Consensus isn’t what collaboration is about

Consensus isn’t what collaboration is about. This take-home-point by Tom Scheinfeld stuck with me, and I found myself saying it out loud to a group of people at work. This is an important point that bogged our web project down in the planning stages of The struggle of early stages–lack of consensus and leadership on what the website should be, it’s goals, its tone, it’s audience it’s measure of success, etc.–still is visible to a visitor who spends a little bit of time on it. The project lacked a visionary who knew and believed what the project should be.

Instead of gaining consensus of the group, Scheinfeld stated that if a positive outcome is accomplished, led by a few members of the group, that is what the collective will remember–their achievement as a group. But for this achievement to be accomplished, someone must asses the best possible outcome and make a decision. My question at that moment was, how do you, as a leader decide on something? How can you be confident that it will work? Maybe you don’t until you take the chance? Is the definition of a leader, someone who confidently takes chance on something?

Another probably obvious point that didn’t always seem clear to me, is that the measure of success should be based on whether people use it. Despite the institutional agenda, and ideologies and high standards that motivate projects, if there isn’t a practical utility value that serves people, it’s not successful. The number of people that the project considers a success, though, requires some thought. As project that caters to a specialized audience (particular topic in art history), it needs to determine what that limited number of audience is, that it should strive toward. There is pressure to serve a general audience, and have many visits per day, but the content of the site cannot appeal to a general audience. A specialized and devoted follower, who values the content of the site is needed, but the number of that audience is yet to be determined.

There were many golden advise that Scheinfeld left during his talk and discussion. Here are a few more that I will keep with me in the future wherever I end up working as a professional project manager:

  • value constraints (think about the 7-day turn around)
  • make time for social interaction (meta cognition)
  • assessing people’s skills. Determining the types of skills the group has, and the type of skills that need to be acquired.
  • think of set of critical questions; always ask what it’s missing, and think of the overall picture
  • list the criteria for the measure of success
  • divide a group to execute different things
  • watch out for unthoughtful moves. There is risk of losing members’ urgency, respect, trust, etc.
  • create process documentation. This could be part of the out-reach (tweeting out the progress or reporting on a blog)

An incredibly valuable session, the text by Sharon M. Leon also provided practical tips on project management. I would be curious to hear about the workshop that evening, which I couldn’t make. Classmates: let me know if any of you made it to the workshop and please share with me your take-home-points!!