What if managers thought like designers?

28 10 2006

I was reading this fantastic article the other day from a mag I frequently peruse.

Its called ‘BOSS’ by AFR, but what i read is the actual printed version.

Weird as it is, I actually love flicking through magazines rather than reading things online. (he says bashing keys into a blog.) It’s a tactile thing.

Anyway. I’ve always had this big beef working in the Australian Government. It’s usually about how strategic initiatives are arrived at.

The article I was reading was titled similarly to the title for this post. What the article discussed was the authors view on the same beef, and he drew some very elegant synergies between strategic design and many other design specific behavioural patterns.

The catch line for the article was “What if we tried to think the way designers do? here are 10 things that would happen if we used the design metaphor for planning.”

Probably the best way to get across what I’m thinking here will be to pull some quotes from it.

“We all care about strategy, because we want the future to be different from the present. But powerful futures are rarely discovered primarily through analytics….This doesn’t deny analysis an important role, but it does subordinate analysis to the process of invention”

“Leaders must …persuade others of the compelling wisdom and superiority of the story they have chosen. They must, in fact, make the story seductive; in selling their strategy, they must, to put it bluntly, treat employees like lovers instead of prostitutes.”

“Persuading others to share your vision works best when you issue an invitation instead of a command.”

from the chapter titled The value of simplicity

“Think of an object you love. Chances are that it is complex enough to perform its function well, but no more complex than it needs to be. In other words it’s an elegant solution.

No design is a better exemplar of simplicity and elegance than the little black dress, the LBD….the LBD goes beyond mere functionality to achieve elegance. it lacks nothing essential and contains nothing extraneous. what if we used the LB as a model for business strategy?”

From Aiming for inspiration

“one of the saddest facts about the state of businesss design is the extent to which we settle for mediocrity”

“Design teaches us about the value of including multiple perspectives”

“In business we tend to start strategic conversations with constraints.”

OK OK enough.

There’s a heap more, but those stuck out the most to me. At this point in time anyway. (midnight… yet again.)

The last one I’ll discuss here, it’s highly relevant to my thought at the beginning of this post.

I’ve sat through heaps of strategic direction meetings / workshops / love ins and so on. Many people have.

Often they start off with a bit of an S.W.O.T. Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats analysis.

Terrific stuff.

If you have a clue of what goals you are trying to hit. Otherwise it’s a pretty pointless exercise. How can you provide any relevance context for what you come up with under each of those headings without an actual strategic goal in mind?

If my strengths that I come up with are that I’ve got access to pen and paper, but after I’ve finished the SWOT, I figure out that my strategic goal is to cook dinner, where does my time spent figuring out that I have a pen and paper become well utilised? Would I have answered different strengths if I knew that my goal was to cook dinner?

Continuing, I’ve had heaps of ‘strategic’ conversations that revolved around actions.

“Ben I want you to come up with some strategic initiatives for us that further our capability in web service delivery.”

I wrote a strategic discussion paper for my senior executive once (at a previous department) and it was highly innefective. It discussed what I envisoned for the relationship to effort spent on maintenance vs the effort spent on innovation and improvement and the benefits of various weighting between the two actors.

The feedback I got back was that it was too conceptual, and had no information on implementation or constraints of the environment (budgets, technology and so on).

If I was writing a project management plan then I would have included that detail, becuase that detail is relevant to an activity that is drilled out from having a goal. (Rule 1, get requirement before you write action plan.)

I was writing a strategic discussion paper, ignorant of constraints, ignorant of how to do discussions. Of course, no one was able to work that way, it simply was not how they worked.

What I could have done better though, was frame what I was writing, what purpose it served and how it would benefit our planning.

I should have also made clear what I was NOT doing, and ensure that each person who I was seeking information from was involved in my pre thoughts so that through the virtue of the collaboration in that stage, they would be better placed to input in the way which I needed.

It’s important to work with your team, managers, peers. As a designer I would have done this intuitively, as a manager I didn’t, even though I was thinking like a designer with a clean slate and fresh crayons.

It’s also important to remember the rule, get your requirements first. What the hell are you doing. Then figure out how.

Design first, then figure out how to cut the code.