Product Innovation Trends

Book Review: Too Big to Know

Derwyn Harris | April 16, 2012
I just finished reading an interesting book by David Weinberger called “Too Big to Know.”The book was mentioned on Jive’s blog via Pandodaily and the basic premise of the book is that the “Net” has changed how we define and gather knowledge. For me the first half of the book was most relevant as he describes the process of how groups come to agreement on different topics. He compares the old medium of one to many through published journals or books, compared to the more free form many to many medium of the Net.

While his book is focused on science and government as examples, the same concepts could be applied to software or hardware projects or products. Regardless of the type of project, there is always a lot of information to track and manage. Add the increased level of collaboration, accessibility by the whole team, adoption of agile with ever more iterations and changes, and you have yourself a high risk of information overload. So how do we solve or prevent this problem? There are a few key take aways I gleaned from the book.

1. Quality of the conversation: In the book David talks about the importance of “diversity” in conversation. He also clarifies that diversity is not really about race but of opinions and experiences. While this doesn’t necessary prevent information overload it does help insure that the quality of the discussions are richer. This is why our philosophy as alway been to involve the broader team and not just the core group of Business Analysts or Project Managers.

2. Focus the conversations: It’s important to keep the conversation open to a general audience (to ensure team members have an opportunity to share an idea or insight), but also create focused groups so you can contain the conversation or at least prioritize what aspect of the conversation to read first. In Jama we do this through Review Center.

3. Keep information connected: The book focuses on how the Net connects things through links. I did find it funny how he stayed very generic rather than just saying URLs but it brings up an interesting point. In Jama we use traceability to connect data and people. So traceability (when implemented as a true link) in a project helps reduce confusion by bringing relevant, but different, information together in one place.

I enjoyed the book for it’s analysis on how the Net has changed our definition of knowledge and how information is shared and consumed, but as you can see I also found it relevant to the problems we are solving here at Jama.