Background on the 21st Century Initiative Special Project

The research project that served as the basis of the learning history was a collaboration between three organizations: the Center for Coordination Science, a research center at MIT's Sloan School of Management; a process consulting firm that was a major sponsor of the 21st Century Initiative (known in the learning history as Process Consulting Company, or PCC); and a financial services company that was a client of PCC (known in the learning history as Finserv). The project came about through an intersection of the interests of the three organizations.

In its Process Handbook project, CCS had been developing a body of theory and tools that the CCS research team believed could help business organizations to manage processes more effectively. A test of the Process Handbook in a real company setting would be an opportunity to validate the concepts and tools.

As a sponsor of the 21st Century Initiative, PCC had come to be familiar with the Process Handbook. Several consultants at PCC were intrigued by potential the Process Handbook presented for developing new, innovative approaches for undertaking process consulting work.

FinServ was in the midst of an enterprise-wide redesign of its hiring process. Several members of the internal team working on the hiring process redesign were former colleagues of the PCC consultant who was the liaison to the 21st Century Initiative.

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Learning Histories

Learning histories are a methodology designed to reflect upon, capture, and diffuse learning from project initiatives across organizations (Roth and Kleiner, 1995, Roth, 1996). The learning history is a document planned and researched by an insider/outsider team, organized around significant business accomplishments and emergent themes related to learning. The materials are presented as a jointly told tale using participants' narrative (from interview transcripts) in a two-column format to distinguish researchers' perspectives from participants' experience. For more information, refer to

A learning history describes what happens in the voice of participants. It not only documents the "hard" facts and events, but what people thought about those events, and how they perceived their own and others' actions. The learning history unveils the differences in people's perceptions.

Several different styles of text exist in this "jointly-told" tale. Text running across the width of the full page provides the context and background for each part of the story and leads into the narrative in the two-column format.

In the minor column, you will see critical observations and key questions from the "learning historians." These comments tell why the major column text was chosen, and ask questions to prompt reflection and application to your own situation.

The major column contains the primary narrative. You will see each paragraph in the major column credited to a particular individual, who tells his or her part of the story.

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In a series of conversations held in the fall of 1996, people at CCS, PCC, and FinServ discussed the possibility of a collaboration. The idea was to undertake a project in which a joint team would use ideas and tools developed in the Process Handbook work as a component of the hiring process redesign effort at FinServ. In early December, managers at FinServ approved the idea, formally engaging PCC to undertake a large process redesign engagement, with the Process Handbook effort as one part.

The project began with a kick-off meeting, attended by representatives of all three organizations, in mid-December. The project carried on through the winter and into the spring of 1996–1997, concluding with a series of presentations at MIT, FinServ, and PCC.

Inventing the Organizations of the 21st Century
Inventing the Organizations of the 21st Century
ISBN: 026263273X
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2005
Pages: 214

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