I would suggest a new simple policy for the site, related to answers. Every answer should:

  1. Refer to some officially recognized body of knowledge (PMBOK, Agile Manifesto, PRINCE2, RUP, MSF, Scrum, Kanban, etc)
  2. Generalize the question
  3. Point readers to new subjects of learning

For example, somebody asks "How detailed technical documentation should be in a small project?"

A possible answer may sound like: "I would recommend to document technical decisions in high-level UML diagrams, and revise them every sprint/iteration. In general, Agile Manifesto recommends to focus on working software instead of documentation, although I recommend to read CMMI TS process area which explains the importance of technical documentation. Read Martin Fowler's "UML Distilled" and Len Brass et al.'s "Software Architecture in Practice"".

This answer (just an example) contains author's personal opinion, grounded by two standards. It also generalizes the question and gives the reader some direction of further learning.

By "generalization of a question" we should mean an ability of the answering person to present the problem from a higher point of abstraction than it was originally asked. As in the example above, somebody asked about documentation in a small project, while the answer also talks about documentation in general. Generalization is an opposite to specialization, which we should try to avoid in our answers.

  • Just FYI to anyone landing on this page, downvotes on meta simply indicate that you disagree and has no effect on reputation or the quality of the material. – jmort253 Jul 2 '12 at 17:25
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    Yegor, what would "generalize the question" look like? – Mark Phillips Jul 3 '12 at 1:51
  • Thanks, Yegor, for clarifying that. – Mark Phillips Jul 3 '12 at 14:38
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    Answers should be factual, practical, and not "hand-wavey," but I don't think that any of the suggestions above solve the underlying problem of bad posts. – Todd A. Jacobs Jul 12 '12 at 16:32

I'm not that negative all the time, but no offense, I don't like this proposal. Because, it takes away the experience which is most the valuable part of project management and we are creating more rules how a question should be written and answered, which is not good.

Personally, I don't care much about the officially recognized knowledge, because there can be a good answer which fits, but the person who answers may have never read about it, just did it. And this is fine by me. I'd rather read his answer than an RTFM with a link.

I liked this question, although somebody else got the answer flag: Can separate roles in DSDM Atern be handled by the same person?. Even if I gave a reference, the OP found another more useful, which is good thing.

So from me, +1 for the personal opinion and -1 for the generalization, sorry.

  • Of course, I agree. I like to check on links pointing to existing well document practices and ideas. I'm saying that we need the extra which is not in a book yet ;-) – Zsolt Jul 2 '12 at 17:28
  • What can we do to make sure answers posted without links are backed up? Do you think it's acceptable to at least ask that the person answering explain how their technique worked for them? Can we separate opinions with no basis on facts/results from expert opinions based on experience? Would you support a back-it-up policy like what's on the Workplace SE FAQ? – jmort253 Jul 2 '12 at 19:49
  • I think it is wise to ask for explanation, because throwing links in is something anybody can do (e.g. googling), but how to apply knowledge in practice is something really interesting. The separation is not easy and I'm not sure that it is possible :-( I'm not sure what you meant with the first question. – Zsolt Jul 2 '12 at 20:50
  • The proposition from Workplace SE looks good to me – Zsolt Jul 2 '12 at 20:51
  • I think you answered the first question. If I understand correctly. it sounds like you lean more towards backing up with sharing experiences rather than with reference links. – jmort253 Jul 2 '12 at 21:01
  • Yes, indeed. I like stories. I was always interested in how to adapt theory in practice, and this experience is a great story to me and it is never the same ;-) – Zsolt Jul 2 '12 at 21:03

@Zsolt brings up a good point.

Should the site's success be gauged by how well we answer people's questions or whether it is a source for cutting edge project management knowledge?

We are doing well in the former, but not building up the latter.

I would argue that we need to build up the site as a source of project management knowledge and that this, in turn, will lead to being more valuable for the entire community.

Yegor's approach can help get us there, with that caveat that there are clear cases where experience can be authoritative and as useful. Though these generally happen on the cutting edge of project management and not in areas where people can Google the answer or read a book.

I think we need to consider the process of induction versus deduction. Induction is where we learn; deduction is where we confirm. This is important because many problems encountered on projects may not have been experienced before or at the level where documented solutions exist. Through induction, we find solutions through innovation, creativity, adding to new schools of thought that, eventually, will find its way into formal documentation when the academics grab it. This process of induction is how methods and solutions evolve and causing others to become extinct.

Deduction is where academics prove or disprove what comes out induction. This is where you will find most of your documentation and things to point to to substantiate your answer. But my point is, the process starts with us, the fools on the ground doing the work...NOT the academics who study it.

Personally, I want to participate on a site where people are able to answer a question with new thinking. There are a lot of greater thinkers on this site and I want to hear from them to hear something I have never heard before. Sure, I may reject wholesale or partially his/her thinking; however, there may be a thread that someone or I grab and from that leads to some compelling and interesting point of view...that might find itself in a new method derived by the academics some five years later. Who knows!

I enjoy this process of induction, personally. I like coming up with new theories all the time...sometimes I can support it with other relevant theories, other times not. But this is how we learn. I suppose I imagine this site similar to a think tank. Indeed, a lot of what happens in think tanks pull from existing literature, but there are a lot of question asking, answering, and thinking without that.

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    Great comment, David. It definitely brings out the challenge in striking a balance on the site between fostering leading edge thinking and assuring quality/expert level participation. What do you think of encouraging down votes and, as moderators, deleting answers we don't feel contribute to the tone? – Mark Phillips Jul 3 '12 at 13:46
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    Thanks, Mark. I think down votes for sure when an answer does not contribute to the tone. That said, we should be careful because I think we would want a wide variety of competency levels to participate and do not want to discourage attempts at an answer from those who are junior or those who like to take risks with their thinking. Plus, there could be that little thread in the answer that we can tug to reveal something even more compelling! Definitely a balance and it will be hard to achieve, but worth it! – David Espina Jul 3 '12 at 13:53
  • @DavidEspina - To clarify, I personally encourage beginners. :) On other sites I participate on, we coach people that it's okay to be a beginner, but take initiative and do some research first. In other words, I can be new to something, do some research on my own and ask a great well thought out question, or I can come and ask something like this, which someone who claims to have 5 years experience in the field should have some foundation in already, and who should ask something much more meaningful. ;) – jmort253 Jul 3 '12 at 14:37
  • [cont'd] - In summary, the guideline approach is great because it means we all user our judgement. If something seems wrong, inadequate, or otherwise lacking, the community has supported documentation in the FAQ that empowers using comments, downvotes, and other tools to help people bring their material in line or remove it. I'm looking forward to seeing how this can help our site ;) – jmort253 Jul 3 '12 at 14:40
  • I don't disagree; we need to encourage that. But let's assume intelligence is normally distributed. A beginner on the right-hand side of the curve will research and craft a very different question than a beginner on the left-hand side. How would the moderators know with whom they are dealing when judging the quality of a question? – David Espina Jul 3 '12 at 14:54
  • @DavidEspina - Check out this question about what design documents to use. op claims to have 5 years experience. IMHO, this isn't a beginner question; this is just lazy ;) Had he described what research he looked at already or gave some more depth to his question, or maybe described something he was confused about in a particular document then that would be okay. But the answer in this case is to start cracking the books. ;) – jmort253 Jul 4 '12 at 1:07

One of the first things I learned about the PM was that there are no silver bullets and there are no solutions that work out of the box. Time after time, case after case, project manager needs to introduce an abstract idea into a real environment. So, in answers I mostly value experience of a writer contained in a response.

Secondly, the recognized body of knowledge term is a bit indefinable. Recognized by who? Reader, writer or moderator? Shall we stick to the existing ones or allow creation of new bodies? Remember how the Agile Manifesto arisen? What if there are couple of people using a new approach but are not recognized publicly?

Lastly, I am affraid it is not what the users want:

  • asker want to know the answer, only after that there is a value in generalizing the question,
  • answerer may not have a time to search for a links - knowing about some rule is not equal to knowing where it was described by the "authorities" (and it may not be as well described as some bloggers do)
  • probably the most of us wouldn't like the LEAN vs SCRUM, or RUP vs PRINCE fights which I am affraid will follow. If one brings authorities with her then the arguing usually takes place on the authorities level. Especially if a question is not a general one and the body of knowledge hasn't described the practice in a detailed way.

Edit: As an answer to the jmort253 comment:

If I had to come with a solution I would agree with what was already said:

Personally, I want to participate on a site where people are able to answer a question with new thinking. There are a lot of greater thinkers on this site and I want to hear from them to hear something I have never heard before.

and

Having said that, I believe that adding references would improve many answers, so why not have it as a guideline and not a strict policy?

So my version of such guideline could be even described in "manifesto style":

  • We value your point of view and willingness to share and we believe it can be even better with the references to your source of knowledge.
  • We value every answer that helps solve the problem and we believe it is often better if an answer is more generalized than the question.
  • Can you expand in your answer on how we might solve this problem in a more satisfactory manner? Consider this new answer added to an old question: pm.stackexchange.com/a/6110/34 ... How can I know this person knows what he's talking about as a visitor? Remember, Stack Exchange strives to solve a different problem than traditional discussion forums, by providing expert answers that will not just help the asker, but future visitors for years to come. :) – jmort253 Jul 5 '12 at 18:35
  • You don't know if he knows what he is talking about - or - if he is talking about what he knows. Personally, I am fine with that. It is the same in the world around us and as a PMSE user I don't expect anything different. – Bartosz Rakowski Jul 5 '12 at 21:44
  • You're right! On Stack Overflow, Programmers SE, and other SE sites, we don't always ask for references, but those communities do a great job policing themselves. Users frequently downvote and/or leave comments if something is unclear or doesn't quite add up. More community self-moderation equals less unilateral moderator actions. As an avid PMSE member, can you commit to downvoting and commenting on questionable content that you know as a PM might need to be clarified or that you don't agree with? – jmort253 Jul 5 '12 at 22:05
  • Yes, although the tricky part is in sentence "that you don't agree with". On PMSE one can expect different management styles to meet. Answers embracing the Servant leadership style can meet with answers exhibiting the Directive leadership style. As long as I am aware of possible appliances of both styles - I won't probably downvote. – Bartosz Rakowski Jul 5 '12 at 22:31
  • See your public profile at the very bottom right. Votes: (204 up/2 down) Could you commit to a downvote if you recognize that the material is missing important details or isn't thorough enough to help future visitors? (BTW you can vote for whatever reason you want as long as you're voting on the merits of the material and not the person. You can also remove downvotes if the person brings the material up to par) – jmort253 Jul 5 '12 at 23:14
  • I vote for valuable (whatever that means to me) answers. I downvote answers that lead to the negative effects or that are not written in a spirit of helping. I refuse to downvote incomplete answers as long as they bring something useful at all. It is not uncommon to observe that after couple of incomplete answers there arises one which collects and includes informations provided by other. Please remember, PMSE is growing because each of its users can have her question answered. Having expert answers is a secondary goal and can only be possible if other levels of expertise are allowed. – Bartosz Rakowski Jul 6 '12 at 6:55
  • You make great points. Maybe comments will be enough to guide users. I think it's definitely worth trying that route first. Everyone can of course vote how they want to, so if downvotes seem inappropriate to you, can you commit to just making helpful comments when you see incomplete information? – jmort253 Jul 6 '12 at 7:40
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    I think, I am already commited :) – Bartosz Rakowski Jul 6 '12 at 9:28
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    Great points, @BartoszRakowski and a valuable contribution to the discussion! – Mark Phillips Jul 6 '12 at 12:28

There are questions that simply begs for experience-based, sometimes even opinionated, answers. Zsolt's question that jmort253 mentions is a good example.

By the way: I did an experiment and added a couple of referrals to my answer. Is it better now? And, before you rush to confirm, it is just reference to my earlier writings on the subject, which is still experience-based and not theory-based.

Of course I haven't referred to a specific body of knowledge regarding one of common methods applied in project management, but I guess we don't want to narrow the site down so much.

Having said that, I believe that adding references would improve many answers, so why not have it as a guideline and not a strict policy?

I know that some people would just ignore guideline but we can still use redirect people to it wherever applicable and this way coaching users to get good-quality answers.

  • Hi Pawel, we aren't trying to single you out but needed a good example from a top user to focus our discussion here. I hope we didn't offend you. You always post great stuff! With that said, if this were posted as a guideline, would you be willing to help enforce it when there's controversy in answers, using comments and downvotes? Where do you see the boundary as to when a user should cite a reference/experiences vs when it can be overlooked? – jmort253 Jul 3 '12 at 6:25
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    @jmort253 - I didn't feel singled out :) I did this experiment on purpose. If we had such a strict rule I would probably do the same exercise when answering (because I definitely would answer the question). I'm just not sure if this is improvement. Now, everyone can judge it by themselves, seeing both versions of the answer. – Pawel Brodzinski Jul 3 '12 at 6:28
  • Right ;) I'm not sure how much it helps in this case. But surely you know the answers we're all thinking of, the ones where you really question whether or not the person answering has any idea what he's talking about, like this guy who claims to have an MBA, doesn't answer the question, and regurgitates some basic Introductory Business 101 material. As a community -- not through moderator actions -- how do you think we should handle these situations? Could the back it up "guideline" (emphasis added) be enough in this case? – jmort253 Jul 3 '12 at 6:41
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    Actually I believe what happened with this answer is what we want to see. You've pointed out why it isn't relevant. The guy even tried to improve it (which is a very positive sign) but even then it is hardly on topic, so I downvote it so I make sure it doesn't even flow among 0-point answers. With the place on the bottom of the list secured I'm good with such answer. Anyway, the guy still can edit the answer heavily or simply remove it. – Pawel Brodzinski Jul 3 '12 at 6:50
  • +1 to that. You're absolutely right! Editing is our best tool for improving questions/answers. Even anonymous users can suggest edits... I'm glad I didn't delete that, and trust me I wanted to! With that said, we shouldn't be afraid to close questions that don't fit, even if it's just to edit them and reopen them... When I stopped closing questions, I noticed people stopped trying to improve them when I only left comments. It's important for us to educate the community that closing is oftentimes just a temporary state to give the question some time to evolve, if it can be improved, of course. – jmort253 Jul 3 '12 at 6:57

This question, Shall I use my project management style when I'm substituting for my colleague, while he is away?, asked by Zsolt and answered by our two top contributors, is a perfect example of why I think Yegor proposed this new policy.

First, Zsolt asked a great question! Second, the answers are outstanding. Both answers are from respected experts in our community, and I'm happy it's currently on our front page!

But as someone who considers himself still learning, who hasn't ever substituted for another PM, I'm unsure of which answer is right for me. While both can technically be "correct", even though they differ, which option should I employ?

This is the problem that I feel we need to solve.

  • David's answer clearly cites theory. Pawel's does not. Would that help you decide which to employ? – Mark Phillips Jul 2 '12 at 21:50
  • When you ask it like that, I have to honestly say that I'm not really sure. I'm really on the fence about this rule. The more we talk about it, the more uncomfortable I feel about enforcing it, especially when you consider how important theory is in the field. – jmort253 Jul 3 '12 at 1:10
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    There is plenty of room for theory, but it needs to have a basis in the field, and not just speculation. SBWorks provided a third answer which is even further along the spectrum: unsupported and tries to be entertaining (rather than add to the answer). That answer seems to clearly divert from the "expert" nature of the site and turns it into a message board or comments section. A policy like Yegors could give clear guidance to the community on how answers will be moderated. – Mark Phillips Jul 3 '12 at 1:13
  • SBWorks definitely didn't cite experiences or official PMBOK or explain why his answer is right. For me personally, any one of those could be acceptable, but without it, I think this is just noise. The answer seems to repeat what Pawel already said: respect any important and long-term arrangements that were made by the PM you are substituting and doesn't really add anything additional, other than the comic. I'd be willing to try Yegor's proposal, but should we get more community support first? – jmort253 Jul 3 '12 at 1:34
  • As an aside to anyone joining us, this is nothing personal against the user SBWorks, who has provided many great contributions to the site. To answer this meta question, we simply need to take a hard look at the site and put some questions/answers under the microscope. ;) – jmort253 Jul 3 '12 at 2:10
  • It would seem that we would then also change the FAQ's to remove statements such as "Our theory is that project management is a very broad field; therefore, we currently allow a broad range of questions." A new FAQ would define PM more strictly. – Mark Phillips Jul 3 '12 at 2:12
  • @MarkPhillips - I wrote that originally with Pawel's assistance, over a year ago. I think it's outdated and definitely needs an update. Wanna take an agile approach and just make some modifications? ;) BTW, I know you don't like chat ;) But we're both here if you're feeling up to it: PM Chat – jmort253 Jul 3 '12 at 2:14
  • @jmort253 - Considering that people upvote both answers you clearly see that both strategies are correct not only technically but also practically. You should likely employ the option that suits you better. The other possible situation would be when only one answer was upvoted - this way you'd get your single "correct" answer. – Pawel Brodzinski Jul 3 '12 at 6:06
  • @Mark - "David's answer clearly cites theory." Does it? I mean which teaming theory you have in mind? With no reference it is hard to tell. BTW: I don't say that there has to be a reference, as the answer are strongly experience-based (as it was stated before). – Pawel Brodzinski Jul 3 '12 at 6:09
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    Pawel's right, I cannot tell you anymore from which school of thought that came. My degree is in psychology and I was heavy into behavior, social learning, and industrial/organization psych. This little piece of team degradation caused by change was discussed somewhere there but I am closing in on 25 years out of school. There would be no way I can cite it without a ton of digging, and I am not sure I'd do that on all of my answers I provide on this site. Some I do because of interest, other times I want to contribute quickly and move on. – David Espina Jul 3 '12 at 10:51
  • It seems we are converging to a solution. 1. Posting a form of Yegor's proposal as a guideline. 2. It provides transparency as to how the community will moderate/vote on answers 3. Active community members and moderators act in accordance with the guidelines. All with the goal of getting the site to where we envision it. How does that sound? – Mark Phillips Jul 3 '12 at 13:53
  • Fair enough. The mere mention of teaming theory (in a context that makes sense), sets the answer apart from answers the "regurgitate Business 101" material (to use jmort253's phrase). @Pawel, definitely not knocking your great contribution. Very much appreciate your answers on the site. Trying to push the experiment to find the lines of definition. – Mark Phillips Jul 3 '12 at 13:58
  • @jmort253 - I'm happy to take a stab at the FAQ. Hoping others will chime in with their feedback : ) btw, tried to get on the chat but had trouble logging in. – Mark Phillips Jul 3 '12 at 14:00
  • @MarkPhillips - Go for it! With everyone's input, we have a great start. We can of course continue to revise as needed. ;) – jmort253 Jul 3 '12 at 14:32

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