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The big unspoken problem at the heart of design

Here’s a short list of things you probably shouldn’t buy: Org design. Service design. Program design. 

There are so many companies out there selling these services ‘off the shelf’ to business and public sector leaders. Peel back the buzzwords and the truth is: most design companies are offering something pretty similar. 

But the thing they are selling is not what you really need to buy. As a leader you don’t want to pay for design. You don’t even want to pay for a design. 

You want a transformation. 

 

What’s the difference?

Any design that isn’t both implementable and implemented has little or no value, regardless of how elegant it may be. As a company that sets out to collaborate with public sector leaders to make meaningful impact we believe we shouldn’t be selling design any more than a soft drink company sells carbonation. 

That’s the how; not the what. 

You need a change that sticks. A change that works. A change that becomes embedded within your organisation to the point where it becomes automatic and self-sustaining. 

 

You need Assurance

It’s not hard to make this argument. The question we faced at ThinkPlace was what to do about it. Over the years -- however we’ve fought against it -- we’ve sometimes seen even our own design process fall into the trap of mistaking the artefact for the outcome. 

Let us be entirely clear: A beautiful report that sits in a draw is a failure. Stunning research insights that never translate into on-the-ground improvements can never be considered a success. 

When we design change; change is what we should deliver. That’s why, as a critical  component of our Agile Business Transformation service, we created the Design Assurance Team.

 

ThinkPlace designers at work

What’s that?

When you spend money at a certain scale you want to feel protected, to feel that you won’t later regret it. The purpose of that new car you’re eyeing off is not to look good on the showroom floor; it’s to get you to work every day.

That’s why car manufacturers offer generous warranties, fixed price servicing and roadside assistance programs. 

A complex transformation should be no different. One thing we often see that holds back transformative impact is siloing in the procurement process. 

A research firm carries out research. A design agency does the design. Yet another consultancy or perhaps an internal team is brought on to implement and execute it. Despite the best intentions of all, this approach can often mean crucial features are neglected. Shared intent we’ve worked so hard to foster is downgraded in favour of expediency and the result is a watered-down version of what could have been a more successful transformation.

Obviously, as changemakers our preference is to see the project through with you, as lead partner, from idea to impact. But that’s not always possible. Budgets can be limited. We also understand that execution is often regarded as an internal capability. 

 

That’s why we created the Design Assurance Team. 

The team’s purpose is to ensure the intent behind the change and the features that make the design compelling are honoured in spirit throughout the process of execution. 

That doesn’t mean slavishly sticking to a predetermined design, even as circumstances change and the goalposts shift. Good designs and processes are adaptive (that’s the agile part of Agile Business Transformation). When circumstances change our team is with you to adjust accordingly.

 

A scalable safety net

For large projects, design assurance might mean embedding multiple team members within your change management process. They are there not to drive implementation (that’s a different task) but to provide guidance and course correction, re-steering the implementation team when it strays from key principles or unwittingly begins to make small changes that compromises the big vision.

For smaller projects, design assurance can mean weekly or even monthly check-ins. We’ll provide you with a roadmap to implementation, including specific and measurable checkpoints. Is the implementation team meeting these or do we need to take a moment to assess where we are and recommit to where we want to be?

 

ThinkPlace designers at work

Tools for transformation

Another key plank of successful transformation is having the right tools. We’ll provide you with whatever is needed to get the job done. This can be anything from training manuals, programs and products to process maps, and implementation guidelines.

 

Communicate the change

At the heart of this is a communications challenge. Show us a transformation that doesn’t have a communications component and we’ll show you one that is unlikely to work. Whether it’s convincing your own staff, your customers or other stakeholders across your sector, change is an unwinnable challenge if you can’t communicate it effectively.

This is the final hurdle where well-intentioned changemakers often fall. Strategic communications has more in common with behavioural psychology than broadcast media. It is not about what you want to say. It is not about spraying a message that makes you feel you have ‘communicated the change’ regardless of how it lands. Well-designed communications, as an integrated part of a well-designed transformation are about identifying the intended audience and successfully nudging them to make sure they do what you need them to (and keep doing it). It’s about winning the hearts and the minds and creating change champions. 

 

Modular and flexible

Of course you can run a project without some of these add-ons. Maybe without all of them. We don’t necessarily recommend that. Those who have survived long careers in change management all understand one basic thing: a little bit of cost-cutting can end up costing a LOT of time, money and goodwill later on. Thinking ‘beyond the design’ means you are planning for something that is implementable and ‘sticky’ right from the start. And it means you are starting the process with a much clearer idea of what the desired outcome looks like.

 

Looking to make sticky change? 

Let’s chat about how we can help you make your change stick. 

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