Teamwork Ground Rules

Good advice from Kristof Kovacs

There’s only three things:

  • ASK: If a task is not clear, or more infor­ma­tion is need­ed, please ask as soon as pos­si­ble. Ask­ing is always ok. Doing the wrong thing (or doing noth­ing) because you did­n’t ask is not ok.
  • DEBRIEF: It’s not done until you report­ed it done. This is often just a one-sen­tence email to me or to the client, some­times a “100%” mark in the task list, or a tick­et closed. It is done, com­plet­ed or fixed only when who­ev­er need­ed it done knows about it.
  • WARN: If a dead­line you know is impor­tant will like­ly be missed, warn me soon, as the sit­u­a­tion is evolv­ing, and then we can usu­al­ly fig­ure some­thing out. If I have to learn at the moment of the dead­line that it was missed, that’s not ok. (In mul­ti-boss sit­u­a­tions that occur fre­quent­ly in matrix organ­i­sa­tions, or if you’re a free­lancer, also warn me if your work­load is above what you can actu­al­ly do, instead of not doing cer­tain tasks.)

The Creative Brief

Don’t let the ques­tion pre­dict, lim­it and/or hide the answer. It is very impor­tant when cre­at­ing a brief for a cre­ative project not to be over­ly pre­scrip­tive as it will lim­it the pos­si­ble cre­ative out­comes. Trust the team and the cre­ative process to deliv­er unex­pect­ed results that fill your require­ments.

When engag­ing in a new project we want to get the ball rolling quick­ly, lay­out expec­ta­tions ear­ly and agree time-scales and bud­gets. Remov­ing ifs, buts and maybes from the process great­ly increas­es the chances of the cre­ative part­ner­ship sur­pass­ing the clien­t’s expec­ta­tions and the devel­op­ment of a last­ing rela­tion­ship.


  • What your organ­i­sa­tion does?
  • What your niche mar­ket is?
  • How you fit in your indus­try sec­tor?
  • Gen­er­al project infor­ma­tion?
  • Aims & Objec­tives?
  • Desired Deliv­er­ables?


Detail on desired tar­get mar­ket, includ­ing demo­graph­ic infor­ma­tion where pos­si­ble.

  • Choose a typ­i­cal audi­ence mem­ber or group and pro­file includ­ing; occu­pa­tion, age range, gen­der, what their day looks like etc.
  • How will they use your prod­uct?
  • What do the audi­ences believe or think?

Messages, Features, Benefits and Values.

  • List top desired (these may include must have/mission crit­i­cal) fea­tures and/or facts about the prod­uct and its val­ue to tar­get audi­ences.
  • Who is the com­pe­ti­tion?
  • How should this prod­uct stack up against the oppo­si­tion?
  • What is the pri­ma­ry mes­sage?

Budget and Schedule

  • Has the bud­get been approved?
  • Is estab­lish­ing the bud­get part of the brief?
  • What is the prod­uct release date?
  • Are there spe­cif­ic mile­stones that need to be achieved?
  • What is the due date for the fin­ished project?


  • Who is the pri­ma­ry con­tact for the project.
  • What con­tent will you be pro­vid­ing? logos, style guides, mea­sure­ments.
  • What are the inter­nal review and approval process­es.
  • Who will sign off on the final design.
  • How many revi­sions are expect­ed? (unlim­it­ed is not an option)
  • What for­mat will the final design need to fill.


This part of the work plan is depen­dent on both the brief and the scope of the pro­gramme.

After Note:

Pro­duc­tion can be explained in iso­la­tion but is exe­cut­ed with Plan­ning. I have updat­ed the pre­vi­ous post “Plan” to reflect some of this.



This post is incom­plete and needs so much more detail that the above line will have to do for now 😉 


Decision Time—Convergent Thinking

This point marks a sud­den change of gears, where phase one and two come to a sud­den and marked end. With the lead­er­ship of the Facil­i­ta­tors the group eval­u­ates the most pop­u­lar con­cepts against the brief’s cri­te­ria until a top con­cept is found.

In a sit­u­a­tion where there are many teams work­ing in rota­tion on a num­ber of briefs, all par­tic­i­pants should be allowed take part in the eval­u­a­tion stage of the pro­gramme. Exist­ing teams are bro­ken up and mem­bers reas­signed based on suit­abil­i­ty, pas­sion (to the brief) and per­for­mance. This is done to bring fresh ener­gy to the next phase of the process and should be com­mu­ni­cat­ed del­i­cate­ly and pos­i­tive­ly.

It is com­mon for teams to drift wild­ly around the brief and quite often return a tru­ly off top­ic result. With this in mind hav­ing the lead facil­i­ta­tor present the teams con­cepts back to them before work begins can help refo­cus the con­cepts to the brief.


The con­cept phase is an explo­sion of ideas shoot­ing off in almost ran­dom direc­tions. In the refine­ment phase of the cre­ative process we look for links between con­cepts, grad­u­al­ly build­ing upon what has been devel­oped and refer­ring to both the brief and reflect­ing on the inspi­ra­tions gath­ered in phase one.

The refine­ment process draws to a close with each team mem­ber giv­ing thumbs up to the con­cepts they like, nar­row­ing the field for the eval­u­a­tion process. This can be done with the sim­ple process of plac­ing a post-it note with their ini­tials on each con­cept they feel strong­ly about. There is no upper lim­it to this process, but through the process of refine­ment and reduc­tion the num­ber of con­cepts should be reduced to a man­age­able lev­el.


Explode—Divergent thinking

Take risks, be per­sis­tent, be curi­ous. Fail ear­ly and fail often.

Using the inspi­ra­tions that were col­lect­ed in phase one, the team offer up ideas that address the needs of the brief. Team mem­bers can offer up fresh con­cepts or build on the work of oth­ers.

Go for quan­ti­ty, explore each idea entire­ly. Be spon­ta­neous diver­gent think­ing should be free-flow­ing, look for con­nec­tions. Think with your hands, make things. These could be:

  • Sim­ple notes
  • Free writ­ings
  • Code Snip­pets
  • Mod­els
  • Doo­dles
  • Sto­ry­boards
  • Sounds/Pieces of Music
  • Act it out

This is a heads up exer­cise were we keep look­ing at the work of those around us and the inspi­ra­tion gath­ered ear­li­er in order to spawn more ideas. Encour­age the things we like, use lan­guage that explores/broadens rather then directs/narrows.

How much is enough? A team of 4–5 should be able to eas­i­ly pro­duce 100+ con­cepts in less then an hour. Teams may loose ener­gy very ear­ly less then 10 con­cepts in the process. Feel­ing that the “right answer” has been found already and that time is being wast­ed that could be used on pro­duc­tion. This is quite nat­ur­al amongst groups new to this type of process, or jad­ed by pri­or expe­ri­ence. At this point the facil­i­ta­tor needs to come for­ward and step the group up and down the brief ask­ing explor­ing ques­tions. Open up the team to new process of explo­ration. Encour­age, don’t dis­miss or cor­rect unless all oth­er options have been explored.


The input phase of the process where the team learns to eat sleep and breathe the sub­ject of the brief. In order for this to work effec­tive­ly it is impor­tant that we learn to come to terms with our fil­ters. Through­out our lives we have been devel­op­ing fil­ters through which we see the world. These fil­ters can be bro­ken down into:

  • Val­ues
  • Beliefs
  • Prej­u­dice
  • Cul­ture
  • Lan­guage
  • Mem­o­ry
  • Meta Behav­iours

Each of the above con­tributes to who we are as indi­vid­u­als and how we form opin­ions, but in order for use to be tru­ly diver­gent in our think­ing we need to see past our fil­ters and seek new expe­ri­ences, ide­olo­gies and con­cepts. By ques­tion­ing and chal­leng­ing our­selves we can take our work in unexpected/unintended direc­tions. Begin by gath­er­ing:

  • Inter­est­ing Sto­ries
  • Videos
  • Pho­tos
  • Arti­cles
  • Sketch­es

These sources should not always be dig­i­tal and the inter­net is only one source of great mate­r­i­al. Books, jour­nals and mag­a­zines have the advan­tage and dis­ad­van­tage of being curat­ed con­tent which can save time and ener­gy ini­tial­ly. They are also dat­ed time cap­sules mak­ing it eas­i­er to spot trends both past and present.

These sources are trig­gers for thoughts, mem­o­ries, con­ver­sa­tions, from which a thou­sand ideas can grow. It is impor­tant that we check our fil­ters when view­ing sources and make sure that we are not unknow­ing­ly edit­ing out source mate­r­i­al with­out being daft and let­ting every­thing in regard­less of rel­e­vance.

Get out and expe­ri­ence the real world, be empa­thet­ic, meet the peo­ple who may ulti­mate­ly inter­act with the prod­uct of the brief. Explore the envi­ron­ment which will be effect­ed by the prod­uct. Take pic­tures, videos and notes, try to under­stand the human needs of the design process be an anthro­pol­o­gist. Under­stand the who and where before address­ing the what, why or when.

Is the brief some­thing com­plete­ly rev­o­lu­tion­ary or are their oth­er product/services already avail­able that are close to or already ful­fil the require­ment of the brief. If so what are they? What can we learn from them? How are they per­form­ing? What are their strengths and weak­ness­es? Should we stand on the shoul­ders of giants? What would a com­plete­ly new offer­ing look, sound, taste, smell or feel like?

Inspi­ra­tions should be shared vis­i­bly and open­ly with the group. Avoid any urge to pro­tect or hide good sources for per­son­al gain, think­ing they might come in handy lat­er. Instead look around at the inspi­ra­tions added by the team and bounce off them in order to build on their influ­ence. Acknowl­edge and encour­age the ideas you like, refrain from crit­i­cism or dis­cour­age­ment at any stage. Talk open­ly with each oth­er through­out the process, rather then work silent­ly in cor­ners.

Creating Whitespace—Identifying Themes

The sec­ond step of the Inspire phase is to orga­nize the insights devel­oped by the team. Each Pos­tit is moved indi­vid­u­al­ly and dis­cussed by the team as it is placed beside notes to which it has some­thing in com­mon. As each note is organ­ised white­space is cre­at­ed and the clusters/themes become clear­ly defined. Each team is then asked to devel­op a nar­ra­tive to describe and estab­lish the rela­tion­ships, if any there is between each clusters/theme.

Some Design Principals

  • Com­plex prob­lems require sim­ple, clear and hon­est solu­tions.
  • Suc­cess­ful solu­tions will move peo­ple by sat­is­fy­ing their needs, giv­ing mean­ing to their lives and rais­ing their hopes and expec­ta­tions.
  • Excep­tion­al prob­lems demand excep­tion­al solu­tions that may be rad­i­cal and even dis­rup­tive.
  • Effec­tive solu­tions will be col­lab­o­ra­tive, inclu­sive and devel­oped with the peo­ple who use them.
  • No solu­tion should be devel­oped or deliv­ered in iso­la­tion but should instead recog­nise the social, phys­i­cal and infor­ma­tion sys­tems it is part of.
  • Every solu­tion needs to be a robust, respon­si­ble and designed with regard to its long-term impact the envi­ron­ment and soci­ety.


  • Good design is inno­v­a­tive
  • Good design makes a prod­uct use­ful
  • Good design is aes­thet­ic
  • Good design makes a prod­uct under­stand­able
  • Good design is unob­tru­sive
  • Good design is hon­est
  • Good design is long-last­ing
  • Good design is thor­ough down to the last detail
  • Good design is envi­ron­men­tal­ly friend­ly
  • Good design is as lit­tle design as pos­si­ble

*Dieter Rams, Ten prin­ci­ples for good design