Introduction to the Work Product

Bryan S. Coffman

November 24, 1996
(updated 02/20/1997)


Overview of the Products of a DesignShop Event

A DesignShop® process, or any event governed by the Ten Step Knowledge Management Process for that matter, may produce four broad types of documents:

  • an advance document of text and information maps, called the Read Ahead,
  • a chronicle of the DesignShop event produced for use by crew and participants while the event is occurring, called the Real Time Journal,
  • the polished chronicle of the DesignShop event produced shortly following the event, called the Journal,
  • one or several summary, synthesis or evolutionary documents of text and information maps produced after the event, called Work Products.

The purpose of the Read Ahead is to prepare the participants and Crew for the upcoming event both from an informational and and emotional point of view. The purpose of the Real Time Journal is to provide instant access to ideas generated during the event which can be folded into the work of the event in real time by participants and crew in a spontaneous, distributed, asynchronous manner. Now that we have electronic database access to the Journal at breakout areas, the Real Time Journal will be of marginal value (although it has been of great value in the past). The Journal itself serves as a lasting record of the event. Its new incarnation as a database makes it the most useable and valuable of its species we've ever produced.

Varieties of Work Products

Work products come in three general varieties: summary, synthesis and evolutionary.

Most clients ask for the summary variety because they're not used to receiving any other type of work product from a traditional meeting. Unfortunately, the summary attempts the impossible--to present a condensed overview of the DesignShop event, usually by selecting a small percentage of the content of the Journal and publishing it as a separate piece. It's much like reading an abridged novel or Cliff Notes in school. It's fine if the point is to chase a passing grade, but completely misses the mark concerning education or literature; in the end, it's a waste of life.

So it is with the "Executive Summary." The document degrades the participants, its creators, and its audience. In Latin, the word executare means "to follow completely," something the summary cannot do. The correct place for summaries is in the Journal as the annotated table of contents, sidebars, and introductions to modules for the purpose of setting the context--features that are integral portions of the document.

Instead of struggling in vain to capture an old event, the Work Product's purpose is to document a new or different event. Whether it is produced during or after the DesignShop event, the Work Product is the record of another collaborative design process.

If we consider this carefully, it should clear up some misconceptions about the role of Work Product vs. Journal. Even though our Work Products in the past were crafted with more attention to graphics, layout, and design, this is so by convention rather than intent. The Journal can be as carefully crafted as the crew prefers and as time permits. Portions of it may be taken to a higher standard of design or present a more unique construction. Even though the Journal is necessarily a comprehensive chronological record, it need not be presented in that form--particularly now that it is a collection of date/time stamped records in a database. If we can focus more intent, skill, training and discipline in the initial capture, we'll have all the time we need to produce whatever form of Journal we fancy.

The Journal documents the work of the participants in a DesignShop event. The Work Product documents the work of a team of crew and participants whose main focus happens to be the DesignShop event. The only other difference between the Journal and the Work Product is our habit of assigning a chronological form to the design of the Journal and a synthesis form to the design of the Work Product. The focus of the flow of the Journal is time, while the Work Product focuses on a planned succession of topics. I don't necessarily advocate changing this distinction, but I do encourage active awareness of the choice.


Synthesis and Evolutionary Work Products

A synthesis Work Product limits its content to a manipulation of information contained in the Journal--presenting complex ideas more clearly than perhaps they were presented during the DesignShop process itself, or choosing to elevate some ideas from the event over others--to provide contrast and composition to the painting, so to speak. Its purpose is not to simplify, but to present the complicated and obtuse in a way that is merely very complex--so that it may be understood, but not watered down.

An evolutionary Work Product goes beyond the information of the DesignShop event, and most likely the comfort level of the participants. It introduces new, controversial concepts and relates them to the concepts from the event. It may paint a picture showing how certain themes raised during the DesignShop process lead to unexpected conclusions. It may weave in topics from the new physics, from Eastern, Western or Native American spirituality, from the frontiers of molecular biology, from the thinking in great literature, or from the fields of chaos and complexity. The purpose is to arrest thought with the intent of shattering boundaries and gaining new perspectives so that the work of the participants might be taken another order of magnitude of comprehension. In Star Trek terms, it's warp drive--folding space to travel rapidly between two remote points.

The Journal is also warp drive! Again, there is a misconception concerning the relative "glamour" of the Work Product versus the Journal. The intent of the entire DesignShop process is to move the client by an order of magnitude. The Journal records this movement, so that in the future the phenomenon may be referred to and not denied. The evolutionary Work Product seeks to add an order of magnitude "kicker" on top of this effort. But transformation and rapid movement along the line of transition management is the focus of both types of products.

When are the different types of Work Products appropriate? The following table shows a quick summary.

Type When Used
Summary Almost never appropriate as a Work Product. To paraphrase Isaac Asimov, "The summary is the last resort of the incompetent." In some few instances, a DesignShop event may have boiled itself down to a few key points, and these may be extracted and published separately if they will be of value to the participants. They will almost never be of value to anyone outside of the DesignShop event, however.

If the participants left the DesignShop event with the answer but not knowing they had the answer.

If the participants are asking for a summary document to use for briefing or communication purposes. Remember that a Work Product is a documentation of another process--in this case the process of thinking through how to best present a synthesis of complications as a complex whole.

If a number of critical models should be redrawn and annotated as a portfolio. This should be done with as high an art as is available from the crew, employing all of the techniques that a painter would: color, form, composition, contrast, a love for the subject.

If a collection of models should be reshaped into a single model and annotated to present a holistic view of the problem and the solution.

If a master model should be developed within which all of the other information from the DesignShop process can reside in a structured way. ANDMaps and a deeply annotated table of contents are examples.


If the participants did not push themselves far enough in their thinking while designing the problem and the solution.

If there is outside information that will provide the key to make certain elements of the problem or solution fit together and create an understandable context. Frequently, a paradox or dichotomy exists because of an unseen explanation that resolves the apparent conflict.

If outside information can be used as a modeling framework within which the client's work can better reside. In the past, we've used models from the MG Taylor Modeling Language or other models like James G. Miller's Livings Systems model as frames.

If the work of the participants needs to be challenged in a way that will ultimately strengthen it. This reason, however risky, lies at the heart of the process of Transition Management, although it must be approached with great strategy to be effective.

Related Articles
Creating a Work Product.
Creating Work Products While Maintaining Post DesignShop KreW Integrity

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