Creativity Design Thinking Teams


Original Post from 2011

When work­ing with new teams it should be assumed that par­tic­i­pants have lit­tle or no expe­ri­ence with project man­age­ment and task del­e­ga­tion with­in a team envi­ron­ment. A brief intro­duc­tion to agile and scrum sys­tems is ben­e­fi­cial.

Each of the new teams takes time to famil­iarise them­selves with their final con­cept and the brief to which it must ful­fil. A detailed work plan is devel­oped, break­ing down every ele­ment that can be iden­ti­fied: timescales for deliv­ery, pri­or­i­ties and depen­den­cies. These project lists and their assign­ment need to be agreed by the team before being put into action.

Facil­i­ta­tors need to over­see this process to ensure that the aims are real­is­tic and can be achieved with­in the scope of the pro­gramme.

After note: Fiver years on. 

One of the dif­fi­cul­ties in mov­ing this mod­el of work into a degree type pro­gramme is the lack of facil­i­ta­tion time. There­fore, plan­ning demon­stra­tion becomes a lec­ture and leave mod­el instead of a more gran­u­lar approach, where stu­dents and staff sit and break down a project togeth­er. The lack of time is a prod­uct of the prob­lem and the prob­lem is a prod­uct of man­age­ment and process. It can also be a prod­uct of design.

In a per­fect world, hours could be spent between small teams and facil­i­ta­tors, in the devel­op­ment of an ade­quate method­ol­o­gy and under­stand­ing of the plan­ning of each project. How­ev­er in the hier­ar­chy of desir­able inputs and out­puts, how to man­age comes with the bur­den of what to man­age, who is for, when is it for and most often for­got­ten by all involved, what is the point.

Trouble spots: Facebook

There are a huge num­ber of free and pow­er­ful tools for man­ag­ing projects, Asana, Trel­lo, Todoist or Wun­derlist are pop­u­lar. Each of which come with a very small learn­ing curve in order to get the most out of them. How­ev­er these prod­ucts have the same mil­len­ni­al prob­lem as email. If it is off the habit trail it will require rep­e­ti­tion and rou­tine to acquire suf­fi­cient mas­tery to extract val­ue. 

There­for stu­dents like to com­mu­ni­cate in ded­i­cat­ed Face­book groups shar­ing thoughts, images, ques­tions and feed­back. Unfa­mil­iar with projects of a larg­er scope, this process leads ini­tial feel­ings of grat­i­fi­ca­tion through pop­u­la­tion close­ly fol­lowed by unbe­liev­able lev­els of stress. Posts get lost in the water­fall, com­ments lose their con­text and nobody can find what they are look­ing for effi­cient­ly. The per­va­sive and inva­sive nature of Face­book leaves stu­dents unable to focus due to con­stant inter­rup­tions, dis­tract­ing each team­mate from the work at hand and giv­ing them a greater sense of falling behind, being over­whelmed and increas­ing­ly inse­cure. This inse­cu­ri­ty is com­pound­ed by an induced inabil­i­ty to make sim­ple deci­sions, defer­ring the sim­plest of choic­es to the team in-turn, increas­ing the team’s com­mu­ni­ca­tion traf­fic and cog­ni­tive load.

Pretty soon this spiral leads to a breaking point

Sce­nario One: Some­one snaps. The team feel­ing a great sense of empa­thy and respon­si­bil­i­ty jumps in to fill the gap. Not work­ing with­in an appro­pri­ate project man­age­ment sys­tem leaves the team at a loss as to what exact­ly the per­son was work­ing on or what was actu­al­ly done.

Sce­nario Two: Ten­sions with­in the team lead to infight­ing and a break­down of com­mu­ni­ca­tion begins. Visions sep­a­rate and egos get tram­pled. Team mem­bers may begin to feel dis­en­fran­chised and work away from the team. Miss­ing meet­ings and vital com­mu­ni­ca­tions around tech­ni­cal issues where their input may be crit­i­cal. As this pro­gress­es, griev­ances esca­late even­tu­al­ly requir­ing inter­ven­tion.

Sce­nario Three: Pas­sive team mem­bers are unable to keep up with the con­stant stream of com­mu­ni­ca­tion.  And/Or has had a com­mu­ni­ca­tion or com­ment ignored. Shoul­ders shrug, frus­tra­tion leads per­haps to a feel­ing of why both­er or just a sense of being ignored or left out. “Well some­one knows what’s going on… I’ll just sit here and wait until some­one tells me what to do”.

Process development

When things appear hard or get dif­fi­cult famil­iar­i­ty beats advan­tage every time. It is only after expe­ri­enc­ing the pain of fail­ure will a group of stu­dents adopt a new man­age­ment process. This runs con­trary to tech­ni­cal skills where stu­dents dis­play a high lev­el of adapt­abil­i­ty and per­se­ver­ance is abun­dant­ly evi­dent. The man­age­ment of the project is not ini­tial­ly seen as a valu­able com­po­nent on a par with the tech­nique, design or nar­ra­tive.  Fun­ni­ly enough, sim­i­lar­i­ties with this approach is also evi­dent when it comes draw­ing. Plan­ning, per­spec­tive, form struc­ture are often skipped in favour of shad­ing or colour, lead­ing to ade­quate results which are dif­fi­cult to redi­rect. 

As we grad­u­ate our first final year, the teams that have adopt­ed the most struc­tured mod­els for project man­age­ment have by far the most cre­ative, ambi­tious and suc­cess­ful out­comes. Cracks appear because of process more often than artis­tic or tech­ni­cal abil­i­ty. Some are unavoid­able results of per­son­al feel­ings about work hours and avail­abil­i­ty or matu­ri­ty but almost all prob­lems that impact a project or staff time are a direct result of inef­fec­tive plan­ning. 

Plan — Produce — Update Plan — Repeat

Inspire, Con­cep­tu­alise, Refine, Eval­u­ate, Plan & Pro­duce. They are the orig­i­nal six steps for the design think­ing mod­el I’ve been work­ing with for quite a few years now. A huge part of the prob­lem in devel­op­ing an under­stand­ing of design think­ing or cre­ative prob­lem solv­ing or what­ev­er we want to call it, is the real­i­sa­tion that it is a five step mod­el in exe­cu­tion and a six step mod­el in expla­na­tion. Plan­ning and pro­duc­tion are inter­twined in a nev­er end­ing dance of com­pro­mise and promise.