The Design Framework provides a flexible yet systematic approach to designing organizational systems for all types of organizations: commercial, non-profit, and governmental. While the framework is presented here in a sequence, in practice the process is a bit messier and often winds around in an iterative exploration of considerations and options. Consequently, the approach to design here is a flexible framework vs. a sequential procedure.
The first eight modules (outer boxes) of the Design Framework form the Discovery phase. The process begins with a clear understanding of the purpose and requirements of the system and ends with a diagnosis of the existing system (as applicable). The discovery steps make explicit information on the critical design considerations that will help inform the design phase. Once the discovery phase is complete, the design phase consists of three steps: the ideal conceptual design, the doable conceptual design, and finally the detailed design. The final phase includes the development, deployment, and continuous improvement of the system. The Design Framework provides a structured but flexible approach to help you navigate the design process.
1 Purpose + Requirements
Designer William McDonough proposes, “design is the first signal of human intention.” Consequently, the first step in design is to define the intent or purpose of the particular system being designed. During this first module, you and your design team will develop a clear understanding of the purpose(s) and key requirements of the system and identify the stakeholder needs, wants and desires.
2 Nature of the System
Systems and processes differ in many ways, but the “nature” of the system will guide many important design decisions. Is the system composed of physical processes (manufacturing, transportation, etc.); knowledge or information processes (loan processing, insurance claims, etc.); or creative processes (strategy development, product development, etc.)? Many systems are composed of combinations of two or sometimes all three types of processes – physical, knowledge, and creative. The nature of the system influences design decisions such as the level of process control required, the level of specificity of the various process steps and activities, so on and so forth.
3 Theories + Concepts
An understanding of the key theories and empirical evidence regarding what works, what we know doesn’t work, under what conditions, is useful input to any management design process. Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton in their book Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management make the point that practitioner’s actions and practices are often not based on the latest scientific theory and are often practices that we already know do not work.
4 Inspiring Examples
World-class and award-winning examples help to bring the theories and concepts “alive.” This review of example designs can help clarify the concepts and applications and inspire the design team’s creative thinking. Examples are used at two different points in the design process. First, high-level conceptual design examples are used during the initial discovery and conceptual design processes. Second, detailed examples are used during the detailed design phase to provide tangible options and ideas.
5 Unique Context
The design of any custom management system is dependent on the specific context of the unique organization. For example, the appropriate strategic management system for the local family-owned grocery store is likely to be a bit different from the appropriate system for a multi-national manufacturing company with operations around the world. To design a system to fit the unique characteristics of the organization you first have to identify the key organizational factors that impact the design of the particular system including the external and internal organizational factors and the organizational culture.
6 Design Principles
Design principles are the desired characteristics of the new or redesigned system. They are cross-cutting and are used to inform the design. The design team begins with established management system design principles such as balance, sustainability convenience (user-friendly), alignment, learning, etc., and then identify any additional characteristics or design principles to consider during the diagnosis and design phases.
7 System Integration
Understand how this system or process fits within the larger organization system. Most (if not all) management systems are part of a larger system of management systems that combine to manage the overall enterprise. For example, a strategy system interacts with several other systems including the enterprise scorecard, governance system, human resource systems, and so forth. A system perspective of the larger enterprise management system helps design management systems that are congruent, aligned, and integrated. The systems perspective allows organizations to look beyond the immediate goal or desired outcome of a particular system and identify key leverage points in the overall system to achieve their objectives and purposes.
The last step in the discovery phase is a diagnosis of the current system. Dr. W. Edwards Deming proposed, “if you can’t describe what you’re doing as a process, then you don’t know what you’re doing.” It is very difficult to diagnose an existing system until the details and design of the system are made explicit. Participants describe the key characteristics of the existing system in sufficient detail to provide a common understanding of the diagnosis. Caution – this module can result in a mindset that is too “critical” just before moving into the creative design phase. Ideally, the discovery phase should provide a “springboard” into the creative phase.
Using the information and concepts from the first eight modules as a “springboard” you will develop an ideal conceptual design. During this lesson, you and your design team will stretch your thinking to develop a vision of your ideal system. In this case, an ideal world is defined as one with unlimited resources and technology as well as the desired ideal culture. Experience suggests that if you first develop an ideal design and then a “doable” design, you will end up with a better (more mature) design than if you go directly to the doable design. When attempting to [re]design a system or process, designers are often “prisoners” of their previous experiences and learning. Designers that attempt to go directly from the current design to the desirable but “doable” design often fall well short of what is actually possible.
10. Develop, Deploy, Iterate
Once the detailed design is complete, the development phase begins. Depending on the nature of the process, it might be useful to develop a prototype and test that design with a small group before full-scale implementation. This will allow the design team to learn from the limited deployment and refine the design before it is fully implemented. This is a common practice for systems and processes that have a major technology component (e.g., ERP systems). Once the new design has been fully developed and refined to meet the feasibility criteria, it is ready for full-scale implementation and continuous improvement.
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