The Architecture Of Design-Based Change Management

In a previous essay on a designer’s approach to change management, I shared some initial thoughts on the application of the way of the designer onto change management programs. In this essay, I want to dive a little deeper into the architecture of the system that is emerging while working on and further thinking about design and change management. We started this approach inside our own design agency but I see that it has potential to work for other companies as well. I see similar challenges outside our agency that the designer’s approach to change management could address.

In my previous essay, I formulated 4 principles. Now I want to talk about the system, the architecture of change management that those principles resulted in.

0. Design the sense of urgency

Before you start, you need to design the sense of urgency. For some it might be clear why change is necessary. But there are bound to be assumptions that need to be tested. For others the urgency might not be so clear. Not everyone is in touch with the developments in the outside world or in direct contact with users. They might not see the need to change. A top-down sense of urgency that is not aligned with the mental models, the problems that employees see will not be a good starting point. A sense of urgency is not an objective, scientific given. The way you see the world and the challenges in it is a choice. The boiled frog has a view of the world that prevents him to see the sense of urgency to change his situation. He needs to be convinced in terms that appeal to him. This is also part of the first step:

1. A Design Sprint session

Most studies still show a 60–70% failure rate for organizational change. One of the main success factors for change is engagement. One of the principles I outlined in my previous essay was to keep the process user-centered. One good way to start the change management process is to involve people from the very start. Just like any design, organization design starts with collecting insights, data. You want to know what the problems are, how people see them, what the shared goals are. This can be done in numerous ways but we used the first two days of the GV Design Sprint method. Instead of designing a product or a service, we set out to design a shared vision for our organization. The co-creation of a common goal also helps in establishing the right sense of urgency story.

2. Systems analysis

Any design thinking workshop will create a lot of data. This data needs to be synthesized. Theories about organization and management are useful in this stage. It helps to organize the data, find patterns. I find the systems thinking approach — popularized by people like Peter Senge — very useful in this stage to find the underlying patterns. But other models like the value strategies of Treacy and Wiersema can be helpful to structure the data.

3. A Manifesto

For any change, you need to design some kind of aspirational point in the future to which you can work towards, a big hairy audacious goal that is the end point of your roadmap. We created a 10-point manifesto of what we want to be, how we want to work in the future. You can also create an aspirational brand matrix. Like any other design, you can then start to reverse engineer what needs to be done and what is already in place that needs to be scaled up. The manifesto needs to be treated like a prototype. It needs to be used, tested and adapted if necessary.

4. Storytelling

The co-creation workshops also create the material for the stories that need to be told. Change requires a new narrative to be constructed. The manifesto is the basis for that new story. What kind of company would we work in if we did all the things we set out to do in the manifesto? What is the story we tell our customers and partners? How does everyone fit in this story as an actor? The change process generates a lot of new insights and knowledge. Sharing this internally and externally helps to create the necessary mind-shift.

5. Research groups

The elements of the manifesto need to be researched. It will contain things you don’t do right now, so knowledge and experience need to be built up. What we did is create small working groups to research each of the topics in our manifesto: What does it mean? How do others do this? What initiatives could be started? Are there examples of projects in which we already do this?

6. First steps world cafe

The working groups present the results of their research to the rest of the organization. The rest of the organization then starts to discuss the subject in small groups with the assignment of finding ways in which we can start tomorrow. These results are shared and voted on to determine what initiatives we start with.

7. OKR’s

To show progress and to know if you are moving in the right direction, you need something to measure. What gets measured gets done. So if you can determine a way to measure progress on the manifesto points, you have a way to talk about the points and to keep them alive. I like the OKR method and internally we are starting some experiments with that. So the manifesto, the research into the points, and the first steps workshop are input for the OKR’s.

8. Projects

One of the places you measure the progress is in the projects. The way you do projects has to reflect the direction of the manifesto. The manifesto and the resulting OKR’s are the measuring stick to tell if a project is successful or not. The manifesto is the norm. Not all points of it will apply to each project and not all points are as easy to uphold in each project by each team but the manifesto is the frame of the discussions about projects, of the open reviews. And projects that do score high on the manifesto points need to be highlighted to show the progress, the quick wins. Also, the project plans for new projects need to reflect the new philosophy.

9. Service catalog working group

We created a special working group to define the services the new organization will deliver. For this, we cut our process and deliverables up into small entities that could also be sold separately. This is both a concretization of the manifesto and forms the building blocks for the planning and management of projects. Each service can be assessed based on the manifesto: How good are we at this? How does this contribute to the manifesto? Which services do we need to develop?

10. Knowledge management

I find that this process creates a lot of information, knowledge (and even wisdom) that needs to be stored, developed and communicated. If you don’t document the process, the insights and the agreements, things get lost in time. So active knowledge management is a good idea. You can refer back to it, develop it further and actively use it to raise the service level or your organization. I see a lot of knowledge evaporating in organizations. Knowledge management takes time, but I think it is necessary if you want to excel. Simple wiki software like the one that Wikipedia runs on is easy to install and free to use.

11. HR conversations

People have to find their place in the new organization. They have to benefit from the new organization. The employees are the users of the service called the organization. The employees have to perform better with the new organization design. So the manifesto is the basis for a conversation about employee functioning: How will employee’s performance benefit from this new design? What role do employees see for themselves in the new design? What areas would they like to contribute to? Where do they see opportunities for themselves to grow?

All things are connected

All these things are connected in one system. All these parts make up the architecture of design-based change management. These are the things that make change management concrete and user-centered. These are the things that create a platform to be bold and to design a roadmap. It’s a work in progress and we’re just prototyping this architecture. This is what it looks like right now:


Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, don’t forget to hit the clap button. I will dive deeper into the topics of Design Leadership in upcoming articles. If you follow me here on Medium, you will see them pop up on your Medium homepage. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn to see new articles in your timeline or talk to my bot at dennishambeukers.com :)

Design Leadership Notebook

Notes on the imminent leading role of design.

Dennis Hambeukers

Written by

Design Thinker Thinking About Design — Strategic Design Consultant @zuiderlicht. https://www.zuiderlicht.nl/

Design Leadership Notebook

Notes on the imminent leading role of design.