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Justin’s AI Critical Review July 14, 2007

Posted by alwilliams in Production Analysis.
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There are a few areas from reading Justin’s Action Inquiry (see; http://www.cemp.ac.uk/macmp/forum/download.php?id=209) that I believe could have used extra attention and development. Although there are more issues that could have been covered, it is believed those summarised below are the most pertinent.

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Primary Issues Surrounding Justin’s Action Inquiry:

1. Failure to implement the proposed solution

2. Dismissal of potentially relevant methodologies

3. Excluding the client from the AI process

4. Implementing a product rather than a process

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1. Failure to implement the proposed solution:

I think this AI proposes a very useful and practical change that can be implemented fairly easily and then honed in terms of effectiveness when put into practice. This AI seems to be one where you are adding particular value by being at the end of the communication chain, by being in the developer’s role who has to deal directly with the problems associated with bad communication.  The main issue with this AI is obviously that the proposed solutions were not produced as you ran out of time. Perhaps this was due to the fact that you led the project and yet your role is not in project management nor to produce booklets that explain to the client your requirements.  This might have occurred because you were not as able at managing the project or delegating roles to ensure the requirements were met. However by adopting this project I would have hoped you had a plan of who would have produced this and planned the project timeline to ensure that the solution was produced. Instead it seems that now the project has ended and it will be shelved- perhaps permanently (as you suggest below).

the continuation of the project has (surprise surprise) slowed to a halt.

(See; http://www.cemp.ac.uk/macmp/forum/viewtopic.php?t=335)

As a result it is suggested that you should have instigated the change from a designer’s point of view (which is valid since you experience the resulting problems) and then recruited someone who is fully behind the project and who was in a position for it to be fully executed. It seems that perhaps you led the way, but were not able to do so to see the project through.

2. Dismissal of potentially relevant methodologies:

What interests me is your assertion that Action Research is a qualitative process (http://www.300dpi.co.uk/macmp/index.php?page=final-presentation). I reject this and not only conducted quantitative data with others (see also; http://www.cemp.ac.uk/macmp/forum/viewtopic.php?t=336), but believe that this kind of data can ensure that the quantitative, ‘open’, information is correct across a sample without other people’s influence.

For example if someone in the team thought that something was a good idea, quantitative method could quickly survey everyone anonymously to find out their thoughts. This might have provided more valid data, with more frank responses, in the context of a team you know very well and where there is a ‘stage’ to perform as Goffman (1959) suggested. So, I wonder whether you might look to incorporate some form of numeric measure that would allow you to ‘prove’ the effectiveness of your project in the future to validate your findings. It seems this might really work since your employers clearly need to understand the benefit of something in order to prioritise it. If you can somehow show the effectiveness of introducing these packs through ‘hard’, numerical evidence this project may even increase in its priority and get things moving again. Perhaps this would be perceived as more conclusive than a meeting between just your team as internal stakeholders and could have included your clients or even web masters perceptions in general?

3. Excluding the client from the AI process:

…the client could not be an integral part of the early development meetings within our office, not for any overt official reason or specific issue of confidentiality – but rather our backstage team interactions rely heavily on our familiarity with each other

I agree that you cannot really let a client into certain situations of the ‘backstage’ area for them to hear how you operate and risk your professional image. Many conversations could conceivably show a weakness of the company that could either damage the perception of the company or in the worst case lose the business anyway. Yet the client does not need to be included in the meetings you describe as they do sound very informal (see; http://www.cemp.ac.uk/macmp/forum/viewtopic.php?t=335). There are clever ways of involving the client without them seeing this side of the internal operation (including sending a brief quantitative survey for their thoughts). Further more a company that is asking for their customer’s feedback on customer service for example may not have a weak service, but are simply trying to ensure that it is meeting continually high standards. So asking for feedback in specific interviews would have worked in my opinion if it was positioned as your dedication to exceptional service. That works in the opposite way to what you suggest and strengthens your front stage performance rather than admitting you are not very good at it.

It is at this point that I wonder whether you run out of time or did not feel that you could engage the client into what you are doing easily, which lowered the motivation of moving the project forward enough. Thus, whether excluding the client in this AI’s development was a time pressure issue rather than a deliberated one. To me it is a shame that the client was not included in the AI at all and I believe that the piece could have used some external input from the people you are designing it for.  After all this AI was embarked upon to provide clients with information and so by default they should have been included in order to service their needs as well as yours. Although it is conceded this might not be appropriate during the development stage, clients could have been probed as to whether they might need any specific information, under the guise of servicing their individual needs better (after all different clients have different levels of experiences as Justin pointed out). This would have worked at the beginning of the AI to ensure that the outcome was specifically based on the needs of the client. Although the main points of communication are likely to be known by the company certain elements or things you take for granted may need spelling out or explaining in a particular way to an outsider.

Unfortunately you did not make it to the implementation stage, but this client involvement needs to continue at this stage as well and it would be good for this to be a certainty in your mind and not just a hope as you suggest below.

…allowing the client into the process would be an insightful experience for both parties, at least at a later stage of testing and feedback, and its something we will hopefully be doing

(see; http://www.cemp.ac.uk/macmp/forum/viewtopic.php?t=335)

You suggest that your new office manager will be in a position to take up this project, but I wonder what impetus they will have in ensuring that the benefits and processes associated with AI are adopted.  I would still hope you keep involved in the project, even in a steering capacity, to ensure things are done correctly.  In developing this project I hope you involve the clients in some form of feedback that ascertains if they see this as valuable, as well as investigating whether there are any numerical ways of showing that the communication pack has reduced the number of i.e. follow up queries from the clients, emails you need to send back clarifying things, ‘problem’ situations that you describe that you pre-define.

4. Implementing a product rather than a process:

These things should be of utmost priority. Yet they are overridden by short-term work and other projects that have the attention of the people in charge (non-web projects that are not affected by this information pack). If we were struggling for work then I expect things would be followed up much more quickly, as it is there is always something to be working on, and jobs that come to a halt are put aside for work that needs doing ASAP.

(see Wed Jul 4 2007 9:13am; http://www.cemp.ac.uk/macmp/forum/viewtopic.php?t=335)

Yes moving this forward is now out of your remit, but I think that it takes someone affected by the issue and that is somewhat removed from developing it- a position you are in. You seem uncomfortable with the idea of pushing the development of this solution forward in your role, but think if this was the case that you could have looked at influencing a process, rather than something that needed producing and that relied on others. Looking at this problem you faced provides a potential reason for why you experience this and this might be because projects like this are embarked upon and then left.  This this wastes a lot of time. Could a simpler solution been looked at relating to how you communicate with clients and the process your company goes down in securing the details of the website deliverables? This might have also ensured that the solution was implemented and tested.

Two weeks after we took the job on he seemed to change his mind, after having agreed in earlier meetings to everything we had asked of him… Because we left him with nothing in writing about what he was getting, only verbal, we had no way of controlling the situation.

(see Sun Jun 01 2007 10:57 am; http://www.cemp.ac.uk/macmp/forum/viewtopic.php?t=335)

Here it seems that again your solution would have been an effective and professional format to provide such information. However the solution could have also taken the form of an email (perhaps pre-prepared template collaborated on by you and your boss to ensure it was done) detailing what you could do/ not do and what was needed from them instead. This kind of email is not intended to be cynical or negative, but for clarifying and ensuring everyone knows what was said and agreed. If something does not occur after a follow up email then it is clear who is at fault.  This is modifying the existing process rather than requiring resource and motivation to produce a physical piece of communication. Perhaps this kind of solution would have been more effective.  After all it is apparent that large and high value accounts are lost or abandoned and I think that, as suggested, a clear email to the client to follow up with what is needed may have worked and provided another way to have ensured the issue was addressed to some degree. Here you are lubricating the process of securing mutual understanding with all parties before moving forward.

several of my jobs are now stuck on the ‘awaiting copy’ phase. Its a morale-eroding situation.

(see Sun Jun 01 2007 10:57 am; http://www.cemp.ac.uk/macmp/forum/viewtopic.php?t=335)

It seems to me that this is a massively important issue that you have identified for your AI that can be ‘fixed’ (at least to a degree) quite easily by a change of process in how clients are communicated to. However if the motivation or time was eventually there to produce your original idea then this would have provided at least be a temporary solution until this can be developed and implemented.

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Suggested Development of Justin’s Action Inquiry

1. Ensure that the timing of the project and resource available means you can implement your proposed solutions

2. Look how the many different methodologies might help inform different areas of your AI

3. Ensure you include the audience or relevant stakeholders when developing a project in some capacity and look for the most useful way to do so. You need to be aware of the views of the audience you are producing something for

4. You might want to look at creating or modifying an internal process rather than a physical item to solve the identified problem

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