Anatomy of a DesignShop®: Designing Pan Value Chain Support Systems,
A Facilitator's E-mail dated November 23, 1996
with commentary by Bryan Coffman

(published 12/6/96)
back to section 3

Section 4: Analysis: What Went Right

This event was huge. There were 120 people in the space for three days. We managed it without big environmental problems (thanks to Tom on environment) and without compromising the design because of the large number of participants. The Radiant Room focus has shifted to the left with the video wall, and that allowed us to move some of the capture people over to ‘facilitator land’.

Integrating client knowledge workers.
We had 13 people here from the Client to work as a Capture team, intending to capture the key ideas that developed in the breakout sessions. These were the Design Team Leads from the Project, or their Engagement Team counterpart. This worked for several reasons:

  • The outcome of what they were to capture directly impacted their success in Infinity, so they were intensely interested in getting value out of the experience.
  • We spent two sessions (10 days prior and the day prior) introducing them to the space, to the DesignShop concepts and helping them to discover what the role of a knowledge worker is all about. (I have the materials we used for the discovery session and Management Center Scavenger Hunt, if anybody wants them.)
  • They stayed for two days after the DesignShop to put the work product together.
  • We treated them as just another knowledge worker Crew (like production).

Videography. We had the video wall and three or four people on video. This allowed us to have top quality video capture and to make a video of the first two days to show the morning of day three. We have a video as part of the work product, and it is a very cool production

Artistry. We had between four and five Sketch Hogs, so the quality of our graphics and visuals was superlative. They spent most of the night following Day Two synthesizing the participants models into one common model, or way of looking at the value chain. The participants figured out in the usual amount of time that they could have an artist help them, so they were pretty busy.

Knowledge objects. We developed a huge library of knowledge objects, process models, power packs, and industry trends (partly because we had time to do so). All these will be handouts on the CD. I thought that the participants utilized the objects pretty well, in part because we designed some of the challenges around them, and in part because we kept telling them they were available.

Administrative folks & meeting planner. The Client brought two executive secretaries to (wo)man the reception ‘desk’. They were fabulous and very helpful. We also had the use of a meeting planer from the Client, who handled all the logistics related to hotels, shuttle busses, gifts in hotel rooms, and so on. What a relief to not have to deal with it.

CD. Our Journal, Work Product, Knowledge Object library and possibly video clips will all be burned onto a CD and distributed to the participants (browser based). We are capturing how this was done, because I think it sets a standard well worth having.

Brochure. The engagement team produced a very good tri-fold brochure for the participants on what to expect (and what not to expect) at the Management Center. We have it for future use.


Section 5: Analysis: What Needs Improvement

Broken Rules of Engagement. I commented earlier on the lack of ‘lift’. Despite, or perhaps because of, the extraordinary time between when we knew the event was happening and the event itself, there was plenty of time for energy draining stuff to creep in.

  1. Inconsistent Sponsor Team. The entire sponsor team (six people) and two facilitators never, at any point prior to or after the event, met as an entire body. There was either someone missing and often one or two extra people would attend the session. There was never really an opportunity to spell out to the group their responsibilities as a sponsor. Meetings would develop with many of the sponsors, but the facilitators would not find out in time for both to attend. Some sponsors would discuss things and not keep the others informed. We may wish to work on a ‘Sponsor brochure’ and be very clear what the rules of engagement are. We might want to include the ‘Six Danger Signals’ or something like that that signal problems.

  2. Communication Hierarchy. I did an extraordinary amount of work with the engagement team prior to the DesignShop. There were two people assigned to making this event successful, and their marching orders were to set in concrete absolutely everything they could. Neither had ever experienced a DesignShop. They were well intentioned, capable people incredibly frustrated at being caught between their inculturated desires for a controlled, linear process and the Management Center's open-ended process. For example, they spent lots of time developing a ‘table of contents’ for the deliverable despite my assurances that we would not know what would be in the work product until after the session. I could not talk to the Client sponsors directly without going through the engagement team. Generally communication from Matt and I went to one member of the engagement team, then to his boss, and to the Client's Project Team Leader and on to the Client's CFO. Even the Project Team Leader isn’t allowed to talk directly to the Client's President without going through the CFO. There was wonderful opportunity for people to put in spin, interpretation and decide what they thought needed to be passed on. Combined with an inconsistent sponsor team, miscommunications were inevitable.

  3. The biggest challenge was when we learned that the President and the Chairman were to attend the morning of Day Three. We had no control over when they would arrive or leave. Matt and I worked out a model that would allow them to experience a recreation of the first two days, give advice and leave. Its success would be based on secrecy about them coming, and having them leave immediately after giving feedback to the group (who would be in the synthesis conversation). News that they would be present leaked out, meaning that the participants knew the entire time that some heavies would arrive to review their work, and that the DesignShop wasn’t really time out of time at all. Further, the President decided that he would stay until mid-afternoon. We put him on the integration team for Day Three and he spent the whole time giving guidance (that was important for them to get), but it took them out of the game for hours. The only person who would converse with him and push back was Matt. The Client culture is very hierarchical, and I think the message that the hierarchy was clearly in charge was loud and clear.

  4. All of this conspired to give us a lack of ‘lift’. Have you ever been on a lightly loaded airplane that seems to spring into the air from the runway? Contrast that with a full plane of vacationers who brought heavy suitcases that, you can feel straining to get off the ground and gain altitude and you know what I am trying to convey.

The Writing Team. This has become a very painful team to be on. I had written drafts of all the assignments for the entire event by the time I arrived, so I figured this team would be a snap. Guess again. Here are some of the challenges I am perceiving:

  • We are writing extraordinarily rich and well conceived challenges, often different ones for each breakout team. This alone contributes to complexity, and when there are 12 teams, and you still have to drop in the team names, it is still a lot of work.
  • Graphical presentation of a design challenge is something we are not considering. The team tends to focus on the words, and not the graphical presentation of the entire page--its layout and design elements. This caused misperceptions with the Take-A-Panel exercise (see below).
  • The writing team is also hearing the word changes intended by the sponsors, but not necessarily hearing the intentionality of the concept. Matt commented that we are not conveying the artfulness of the meaning. I believe a contributing factor was that the assignments were written already, implying that they were done, and not to be fiddled with.
  • Killing the writing team. The last several DesignShops, someone on the writing team has been here all night, and we often set up a second shift. Maybe that is the way things are going, so suck it up, but we may wish to consider a library of design challenges they can pull from, or putting graphics and fast typists on the team. I don’t know the answer, but I know it has become a rugged assignment.

Knowledge Wall. We had two knowledge wall pros on the team. They had incredibly inventive ideas (a huge logo made out of construction paper, feet made out of the Project signs that walked across the ceiling, blueprint paper to fill in with comments, for example). But I am not certain that it was more than wallpaper to the participants. I wonder how we could use the wall in a more active way? Perhaps the participant assignments could be stuck to the wall and they have to find them? I would love to hear more ideas.

Originally the Knowledge Wall held the written Journal as it was produced in real time during the DesignShop, including and especially all client graphics and diagrams. This way it became a sort of larger than life encyclopedia of the event that participants could casually or intentionally refer to during the process. The documentation from many of today's events is too voluminous to be posted on the wall, but some judicious posting of key graphics or conversations is still done in various management centers.

Later on the purpose of the wall evolved. It came to be a place where all sorts of information could be posted--like a European kiosk. Articles, clippings, information from the Internet, photographs from the DesignShop, sketches and models of concepts and ideas were all candidates for posting.

Maintaining the Knowledge Wall is a full time job. Imagine being responsible for a 40 foot long by 6 foot high collage that changes in content, design, layout and organization maybe twice a day over the course of the DesignShop.

Perhaps it's useful to think about the Internet in connection with Knowledge Wall design. Imagine that you had a computer screen the size of the wall and a host of intelligent agents at your disposal. You'd key in lists of things you were looking for and the wall would begin to fill with images from dozens of websites around the world. Better yet, imagine that these little intelligent agents could be listening to the conversations going on in Breakout Teams or in the Radiant Room and adapting their searches based on what they hear. That's the intent of the Knowledge Wall.

The Production Team. Truly the mushroom society, they are stuck in the production room and completely lose track of day, night and any notion of what is going on outside. Is there some way we can put a window above the Fedex machine so they can see out? Or, when we found we could not fit the Capture team into the radiant room (it was that tight), we ran a monitor into the research room and they could watch the report outs there. Why not do the same in the production room to give them context with which to work?

The Management Center in question here was originally occupied on a temporary basis and with a strict budget for modifying existing walls. As a result, the production room is entirely enclosed, without "refuge or prospect." This is an anomolous situation in Management Center design where nearly all spaces have access to not only the activity of the Center at large, but to daylight as well.

Section 6: Matt Taylor's Conversation with the Sponsor Team Following the DesignShop

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