Perspective Mapping

perspective-map-webOnce I was working with a team that was struggling to deliver one of those death-projects where no one understands why they’re building what they’re building and everyone, including management, feels powerless to stop.  Sometimes it’s easier to muddle along and deliver something than to spend extra effort into killing a project that doesn’t make sense.

The argument I usually hear in this case is either the project is committed to the customer and it can’t be stopped, or staff will be de-motivated if months of their hard work is all for not.   What is usually is the case is that the staff want it stopped and could care less about the wasted effort and they think management is clueless because they don’t understand that.  From a management or executive perspective, they may feel the project team is under-performing or not being transparent about their problems.

Call it silo’d mentality, lack of trust or lack of communication but what I’ve described is a reality many organizations face.

Using this example, let’s assume this organization is going to transform to Agile because Agile can fix these problems.   Let’s put aside the fact that Agile won’t actually fix this problem, it’ll simply make it visible so the organization is forced to deal with it.

Starting with retrospectives across the hierarchy of the organization can be a powerful, and safe, way to explore the good, bad and ugly from multiple perspectives.   In smaller organizations you can probably deal with this problem with a company-wide retrospective, in larger organizations that will be difficult to co-ordinate.   In the past I’ve used this method for collecting data from staff, managers and executives and then explored the similarities and differences through Perspective Mapping.

Conceptually it’s simple but can be difficult to co-ordinate in a reasonable amount of time in larger organizations.

Start by running a “happy, sad, mad” retrospective with multiple project teams and/or functional groups.  Given a theme and time horizon, have people in the retrospective write down things that made them happy, sad and mad.  Group similar items together and look for themes.  Finish off the retrospective as you normally would and keep the data and themes that emerged to use in your Perspective Map.

Run that same exercise with management and executives.

Now you’re ready for a Perspective Map.  There are a couple of ways to visualize this and the objective is to look for areas where perspectives across multiple levels of the organization converge and diverge.  Here’s an example:

perspective-map-webThe columns on the map are the themes that emerged in each retrospective.  It’s likely each level (staff, management, executives) will have different themes but there will be some common themes such as process, communication and transparency.

The rows visualize things that made the staff, management and executives happy, sad or mad.   By grouping the feedback in these rows and columns, you’ll notice that things that are making one group happy are making the other groups sad or mad.   Looking at the third column, you can easily see divergent perspectives on transparency.  In this case it could be that executives (purple stickies) think they are being completely transparent while the managers and staff (blue and maroon stickies) think they aren’t being as transparent as they could be or worse, they are being transparent but feel the executives are squashing the negative problems.

Here’s a different visualization of a Perspective Map:

perspective-mapThis example flips the visualization around showing positives (things that made us happy) on the left and negatives (things that made us sad or mad) on the right.  The perspectives are split vertically making it easy to spot themes and problems from different levels of the organization.

If you’re getting started with Lean Change and you’re collecting Insights, this is a powerful visualization to start with.  It’s likely the coach or team you’ve hired is going to do some type of assessment by interviewing people, running retrospectives or other group exercises and starting with a Perspective Map is a great way to visualize the dynamics in an organization.

It’s also a good idea to have the coaches map their insights onto this Perspective Map because as outside observers, they will see dynamics people in the organization don’t see.

From running similar exercises in large organizations, the most common feedback I get is that staff are sometimes happier to be more open and honest with the coaching team than their managers.    I’ve had managers say things like “I had no idea our staff felt like that!! Why didn’t they tell us??” when they see this data.  There’s a reason why staff are unable or unwilling to give honest feedback and from my experience it’s usually fear.   Fear that they will be punished or worse, apathy that they feel management doesn’t listen. Using a Perspective Map can be a safe way to start to break down communication barriers between different levels of hierarchy or departments.

Once you’ve generated your Insights, it’s time to move on to creating Options and then MVC’s to implement changes that will help solve this problem.