Sunday, 28 August 2011

Open Atrium and the Hysteresis of Project Management

Ok - I've set myself a challenge in this post title! I've not got anything specific to say that Open Atrium (which I've been playing with recently) exhibits hysteresis (but can it?), except that I have two very different things on my mind at the moment.

Hysteresis came up at the cybernetics society conference during the paper given by Faisal Kadri, who talked about 'multiplier feedback' (as opposed to negative feedback) and its relationship to hysteresis (and its relationship to homeostasis). Hysteresis is a property whereby "There is no way to predict the system's output without looking at the history of the
input (to determine the path that the input followed before it reached its current value) or inspecting the internal state of the system" (Wikipedia). In effect, the system has 'memory'.

So what about OpenAtrium?

Well, I've been looking at how I might use it to manage the workflow for a little project where a number of people will have to process a range of files through a number of stages in a set pattern. Open Atrium is cool - I looked at BaseCamp first, but OpenAtrium seemed more usable (once I'd managed to install it) and more suitable for what I wanted to do.

Does it have Hysteresis?

Well, to some extent, all online social systems have hysteresis, because human beings have hysteresis (that was one of the most interesting things about Faisal's paper). One the one hand, we regulate and maintain homeostasis. On the other, our outputs are path-dependant. What OpenAtrium does is allow you to manage the path in some way.

Is that interesting? How different is it from Winograd and Flores's assertion that computers allow us to manage the commitments we make to one another?

Obviouly OpenAtrium does that too. But there may be something here which is to do with the 'shared concern' that humans engaged on a project exhibit. The experience of working together on projects is one where individual human states (the states of the participants) continually change in response to communications and tasks in the project, as well as other things happening in their lives. Patterns of individual contributions to team working are revealed through tracking the emergence of the 'paths' people take.

Sometimes outputs are not forthcoming in the way they were a few weeks back. Being able to see the history of actions allows for the overall hysteretic system of the project to be managed, and individual hysteresis to be identified and addressed in subtle ways. Underlying it all is the need to maintain harmony as well as homeostasis - which suggests the link to multiplier feedback too.

So maybe it wasn't such a crazy title! My little project has some implications I think for other applications of workflow. Within the University's CO-EDUCATE project, for example, the challenge has existed to find ways of managing the innovation and validation of new courses. That too is a challenge to manage not just a homeostatic system, but a hysteretic system. Indeed, it may be because of the ultra-stability of Universities (even in this crisis!) that the homeostasis can be taken forgranted. It's hysteresis we should be worrying about!

1 comment:

Kenley said...

The PMP Certification establishes a common language among project managers and helps each other work within a common framework. Once you have the PMP, you need to consider how you're applying the processes, tools, and techniques to projects. I took a training course for my preparation in and got ready for the exam on day 5!