Strategic Doing in IT Project Management

Collaboration is a process, not a thing or an event. The process involves co-creation, recombinant innovation, and abductive logic: creating new value from existing assets. You don’t tell people to collaborate. (Well, you can, but it won’t work.)

Instead, you learn the skills and become a mentor or coach. You teach people to collaborate. People learn the skills of collaboration in the same way they learn any complex set of skills — playing the piano, learning to swim, mastering drawing, or hitting a tennis ball. 

They watch others, get the basic idea, and then learn by doing. 


Collaboration goes beyond our traditional ideas of teamwork. After 10 years of field experiments and 15 years of rigorous testbeds at Purdue University, we have validated a practical approach to design and guide the process of collaboration. The discipline is open-source, and it is now spreading globally. 

It’s cross-cultural, so we’ve seen the discipline in English, Spanish, French, German, Dutch, and Chinese. You can think of it as an open-source operating system for networks, open innovation, and ecosystems…an operating system for wicked problems. 


These protocols represent a new management discipline that focuses on our oldest technology: our conversations. Why is that? The reason is clear. We use our conversations to generate and distribute our knowledge across organizations, networks, and ecosystems. As John Seely Brown ( has pointed out, knowledge is social.

Here’s the critical insight: collaborations emerge from conversations with a predictable structure. We call these conversations “strategic” because they answer the two critical questions of strategy for any collaboration. Where are we going? How will we get there?

We’ve identified the four questions and 10 rules that you need to design and guide these strategic conversations. While these rules are simple, they are not easy. To apply the rules, you practice and master the corresponding skills. 


Because each skill involves a different type of cognitive load, no one is equally good at all ten skills. Some skills encourage us to be creative and improvisational, to spot emerging patterns quickly. Others focus on linear logic and precision. While everybody can perform these ten skills, we are not equally gifted across these skills. (Despite years of practice, some of the skills still feel like I am writing with my opposite hand. I have to concentrate harder.)


We are seeing the application of these skills in meeting a wide range of complex challenges from reducing opioid addiction and teenage violence to transforming rural economies, accelerating team science, and helping a large defense contractor innovate with an ecosystem of smaller companies.

Here’s another one: project management in IT.