All Efforts Require Three Designs

“I don’t know. You’re the expert—you’re suppose to tell me what I need.”Three-Designs

Maybe you’ve had a similar experience?

While consulting to a major oil company regarding a project to significantly improve a key internal business processes, one of the first things I did—probably like you would—was interview the Sponsor.

For this project, the Sponsor was an EVP (Executive Vice President). Prior to engaging me to prepare a plan for the effort, the same EVP had established the project’s due date (~9 months) and budget (~USD$1,250,000). Prior to meeting with the EVP, I conducted as much due diligence as possible…including reading the “Project Authorization” document prepared by the EVP’s Finance Chief. The Project Authorization was replete with financial details (e.g., current costs of the affected business units; project budget; and expected project ROI), but was virtually silent regarding the project’s envisioned outcomes (i.e., what was the effort expected to produce?).

  • (Were I a lesser person, I’d comment that one can only marvel at a ‘Project Authorization’ that sets a budget and schedule while devoid of deliverables or outcomes. As I’m not…I won’t.)

The EVP engaged me to work with the internal IT (Supplier) Team to prepare the project’s plan.

It was in that meeting—in the mid-1980s—that I realized a key insight regarding all efforts (products, events, projects).

The Sponsor had a sense of the value of the effort. I was confident a project approach (“Effort Design”) could be constructed. Yet, something important was missing.

An Expert in One Area is Not an Expert in All

While the Sponsor was correct that I was an expert—at Designing an Effort’s Approach—I was not an expert in the affected business process.

The Sponsor could address “Why?” The Supplier Team (including myself) could address (up-to-a-point) “How?”

No one in the meeting could answer “What?” Which is the question I asked the Sponsor (“What is your notion of the new system?”) that evoked his “I don’t know…” response, above.

A moment later, I finished drawing the “Three Designs” diagram (shown above) on the conference room white board.

Three Designs Mean Three Responsibilities

During the discussion that followed, the Sponsor reluctantly agreed that there was a critical point-of-view missing from the effort’s nascent leadership: who would design the effort’s Solution? (We also agreed that the Sponsor was responsible for the Value Design. The internal Supplier Team-Leader was responsible for the Effort’s Design (and I would advise them).)

Mutually-Dependent & Iterative

As diplomatically as possible, I advised the Sponsor that each of the three Designs were dependent on the other two…and should be jointly defined—in parallel. Not linearly.

What Does This Mean to You?

  • The Value Design (e.g., investments and returns) is dependent on the Solution Design and the Effort Design.
  • The Effort Design is dependent on the Value Design and Solution Design.
  • The Solution Design is dependent on the Value Design and Effort Design.

For example: What is the likelihood that establishing Schedule, Budget and Approach—without knowing the expected deliverables or outcomes—will lead to success?

Although the EVP’s Finance Group had a fit, the EVP agreed to sponsor a facilitated planning session. During the session, the firm’s affected leaders jointly defined the Three Designs. In the process, the firm’s executives eliminated a great deal of low-value expectations.

The Result?

The project was completed in ~4 months with a total investment of ~$400,000. Clearly a significant savings in time & money…and well worth the (~half-day) time & participation of the affected executives.

You Decide

Have you ever been pushed into a project role outside of your area of competency (e.g., as project manager, have you been expected to design the solution…without appropriate skills, knowledge or experience in the solution area)?

Have you noticed the mutual dependencies between Value, Solution and Effort Design?

In the Next Post

In the next post…The Responsibility for Professional Skepticism.

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