Monday, 17 June 2013

VPEC-T: What Works & What Doesn't?

It's been over 5 years since Carl and I stumbled upon VPEC-T thinking, whilst working with the UK's Criminal Justice organisation. We've both enjoyed numerous conversations with people who tell us that they've found it useful,  in a wide range of circumstances.   I'm interested, however,  in hearing more about how VPEC-T has been applied,  and in sharing these scenarios publicly, so that others might find their own way to apply the framework. I'm particularly interested in the circumstances which led to its use, the method used to start the VPEC-T conversation, other models/canvasses that helped frame the conversation, insights that emerged and, last but not least, what worked and, more importantly to me, what didn't.  Feedback on the use/usefulness of VPEC-T has always been difficult: the nature of a framework that examines sensitive issues, like Values and Trust, becomes a barrier to public feedback. In the spirit, however,  of openness and sharing, but recognising such sensitivities,  I'm not asking anyone to disclose specifics, instead, Im asking for more general,  anonymised, observations. 

Here's the top 6 questions I'd like to ask:
  1. What were the general circumstances that led to a VPEC-T analysis?
  2. How did you bound the conversation - did you use a model or canvas to help focus-in?
  3. How did you conduct the VPEC-T analysis - a workshop (how many participants?), 1-on-1, or other?
  4. Which dimension (i.e. V-P-E-C-T) did you start with and which dimension(s) stimulated the most insights? 
  5. What were the main barriers to getting the conversation going or issues that became a stumbling-block? How did you overcome?
  6. What was the nature of the output/insights from the session and where/how did VPEC-T add the most value in surfacing them?
Not surprisingly, I've used VPEC-T in many different scenarios, sometimes explicitly, and sometimes  as a, non-disclosed, mental model, for analysing  at a problem or opportunity.  The most valuable feedback to me, however, has always come from others - their unimagined (by me!) challenges and circumstances. Ever since my original blog post in 2007, I've been keen to share and develop the thinking publicly (despite pressures to do otherwise!). Can I encourage others to do the same?  I guess I'll see.  Any better ideas on soliciting feedback always welcome! (thought to self: I wonder if I could find a way to use Dave Snowden's Sensemaker tool?).

For the latest developments in 2017 please take a look at the VPEC-T Metro Map.


  1. Hi Nigel,

    I'll throw in my 10c.

    I've used VPEC-T as an internal approach to driving questions and conversations as opposed to 'throwing it on the table' - my thoughts are that asking people to think hard about their business problems etc is enough to ask without the cognitive burden of a framework (no matter how simple!). But then being an employee as opposed to a consultant means that the discussions tend to be looser, shorter and less formal than it might be as an outside consultant.

    When do I use it? Solution architecture/design, but honestly as a mental model for many situations - understanding people's motivations and reasons why things are how they are.. reviewing the work of others to ensure they have considered events as much as content and policy (which tend to be the 'obvious ones').. understanding the conflict in values that lead to a particular series of related projects getting into strife.. and so on!

    Personal experience on the 'values' and 'trust' side is that they're great in the back pocket but difficult to introduce as concepts to others.. I've found people don't necessarily think naturally about these on daily basis (they are intrinsic, internalised) and having someone trying to document or examine a person's or organisation's values or trust can be uncomfortable and unnatural. But understanding these things yourself means you can ask more pointed questions which can indirectly and subtly surface some of these underlying issues.

    In terms of which dimensions added most value - in increasing order of value:

    - Content: people more naturally think about this stuff, it tends to be visible, concrete, easily documented and agreed

    - Policy: generally understood, but usually not fleshed out enough.. can get good info and insight by pushing this angle a bit more (especially when asking 'why'?)

    - Events: people tend to have their own 'reference models' of events in their heads that they rattle off whenever they're thinking about something - almost always one or two will be forgotten! The concept of a 'business event catalogue' is incredibly valuable as a checklist/reference to burn through to ensure completeness.

    - Values: the discussions get harder, but whenever there are 'intractable' problems it's amazing how often they can be re-framed and understood as a clash of value systems (simple example - IT values a solution that minimizes rework, duplication and complexity .... business operations values a solution that delivers efficiency and headcount savings)

    - Trust: I've found best thing to do is keep an eye out for signs of diminished/missing trust, recognise it and think hard about how that trust could be rebuilt or mitigated (through increased transparency, etc)

    Hope this helps!

    Thanks again for a great book.


  2. Thanks Mike, very useful. Like you, I also find it is often best used as a 'mental model'to help the facilitator guide the conversation. When, however, I've made the framework explicit (like one does with a SWOT), I do often find this generates a richer dialogue and insights. When I do this, I sometimes modify the VPEC-T headings a bit to better suit the audience and subject matter. So for example, I might modify Trust to Confidence, Events to Milestones, Content to Messages and so on. I tend to keep the VPEC-T main heading but add these 'clarification' sub-headings as the conversation develops.

  3. Hi Nigel,

    I've used VPEC-T several times, most recently on a mobility BYOD project.

    1. The circumstances were that the project team had to describe the business context for the project, and I was sick of getting a lot of useless documentation. I wanted something useful, that would inform the architecture, and assist the junior architect working with me on the project.
    2. I just used the model straight out - I explained it and suggested that the BA document it as is.
    3. We ran a workshop with the 4 team members, and supplemented this with research from the BA.
    4. We ran through the different dimensions in order.
    5. The main issues were in getting the BA to focus on business issues, not technology ones. As per your original article, so many BAs here in NZ are IT BAs, and are somewhat divorced from real business concerns. We had to work hard to get everyone to think about the genuine business context, so that we were talking about business events (not technology ones) and business content, not IT system content.
    6. The main insights were around the importance of the trust aspect - for BYOD in particular, trust is a significant element - trust from the organisation in the employee, and the employee having trust in the organisation, and both having trust in the solution. Without these important trust aspects the solution is likely to fail, whatever its technical qualities. This leads us to necessarily consider important aspects of communications to employees, and values such as transparency.
    Overall it was a great way of describing the business context we were operating in, and gave us a solid foundation to start requirements analysis and architecture from. Certainly we were better served by the output of this analysis than we would have been with a list of affected IT systems, or current state processes.

    1. Hi Doug, did you have a specific 'Exam Question' for the analysis or was it more of 'Let's explore the topic of BYOD'?


  4. Thanks Doug really helpful! You've prompted me to think again about using it on our own BYOx challenge! I've only used it once with my current organisation around the challenges we face in balancing a complex ecosystem of trust-relationships between suppliers, customers, citizens, government and environmentalists. I ran this workshop with 8 members of the business community: 2 from procurement and the others from our Retail LoB. We ran out of time in the end (2.5 hour session), but we did create a much more structured, principle-based approach to working with a US-based Cloud vendor and came up with a conceptual architecture that deals with sensitive Data Privacy issues without imposing changes on the SaaS platform and we were in a much better position to explain our needs to the vendor and, at the same time, stage the contract (through an Event focus) in such a way that neither party feels over-exposed. We ran through the VPEC-T dimensions pretty much in order but with slightly more discussion on Values and Trust. Like many times before, I find a 'business' audience seem to 'get it' faster than IT-folk.

  5. Hi Nigel,

    I use V-PEC-T similarly to @Mike. I first stumbled on V-PEC-T whilst working at a previous employer in the CEP and Real-Time space so it helped formalize some of the activities I undertook to propose and refine architectures for clients and prospects. The VT (Value, Trust) is critical for positive engagement with the client, ensuring that the PEC (Policy, Events, Content) are approached correctly when defining the architecture and resourcing and scheduling implementation of a solution.

    The most important part for me was the VT. It allowed for better conversations with clients and other stakeholders through refining my understanding of the context, relevance, responsiveness, timeliness and other business level ilities. This allowed distilling a better architecture once lensing through PEC which I see very much as technology level concerns.

    I re-read the book once or twice a year. I tend to deviate from the book as I mix, fold and splice this into other practices and processes (formal and informal). If I remember correctly, I was influenced positively to try V-PEC-T by some work done by Chris Bird on SABRE and by a sample V-PEC-T analysis by Richard Veryard.

    It's a very useful thinking framework to focus on actual value. It is very effective at nurturing sustainable productivity and works very effectively when combined with data driven analysis.



  6. Hi Darach, thanks for your feedback. Chris and Richard were both early adopters and have applied the framework in many different contexts.I remember many chats with Chris around using VPEC-T to frame design thinking around an event-based platform in the airline business, whilst Richard has looked at it in other contexts and in conjunction with other approaches often looking at more 'human' systems. I also "mix, fold and splice this into other practices and processes".
    Cheers Nigel.

  7. Hi Nigel,as you know, I'm also interested in the use of VPEC-T in relation to more 'human' systems. I saw Carl Bate do a presentation on it at the British Computer Society last year and he was making the point that strategy needs to become more people-centric. I've used VPEC-T implicitly when looking at implementing a change programme - it was easy to get people to think about Policies, Events and Content explicitly, but values and trust had to be more implicit and subtle. That being the case, we also felt we needed to consider Stakeholder Roles to bring in the people dimension explicitly. When getting into the nitty-gritty of a change programme and influencing/working with particular individuals, I think it is useful to add individual behavioural models, such as psychometrics into the mix, too. I'm exploring this last idea at the moment.

    1. Hi Sally, Stakeholder Roles, are *always* included, you can't complete the Values dimension without them. The first roles we described at the CJS were Defendant, Policeman, Prosecutor, Witness, Victim, Judge. So Values are always clustered by Stakeholder but can be seen as collective Values in the dimension. And, yes, I also extend into other models/techniques depending on the need.

    2. Hi again Sally, I'm planning on putting another post together that goes into more depth about VPEC-T dimension sub-branches/sub-headings that will cover Stakeholder Roles among others. I will also touch on the use of canvases for shaping the VPEC-T analysis.