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The Eisenhower Matrix

From my vantage point, several peaks poke through the cloud cover that overhangs enterprise information content and ultimately enterprise knowledge management. Have you encountered the Eisenhower Matrix? I was unfamiliar with that approach to figuring out what to do and what to postpone until one of my colleagues at Duquesne University in the late 1960s introduced me to it. Dr. Richard Oehling, a specialist in the Reformation, pointed out that Gen. Dwight Eisenhower allegedly formulated a matrix with four squares. (Find more information at or at

The idea is that certain work is important and other work is not important. The key insight is that important work is never urgent. A system to manage an organization’s information resources is important and, in my view, not work that is urgent. The failure of many enterprise content processing projects burrows into a lack of understanding of the importance of the work. There is the drudgery of conducting a content inventory, the difficulty of figuring out specific requirements, and the challenge of determining one-time and recurring indirect and direct costs. The challenge of obtaining commitment from senior management for the project cannot be sidestepped. Finally, the team has to select a vendor, go through the installation and optimization process, and then deal with the ongoing optimization and customization tasks digital content projects bring to the team’s cubicles.

Numerous less important but urgent issues will arise; for example, the system crashed on a weekend. Requests from a colleague in the legal department may not be important and not urgent. There is the need to prepare a backup diagram for the president’s lecture at a reseller meeting, which is urgent but ultimately not important because the president rarely sticks to his script.

The fight in the dog

My hypothesis is that for many content-centric and knowledge-centric processes, those involved want to get to the “good stuff.” The demonstrations, the visits to trade shows and the selection of a vendor are just more fun than making flow diagrams and verifying requirements. Senior management floats along on a cloud of unknowing, assuming that subordinates are working to ensure a successful content processing system. When a surprise comes up, the top brass begins their fact-finding. Instead of dealing with the fundamentals at the outset, the teams finds itself sucked into a whirlpool of failure.

As the multi-int diagram illustrates, architecture and processes lead directly to vision, principles and strategy. Getting sidetracked is easy. As Dwight D. Eisenhower allegedly said: “What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight—it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

Buzzwords, technology like XML, quick-and-dirty technical fixes and it-works-like-a-toaster solutions signify a dog without much fight. A functional system, stripped of jargon, shows the fight in the dog. Grrrr is needed to resolve enterprise content and knowledge challenges, not the silence of snow falling on a glacier far from the thunderstorms of a typical organization.

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