Seeing Organizations – How do you teach?

Several years ago, David Socha and I wrote an article “Is Designing Software Different From Designing Other Things?” In the article I shared my Chris Alexander “Ah Hah” moment about designing better software products:

“Successful software design processes include an additional stage of design activities: organizational design and intervention (Intervene). While any good designer must span knowledge domains such as the problem domain and the solution domain (see The Design Way), the nature of software design causes the designer to span more knowledge domains than other designers. A good designer in any field will understand the design brief from the purchaser and then do research on the users’ needs. Yet, most interesting software is used in an organizational context. One could argue that the modern corporation is only as good as the software that it employs. Much software is, after all, automating things that people could, or did, do before without software, or extending what they could, or did, do before. So using the software will require people to change what they have been doing. Thus, for the software to be effective and usable at its introduction, the software designer needs to understand the basics of organizational development and realize that software development is an organizational intervention.

Floyd identifies this key attribute in Social Thinking – Software Practice:

“Enterprise information systems codify structural aspects of organizations. They come with problems of integration and (organizational) standardization on a large scale. Usually it is not a question of developing new systems but of adapting existing systems, so design pertains to how to introduce the system in the organization at hand. Technical challenges lie in using components for tailoring systems to specific needs. The relevant social context is organizational development. Software practitioners are engaged in organizational intervention, being perceived as agents of change. They also have the role of mediators between organizations and vendors.”

“While Floyd only made the organizational intervention argument for the scale of enterprise information systems, we assert that most software design is an organizational intervention. However, most software developers do not take organizational design into consideration explicitly. . . .

“Over the course of my career, I (Skip) alternated between line management jobs in software engineering and working as an organizational consultant helping large and small organizations develop visions, missions, strategies and innovative product designs. In the process of consulting and graduate school teaching, I tried to pass on what I’ve learned about designing successful software products and systems. While my customers and students generated better designs, they did not generate innovative designs like I’ve accomplished over my career. I knew there was something missing from my framework of design, but I couldn’t pinpoint it.

“Then I had a Chris Alexander (see Timeless Way of Building and The Nature of Order) moment while reading Floyd’s article. Alexander realized that the reason his students weren’t producing great designs is that he left two important aspects out of his Pattern Language – color and asymmetry. Similarly, I left out of my teaching the foundations of organizational development, change and design. Yet at least half of the work of every successful product design that I’ve done has included innovative organizational design and interventions.”

I now saw the problem but I had no idea how to take this insight and teach it to employees, graduate students, or seminar participants.  Organizations whether large or small are reluctant to have “students” start messing about with organizational interventions.  The process of becoming an organizational design consultant requires several years of apprenticeship and does not lend itself to the classroom.

For the last eight years I’ve brainstormed the challenge with colleagues, read scores of books, tried experiments in my classes and learned a lot.  However, I wasn’t any closer to a solution then when I had the initial “Ah Hah.”

A confluence of opportunities and synchronicity presented themselves at the beginning of 2013.  The focal point was putting together a syllabus for the UW HCDE graduate class on “Designing a Human Centered Venture.”  Just coming up with a name to get through the course approval process generated a  new set of thoughts beyond just teaching another “entrepreneurship” course.  Something about adding design and “human centered” to “venture” changed my thought process about the curriculum.

not delusional

I began taking the course title seriously and thinking through not just how human centered design for creating a product might work, but how a human centered venture might look, feel and sound. As part of my effectual course designing, David Robinson and I were creating the business plan and content for our new Flipped Startup Venture.  We decided our first product would be a book about developing the entrepreneurial mindset through the nine recognitions of an entrepreneur.

just start effectual

Acting in Conditions of Uncertainty from Just Start

My initial design for the course was going to be similar to the successful UW TMBA Entrepreneurial Capstone I’d taught last spring.  Yet, as David Robinson and I continued to evolve the nine recognitions, I began to wonder if the better focus might be on developing the entrepreneurial mind rather than driving to a business plan or a product plan.

Meanwhile, I started talking with Carolyn Duncan of Portland Ten and John Sechrest of the Seattle Angel Conference about licensing their materials as part of our Flipped Startup endeavor.  Both Carolyn and John strongly advocate getting a new venture focused on generating revenue as soon as possible.  I wondered if I might be able to set a goal of having the student teams generate real customer revenue in the 10 week winter quarter.  Or maybe they could get a successful Kickstarter project launched which might generate pseudo revenue.

As I mulled over these conceptual threads, I decided it was time for me to learn directly makers andersonabout the “maker” movement.  My good friend, Kelly Franznick, is constantly amazing me with what he is able to get his student teams to do with Arduino based projects and a recent project he did for a client to log environmental factors for a home electronics product. So I ordered several Arduino kits (including a wonderful Arno kit) and started building a home security system.  I could not believe how simple it was to get started even though I had not programmed a computer in over 30 years.  Kelly was right.  Any persistent professional can put together a prototype using the “Find. Copy. Paste. Tweak.” process.

As the first class rapidly approached, I still didn’t know what design I would use for the class and what the class project would be.  So in good effectual class designer and Cathy Davidson mode, I decided to let the class sort out what they wanted to work on for their class project.

I provided the class with a list of representative projects including a human centered environmental research tool in a box.  Prior to selecting their projects, I had each student pitch an idea that they’d really like to work on during the class.  The proposal that drew the most interest was to create an Arduino based “air quality monitor.”  However, some of the teams were interested in figuring out how to use Kickstarter.  As I saw the groups coalesce around what they were interested in, with just a little bit of manipulation we formed four groups:

  • A hardware team to design, build and figure out how to manufacturer the air quality monitor
  • A software team to build the monitor software and then connect the data to the internet along with a smart phone app
  • A crowd funding team to generate interest and raise money through Kickstarter
  • An inbound marketing team to generate demand for the product

As we left, I thought that the teams would act as a single company to produce the air quality monitor. However, as I reflected about it some more, I realized that enduring lessons would be learned if each team acted as it’s own independent business.  That way, each team would have to have both a business vision and a product vision for its product or service.  Each team would have to be independent AND interdependent – just as a real startup has to learn the hard way.

To better explain the class project I sent the following memo:

A little product innovation humor

steve jobs on the iPad

Here is how I would describe the essence of each team (and some example tasks):

  • Hardware Team
    • Building the hardware (Arduino based) and sensors for determining air quality for those afflicted with seasonal allergies.
      • The hardware should have the capability of both displaying the state on the device AND communicating to the Internet (through email, twitter et al) the current state and historical state of the device readings
    • Designing/Building a working prototype
    • Designing/Building a final form that can be manufactured
      • Pay attention to the form factor, UX and enclosure for a consumer
    • Figuring out the supply chain and costs to manufacture the device in quantities above 100
  • Software Team
    • Building the software to operate the microprocessor based system, communicate the results to the Internet, and provide an appropriate set of analytics (graphs) to illustrate the state of the air quality over time.
      • Extra credit:  Do crowd sharing of air quality to a national network of aggregated air quality data.
    • Design/build the software for the prototype
    • Design/build the software for the manufactured item
    • Figure out the development costs to create, maintain, and support the device and its customers.
  • Crowd Sourced Demand Generation Team
    • Survey the range of crowd sourcing options (Kickstarter, Indiegogo…)
    • Identify which kinds of products and “funders” and contract terms (for both producing company and funders) are most successful on each type of crowd funding source.  Include social venture crowd sourcing as the kickstarter project has a not for profit possibility.
    • Put together the offer levels and thresholds and a “media” production task list and schedule
    • Plan the range of offers to generate to “find” the audience for what we are building.  For example, put together a plan for the air quality sensor, the UX in a box, and home security system … to see which product generates the most interest.
    • There are a wealth of articles about crowd funding and Kickstarter.  Here are a few to get started with:
  • Traditional Demand Generation Team
    • Produce the Demand Generation plan filtered through the Slywotzky Demand six pillars of innovation.
    • What is the product name, brand, brand promise, brand experience for what we are developing?
    • What is the company name and logo?
    • What do we need in the way of materials and media – website, social media presence (twitter, facebook, linkedIn…) to market the product?

Each team should be both independent and interdependent.  Each team should think of themselves as their own standalone business.  Each team should think of themselves as being a part of an interdependent set of partners in this endeavor (the other teams in the class).  Each team is therefore both a producer of a product (a product or service) as well as a partner to the other three teams (and in some cases a customer or supplier of one of the other teams).  Each team has their own set of expertise and focus.  The ecosystem of four businesses will produce as much of the Geoffrey Moore whole product as possible through augmenting the capabilities of the other teams.

One way to describe the independent businesses would be:

  • Hardware Team:  Produces micro-sensing Internet connected products
  • Software Team:  Produces the full suite of software for the Internet of Things
  • Crowd Sourced Demand Generation Team:  Provides the templates and consulting for finding a customer audience through crowd funding sites
  • Traditional Demand Generation Team: Generates customer demand through traditional marketing media and social media

Some examples of interdependencies in our small partnering ecosystem are:

  • Hardware:  Dependent on the software team to make the hardware work
  • Software: Dependent on the hardware team to define the environment that the software executes in
  • Crowd Source: Dependent on the hardware and software teams to produce a working product.
  • Traditional: Dependent on the hardware and software teams to produce a working product.

More specifically you should be doing the following within your team:

  • As a team:
    • Share your contact information
    • Share your respective demographic teamology information (MBTI, Social Styles, Ambiguity …)
    • Determine what team roles are needed for the quarter and allocate those roles
      • Is each person going to be in the same role all quarter or will you switch roles at different deliverable points?
    • What infrastructure does your team need to collaborate and to communicate with the other teams?
    • Start your team journal
  • Between teams:
    • Since we have interdependencies between the teams, how will you communicate and coordinate your needs and deliverables and monitor the progress of your partners?
    • What do you need and when do you need it from the other teams?
    • How will you manage “friction” between the teams?  What “contracts” do you need in place to execute your functions?
  • Develop a business vision for your team (your team will present this in class next week).  Ideally, each member of the team will present a piece of the business vision (plan on doing this orally like we did last week).  The business vision should include the types of things we talked about in class last week:
    • The aspiration you have for your business (see One Page Business Plan examples)
    • The aspirations you have for your customers and employees (talent)
    • The offer and promise (mission) that you will make to your customers
    • A picture of your ideal customer and their latent unmet needs and how you support their human values (is benefit oriented not just features)
    • Some numbers about the size of the market and the relative value your talent will provide
    • What is your ideal Whole Product (in the Geoff Moore sense)?
    • What is your starting product or service?
    • What is your product road map?
  • Develop a starting task list for what you need to accomplish this quarter to create your teams’s product and create demand for your product (find your customers).  This list will change throughout the quarter, but put the stakes in the ground as to what you think you need to do.
    • Keep in mind the human centered design process to think through what user research, prototyping, value creation, and user experience activities you need to do.
    • Think in “value chain” terms – what tools and parts and services do you need in addition to the other “partner” teams in the class.
    • As part of this list, figure out what you need to purchase in order to accomplish your goals during the quarter.  We/I will figure out how to get your needs funded.  Remember to be lean and effectual.

Effectual Prescriptive Process

 A lot of researchers and consultants have processes that they recommend to clients that end up being a descriptive process but rarely crosses over to a prescriptive process.  A prescriptive process is one that gives the recipient a better idea of what to do, rather than just giving them a diagnostic of where they are.  As I look across a wide range of creative activities there seems to be one universal prescriptive process that nicely fits the effectual entrepreneur.  At its heart I describe it as “Identify. Find. Copy. Paste. Tinker. Share.”

find and tinker

An early version of the description of this process can be found in my blog post.  Make sure you also ready Kelly Franznick’s blog post on the topic.

Instead of creating everything from scratch, the effectual entrepreneur figures out what they can appropriate from others (legally).  The Open Source world is a great place to start and is what is allowing the Arduino microprocessor world to proliferate so readily.

Example Business Vision – DuPont

This concise vision statement was facilitated by Charlie Krone, a long time consultant to DuPont’s Executive team.  Several years ago I participated in a year long, once a month seminar that Charlie led to explore the ideas behind this vision statement and his overall framework for building healthy companies.  I was struck by the intense, brief quality of thought that echoed six months of the seminar work we did exploring the deep structures and principles behind this vision.

“Our principles are sacred.  We will respect nature and living things, work safely, be gracious to one another and our partners, and each day we will leave for home with consciences clear and spirits soaring.” 

The assignment for the next class was for each team to produce a business vision.  In a delightful entrepreneuring teachable moment, all but one of the teams presented a product vision, not a business vision.  It was a heart warming delight to see the “Ah hah” moments occur around the room as the learners saw the difference between creating a business versus creating a product.

As the next couple of classes unfolded, we added a fifth team to coordinate the inter-dependencies   The minute we put this last team in place then all of the elements for SEEing an organization were in place – both the independence of a business and the interdependence of a value chain.

The challenge for me was whether to stay hands off and allow the learning to occur through the context of the class or to start intervening to drive to a product and generate customer revenue. In one of the hardest teaching decisions I’ve ever made, I elected to stay hands off. I so wanted to drive the class to revenue during the ten weeks to see if it was possible. Yet, I knew if I did, the really important lessons of starting a new venture wouldn’t be learned.

The learning lessons from the class design continue to unfold through the students’ reflections and through individual learner teachable moments.

While the class is far from a finished “product”, it is clear that it is possible to teach entrepreneurial organizational seeing in a “classroom” environment.  Along with improving the class, I look forward to the challenge of scaling it.

This entry was posted in Content with Context, Design, Human Centered Design, Innovation, Knowledge Management, Learning, organizing, Teaching, University, User Experience, Working in teams. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Seeing Organizations – How do you teach?

  1. Pingback: What if what we know is wrong? | On the Way to Somewhere Else

  2. Pingback: Whiteboarding: Designing a software team | On the Way to Somewhere Else

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