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Management Design Lab

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Reaching your organization’s full potential requires custom systems that fit your unique organization and situation “like a glove!” The Leadership System Design Lab is a collaborative “learn by doing” experience where you develop your design skills while designing a system for your organization.

“Most organizations are like VCRs blinking 12:00. They are poorly designed, out of date and ill-prepared to survive, let alone thrive, in the modern environment.”

Creating sustainable organizational change requires a broad, systems thinking approach. The challenge in developing sustainable business results is to design systems that help employees deliver the best products and services to both internal and external customers. Are your systems designed to help your workforce create value for multiple stakeholders?

Best practices and prescriptive solutions from other companies, consultants, and business books often work. Yet, they seldom achieve the high levels of performance possible with a custom solution that creatively adapts ideas from both theory and practice to fit your unique context. The Design Lab provides a flexible structure to design, develop, and deploy any new or redesigned initiative or system in the organization.

Design Lab participants follow the Design Framework to guide the development of a custom leadership system to fit their unique needs and context. The Design Framework provides a flexible structure to design, develop, and deploy any new or redesigned initiative or system in the organization. Consequently, what you learn designing your first system can be used to design systems throughout the organization.

Design Framework Steps

1 Purpose + Requirements

Designer William McDonough proposes, “design is the first signal of human intention.” Consequently, the first step in design is to define the intent or purpose of the particular system being designed. During this first module, you and your design team will develop a clear understanding of the purpose(s) and critical requirements of the system and identify the stakeholder needs, wants, and desires.

2 Nature of the System

Systems and processes differ in many ways, but the “nature” of the system will guide many important design decisions. Is the system composed of physical processes (manufacturing, transportation, etc.); knowledge or information processes (loan processing, insurance claims, etc.); or creative processes (strategy development, product development, etc.)? Many systems are composed of combinations of two or sometimes all three types of processes – physical, knowledge, and creative. The nature of the system influences design decisions such as the level of process control required, the specificity of the various process steps and activities, and so forth.

3 Theories + Concepts

Understanding the fundamental theories and empirical evidence regarding what works, what we know doesn't work, under what conditions are useful input to any management design process. Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton, in their book Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management, make the point that practitioners' actions and practices are often not based on the latest scientific theory. And are often practices that we already know do not work.

4 Inspiring Examples

World-class and award-winning examples help to bring the theories and concepts “alive.” This review of example designs can help clarify the concepts and applications and inspire the design team’s creative thinking. Examples are used at two different points in the design process. First, high-level conceptual design examples are used during the initial discovery and conceptual design processes. Second, detailed examples are used during the detailed design phase to provide tangible options and ideas.

5 Unique Context

The design of any custom management system is dependent on the specific context of the unique organization. For example, the appropriate strategic management system for the local family-owned grocery store is likely to be different from the appropriate system for a multi-national manufacturing company with operations around the world. To design a system to fit the organization's unique characteristics, you first have to identify the key organizational factors that impact the design of the particular system, including the external and internal organizational factors and the organizational culture.

6 Design Principles

Design principles are the desired characteristics of the new or redesigned system. They are cross-cutting and are used to inform the design. The design team begins with established management system design principles such as balance, sustainability convenience (user-friendly), alignment, learning, etc., and then identify any additional characteristics or design principles to consider during the diagnosis and design phases.

7 System Integration

Understand how this system or process fits within the more extensive organization system. Most (if not all) management systems are part of a more comprehensive management system that combines to manage the overall enterprise. For example, a strategy system interacts with several other systems, including the enterprise scorecard, governance system, human resource systems, and so forth. A system perspective of the more extensive enterprise management system helps design management systems that are congruent, aligned, and integrated. The systems perspective allows organizations to look beyond the immediate goal or desired outcome of a particular system and identify key leverage points in the overall system to achieve their objectives and purposes.

8 Diagnosis

The last step in the discovery phase is a diagnosis of the current system. Dr. W. Edwards Deming proposed, "if you can't describe what you're doing as a process, then you don't know what you're doing." It isn't easy to diagnose an existing system until the system's details and design are made explicit. Participants describe the current system's critical characteristics in sufficient detail to provide a common understanding of the diagnosis. Caution – this module can result in a mindset that is too critical just before moving into the creative design phase. Ideally, the discovery phase should provide a "springboard" into the creative phase.

9 Design

Using the information and concepts from the first eight modules as a “springboard,” you will develop an ideal conceptual design. During this lesson, you and your design team will stretch your thinking to create a vision of your ideal system. In this case, a perfect world is defined as one with unlimited resources and technology and the desired ideal culture. Experience suggests that if you first develop an ideal design and then a “doable” design, you will end up with a better (more mature) design than if you go directly to the doable design. When attempting to [re]design a system or process, designers are often “prisoners” of their previous experiences and learning. Designers that try to go directly from the current design to the desirable but “doable” design often fall well short of what is possible.

10. Develop, Deploy & Iterate

Once the detailed design is complete, the development phase begins. Depending on the nature of the process, it might be useful to develop a prototype and test that design with a small group before full-scale implementation. A prototype will allow the design team to learn from the limited deployment and refine the design before it is fully implemented. Prototyping is a common practice for systems and processes with a significant technology component (e.g., ERP systems). Once the new design has been fully developed and refined to meet the feasibility criteria, it is ready for full-scale implementation and continuous improvement.


Includes Online Instructional Videos + Text


Includes Downloadable PDF Workbooks 


Includes Downloadable Editable PowerPoint Worksheets

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