Last week I attended a 2-day workshop sponsored by The Design Mgmnt Inst (DMI) on improving our decision-making and concept evaluation skills, led by Jeremy Alexis, of IIT Inst of Design, and held on MSFT campus in Redmond (Bldg 92, which is the Visitor’s Center).

Overall not bad, expected more in-depth discussion but got a few nice golden nuggets to add to my arsenal of “design thinking” tools. Also some great networking with like-minded senior designers/leaders (incl folks from MSFT XBOX/games studio, HP, Kraft, Mattel, and a nuclear engineering firm!), and we indulged in some “group therapy” sessions about day-to-day “Big Design” stresses in corporate settings :-) Whew!

I’ve posted pix of whiteboard notes from group discussions and team exercises here.

Day 1

· Distinguished btwn “debating ambiguous ideas” VS “evaluating viable alternatives”. Often we’re wondering aloud in meetings, when we should be deciding among options against consensual criteria.

· Good decisions involve a steady beat of reflection/questioning from start to finish, not “shoot first ask questions later”

· 3 Levels of decisions: Casual (instinctive, low impact/risk), Conscious (more analytical complexity, guided by policies/standards/requirements), Rigorous (rarely done by designers, huge strategic impacts, high risk, wicked)

· General process fwk for decisions: Create a basis for decision, Evaluate options for the decision, Synthesize options and make decisions

· Key tools: Decision statement (like a mission statement but for a decision), Have a point of view (designers must have a POV to have impact/influence, not just be bland/neutral)

· Constraints (musts) vs Objectives (shoulds)

· Decision Trees as a graphical/numerical tool for gauging the better decisions. Lists out decisions and uncertainties with branching paths for each possibility, with numeric probabilities assigned. Helps provide some numerical objectivity but of course all interpretive.

· Leadership: involves being an impartial, considerate decision-maker, someone who removes ambiguity and wages influence accordingly.

Day 2

· Concepts should be evaluated by what’s desirable/feasible/viable (standard triangle)

· Avoid doing the “number of stickies” on concepts after a brainstorm; instead ask hypothetically which would you do if had a million bucks and unlimited resources (moonshot), which inspires the most passion. Forces a discussion of values/principles/goals, which may have evolved due to concepts generated!

· When clustering concepts from a brainstorm, do it by functionality (what it does), not what it is (verb vs noun or adjective, basically)

· Focus on how strongly functionally related, meaningful clusters > pruning/sifting towards a compact set of primary potentials

· Solution Architecture: individual ideas > directives > system name (hierarchy of elements basically, small to wide scopes)

· Six elements of a business model: customers, offerings, risks, economics, competitors, capabilities

· Key aspects of a killer concept: Emerges from multiple diverse sources (not just one person), Core hypotheses upset corporate process/controversial, Ask how your competitor would handle it, Tends to violate customer orthodoxy/common sense, Hypotheses make folks feel uncomfortable, Not just constrained by costs/risks/time

· Multiple “filters” to evaluate concepts: Strategic alignment > Market oppty > Capability to deliver > Worth the pay off > And is it “elegant” solution? (Pencil vs Space Pen)


I like some of the tools and concepts introduced, much of them are quite familiar from past classes/books or common sense from a business or general design sense. Nothing earth-shattering brilliant, but nice tools to keep in mind. Much more moving towards general product development influence, not just “fixing a broken interface” or “make a quick icon”, towards helping a designer become a veritable leader, trusted in the corporate context.