Blue Sky Paradox

A few years back I wrote a case study for Harvard Business Review, “They Bought In. Now They Want to Bail Out,” in which I introduced a concept I called the “Blue Sky Paradox.” It is an idea I came up after having experienced several large-scale technology implementations. In essence, the paradox comes from the process: during the discovery phase of the project, the architects get everyone to dream big in order to unearth their true needs, desires, and pain points and then come back with a much narrower solution when they are ready to put something in place.

It is a paradox because the discovery phase is perfectly legitimate — the techies have to both gain an understanding of the underlying issues, build excitement among different constituencies, and get people to put some skin in the game — as is the delivery phase — but the latter has been defined by budgets, time lines, legacy system compatibility issues, and vendor system limitations. It takes skill to manage expectations throughout the process particularly because many of the stakeholders involved in the brainstorming disengage from the process until procurement and design decisions have been made. They don’t get to see how the decisions and trade offs get made.

In brainstorming, your baseline is like a flat line across a page with 180° of possibilities between the two ends. Budgets, deadlines, and other aspects of the subsequent reality pull that line up from each end to form a “V.” All of the suggestions and ideas that fall outside of the “V” represent someones unrealized hopes and unfulfilled desires.

I’ve lived through a couple of such implementations after the case was published and, unfortunately, the lessons are still to be learned. I’m pleased that a couple of of people in the field found it valuable as well: See, Observe, and Learn and Darryl Praill at ADEXA.

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