One of the most interesting observations Ajit and I made when we finished our inception a while back was that defining a system too early puts constraints around the way you work and potentially hinders learning.

We set out putting together a mental model of what we thought the system should be and what the scope of the project entailed. We did lots of brainstorming, gathered tons of input, asked lots of questions and inevitably, had fair amounts of discussion as we tried to understand it from different points of view. We tried using some software based systems like a spreadsheet, or some modelling software to capture the information we had, and eventually got too frustrated as we struggled to deal with both what we needed to model and how we were going to model it.

We found it’s much easier to work out how to model things once we understood what sort of things we needed to model. It didn’t mean we didn’t try modelling it at all. Rather, we used cheap techniques to quickly change the way we wanted to represent them. In the end, we used colour coded papers, index cards and broad categories on flip charts to represent different types of information, allowing us to group, category and reclassify bits of information quickly and easily.

Our system let us deal with larger concepts when we needed to, with the ability to drill down into enough detail to have better conversations with people closer to the project. We ended up distributing the information we modelling into more common formats – a simple spreadsheet for stories, and another for a risk log as well as some high level diagrams representing the system.

It felt much more satisfying to uncover the natural groupings of information instead of trying to cram information into the system we happened to pick.