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

(published 12/6/96)
back to sections 1 and 2

Section 3: The Design of the DesignShop

DesignShops are usually designed with reference to one or more models from the MG Taylor Modeling Language. The easiest model to use is Scan, Focus, Act. Many large DesignShops are three day events, so day one is designed as a Scan, day two as the Focus, and day three as the Act. When properly executed, such a design drives a positive feedback loop of both creativity and productivity so that by the third day the participants are able to accomplish "four times" the amount of work they did on day one.

Because the model is fractal in nature, each day should repeat the model as well. So day one will have its own Scan, Focus and Act components, as will the following two days. Using such a matrix as a rough template, even a novice facilitator can construct a robust design to help a group achieve high levels of performance and surprising creativity.

There are other models that overlay the DesignShop. For example, the shop itself represents a very short-lived enterprise. It must go through start-up, success and on to maturity. It must spawn practical and necessary follow-on work and at the end it must "die" or dissolve. Sometimes the death process takes place in the middle of the DesignShop and day three is really a day of rebirth. The process to overlay on the design is the Stages of an Enterprise model.

Playing several models together against the Client's situation and the DesignShop design is what we call playing a "Glass Bead Game" (taken after Hesse's masterwork, Magister Ludi).

Day One: Scan
Getting the group to "out-of-the-box" thinking; building a common language; energizing creativity; forming and functioning as a team.

Module and Time Description and Notes
8:00-9:00 Introduction Sponsor message, axioms, models, setting the stage.
9:00 - 9:45 Take-A-Panel (TAP)

Because it requires each participant to write on one of the WorkWalls™, the Take-A-Panel™ exercise gives them an OK to use the space and gets everyone's ideas and solutions out in the open. This particular assignment involved envisioning the future. We ran into an interesting situation here (besides using just about every work wall in the center). Our instruction sheet had about six questions, one of which was a matrix they could construct and fill in. The matrix dominated the page of instructions and therefore dominated the minds of the participants: the other questions were ignored or treated as secondary by most of the participants.

Note that the way an assignment is presented on paper largely determines the manner in which the participants will answer the questions, and also which questions will be answered and in what order. The page itself must have an easy, loose feel to it if you are looking for free-flowing ideas. A more formal page will elicit a more formal response. A boring page, well....

9:45 - 10:30 Share-A-Panel  
10:30 - 11:00 Breakout Teams Share ideas, begin to work in breakout teams, develop TAP ideas into something new, recognize the diversity of ideas.
11:00 - 1:30 Metaphors Read, discuss, and model the value web system instructions; work on being open to new ways of looking at the system. How does the diverse subject apply metaphorically to Client's system? two sets of six teams. I looked at about 17 different metaphors before settling on the half-dozen we used and have them all on disk for anybody that wants them. Each metaphor was chosen for the task at hand.
1:30 - 3:00 Dual Report Outs

Share learning; share new ideas; not attempting to design yet.

There's a great temptation by participants to generate a few ideas and then jump into engineering them into solutions. But good ideas are NOT brainstormed. They must be designed through iteration until they are robust enough to be of value in the engineering phase of the creative process. It's not a question of generating a certain volume of ideas, it's a question of stimulating idea generation by allowing the participants to view their situation through various, diverse vantage points, describing the ideas in their future, implemented state, and then turning them back into the "soil" of the DesignShop for another round. The ideas dissolve, resolve and evolve until more fit varieties are left on the table, ready to be engineered sometime on day two of the DesignShop. This is often not a conscious, reductionist process--there's no way to keep track of the "genotypes and phenotypes" of the various ideas.

One of the problems with 83 participants was the time it would take to listen to a dozen report-outs (two hours at 10 minutes each). So we gave the same set of metaphors to each half of the participants and had six teams each report in the two radiant rooms simultaneously. Each had rich content to report (one of the Highways, Rivers and Internet groups basically came up with the Business of Enterprise Model on their own), and they finished within minutes of each other. We moved the small radiant wall halfway along the production room wall (all of the WorkWalls in the space are on wheels) and had the report out there. After that, it functioned as a breakout space. We made sure always to have three teams in the back radiant area so nobody felt they were off in Siberia and away from the energy of the other participants.

3:00 - 4:30 Syntopical Readings The participants broke into teams and read articles, reports and analyses from the Management Center's knowledge base concerning competitor profiles, market trends, top 10 brands, other big projects.
4:30 - 6:30 Future Scenario

Breakout teams were charged to construct a vision of the future in slices 2, 5 and 10 years out across four different domains:

  • What the Client's organization will look like
  • Knowledge
  • People issues
  • The future history and results of the Project)

We had intended to give these segments about two hours total, but let the timing slip because of where the groups were and what work needed to be done.

DesignShops are managed using designs of each day, not agendas. At this point on day one, it becomes necessary in the facilitator's judgment to extend the time originally alotted for this module. As the DesignShop moves on more and larger changes will be made. Each time a change is made, the rest of the day is redesigned and posted for the Crew to see. The participants are rarely aware of the design of the days; we want them to be totally engaged in the content of the work and leave the process up to the facilitators and Crew. This is not because it's convenient or even necessary to separate process from content, rather when solving problems gets difficult, it's tempting for a group to abdicate the work at hand and waste time in unnecessary wrangling over the process and whether it's working or not. Such a distraction in a compressed event like a DesignShop is usually fatal.

6:30 - 8:00 Report Out We intended to have a synthesis conversation follow the reports, but we ran out of time. We had the wall divided into the matrix I described above (three time frames by four topics). Each team had worked on one cell of the matrix, but when they put up their tiles it got all confused (either we didn’t give clear enough preparation instructions or some teams just couldn’t clue in that a section of wall with their name on it was where their tiles go). This was to have been an ‘assembling’ of the future and sharing of ideas, but we really only got the sharing. Great ideas, though. We charged them to list the five best ideas they heard over the evening and see you tomorrow.

After the participants leave, the sponsors, facilitators, and sometimes representatives from the rest of the Crew will meet to work in broad strokes on the design for the next day. The design, however, is never finalized that night but early the next morning. There is a useful and mysterious phenomenon that occurs over night; lots of things get sorted out and the situation and best course of action usually crystallize in the morning.


Day Two: Focus
Redefine the problem; explore ideas through modeling and what-if; consult knowledge objects; sort and test potential solutions; and ‘create’ the problem.

Module and Time Description and Notes
8:00 - 8:30 Large Group in the Radiant Room We walked the participants through the Vantage Points Model and the Business of Enterprise Model. They had brought up the core concepts of these models in the first day, and Matt judged it the right time to introduce them so the participants would have a way of framing subsequent discussions. The models popped up many times over the remainder of the DesignShop (as well as the "you can't get there from here, but you can get here from there" axiom).
8:30 - 10:30 Breakout Teams Design Round One Competitive Advantages. Brainstorm competitive advantages with teams broken into value chain entities.
10:30 - 12:30 Breakout Teams Design Round Two Challenging Questions. Teams traded a few members with each other to cross-fertilize ideas. After the trade, each team shared what they had done with the new team members. Then the teams developed existing and created new competitive advantages. Finally, they handled the ‘but did you consider this’ questions.
12:30 - 2:30 Breakout Round Design Round Three Stress Test. Rotate some individuals between teams and share status with new team members. The facilitators gave each team some very gnarly problems intended to "stress" the solutions they had crafted--in the way that steel or concrete might be put under pressure to determine its elastic, plastic and failure points. The teams had to describe how the Project identified and facilitated a response to these problems (we had some good ones).
2:30 - 5:00 Large Group Report Out See the range of potential competitive advantages together. Where do they duplicate? Interfere? What’s missing? This report was intended to go until 4, then we would have another design challenge. Instead it went until 5, and we told them to leave and come back in an hour with a model that incorporated all that they had heard. We got some really rich stuff out of the report, including the concept of ‘key suppliers’ (not just key distributors), and setting up companies to bundle together outsourced administrative functions across the Client's system.
5:00 - 6:00 Breakout Teams: Some Assembly Required Build a 2D or 3D model that incorporates all that you heard. There were some wonderful models created, including arrows aimed at the future, whirligigs, cyclical value chains, and Mr. Potato Head inside the tensegrity toy.

At the end of Day Two Matt and I felt that the participants would be in one of four states:

  1. They "have it" and know they do.
  2. They "have it" but don't know it.
  3. They don't have it and know they don't
  4. They don't have it, but think they do

The first two we judged would be most likely. While the sponsors would feel different amounts of anxiety depending on where they felt the group was, it did not matter to the facilitators or the eventual outcome of the DesignShop. We felt that they were in second bullet at the end of Day Two. We had a group of knowledge workers remain most of the night and develop a model that pulled together graphically the elements that were in the participant’s creations. This was a beautiful helix-shaped ascending value ribbon, held in the air by the support functions and surrounded by a network. It had, in Joe's words, ‘a squint factor of about four.’ (The squint factor of a model - how much participants have to squint to make sense of it, can be mapped with the sphincter factor - how tight does the model make the sponsors feel, which can be determined by measuring blood pressure, and the pancreas factor - how dead are the knowledge workers creating the model.)


Day Three: Act
The biggest challenge was to integrate the President and the Chairman (who had not been participants during the first two days), ‘solve’ the problem, embark upon a path of explosive planning and activity.

We divide the creative process into two halves: creating the problem and solving it. Most often groups begin the creative process with the second half: they assume a problem and then set about to solve it. Sometimes this is appropriate but often it means that only the symptoms are attacked, or the real problem remains unaddressed. The earlier comment, "solve the problem" implies that day one and day two of the DesignShop were focused on creating the problem--building an understanding of what the project really needed to address in order to deliver an order of magnitude success instead of an incremental one. Day three would focus on solving this newly discovered and well-framed problem.

Module and Time Description and Notes
8:00 - 10:00 Synthesis Conversation

We began with the synthesis conversation. The participants grappled with a number of issues and balance points:

  • Appropriate design complexity
  • Centralized or decentralized design
  • Standard or customized design (order versus disorder or hierarchy versus ‘out of control’)
  • Data security versus knowledge sharing
  • Level of need between the developed world and the developing world
  • Functionality between ‘can’t wait to have it’ and ‘can wait to have it’
  • Where does the revenue/profit come from among global accounts to mom & pop stores?
  • Data organization between ‘extract what you want’ and ‘roll-up reports’
  • Accountability somewhere between the global and local level

The conversation seemed a little flat to me. The group was very polite and there was an absence of the ‘agonized choice’ feeling.

9:40-11:00 Video, Speech, and Collective Design of the Next Round

After 40 minutes or so the President and Chairman ‘heavies’ arrived, but they came in sort of behind the participants, and I don’t think even half of them noticed their arrival. At 9:40 we announced they were there and showed the video that Tim S. and crew had spent all night preparing (indeed, up until 9:39. Matt and I had been sending out increasingly frantic messages and getting replies like ‘computer crash, about 10 minutes’ for an hour. I finally went out bearing a ‘NOW OR NEVER’ card to find Tim running towards me waving the tape over his head. Talk about just-in-time.) With this, the heavies were brought current with the participant’s experiences. The Chairman delivered an excellent ‘here is my guidance’ sort of speech and then we broke while they departed. This was followed by setting of teams, voting with their feet and getting to work.

I say that the Chairman delivered an excellent speech, but the fact that he was there at that point in time, and that the participants knew he was coming, acted as a drag on the event. It also created a climax before we wanted one, and the energy was uneven throughout the rest of the event. It meant that we never really could build the Synthesis tension to a head, or as Rob would put it, the bow didn’t get drawn back far enough. Some really excellent work was produced, but only periodically did I get the impression of furious, explosive, highly productive activity.

I do not want to imply that this DesignShop was a failure, far from it. But I feel that extra yardage that could have been gained was not. (the President, when he was speaking to the synthesis team, said that ‘Value not created is value destroyed.’) This would have been a much different event had we really understood the pervasiveness of the hierarchical culture and the weight of an unseen heavy.

11:00-3:00 Breakout Teams The rest of the day was Act activity, with an interim report out at 3:00. During the discussion after the Chairman left, the entire group was facilitated to isolate ten or so major issues that needed to be worked on for the rest of the day. These were posted on Hypertiles on the Radiant Wall and the participants signed up for whichever team they wanted to work on.
3:00-4:30 Interim Report Out The teams presented brief summaries of their work to each other.
7:15-8:00 Circle Up We concluded with a circle-up at 7:15 (instead of a report out earlier) as we wanted the teams that were building momentum to continue until the last minute. We had each team build a stand-alone presentation of their work, either on a wall, Hypertiles or video. At the circle up, we asked the sponsors to tell the group what had been accomplished, and we showed several of the videos.

Sections 4 and 5: Analysis: What Went Right and What Needs Improvement

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