Published originally as a White Paper and later in the ISPI Performance Improvement Journal, this commentary by Steven Kelly (30 minute read) provides insights into the KNO process and the constant stress between depth of research and limited resources or time. Although a decade old, the principles and methods still are solid.
The introduction is below:
OK, I’ll admit it. I’m a card carrying practitioner. It’s been that way from the beginning. Starting in the US Army in 1975, working in the 9th Infantry Division. I started in tactical intelligence. High demand assessment environment. Little time. Fragmented data. Urgent needs for prediction. Wrong conclusions extremely hazardous to your health. Later with an innovative Army office called OE (Organization Effectiveness). Moving forward through a blizzard of acronyms over three decades. ISD during the early 80’s supervising training efforts for refinery and nuclear plant construction. OD in supporting municipal government and utility restructuring in the late 80s. Call it anything you like during the hectic 1990s in post communist Czechoslovakia. Driving relentlessly to turn order-takers into retail and industrial sales professionals. Hanging in there with PT and its confusing definitions at the turn of the century. Currently helping to define the uses of HICD (Human Institutional Capacity Development) slowly being adapted within the international donor aid programs.
I’ve seen a lot of data. Designed many interventions, built upon the scaffolding of rigor within existing research. All those years focused on cranking out results… using whatever methodology seemed to work. Sure, I immersed myself in all the basics – Drucker, Gilbert, Forrester, Mager, Blanchard, Rummler… the list goes on. I devoured the literature, attended conferences, published a few articles. But, ultimately I am a practitioner. I supply critical recommendations that senior managers need now. I take what seems to work, merge complementary tools together, give credit where it seems appropriate, push the process forward with the client.
The Challenge Today
Lately, I have found myself working in more challenging assignments. Real mega work. Kaufmanesque earth-shaking societal impacts. Assisting institutions in poorly transitioning societies. The funding always limited versus the yowling needs. The odds of success, true sustainable success, stacked against me. How can I attack massive problems in short time frames, with limited budget? I find myself more and more looking at our profession. Certainly this is a science, or rather applied technology. The science provides the foundation for what we do. But, more and more, I see also a certain art to the style of practice.
Brethower reminds me to consider aspects of Snow’s two cultures. His highly influential thesis in the late 50s. The fear of a breakdown between humanities and the sciences. A certain competition. In some cases a distain. But, coupled with this, his certainty that both are needed to address the complex issues. Applied engineering, joined with artistic craft. Absolutely necessary to address human- created industrial age challenges. These challenges only multiplying moving into the digital age.
The Music Metaphor
I’ve been drawn to the metaphor of music composition and execution. There are those who lean toward the grand composition. Music as math, as science. The most relevant example being a Haydn piece – exactly structured 4 movements. Trustworthy and proven. A symphonic approach to assessment and applied interventions. The approach requires very thorough planning. Exhaustive and validated lists of questions. Complex hierarchies of analysis. Extensive direction and control of the process with the client. The vacuuming up of all available data for analysis and mapping – all in the pursuit of the elusive performance gap.
Use a link above to read the full paper.