Management by Design Workshop at KMWorld

Management by Design Workshop at KMWorld

I want to thank the people who attended my KMWorld 2010 pre-conference workshop that used the principles of design from my new book, Management by Design, to think about learning environments.

The presentation part of the workshop wasn’t that good. I have to rethink how to conceptualize the methodology before just jumping into it. The methodology reads much better than it presents. That is a lesson learned for me.

That being said, the last hour, when we tackled a knowledge management effort for a clinical trial tracking, the technique performed well by driving conversations, and identifying design attributes that would have made, and may still, improve the level of design in the new system we used as an example. My presentation of the material needs work, but the methodology worked well in practice.

I won’t name the organization, but they are in the business of developing cures for a major disease.

The methodology starts by capturing the things the effort is balancing for. These are represented in strategic terms when done well.

Examples include:

  • The organization’s mission
  • Compliance
  • Improving efficiency, increasing speed and eliminating duplication
  • Knowledge transfer and retention
  • Quality
  • Donor expectations
  • Transparency of status and process

Although we prioritized these items, it became clear that they were relative equal inputs to the design of a system, because disregarding any of them decreased the fidelity of information available to the designers. When it comes to balance, it is imperative to name all the relevant concepts. If you do, as many do, make quality an attribute of the others, it ultimately gets lost. For clinical trials, even the possibility of missing quality means it should be elevated.  In Management by Design I make the point that we have to think of these balance elements as a mass of inputs to the design, not as discrete items that can be prioritized. For balance to take place, you have to consider all of the variables and their relative weight against each other that creates the balance. Prioritize one item over the other and the balance is lost.

The next part of the methodology looks at proportion through variety and emphasis.  We had a very long talk about visual data input. The system that was being described was one where a document is placed into the system, and then tagged with attributes. I played a visual thinker who found this boring. I didn’t do a good job of tagging because the act of tagging was boring. I did the minimum I had to do, rather than the most effective tags for the work. So our discussion talked about ways to integrate visual interaction elements in the design, which is not in the current design, and may not even be possible. If it is the later, that doing this work isn’t possible, then those charged with communication and adoption need to make sure they understand who will be affected by this design efficiency and how to get them on board, even though their preferred approach to work differs from the way the system will be implemented.

What to emphasize was also interesting, as the discussion quickly went down the list of attributes for the system: document management, higher quality, more efficient processes. The discussion ended up at a very different level, a more strategic level: creating compliance that allow the organization to achieve its mission. This ties the reason people come to work with their most daunting challenge and then puts the system into that context without even naming it. Without compliance, it was stated, nothing would ever be approved. Years of work could be delayed, or promising starts failing for procedural reasons rather than scientific reasons. To achieve the mission, they needed to avoid compliance issues.

We then went on to the next part of the methodology, Rhythm and Motion. What is important to keep in mind here is that Rhythm and Motion are intended to focus attention on demonstrable progress at the strategic level. How do people, for instance, understand the successes for the knowledge management system at a level that propels them forward toward the higher goal.

In the case of the workshop, we discuss the strategic goal as being the development of a quality solution to the disease, conducted in a cost effective way.  Objectives at this level were the first clinical trial that had a high level of compliance as managed by the new system. The second objective was to retire paper. We discussed that for the employee experience, to consider celebrating these moments, not just putting out an e-mail recording them.

Perhaps most interesting was the impact perspective, where the organization records the major impacts on through the lens of the experience being designed. Here, the clinical trial system would report high audit scores, reports that were compiled from the system vs. by hand, proof that donor funds were well used and that trials were executed in the planned time. Clinical trials that run long, for any reasons, are much more expensive, and they are seen negatively by funding agents. So having the system tightly associated with improving key metrics is important. Avoid false metrics that report how well the system may be doing, like the number of items put into a database. These don’t matter if the data they contain isn’t applied to improve performance or make better decsions.

The next part of the methodology takes a look at tools: policy and practice, technology and space. Each of these is moderated by flexibility, simplicity, equitability and forgiveness. In short session, it is hard to get into all of the moderations, but here is what we came up with today:


  • Paperless processes
  • Lessons learned feedback
  • Validation of the system
  • Rewrite standard operating procedures to reflect design intent
  • Policy that the new system is the system of record
  • An information architecture that allows for future flexibility
  • Rewriting of job descriptions, roles and responsibilities an delegation rules.
  • Cross-functional teams


  • Auto-tagging
  • Improved workflow
  • Realtime analytics
  • Mobile apps along with the web


  • Open room designs to reinforce elimination of silos and multi-purposed roles
  • Placeless work (mobile phone apps)

Now, admittedly, these notes are a bit cryptic, but they point to tools that reflect and reinforce the balance and rhythm and motion elements. At this point, these notes are examples, but more drill down and detail would need to be collected and conferred.

The final part of the process is to define Perceptibility through the basic questions of who, what, where, when, why and how.  This is the tactical level. We talked a lot about the need for internal marketing. Imagine Perceptibility guiding answers to these questions so that you are forced to communicate the deepest intent of the system. You want to have anyone who reads these answers know why they care, and what is in it for them.

Management by Design was written to help people, and the organizations who employ them, create better workplace experiences. This workshop demonstrated that the methodology prompts new perspectives that can improve workplace experiences, and if not, it can identify the issues that you can’t overcome, for either technical or business reasons, so you can effectively communicate the whats and whys of choices.

Thank you again to the attendees of the workshop for your patience and openness to mutual learning.

Daniel W. Rasmus

Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.

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