State of Montana
Department of Natural Resources and Conservation
1625 11th Avenue
Helena, MT 59620 1601
July 17, 2001
04 00035 61 01071701
Mr. Rod Welch
The Welch Company
440 Davis Court #1602
San Francisco, CA 94111 2496
SDS and Communication Metrics
Better Way of Working for a New World Order
Your letter on April 4, 2001 requested comments on
Knowledge Management (KM)
presented in the POIMS paper. As I prepare to retire from state government, I
want to comment in relation to my experience using SDS and Communication
Metrics the past 10 years or so, updating the
issued on April 19,
1990. In sum, SDS provides a new way of working that saves time and money by
strengthening communication and the ability to follow up, so
that things get done correctly, on time and within budget.
.. SDS adds value to information technology (IT) that overcomes
in communication from email, calls and meetings
by strengthening literacy for deliberation and analysis.
enables understanding and follow up that are unique advantages of SDS,
explained in your record on August 8, 1989, following your assignment with us
on the Broadwater Dam project.
My experience using SDS shows that
the process of continually capturing the
record, by writing things down and scheduling follow up
in SDS, is a useful "metric" of listening that
increases understanding, whether or not we ever look at the record again.
other words, crafting language to describe events after the fact both unlocks
and constructs memory. Each day new information extends and
enriches what we learned previously, creating an expanding
(defined in POIMS).
The struggle with editing to shape analysis
by examining related context, history and documents
to create connections that reveal and preserve alignment of cause and effect,
and then, further, creating headings that summarize, and finally
assigning contacts, subjects and financial accounts,
all improve memory of events through integrated
self-reinforcement of key associations.
Better memory prepares us to be effective in the next phone call, attending
another meeting, writing a letter, etc.
This is a lot of support for improving daily work that is not
available from any other method or technology.
Additionally, SDS action items
are connected to related context that
guides communication toward getting things done that maintain
progress. There is strong synergy between creating SDS records and using
knowledge for continual learning, because the more we write and connect the
record to analyze, discover and understand correlations, implications and
nuance, the more history is available to help us remember. This daily process
of using SDS, for what you call
thinking through writing,
(see POIMS) improves conventional practice of
remembering only the gist of things, so
that decisions are well founded, rather than based on cursory,
spur-of-the-moment, and often incorrect, understanding.
.. This doesn't mean SDS requires writing everything down. SDS enables a
better balance between planning and execution by capturing important
information for organizational memory, and then adding connections of cause and
effect, and alignment with relevant authority, which is not apparent at the
time events occur, and which, in turn, disclose needed action that
was not contemplated at the original event, but is essential to save time and
That is why I believe SDS is a new capability that enables a powerful
new way to work, and justifies a new work role. Rather than sit around and
worry about who said what to whom, what was meant, what was overlooked, and
who is responsible for things, that time can be more
productive by thinking, analyzing, and planning in SDS. You call this
intelligence to information,
which may put some people off; but, SDS
clearly adds a lot of fire power to management.
Organizational memory on who, what, when, where, why and how things
occurred is a big advantage of SDS that aids group collaboration.
People need a
that builds and maintains shared meaning
in relation to common objectives.
I think POIMS is correct in pointing out there is a big risk in
communication that is hidden by the pace of daily work, what everybody calls
One of the more exasperating realizations on moving into
senior management is that people draw different understandings from
hearing and reading the same thing, as in attending a meeting, or getting an
email. Even when everybody seems to agree about things in a meeting, a few
days later people take conflicting action, because of all the reasons set
out in POIMS explaining
Our legal department suggests
solving this problem by keeping letters short and simple to avoid
misunderstanding. But, that doesn't work for people in constant meetings that
last hours on end.
.. People need support in drawing from communication sufficient
direction for taking action that is complimentary rather than
conflicting. SDS enables quickly and easily organizing a record that
triangulates action with historical context and with controlling authority in
contracts, regulations, law and correspondence. Feedback from notice issued
through SDS continually refines accuracy. The combination of refining
accuracy through feedback to develop a common story for organizational memory,
follow up on action items that provide context for comprehension,
and efficient distribution via Internet, all together help
maintain shared meaning that reduces the risk of mistakes.
.. The distinction in
between knowledge and information distinguishes work with SDS from
work with other software programs. They are
complimentary. We need both information and knowledge. Information
technology (IT) for email, wordprocessing and spreadsheets, are excellent for
creating information in documents, like a book, article, memo, report, a
letter, or Powerpoint presentation. Advances in groupware the past few years
aid collaboration with document version control and change history. SDS
has a different purpose. You describe in POIMS a continual
of converting information into knowledge
that strengthens management. I personally hesitate
to characterize SDS in that way, because cognitive science is not my field.
There is no doubt that SDS is a different kind of software program
that produces markedly different work product from what is
popularly called IT. Used according to the design, SDS implements a continual
process that immediately and directly improves management, and this
improves collaboration in very tangible ways that people feel
and appreciate, if not always in the beginning, then within a few months, as
.. Preparing documents for a contract, for project requirements, specifications,
or a report for publication in the public record, all require managing work by
others, similar to building a bridge, an office or hydroelectric facility, as
we did on Broadwater dam, when SDS was introduced to DNRC in 1988. Our report
on April 19, 1990 noted that SDS improved group management, which saved us
money. Based on having used SDS myself, since that time, I agree with
your record on July 9, 2000 reporting a conference call with Bill DeHart at
PG&E and Morris Jones at Intel. The SDS design of plan, perform, report
that aids thinking by connecting chronologies of cause and effect.
traditional literacy, making it easier to write because the connected
environment provides ideas about what to write, and SDS improves reading to
guide action, with structure that organizes and summarizes meaning in relation
to objectives and context. None of this is available in other programs. A
simple way for me to explain it is that information in documents is fixed,
while knowledge in SDS is constantly growing to manage evolving context. This
makes relevant context instantly available for planning the work day
to day, and for understanding details needed to perform the
work quickly and correctly.
.. I learned SDS mostly on my own using the online Help system.
Improvements over the years have reduced the learning curve, but in my opinion
SDS takes more than 20 minutes to learn, because it improves the entire
craft of management, rather than isolated bits and pieces.
SDS is more like learning the alphabet, or
driving a car. Everyone can do it, but if we already know how to get by in our
daily work, the effort to improve takes commitment. For one thing, it requires
learning to use tools for tasks like planning, tracking commitments,
setting objectives, organizing our thoughts in relation to objectives
and relying on experience, all of which
executives accomplish mostly in their head, on the fly, moment to moment.
says successful people keep a diary
to sharpen understanding, and
CEO of Intel, says in his book Only
the Paranoid Survive that taking copious notes and asking a lot of
questions to get feedback strengthens understanding to avoid mistakes.
But how many of us keep a diary, or
take copious notes that are legible? How many of us can find relevant notes a
week later, a month later, 10 years later?
How many of us have the time, the
authority and skill to ask a lot of questions during and after a meeting?
.. There is an
explained in POIMS between thinking to understand and taking
action to get things done. Asking questions and writing out copious
understandings in a diary to avoid mistakes is most often overwhelmed by the
desire on the one hand to use information for taking immediate action, and,
also, by social pressure that resists feedback. As a result, when people
finish a meeting we want to go home, go to the next meeting or make a phone
call and talk things over with other people.
SDS makes it fast and easy to
analyze communications, but limited time and culture say go to the next meeting
and rely on what pops into the mind at the moment. This makes daily work
spontaneous, impulsive and cursory, rather than deliberative, analytic and
intelligent. Many people excuse spontaneous work that causes continual
mistakes, as the necessary cost of being "empowered" and "creative." My
experience shows that "intelligence" enabled by SDS supports creativity, while
Historically, impulsive, cursory work has been good enough,
and so people tend to resist SDS, because using information from meetings,
calls, email and other documents takes less time than adding intelligence to
create knowledge of cause and effect. On the other hand, it seems that in the
past number of years traditional methods of relying on conversation and email
causes too many problems due to growing information overload, which grows the
need for SDS to enable good management practices called out by experts and top
executives, like Covey and Grove. Demand, however, is latent, because nobody
believes good management is possible.
.. SDS enables using good management like a microscope that looks deeper
into daily communication than is possible with other means. Since
communication for planning the work occurs through meetings, calls and
documents, e.g., email, the SDS process of showing alignment with controlling
authority, like contracts, regulations, commitments, etc., provides an
effective metric that predicts problems, which can be avoided by changing
course to prevent actual mistakes. Communication Metrics is an advantage for
saving time and money; but, it clearly creates social tension. We saw this on
the Broadwater Dam project. The contractor objected to your work using SDS.
However, contract notice provisions forced response. This arrangement yielded
feedback that enabled adjusting course to improve the work, as related in our
letter on April 19, 1990.
Since you were technically employed by our engineer,
there was no feedback at that level. To make a long story short, we accepted
the engineer's recommendation to terminate Communication Metrics, on the
grounds that the main problems had been solved. It turned out later that far
greater problems were yet to come, which caused delays, defects, extra cost and
years of litigation. You discussed these future issues, but at the time our
perspective was on saving time and money by cutting cost and reducing
paperwork, under advice of the engineer.
.. Until people gain experience using SDS, there is a huge disparity in
perspective about the seriousness of future risks. Welch was hired to defend
against contractor claims, so we were aware of actual problems, which we wanted
solved. The character of Communication Metrics, however, is looking
forward by understanding the present in relation to history, under the rule
past is prologue,
as set out in POIMS. But, people who do not actually use SDS
day-to-day, cannot have the save level of insight about the degree of risk,
because the time horizon is much narrower than is available from working with
SDS that has command of history and controlling authority. This disparity makes
people uncomfortable. In a contract setting, it is effective because notice
provisions mandate response that enables discovery of problems that can be
addressed, before actual mistakes occur.
One of the more enlightening ideas
from Com Metrics came up in our meeting on September 7, 1988, discussing the
advantage of negative responses,
as a "metric" of communication, by focusing early
attention on issues, and providing a record that can be used to guide conduct
by showing lack of alignment with controlling authority. At the time, I was
skeptical, because managers strive mightily to get people to say "yes," to agree
to our point of view, and are loathe to air disagreement. Lack of disagreement,
i.e., silence, is welcomed, even coveted, as agreement that preserves
deniability. You pointed out that disagreement is an asset, and this turned out
to be correct, when managed properly in the record.
.. SDS discovers big problems when they are small. People don't like to
work on small problems. For example, there is enormous pressure not to stop
the train and change the bolts on the wheels, just because SDS reports that an
invoice shows the bolts are out of spec. Everybody sees the train is running
fine. We cannot see any wobble in the wheels, because in the beginning it is
very slight, so people get mad at having to
think about a future a train wreck. Someone recalls a meeting six (6)
months ago when the lads
were sent to the store and told to get the correct bolts, so maybe the
invoice is a mistake. Good thoughts make us feel good.
.. With a big reception waiting up ahead, the social pressure is enormous
to keep the train running, and ignore alignment
problems in SDS by assuming the invoice is a mistake, rather than the bolts.
Someone else recalls that the lads were, also, told to get 6 lbs. of
10 penny nails, but came back with 10 lbs of 6 penny nails, and two weeks later
all the siding blew off the building in a big storm. Maybe they got the wrong
bolts, as well? It might take an hour to stop the train and change the bolts.
That's not a lot, but the governor's schedule would be inconvenienced having to
wait around at the reception just so we can change a few bolts that seem to be
working at the moment. There is talk about being a team player. These social
dynamics increase pressure to ignore the record. Looking back, there were a
lot of unhappy faces when SDS reported things were amiss on various matters,
and so everyone felt better when SDS was stopped. To me, when we speak in
terms of Knowledge Management, the proposition that
stopping intelligence is a
relief, must rank as a dilemma of the ages, right up there with your friend
Prometheus, reported on November 8, 1999.
.. Of course it turned out two years later there were a lot of defects on
Broadwater Dam because the engineer did not bother to approve the
contractor's drawings. That may explain the earlier recommendation that
we terminate SDS to save money and avoid paperwork.
While it is only speculation, I suspect that, if SDS had not
been terminated, there would have been early warning in SDS paperwork
that engineering paperwork did not align with requirements. It would have cost
some money to pay for the SDS paperwork, and it would have taken
a little time to fix the engineering paperwork, plus a lot of emotional
capital, as with stopping the train against the
engineer's wishes to install the correct "bolts," under the analogy above.
Yet, that remedy would have been a trifle compared to the delay, expense
and emotional capital that was ultimately
expended to correct problems that were overlooked, because intelligence
was terminated. The discussion on March 24, 1989 in which the
engineer notes that SDS makes it harder to talk your way
out of accountability for mistakes, illustrates the desire for
deniability that resists good management. It is a major dilemma, because
working by conversation that avoids SDS in order to enable
increases the chance of overlooking alignment that causes the wheels to come
off later, which then gives rise to the need for deniability; while using SDS
to avoid mistakes, necessarily increases accountability in the event that
people refuse to take corrective action. Of course this is the precise purpose
of business metrics. We've all been to a hundred seminars with various titles
that promise Managing for Accountability. The whole quality movement
promotes this idea. TQM, ISO and other management standards require
accountability; yet, experience shows that SDS is resisted, because it enables
accountability. So, go figure???
.. This all boils down to the fact that SDS technology enables
using good practices consistently, but there is enormous
cultural pressure that resists good management,
partly from ignorance, as occurs with any new method that upsets the apple
cart, and partly to avoid accountability,
explained in POIMS. Often the accounting department is not a
welcome partner when reporting budgets are exceeded; but, culture has
learned to live with this intrusion over the past several thousand years by
developing strong communication skills to talk our way out of accountability.
This may account for the "kill the messenger" perspective that resists
in order to preserve deniability.
Proactive notice enabled
by SDS that sounds the alert to adjust course for alignment with objectives,
requirements and commitments is the core task of management. Our experience
suggests that implementation requires strong leadership and support using SDS
to transition through the period of discovering that the light of knowledge to
work correctly is a better strategy for success, than relying on the darkness
of ignorance for avoiding accountability. Under new realities of expanding
complexity due to globalization and accelerating information,
any strategy that avoids proactive alignment,
will increasingly grind down productivity, earnings and stock prices
in a morass of continual mistakes.
.. I took up SDS, because I saw over a period of time that it solved
difficult problems on Broadwater Dam. It took several years for this to sink
in, actually seeing on a daily basis the effects of SDS on two separate
occasions over a period of months. In my view the power of SDS is so removed
from the daily lives of people, that it is very difficult to grasp from reading
or even seeing a demonstration. Recent implementation on the Internet, makes
more clear that SDS is a different kind of application that in large part
emulates the connections of cause and effect that comprise human thinking.
.. I, also, think the role of Communication Aide or Manager, some kind of
analyst role to use SDS, is a good idea. These past years I have used SDS
myself, without support. This experience indicates that a stronger solution
would be to have help.
Learning to use the SDS program is aided by the transitioning you
provided while on site at the end of 1991. The design that integrates time,
information, contacts, subjects, documents and accounting is a hefty load, so I
recommend training. Most managers and executives learn their craft over a
lifetime. We are not aware of how much we know. But, in learning SDS, we are
confronted with having to learn to do things with tools that we already know
how to do. That is at least distracting, and it likely causes many people
to give up in order to avoid the frustration of doing things awkwardly for a
short while, which we can do immediately by relying on only
the gist of things from personal memory. On the other hand, it is enormously
satisfying, and even fun, to exercise the gift of time and the
power of knowledge that SDS brings, because, like the alphabet,
learning SDS greatly leverages innate mental power, i.e.,
.. There are two or three big tasks that need dedicated support for
.. One is creating, maintaining and applying organic structure
for managing the record. SDS has a powerful and unique solution, that applies
traditional spreadsheet methods for Work Breakdown Structure (WBS),
a chart of accounts for financial control, and a CPM schedule
for managing a big project, all rolled into one,
except SDS organic structure is applied on a vaster scale, and it is
ongoing. Most organizing methods are figured out once, by experts,
and then implemented by everyone else. Revisions are rare in common practice
for most business systems. SDS provides tools that enable people to manage
subjects based on the dynamic evolution of context in daily work. Every day
new subjects can be added to SDS, quickly as needs arise, similar to the
way DNA grows
in living cells. Reducing the time and effort for organizing information
dynamically makes context management
fast and easy enough to become a practical new dimension for getting
things done correctly, on time and within budget.
(see New World Order...)
Applying SDS methods for organic structure takes training and time for learning
to use specialized tools, and experience is needed for constructing
representations that adequately manage the context of complex daily work, so
that finding mission critical information is fast and easy.
It would be a good issue for research to
develop standardized knowledge structures. Perhaps one day technology will
figure it all out for us, but that would deny people the understanding
derived from creating the structure. Maybe a compromise is possible that
continues to leverage our mental biology. SDS is a good start.
.. The second skill needed for SDS is to write an effective story that
builds shared meaning in carrying on the work to meet objectives, requirements
and commitments. Many people do not want to do this task; they want to
complete a call and go home, or call somebody else, rather than write up the
record to craft meaning that disclose action items. Many, if not most, of us
do not want to discover and work out conflicts that were overlooked in
discussion or sending an email. So, not only does analysis in SDS require
writing skill, it, also, takes awareness about the fragility of human memory
that makes communication inherently cursory, incomplete and erroneous, such
that more time is saved
by investing, what you call
than by consuming
information in constant meetings, calls and email.
Since demands for
attending events and doing other tasks that spawn information overload are
often imposed externally, e.g., the boss says go to this meeting, or a customer
calls, etc., support for writing up the record is the most cost effective
solution for busy managers to ensure
adequate scrutiny is given to communications so that critical details and
action items do not fall through the cracks, as
on December 5, 1991.
.. The third skill a Communication Manager needs might be classified as
dialog, probative and stability skills. Diplomacy comes to mind. This role
requires getting feedback during meetings and calls in order to refine accuracy
of the record. Ability is needed to frame questions in a constructive,
professional manner that is not threatening, so that people are forthcoming.
It requires persistence to recast questions when answers are incomplete or are
avoided, and it takes skill to craft a record that is useful for those in
authority to recognize when unanswered gaps remain, yet does not accuse anyone
of bad faith.
SDS is a good environment for leveraging these traditional skills
of diplomacy, because it is a fast and easy way to keep track of everything, so
that corrections can be tried later when the opportunity may be more conducive
to solutions. Psychological stability is a must for this role for two reasons.
Asking questions to get feedback is stressful, and writing up the record that
discloses continual small mistakes that require giving notice to busy people,
who don't want to be bothered, is also very stressful.
.. In summary, SDS is a powerful solution for saving time and money. It
supports using good management practices consistently, which we have all heard
about and read about, and dreamed about using.
Culture and social norms for
consuming information in meetings, calls and email that cause mistakes, do not
accommodate very well to good management that delivers knowledge, until people
gain experience to discover they get credit for better work, and so need not
SDS takes more than 20 minutes to learn, because it makes
a big improvement in management, which is a highly complex craft. If it made
little or no improvement, SDS would be easier to learn, but then it would not
save time and money. It is easy and fun to use SDS, because the integrated
design gives enormous power to understand cause and effect, and to get things
done, which is the life blood of enterprise.
An aide or analyst, Communication
Manager, role is needed for major implementation. Similar to the way an
accountant uses a spreadsheet program, SDS is a spreadsheet for knowledge, so
everyone needs basic skills. In our case, only one person used SDS on
Broadwater Dam, and that improved collaboration among everyone In years to
come, experience will show that dedicated support along a continuum from
secretary, admin assistant, engineer, project manager, up to a Communication
Manager, make SDS an endemic part of daily work. I think you have worked out
good management science for implementation through Communication Metrics.
Leadership that supports good management and better productivity will remain
the key ingredient, as we discovered.