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Insights into expertise

Expertise is an elusive commodity. Although expertise is the lifeblood of any organization, few have a clear understanding of what it is or how to develop it. Gary Klein of Klein Associates is a world leader in understanding the processes by which individuals develop expertise. Klein defines expertise to be the ability to see;

  1. Patterns
    • How the current situation matches elements encountered from prior experiences
  2. The big picture
    • Situational awareness
  3. Insights into the inner workings
    • The underlying forces that manifest events
  4. The chain of events
    • That have happened in the past or are going to happen in the future
    • The ability to interpret past events and to predict future outcomes
  5. Anomalies
    • Events that did not happen and other violations of expectancies
  6. Differences between situations
    • Variations too small for a novice to detect
  7. Opportunities and improvisations
    • Ways to move ahead that would not occur to a novice

Source: G. Klein – Sources of Power (How People Make Decisions) – MIT Press

Calleam uses Klein’s definition of expertise as a central element around which training classes are designed.

What makes developing expertise in Project Management difficult?

Developing the expertise needed to deliver today’s technology projects is a significant challenge.  According to Klein’s research developing expertise requires a number of conditions be present;

  1. Repetitive exposure to common patterns of events
  2. Timely feedback between a decision being made and the outcome of the decision becoming apparent
  3. Clear relationships between an individual decision and its outcome
  4. Time to reflect on performance

The training format used by sports teams is a good example of the application of these principles.  Sports teams use repetitive exercises followed by debrief sessions to improve the performance of their players.   The use of post exercise debriefs allows for rapid feedback and provides the opportunity to reflect on individual decisions and their outcomes.

Developing expertise in the technology field is more difficult because;

  1. Technology projects usually extend over significant periods of time, thereby diluting the immediacy of the feedback
  2. Each project is unique thereby making the identification of common patterns more difficult
  3. Technology projects involve very large numbers of decisions made by many different people.  The interaction between these decisions increases the difficulty of tying outcomes back to individual decisions
  4. There is so much detail in a typical project that recording the details of every event for subsequent analysis is impractical

How does Calleam training address these difficulties?

Calleam training addresses these difficulties using a number of techniques, including;

  1. Project simulations
  2. The use of patterns of events distilled from both failed and successful projects
  3. Modeling project dynamics and the internal mechanisms that drive project outcomes
  4. Case studies
  5. The development of reflective skills that allow individuals to analyze their own past performances
  6. Health check questionnaires and performance diagnostic tools

By understanding the processes for developing expertise and specifically structuring training programs around them, Calleam provides organizations with an alternative to the school of hard knocks used by so many organizations in the past.

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