The Design Process

The first challenge of the design process is to create a streamlined and effective organization that is aligned with the strategy and desired results of the organization. The second challenge is to get buy-in from the entire organization and implement the new design so that it dramatically and positively changes the way the business operates. Many organizations fail to adapt and adjust their internal infrastructure to the rapidly changing business demands around them because their business processes, structures, and systems act as barriers to efficiency and common-sense decision making. These internal barriers can trap capable people who eventually become cynical and disheartened by their inability to change or influence obvious gaps, inconsistencies, or burdensome constraints within the organization.

The design process identifies ineffective work flows, structures, or systems, redesigns them to fit current business needs, and develops plans to implement the new changes, promptly achieving better results throughout the organization. Processes are streamlined, structures are simplified, and systems are improved as people are organized into business units and teams which allow them greater authority and responsibility for their success.

There are a number of ways to set up the design process. Senior leadership can sponsor and lead the change process using the conference model, where large numbers of people from a cross-section of the organization participate real-time in analysis, design, and implementation sessions. The advantage of this model is that a significant number of employees, if not the entire organization, can be directly involved in the change process. This builds a strong sense of commitment and ownership to new design decisions and directions. Another advantage to the conference model sessions is that problems can be identified and design and implementation decisions can be made quickly, without drawing out the process over extended periods of time. Using this model we can accomplish short-cycle redesign in a matter of weeks instead of months and years.

A second model involves a core design team, charted by senior management. In this model, a smaller number of employees from a cross-section of the organization analyze, redesign, and develop implementation plans which they present to senior leadership and the rest of the organization for approval and adjustment. The advantage of this model is that the design team creates continuity throughout the process, and can drill deeper in some of the analysis, design and planning tasks. The design team model also fosters commitment and ownership throughout the organization, but requires more ongoing communication to the rest of the organization, and tends to take a little more time to get through design and planning and on to implementation. With either the conference model or the design team model, the design process, from chartering to implementation, can take from six weeks to eighteen months, depending on the size, motivation, and resources of the organization.

Step #1: In-Depth Process Analysis

If comprehensive organization assessment has not been done during the leadership process as part of direction setting with senior leadership, it must be done here as preparation for design sessions. Once assessment is completed, it is often necessary to analyze core work processes and computer system flows at more levels and in more detail. In-depth process analysis starts where the larger assessment process leaves off, identifying and analyzing processes which need to be understood and mapped in more detail before conscious and accurate design decisions can be made regarding them. If there are other systems or structures which need to be better understood, they may also be analyzed in more depth before moving to redesign decisions. In-depth analysis can take from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the need for more data.

Step #2: Organization Design

The macro design session can last from four or five days, depending on the size and complexity of the organization. During this session, participants step outside the current organization and develop a comprehensive set of recommendations for the larger or “macro” organization, aligning it with current strategies and business demands. They outline the “ideal organization,” identifying ideal processes, structures, and systems for the whole organization. They will streamline and simplify core processes spanning the entire business, and reconfigure how business units, departments, support groups and teams organize around those processes. This often eliminates functional silos and integrates people and resources around activities critical to organization success. As units are created, dedicated and shared resources are also assigned to various sections or levels of the organization.

Participants will also adjust or rethink coordination systems such as policies, procedures, and information sharing, and development systems like recruitment and selection, training, performance management, and rewards.  After the “ideal” design has been outlined, they will identify a startup date to begin implementation of the ideal design. They then outline a “startup” organization, different from the ideal, which identifies what portions of the ideal organization will be in place at startup. The startup organization becomes a target for initial implementation, to allow more streamlined and faster implementation during early stages. The entire macro design session can be both grueling and exhilarating, as participants wrestle in earnest with how to organize to improve the business and best achieve the strategy. It is always a relief and generally very exciting to have tangible ideal and startup designs.

Step #3: Team Level Design

In some cases, the macro design session includes team level design. In many cases, however, a micro design session is needed to detail team configurations, roles, responsibilities, and staffing numbers. The micro design session generally takes from one to three days. In this session the number and size of teams is determined, and specific roles and responsibilities are designed for each team created. The micro design helps clarify how the macro design will fit together at all levels of the organization.

Step #4: Transition Planning

Once design recommendations have been reviewed and accepted by the organization, the next task is to develop transition and implementation plans. Transition is the period between design and startup, which may be two or three weeks to six months, depending on the size of the organization, the complexity of the design and how quickly they can or need to implement. Implementation is the period of time between startup and the ideal. During transition planning, participants will identify all transition and implementation activities necessary to successfully implement the new design throughout the organization. They will identify transition activities such as employee communication, leadership training, or staffing changes which need to happen before startup begins. They will also identify implementation tasks such as tracking and measurement of the new design, which will be put in place at startup or sometime after startup on the journey to building the ideal organization.

After identifying transition and implementation activities, participants sequence these on a master implementation time line. For each task or set of activities, they outline action plans, including what is to be accomplished, who is responsible for getting it done, and by when they will have it in place. The time line and action plans serve as a concrete guide for implementing the new design throughout the organization. Instead of being left to chance, implementation of the new design becomes a well orchestrated, planned, and executed project.

Step #5: Team Development and Empowerment Planning

Individuals or teams are considered  “empowered” when they are clear about boundary conditions (expected results, non-negotiables, authority levels, and time constraints) and have the knowledge, information, skills, resources, and support they need to achieve their charter. Empowerment planning is the process of identifying the boundary conditions, knowledge, information, skills, resources, and support that teams will need, and then planning how and when those items will be transferred to or developed into the teams.

During the team development and empowerment planning session, middle management and team leadership will identify team empowerment needs and outline plans for developing the teams and getting them the resources and support they need to succeed. This session can normally be completed in one or two days. This step is often skipped in the organization change process, as organizations speed on to team implementation before they know what is fully required of their teams. It important to complete this task before chartering or starting up new teams, since it is in this session that leaders become clear about what they will truly expect from their teams and how they will help support and develop them over time.

Typically, leaders will develop a team development chart and determine levels of authority for various responsibilities the team will take on, choosing from the five levels of authority:

  • Level 1—act when directed
  • Level 2—act after approval
  • Level 3—act after consultation
  • Level 4—act and report
  • Level 5—act autonomously

They will develop a set of “non-negotiables,” or expected behaviors and work rules to help create stability and predictability within and between teams. They will also develop a team development plan which is, in effect, a time line outlining various levels and aspects of team development over a period of two or three years. Good team development plans identify beginning, intermediate, and advanced level skills, and business, technical, and social skills the teams need to master over time to become high performing. The new skills and responsibilities are then sequenced into a time line which outlines which skills and responsibilities the teams are expected to master during the first six months, the first year, the second year, and so on. The plan helps team members know what they must learn and do, step by step over time, as they take responsibility for coordinating more aspects of their day-to-day work. A well defined team development and empowerment plan becomes a roadmap for deliberate team development and success.

Step #6: New Design Implementation and Follow-up

The time period between approval of the new design and the designated startup date for implementation of the design is called transition. It is during this transition period that new jobs or job changes can be posted, interviews can be held, management changes can be decided and announced, and new structures, processes, policies, and plans can be explained in preparation for startup implementation. Leadership training and technical changes may also take place during transition. The purpose of transition is to make sure the organization is ready before it pulls the startup lever to begin implementation of organization changes and design plans.

At startup, the designated date for beginning implementation, the organization breaks from the past and begins to function in the new design. This is when teams are co-located, new reporting relationships begin, resources are moved, and everyone in the organization begins the new way of operating. Some aspects of the design may be implemented during the first few weeks of startup. For example, base lines for measuring and tracking performance in the new design should be established at or near startup. Other design aspects such as the computer delivery systems, or the reward systems may require further study or development before they can be effectively adjusted or implemented during this phase.

Continued re-evaluation and follow-up is essential to successful implementation. Especially during the early stages of implementation, it is critical for senior leadership to take the lead in integrating business performance, establishing common initiatives, and creating clear performance metrics throughout the organization. It is important to understand here that implementation is a process, not an event. Though the process is begun at startup, it may take months to fully implement the ideal design, step by step, returning to and following up on initiatives detailed in the master implementation plan.

Step #7: Team Startup and Development Training

One of the purposes of startup training is to bring newly formed business units and teams together around a vision of what they must accomplish in the new design. Teams, business units, and support groups are often pulled together to share expectations, learn about each other, and identify mutual requirements, especially if they have a high degree of interdependence. Leaders explain team development plans to their teams and discuss how those plans can be implemented over time. Teams can begin receiving training in the technical, business and social skills required for them to manage their part of the business and improve their performance. The training provided will depend on the development needs of each team and will come from a variety of different sources, including internal subject matter experts. We recommend that organizations invest in their own training staff who can provide ongoing planning, assessment, and delivery.

Another purpose of team startup and development training is to jump start the development of teams and how they work together. In the program Developing High Performance Teams, teams go through a focused team development process together, where they learn about fundamentals of High Performance teams, develop their team charter, learn to run effective meetings, identify key customer issues and requirements, learn to manage and adjust their core work flow process, clarify team and individual roles and responsibilities, and begin the goal-setting and score-keeping process to measure and improve team performance. This education and development training quickly elevates the team to a higher level of knowledge and capability, allowing them assume responsibility and focus more quickly as a team. Team startup and development training can take three to four days if delivered continuously, or be spaced out over a period of eight weeks to six months, if delivered in sequenced modules.

Step #8: Adjust and Refine Coordination and Development Systems

Organization-wide coordination systems include communication and information sharing, decision making and authorization, measurement and feedback, goal setting, and policies and procedures. Organization-wide development systems include recruitment and selection, orientation, training and development, progression and promotion, performance evaluation and feedback, compensation, and recognition. During macro organization design, the ideal concept for each of the coordination and development systems will have been identified. The ideal concept for many of those systems can and should be implemented at startup. However, adjustment or serious redesign of some of the systems such as compensation or performance evaluation, often requires additional time to study alternatives and develop appropriate implementation plans.

During startup, the organization charters a task force for each of the key coordination and development systems needing continued review and adjustment. Each task force studies, makes recommendations for appropriate adjustment or redesign of their designated system, and then guides and monitors implementation of that system throughout the organization. These system task forces are normally staffed by volunteers from a cross-section of the organization. Refinement and implementation of these key coordination and development systems may be an ongoing process for a year or two after startup, until the systems are effectively integrated into the new organization design.

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  1. Very detailed outline of OD process. Really good

  2. Respect to op, some great information.

  3. Really good overview! Very helpful.

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