Sunday, May 13, 2012

The KJ Method: A Puzzle without Borders (Collaboration Patterns Project #4)

Restarting on an unfinished jigsaw puzzle is never an easy thing to do. You have pieces connected here and there,  but the whole picture is not yet visible. Many singles and pairs are spread across the table, and you can't quite remember where you were when you left off. 

Members of the Iba lab returned from their spring break Monday afternoon to find the post-it notes spread across the table just the way they left it a week ago. Looking at the groups and pairs that had already formed, they could remember bits and pieces of things they talked about last week, but they noticed that it would take another while before they could catch up. By the end of last week's session, everyone had a visual map in their minds of where each note was, and knew where to search for when looking for a specific note. All of that had gone away.

The first hour passed by without much progression. Maybe it being the Monday after break had a role in it; members sat around the table for a short break, already looking somewhat tired. The original plan to finish the KJ method by the end of the day seemed somewhat hopeless.

To break out of the laziness and get things going, one of the juniors suggested that they each talk about the best part of their sprig breaks. The talks itself were nothing more than stories about family trips or dates with their boyfriends, but the laughs and awes warmed up the atmosphere. They also decided that frequent breaks weren't helpful but distracted their concentration.

Pulling themselves back together, they started on round two of the day's session. With their minds more clear, the post-it notes were paired one by one. The important thing to keep in mind is that the notes must be talked about in terms of pairs. Mini islands of clustered notes with similar attributes were starting to appear, which tempted them to connect individual notes to a group of notes. But this would defeat the purpose of the KJ method since the whole point here is to seek for individual connections between two notes to mine out hidden attributes. 

It was somewhat like a jigsaw puzzle. The pieces must be inspected one by one and become connected to another piece. In the process, it is the connection between two pieces that is inspected, and not between a single piece and a group of pieces. But the process is not as simple as a jigsaw puzzle since there are no corner or edge pieces that make up the border,  which is usually a good place to start connecting the pieces. We do not know how large the completed puzzle would be. Also, the picture of the whole when completed is unknown. We do not know where the process is taking us, which is much the point of this process.

Ungrouping, regrouping, and grouping of groups occurred as notes went here and there on the table. Deep talks were made for each note, and the members started to regain their memories from last week. They also realized the importance of all members being present at the table. Last week when one of the members were absent, there were many notes by the person that could not be grouped since the group couldn't remember what the note exactly meant. Now that the person was back, the real meanings of the notes could be talked about. 

The night had grown late and the bigger picture started to appear on the table. As pairs were made, more islands of notes started to become visible. The group took a moment to lightly pencil in lines around the islands that had formed. They also agreed to move solo notes that were not paired yet out of the way so they could be inspected more closely. 

Now in a state of flow, the single notes too began to be paired up. Notes that were decided by the group as having no matching pair were determined to have a message of its own and was circled by pencil as a loner. With a final home stretch, the last note was placed next to its pair. As if the last piece of a 2000 piece jigsaw puzzle had been fitted into its place, the group burst into cheers. 

According to the original plan they were now to consider which islands had similar elements and pair them up, but the lab decided to call it a day. Next week they would cut out the islands from the large paper, and go through an KJ method in terms of the groups. 

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