Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Characters in a HealthIT Standards Meeting

I'm headed off to the HL7 Working Group meeting next week.  Shortly after that I'll be headed to an IHE meeting to discuss several profiles.  While I won't be there this week, a lot of my standards buddies are in blustery downtown Chicago at the IHE Connectathon.  For fun, I drew up a short cast of characters, aggregating characteristics of people I know in the Health IT standards space.  When you start participating in standards meetings, you'll meet several of these characters too.

Venerated Ancient
This one has been around since dirt. They started the organization, has led it one or more times as chair of the board or some other exalted title.  They've chaired the same committee for umpteen years.  When they speak, everyone listens and makes noises of agreement.  The venerated ancient can be a very strong asset when they are in your corner, or a challenging opponent when they are not.

This person has also been around a long time (perhaps even as long as the venerated ancient).  They've often led the same committee for umpteen years.  Their memory is like a steel trap.  They remember every conversation, every meeting, and the rationale for every dot and twiddle in the specification.  A very important thing about the historian is that they remember not only the reasons why, but also what the alternatives were, and what the problems were with them.  The historian is your go to person to understand why something was done a certain way some number of years ago.

Quiet One
Also known as The Listener.  This person attends most meetings, but is rarely heard from.  They listen deeply, and their comprehension is astounding, but rarely will you find evidence of it, because they rarely speak.  When they do, you better listen, because it will likely be profound.

Speed Talker
This member's mouth can barely keep up with their brain.  You listen to them and it's like listening to an auctioneer.  It is very clear that they have a significant idea to contribute, but neither you, nor anyone else can quite get to it.  The best thing to do is listen, wait until they get to the end (and be careful that it wasn't just a breath) and then ask them questions.  You don't want to derail the train of words (but more like a pogo-stick of thoughts).  Give them a change to go back and explain how they got from A to Z, and you'll often discover some really interesting connections in between.

Consensus is extremely important to this person. When a contention arises, they need everyone to be happy, even when there are people who are so diametrically opposed to on solutions that it is clear their won't be general agreement.  Some days, you just need to reconcile the reconciler to the fact that this problem doesn't have a solution that will make everyone happy, but other days, they can perform a great service by ensuring that all parties remain engaged.

"That's not right!" they'll tell you, and then tell you exactly what's wrong with what you've just proposed.  When you examine their logic, you will see that they are correct, but when you examine the number of times that this particular situation comes up, you will discover that it is so far into the weeds that you need a machete to find it.  The perfectionist can find often obscure reasons why what you propose will fail.  Ignore them at your peril, but do not follow them slavishly, as that has perils of its own.

The methodologist wrote the book (or perhaps the standard) on how you should do it. If you don't follow their process, you clearly don't get it.  The methodologist and the perfectionist are often confused for each other.  The true test of the methodologist is that they'll insist that there is only one true way, even when the perfectionist gives them evidence otherwise.  When you want to know how to do something, the methodologist can tell you, often in excruciating detail.  Methodologists are great sources of information about how to do it, but unlike historians, they are unlikely to remember what the alternatives were.

This one is a recognized expert on X, has more initials after their name than you can count, and insists that you use them.  In discussions, they'll bring up obscure papers you've never heard of written by people you don't know in journals you don't have access to in support of their arguments.  Or even worse, papers they've written themselves.  The academic brings in a wealth of information that you wouldn't normally consider, some of it is even relevant.

The Lost Soul
This person either didn't read the agenda, doesn't know what the workgroup is about, or what the effort currently being discussed is intended to accomplish.  They'll talk for a few minutes using some of the right words, but clearly not understanding the definitions in the same way as others in the work group. Lost souls can become great contributors once they've been given the right information, but they can also send discussions down into rat holes.  A lost soul can often encourage work groups into greater clarity.

Axe Grinder
This person is clearly focused on one topic (their axe).  No matter what the discussion, the solution is always related to that topic, and they are an expert on it, so you better listen to them.  If you disagree, clearly you don't understand axes well enough.  Occasionally, the Axe Grinder is right, but like the "boy who cried wolf", it's very hard to tell, and very few will want to encourage the Axe Grinder by agreeing with them.

This member seems to have shown up at the wrong meeting.  They are often deeply involved in a competing effort elsewhere, reject the basic methodology of the organization, and are trying to get the organization to adopt and/or recognize the methodology of their choosing. Rebels are important voices to listen to because they bring in an outside voice, but their basic rejection of the values of the organization in which they are participating can often make their voices very hard to hear.

This person has studied the organizational governance processes to the last detail, and know how to use them.  They have memorized Robert's Rules, and have a copy of it just to be able show it to others to prove their point.  The legalist often ensures that a fair process is followed, but can use process for their own advantage.

Excited Newbie(via @jacobr)
This is the young, smart, engaged newcomer. Eager to engage deeply, SUPER excited to have been given permission to escape the salt mines by his/her manager - and wants to join all workgroups, volunteer for all of the subcommittees, and fix all of the problems. Today! Despite the temptation to pat them on the head and suggest they calm down, the energy and enthusiasm of the Newbie is contagious, and it breathes new life into the process.

Be wary of putting every person you meet into one of these buckets.  First of all, you run into the danger of "flipping the bozo bit".  As you may have noted, each of these characters has something to contribute along with any other baggage they bring.  Secondly, these are roles that people can play, not fixed identities that are inseparable from the individual.  I've been several of these characters at different times, and maybe someday, I'll become a venerate ancient.

  -- Keith

1 comment:

  1. You need to find a cartoonist or caricature artist to put these in their proper perspective. See http://redwing.hutman.net/~mreed/index.htm for the flame warriors list as an example.