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


While the traditional training and certification programs provide knowledge workers with the knowledge and understanding levels of Bloom's Taxonomy, the higher-order thinking skills represent a considerable challenge. IT projects are in many ways the antithesis of Klein's four conditions for developing higher-order thinking skills. The inherent character of a technology project includes the following factors:

  • They often extend over considerable periods of time, thereby diluting the immediacy of the feedback (even a few days or weeks can be enough for dilution to occur).
  • Extended project durations mean that team members may have only experienced a handful of prior projects, thereby reducing the level of repetitive exposure.
  • All projects are unique and generally involve high levels of complexity. The combination of factors means that the identification of common patterns is often a difficult task.
  • The large number of decisions made in a project, the high number of interactions between those decisions, and the complex cause-and-effect chains arising from those interactions increases the difficulty of tying outcomes back to individual decisions.
  • A project's final outcomes are often abstract in nature and far removed from the individuals who worked on the project, again reducing the effectiveness of the feedback loop.

In addition, few organizations have in place effective coaching programs that are able to provide the ongoing support and feedback necessary to allow higher-order thinking skills to develop in an orderly fashion. The net result is that in many organizations the process of developing higher-order thinking skills is achieved through the school of hard knocks. That's a long painful process; not only is it costly for the organization, but the cost on the personal level can also be extreme.

I personally know of several people who have been placed on medical leave by their doctors because of the highly stressful situations that arise as projects get into trouble. And in the school of hard knocks, many organizations have seen their projects fail at considerable cost and embarrassment to the organization.


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