This Guest paper series was originally published by the Cutter Consortium Agile Product & Project Management Advisory Service in 2009. It is reproduced here, with permission from the publishers (

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Part 2 published here October 2014.

PART 1 | Introduction | "Higher" Higher-Order Thinking Skills
Aligning the Organization's Educational Infrastructure | Conclusions | PART 3


The project environment generally has a natural lack of feedback mechanisms. So the challenge in codifying more advanced layers of knowledge has, for a long time, been a core problem. This has prevented many organizations from being able to consistently develop the levels of expertise they need.

Although different organizations suffer from the problem to different degrees, most of the managers I speak to recognize the problem (even if some will only do so in confidence). The inability to bring everyone to a consistent level results in many organizations developing what I call "A" team dependency. The A team represents the few whose innate ability has allowed them to develop the required higher-order thinking skills on their own. Because the A team players are more skilled and more productive, management frequently places a disproportionate percentage of the work burden on their shoulders. While that strategy can achieve short-term goals, for many reasons it's a poor strategy in the long run.

The high number of troubled projects in the IT sector and the number of organizations who are affected lead me to refer to the problem as a chronic crisis. I mean no disrespect to those who are currently providing training, especially the valiant few who are working in the realm of higher-order thinking skills. Nevertheless, I think as an industry we need to carefully look at the methods we use for developing skills in a project-based environment. That requires us to codify more of our advanced knowledge, find ways to share that knowledge more effectively, improve the feedback mechanisms we use, and find ways to keep the door to the beginner's mind open (preferably forever).

I believe that the raw ingredients are there for organizations to work with, and I'm certainly a believer that most of the people who get involved in the IT sector have the raw intellect needed to succeed. Rather than being a problem at the individual level, the problem comes down to the difficulties that the industry has had in establishing an effective educational infrastructure. Only by understanding how people learn, knowing the roadblocks to learning that are inherent in a project-based environment, and looking carefully at the way learning is conducted will we be able to overcome these challenges.

While some organizations may shy away from the visible costs associated with providing more effective training, those costs need to be seen in perspective. The cost of a failed project provides that perspective, and while some organizations see failed projects as part of the cost of doing business, I would say there are two types of business cost. Failed projects are the cost of doing "dumb" business. Establishing an effective framework for learning, on the other hand, is part of the cost of doing "smart" business.

Next month, in Part 3, I shall introduce a Case Study based on my own experiences.

Aligning the Organization's Educational Infrastructure  Aligning the Organization's Educational Infrastructure

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