Sunday, March 01, 2009

A Question of Meaning

A flurry of emails, tweets and posts that took place after Richard Varyard posted a question that asked how 'meaning' is addressed in VPEC-T (the main points of which are captured in this thread).

The reaction from VPEC-T practitioners & supporters was interesting in that they were quick to defend the simplicity and ubiquitous & 'Agile' nature of VPEC-T due to that simplicity. A view I share with them.

To quote my colleague, John Schlesinger, “Meaning is a sky hook for VPEC-T” ( and by implication not a missing dimension per se) and Peter Evans-Greenwood suggested: “Light-weight, user and business centric approaches (such as VPEC-T) provide us with a way to remain relevant and a more dynamic and light weight business world”.

The table below is my interpretation of Chris Bird's email that described VPEC-T as columns and an open list of 'Cross Cutting Concerns' that shape meaning across the five VPEC-T dimensions.

Full size image here.

From my point of view, this discussion helped me with a 'writer's block' problem I was having with where and how to take VPEC-T forward. It became very clear to me that I need to start to build an 'Open' repository of VPEC-T Use Patterns. These patterns will make VPEC-T more 'real' through description of how the dimensions are applied in particular situations and to tackle the sort of 'Cross-cutting Concern' that Chris mentions.

I hope to start work on the repository soon and plan to host it at (I'll post on this blog when I get something worth looking at up).

Here's the concept map I used to order my thoughts following the stream of emails, tweets and posts.


cybersal said...

Nigel, It's hard to talk about meaning without talking about people. I think it's striking that the only people-related concept on your map is the VPEC-T practitioner plus a reference to user-centric approaches. Do you need to add in a 'community' concept - you can have communities that share a practice, share a culture, or share a set of semantics (i.e.meaning).

Colin Beveridge said...

an interesting post, thanks Nigel.

I just wondered where quality and value fit into the framework and I am not so sure that simplicity is necessarily an antonym for complexity.

In some circumstances complexity might simply [sic] be a function of aggregated simplicity.

Nigel Green said...

@cybersal: I must admit I was always thinking 'community' as I drew the map. The reason the Use Patterns are highlighted is because they are to be created by communities and used by communities to convey 'meaning' by showing that 'meaning' depends on the context under which you apply VPEC-T.

Within the context of VPEC-T itself communities/groups are associated with 'Values' and 'Trust' in the same way individuals are. I don't differentiate between a person or a group in this sense.

Nigel Green said...

@Colin Beveridge: In the broad Pirsig sense, Quality and Value are covered by Value (Systems of Value - what do I care about). In a narrow sense, of say 'Value For Money' or 'Quality Of Service' these would be Cross Cutting Concern rows (or row elements). The rows provide 'the reason' for thinking the VPEC-T dimensions.

Colin Beveridge said...


I also think of quality and value from a Pirsig perspective, rather than the generally-held "value for money" perspective.

But what about complexity and simplicity?

Nigel Green said...

@Colin Beveridge: Sorry, I missed it, WRT Simplicity v Complexity I'm reminded of some recent tweets with Roger Sessions. I don't presume that Complexity is always bad (this is not expressed in the c-map)like Richard Varyard tweeted last night:
"Complexity itself is not the enemy. We need complexity, just as healthy bodies need friendly bacteria".

My point on the c-map was to remind myself that Yak Shaving (often unavoidable) might be usefully examined using VPEC-T - not a main thought hence the dotted lines!

cybersal said...

Nigel, in reply to your comment above and to clarify mine: I do appreciate that people are very much at the core of the VPEC-T mindset and pervade the diagram. I was making a technical observation on the concept map because I believe that it's a good principle to make important concepts explicit rather than implicit when analysing and diagramming them.

Also I tend to start any piece of work with a stakeholder/organisational analysis, myself.

Nigel Green said...

Sally, actually the concept wasn't important (to me) at the time I was creating the c-map. What was important was to capture my train of thought following Richard's question given I already think 'community/network' as a baseline. Perhaps it was a mistake to publish my raw thinking in the c-map? Let's discuss when we meet today.

cybersal said...

Point taken. I did find the C-MAP very instructive so I'm glad in this instance that you did publish it. Not many people are as picky as I am, when it comes to dissecting diagrams.

John Schlesinger said...

Just to elaborate a little on the 'sky hook' idea. The problem is what do we mean by the events? What do we mean by the content? The information systems themselves have no concept of meaning - in my view they mechanically construct content out of events. Therefore, the problem is what do we mean by the events (the meaning of the content is given by the meaning of the events). It is not a weakness of VPEC-T that it takes the meaning of the events as a given, as that it precisely the strength of events as compared to say, processes. In order for the IS to make sense to the people using it, those people broadly have to agree what they mean by the events and this agreement is 'a priori'. If I submit a claim to to an insurance company, we both have to have an a priori idea of what is meant by 'first notice of loss' even it neither of us use that term.