Perpetual Beta

It hadn’t really occurred to me before that pilots are an almost inextricable aspect of Enterprise 2.0. Of course the ‘iterate and refine’ concept can be implemented in other ways, but I think it’s fair to say that organizations absolutely need to get good at running pilots, if they’re not already there. It is a key facet of the path that leads to improved organizational performance.

So says Ross Dawson in pilots as a key instrument for improving organizational performance in a complex world. If you take the cynefin approach for working in complex environments you first Probe then Sense and then Respond in order to develop emergent practice. There are no good or best practices that will work for  your context in a changing complex environment, so probing (AKA: piloting or Beta releases) is necessary to see what works. However, changing from a highly designed approach to an agile method is difficult. I previously recommended that instructional design adopt agile methods but even in the programming world, letting go of old ways is difficult as Sara Ford at Microsoft explains in how I learned to program manage an agile team after six years of waterfall.

There is no silver bullet solution to running the human performance side of an organization in the complexity of a highly networked economy with ubiquitous access to information and people. New tools keep being developed that can change the way we work and learn. Today it’s Twitter and tomorrow it will be something else. Approaching enterprise performance from the perspective of perpetual Beta is a way to maintain your sanity in all of this change. The values and culture can remain stable while the tools and practices keep evolving to take advantage of the situation.

Pilots are key to improving organizational performance but the culture of perpetual Beta is critical. Perpetual Beta is my attitude toward learning – I’ll never get to the final release and my learning will never stabilize. I’ve also realized that organizations with a similar attitude are much easier to work with than those that believe that we will reach some future point where everything stabilizes and we don’t need to learn or do anything new. I think that point is called death.

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