How to Foster Teamwork: Rule #4

“Design the designing.”
Rhys Newman and Luke Johnson

Huh?  Well, sometimes “catchy” isn’t “clearest” – at least not across industries.  So instead, try this quote from the same section:

“There’s one very simple rule when innovating:
Design the process to fit the project.”

Design the Process to Fit the Project

Yes, of course.  Yet for something so obvious, it’s surprising how often it isn’t done:

  • Big companies try to apply their standard, thousand-step project management methodology and multi-level work breakdown structures – suitable for designing and building nuclear power plants – to a two-month RFP-response schedule.
  • Managers try to save money by using a distributed model where everyone works in their own office/city/country, without providing the necessary tools for communication and control.
  • Marketers try to achieve production standards worthy of coffee-table books, sucking time desperately needed for conceptualizing, articulating, and costing the business offering.

How Does This Affect Teamwork?

Most people who work on proposals don’t mind working hard – they understand and accept that it’s part of the deal.  Heck, they might even enjoy it.  What they resent is working stupid:

  • Using processes that are over-engineered for the task at hand, wasting time they need for productive work
  • Using tools that are under-engineered for the task at hand, creating version-control problems (among others)
  • Meeting standards that exceed what the client expects for the task at hand, while not giving them what they need

What’s the Solution?

If you “design the designing” – if you design the process to fit the project – you will be focusing everything on the desired outcome: the on-time submission of a compliant, complete, clear, compelling, and well-costed response.  This, in turn, will foster teamwork:

  • By establishing sensible and sustainable work parameters based on proposal-specific answers to these key questions:
    • Why are we here?
    • What are we supposed to be doing?
    • What really matters?
  • By showing that you value and respect your team’s work ethic, not requiring adherence to irrelevant processes or to excessive standards

Proposals are schedule-driven projects that require a strict project management discipline. Right? Partly right. In proposal terminology, I’d call that answer incomplete.  Proposals are projects, for sure, but they’re also the output of teamwork. I’ve recently been learning how much the design business has in common with proposals.

This post is one of a series on proposal teamwork, inspired by a fabulous article on Medium on design teams:
“No Dickheads! A Guide to Building Happy, Healthy, and Creative Teams.”

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