it).  Dialogue Mapping helps indirectly by reducing the likelihood of misunderstandings and false agreements.

            Second thought...
            I am currently facilitating a number of telecourses for Goodwills across N. America.  At present I am running three sessions which touch 53 people at 25 different Goodwills.  The focus of the course is to educate people promoted into management positions on management functions (Goodwill is not unlike many other organizations in that it promotes people with some technical/functional expertise into management roles w/o any thought to teaching them how to manage).  One of the stated goals for these workshops is to offer networking opportunites that otherwise would not be available.
            Have you done Questmapping for virtual groups and what does that look like?
            ~John

            Virtual groups interact in two very different modalities: synchronously and asynchronously.  The tools and methods for each mode are very different.  QuestMap/Compendium works well as a shared display tool during a synchronous virtual meeting, as an augmentation of a teleconference call.  You need to be able to share desktops, which these days usually means paying the hefty fees of a Webex or PlaceWare.  (NetMeeting is free, but can't get thru the ubiquitous firewall.)  Indeed, it can be easier to do Dialogue Mapping with a distributed group because the map becomes the only shared visual reference as the conversation unfolds.

            Your situation sounds like QuestMap/Compendium might be a good choice.  First check out Webex (http://webex.com) or PlaceWare (http://main.placeware.com/), since the shared application capability is the precondition of using QuestMap.

            Good luck, and thanks for asking!
            Jeff


            ------------------------
            Dr. Jeff Conklin               <mailto:jeff@...>
            CogNexus Institute ... Collaborative Display, Collective Intelligence
            http://cognexus.org            Phone: 410-798-4495  Fax: 410-798-0806
            304 Arbutus Dr., Edgewater, MD 21037    USA
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