Navigation Center™ Processes
Creating a Framework for Success Through Rules of Engagement


by Bryan S. Coffman

Over the last twenty years, MG Taylor has built and put into operation dozens of Management Centers, many of which also served as NavCenter environments for our clients. All experienced initial success, and some are still in operation long after their conception. Others failed. From the successes and the failures we have learned much about how to prime a NavCenter facility to improve its ability to thrive in a challenging environment. We have distilled most of this learning in our DesignShop® System Axioms, the Modeling Language, and various manuals and workbooks.

This last year we embarked upon an ambitious project to create a Pattern Language for the Enterprise. We look for patterns in the structure of NavCenters facilities (for example) that seem to lead to a healthy organism. We've hypothesized fifty-six patterns so far. From this list I've extracted five, and added five others that seemed to apply directly to the Center product line. Each pattern is associated with a glyph from our modeling language (its name appears in parenthesis following the name of the pattern). Clicking on the glyph will take you to a page on that model.

Stable Relationship of Three (process facilitation)
Every session in the center should be facilitated and supported by three roles (which may be played by a varying number of individuals). More challenging sessions should be supported by at least three people. All three are considered facilitators, and especially in NavCenter environments, they may switch roles frequently.

One role is facilitation from the front of the room. This role can be filled by a wall scribe or a combination of process guide and scribe. In every case the walls should be employed as a group memory and aid in synthesizing complex work in a non-linear format (two dimensions, as opposed to text in documentations and notes which is linear and uni-dimensional).

The second role is facilitation from the middle of the room. Every session must have a sponsor. The sponsor must be invovled in the ten-step knowledge management process with the other two facilitators to evaluate feedback from previous engagements, design the upcoming session, and prepare any read-ahead materials if necessary. During the session, the sponsor, who is aware of the design of the session, engages with the group as a participant.

There are occasions when the sponsor (or other participants) may become wall scribes. This happens frequently in NavCenter facilities, and especially with small teams of participants. Here's why. In large DesignShop events, the process consciously assembles participants into large group for reports and discussion and then divides the group into breakout teams or individuals to either generate diversity or fast track designs. When a very small team works for a number of hours, it may not be wise to subdivide the group into smaller teams or individuals. Nevertheless, the phenomenon of the breakout team still occurs. Usually a scribe is required for the first portion of the session. At some point, it will become clear that because of the nature of the ideas being presented, it makes more sense for one or more of the participants to scribe their ideas directly on the WorkWalls instead of filtering them through a scribe. When this happens, the team is in "breakout" and it is appropriate for the scribe to retire to the back of the room and wait. Eventually a demand for synthesis will occur and it will be natural for the participants to take their seats and for the scribe to handle the synthesis from the front of the room once again.

The third role is facilitation from the back of the room. This individual is free to document, work on work products, adjust environmental parameters such as heat, light, and music, operate a video camera, or provide an additional scribe if needed.

Straw Dog Design (design)
Every session is designed, as a part of the Ten-Step Knowledge Management Model. This means that it has an agenda and a process design. The agenda details the content and desired outcomes of the session, along with the participants, logistics (food, supplies, information), and date and time. The process addresses the mechanisms that will be employed to accomplish the outcomes. There are two major components to the process: crafting of assignments, selection of group mode of work. There are three modes of group work: the participants can be together as a whole (as when reporting, discussion, and working on next steps); the participants can be divided into teams to generate diversity (each having the same assignment) or to fast track issues (each team having a separate but interdependent assignment); or the participants may be asked to work individually on some assignment. For each mode of work, an assignment should be crafted before the beginning of the session. It may change under the press of circumstances during the session. A well-crafted assignment easily doubles the effectiveness of the facilitation.

Stepping Up (conception)
No one is ever forced to sign up to work on the KreW of a NavCenter space. Additionally, all of the work to be done in a Center is self-assigned; never assigned by a boss (see sapiential leadership, below). This doesn't mean that KreW members don't encourage each other to stretch and take on greater challenges. The work in a center is so demanding, and the style so different from traditional organizations that it can't be forced on someone without disastrous consequences to the integrity of the team and the center itself. A good KreW will provide cross checks, mutual support and its own leadership. An individual who steps up to become a KreW member in a NavCenter facility shoulders the incumbent responsibility to step up to the work to be done on a regular basis, and to support other members of the team to do so as well.

Circle Up (scan)
The NavCenter KreW periodically assembles in a circle-up. They should not meet to share information concerning the status of NavCenter systems and sessions. Most information sharing of this type should be handled by networks of computer systems, physical displays and groupware that track calendars, projects, processes, goal attainment, dashboard items, financials, and basic organizational issues. Instead, KreW members meet in circle-up to perform the higher-level activities of scanning and design in preparation for sessions and the meta-management of the NavCenter environment. Nothing can yet substitute for the type of high-frequency, low-magnitude face-to-face interaction that creative design thrives on.

Having said this, most circle-ups do include some level of information sharing, particularly exception reporting. Even the best of automated systems cannot handle every contingency faced by the KreW. These exceptions can be effectively and crisply handled in circle-up.

Most often the circle-up is a regularly scheduled weekly event. Sometimes it is a daily event; perhaps a ten-minute stand-up exercise. In any case, a team that functions using sapiential leadership must employ circle-ups to aid in the sure management of the center.

Sponsorship for Knowledge Workers (entrepreneurial button)
Every new knowledge worker who steps up to work in a NavCenter facility must have a sponsor--someone more experienced from within the center itself, or better yet, from the broader ValueWeb™ Community outside the NavCenter space. A knowledge worker from a knOwhere store in Cambridge may sponsor another knowledge worker from a client-owned Center. Even though a sponsor is usually more experienced, they are not necessarily mentors.

The sponsor should be a source of information concerning the facilitation process, the modeling language, transition management in general, and the operations of a Management Center or NavCenter facility. The sponsor can answer questions and provide impartial feedback.

The individual being sponsored usually selects their sponsor.

Management Lives in the Center (management)
NavCenter environments are built for the purpose of effecting a change in the way of work within an organization. Therefore, they frequently come under scrutiny and sometimes attack. This is not necessarily malicious at all--all living systems are built to resist the inclusion of foreign particles or concepts within their tissues. In order to immerse themselves in the new way of work, and to conscientiously represent the NavCenter system to the rest of the organization, the management team should be housed within the center. They may have other offices outside of the center as well, but should spend a good portion of their time in the facility.

Senior management should be encouraged to use the environment to steer their organization from on a regular basis. The actions of all levels of management are usually scrutinized by everyone in the organization, and the place and value of the facility will be clearly established by the activities that take place or do not take place in the center.

Center Maintained as Invitation to Work (environment)
Never allow the environment to become disordered or "trashed out." Once an session is finished, copy the walls and erase them, dispose of trash, refresh markers and wipes on the walls, reset chairs and redeploy tables, add toys, books and plants to welcome and intrigue, and set the lighting and music in an appropriate manner for the next session. Never allow a group of participants to enter and use a space that has not been reset. The participants will undoubtedly rearrange the space to suit them if necessary, but when they come in, the space should speak "invitation to work." This is an art, and not something to be delegated to people who are not on the KreW. Throughout the day, each KreW member should observe the environment and adjust any element that is out of place.

The work spaces that the KreW use on a routine basis have the most potential for deteriorating because of the demands of being a knowledge worker. Such work spaces should be outfitted with furniture that allows multiple projects in progress to be stored intact and be retrieved whenever time allows for them to be worked on.

Most centers have benefitted from a rule that says the NavCenter space does not close up at night until the entire space, including KreW quarters, is reset and all products from the day are completed and awaiting distribution. To adhere to such a rule requires flexible scheduling, but it makes work a lot easier in the center.

Real Artists Ship (documentation)
Every session is documented in some way. Some combination of wall copy, written documentation, work product, and video tape is required as a minimum. Such products should be completed and distributed rapidly--within 2 hours of the end of the session is a good target to aim for (this doesn't apply to multi-day DesignShop events). Once product work is allowed to stack up, the NavCenter environment can become an unbearable place to work.

Sapiential Leadership (self-correcting)
Simply stated, the person who can most clearly see the next step is responsible for communicating this step and facilitating or leading the group through it. In an age as complex as ours, it's unreasonable to imagine that any one person has all of the questions and all of the answers. To invest individuals with such responsibility creates unnecessary burdens and pressure and debilitates the creative edge of other members of the team.

Nevertheless, a NavCenter facility will probably have a center Manager--usually the champion of the center itself, and someone who can represent the center to the rest of the organization with all of the proper cultural and hierarchical cues and trappings. But within the center's domain, the manager facilitates the healthy emergence of sapiential leadership from the KreW and a matter of expedience.

Being There (efficacious)
Everyone associated with a session--participants, sponsors and facilitation team--needs to follow the Four C's (taken from the US Army War College): Candor, Commitment, Competence, and Courage. The NavCenter space should provide a safe place to be honest. If it fails in that one aspect, it fails abjectly in its mission. It's up to everyone to make and keep candor alive in the center. Commitment means that participants, sponsors and facilitators agree to attend the session for its duration, to engage without interruption (other than emergencies), to present their ideas clearly and firmly, to play 'spoze with the ideas of others, and to seek good solutions through a superior design instead of compromise. One of the DesignShop axioms reads that everyone in the room possesses the answer: the purpose of this intensive interaction is to stimulate one, several or all of us to extract and remember what we already know. Often this knowledge is buried or has yet to be synthesized, but it is there. Everyone in a session is responsible for engaging with the ideas to help each other and themselves to employ their professional and personal competence to the fullest.

All of this, of course, requires courage.

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