I am sure we have all experienced the frustration of agonising over a document, taking the time to clearly articulate what we mean by carefully selecting our words to effectively get our point across before someone comes back to you with an entirely different interpretation from what you meant, suggesting our attempt at clarity just wasn’t quite good enough. I for one have been at the receiving end of this even in process design where what I thought was articulated by a process step meant something else entirely to the people doing the process.
Just like typos in our own work this is not because we haven’t tried but because our brains are slightly ahead of us, so rather than scrutinising our own work for meaning we expect it to be there and our brain makes this assumption and what we see in our heads starts to differ from what is articulated on the screen. This is why a ‘critical friend’ can come in handy, particularly when writing service/process design documents where clarity is key. They can also help you to notice information that you may have missed as you concentrated on the detail.
Put bluntly the role of a critical friend is to support and challenge. It is an informal relationship where mutual regard for one another’s expertise allows work to be helpfully scrutinised by asking the right questions and providing insight or a fresh perspective that can help bring about improvement.
I have recently been a critical friend to some colleagues who have the huge task of creating foundation documents that they will use to plan, scope and design the implementation of a new service here at the University. In my role as Process Improvement Facilitator I am well placed to act as a critical, as I spend a lot of my professional time asking the ‘stupid’ questions such as; ‘why?, what does that mean?, why them?, who do you mean?, why does it say that and is that really what happens?’ (among others) when undertaking any process or service review. And asking questions like this as a critical friend can really help the person to scrutinise what they mean, whether it is the right thing and how it will be interpreted by the stakeholders, customers, developers etc.
I was also particularly well placed to act as a critical friend in this case as I myself have created similar scoping documentation and service summaries. I know how easy it can be to leave too much room for interpretation, include assumptions and concentrate too much on the detail, making it difficult when you later have to evidence what the service/process delivers and whether the review has achieved what it said it would.
I have thoroughly enjoyed being a critical friend to colleagues over the last couple of weeks, particularly because they were so open to questions and a different perspective.
I have learnt that being a ‘critical friend’ is to not about being critical, instead it is about offering a fresh pari of eyes that questions, challenges and most of all supports. None of us are infallible but by working together we can not only learn from each other and save headaches later on but also share the load.