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Participative Design

See Also...

back to AgilePracticeLibrary

  1. [Constantly Adapting to Change? Why Not Change to be Adaptive?] - Intro to Participative Design
  2. [What can Agile learn from Participative Design?] - agile user group presentation
  3. [Emery and Trist Environments (rough overview)] - short descriptions, might be interesting to students of Cynefin?
  4. [Trist Long Wall Method, 1951] - the story of some of the earliest modern industrial work in self-managing teams
  5. [Modern Agile Connections] - blog post, also mentions Cynefin

Participative Design/Democracy Assumptions

  1. People are purposeful (you might or might not agree with their purpose, it might be narrow or broad, noble or selfish, but they HAVE it and pursue it)
  2. ...and can be ideal seeking (distinguishing concrete "ideal" results from abstract "values")

The methods of Participative Democracy allow ordinary people to…

  1. Write plans that their whole organization can care about and work to implement,
  2. Organize themselves so that everyone can do his/her best work to execute the plans, and
  3. Continuously assess and improve their performance toward their goals.

The principles of Participative Democracy assume that ordinary people can…

  1. Learn from their own experience and understand how the world works;
  2. Do their best work when they have real responsibility for controlling and coordinating their own work and their own lives;
  3. Successfully adapt to turbulent, changing conditions by working toward important, whole-system outcomes that they determine for themselves;
  4. Build the trust required for collaborative action by openly sharing relevant experiences, learnings, expectations and desired outcomes with their colleagues;
  5. Move beyond conflict by clarifying differences and focusing on areas of agreement; and
  6. Transform their organizations and communities, if given careful support and the opportunity to learn together.

The Participative Design Workshop Process

  1. Introduction to the Six Core Requirements for Productive Work (see below)
  2. Assessment of the current state of Six Core Requirements
  3. Analysis of Skills required to do the work in question
  4. Inventory of Skills currently available within the group/organization
  5. Mapping of the Work Flow Processes as it currently exists
  6. Introduction to Design Principle One, Bureaucratic Hierarchy
  7. Mapping of Organizational Structure as it currently exists
  8. Introduction to Design Principle Two, Adaptive Wholarchy
  9. Redesigning of Current Structure into Adaptive Structure
  10. Aligning Work Flow Processes with new Structure
  11. Analyzing Skills Development required in new Structure
  12. Analyzing new Structure for shifts in Six Core Requirements

Six Core Requirements for Productive Work

These are the core requirements for productive work, as identified by fred emery and eric trist in 1964. Analysis of these is how every participative design workshop starts and review of these is how every redesign workshop ends.

The analysis is done on flipcharts, in small groups that fill out a matrix with their names across the top and the 6 (8 including subparts) requirements down one side. They have an objective conversation about each of the 8 factors and each person assigns rates what the system is doing for/to them on each of the 8 needs. The product is quantitative but the real learning comes from the stories told to explain each number posted by each person. It makes clear what is missing in the current structure and what we're shooting for with the design of the new one. It's also easy to see how these things get taken care of in open space...

Because the first three requirements need to be optimal for each individual, they are scored from -5 (too little) to +5 (too much), with 0 being optimal, just right.

The second three requirements need to be maximized because you can never have too much of them. They are scored from 0 (none) to 10 (lots).

The completed matrix will express the range of scores across the group, to focus and direct redesign efforts.

1. Adequate Elbow Room for Decision Making

The sense that people are their own bosses and that, except in exceptional circumstances, they do not have a boss breathing down their necks. Not so much elbow room that they just don't know what to do.

2. Opportunity to Learn on the Job and Keep on Learning

We accept that such learning is possible only when people are able to: a) Set goals that are reasonable challenges for them, and b) Get feedback on their work in time for them to correct their behavior.

3. An Optimal Level of Variety

People can vary the work so as to avoid boredom and fatigue, and so as to gain the best advantages from settling into a satisfying work rhythm.

4. Mutual Support and Respect

People can and do get help and respect from co-workers. This means avoiding conditions where it is in no one's interest to lift a finger to help another, where people are pitted against each other so that "one person's gain is another's loss" or where the group interest denies the individual's capabilities.

5. Meaningfulness

A sense of one's own work making a valuable contribution to the organization and society. Meaningfulness includes: a) the social worth and quality of a product and b) the understanding of the whole production or service process. Many jobs lack meaningfulness because workers see only a small part of the final product.

6. A Desirable Future

Room to grow along a career path that will continue to allow personal development and an increase in skills. Not a dead-end job.

Preparing for Participative Design Workshop

The more people understand coming into the PD sessions -- about why they're doing their work, what broad parameters they must work within, why those parameters are there, and how their work is expected to contribute to the success of the organization -- the faster we can get to work on the question of how the group should organize itself to do really great work.

It helps to talk in advance with people about the these kinds of issues:

  1. the strategic trends, goals and challenges the company as a whole is dealing with and working on
  2. what kind of profitability or production performance levels the company needs from them to meet these strategic challenges, and
  3. what kinds of things their group will be expected to start doing for itself

If they can show up already understanding the strategic challenges the organization is facing and how they're expected to contribute to meeting them, they'll be much better prepared to organize themselves to do great work.

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Last edited November 30, 2017 1:12 pm CentralTimeUSA by MichaelHerman
© 1998-2020 Michael Herman and, unless signed by another author or organization. Please do not reprint or distribute for commercial purposes without permission and full attribution, including web address and this copyright notice. Permission has always been granted gladly to those who contact me and say something about themselves, their work, and their use of these materials. Thank you and good luck! - Michael