In-house Issues: Kick, Jiggle and Shake or Take Me to The Pilot

So I’m jogging away on my elliptical machine that we shoehorned into the corner of our den, listening to “Imma Be”, when I’m startled by a tap on the shoulder from my 13 year-old daughter.  It’s a major tragedy – the TV isn’t working. I ask her to push several buttons – no luck. I tell her to turn the TV off and then on again – still no success. Finally, in desperation I tell her to jiggle the cables and viola – “Housewives From New Jersey” lights up the screen.

As I continue my jog into “Funkytown” I realize that I, and many other in-house designers, engage in the jiggle model everyday. This is not a trite observation. In a corporate environment that values, and often mandates, obsessive planning and analytical practices, the fact that we designers experiment with process, staffing structures, infrastructure and policies on the fly is no small achievement.

Most importantly, this experimental mindset is essential to our success. I’m not talking about a “shoot from the hip” approach where we just do stuff, close our eyes and hope for the best. I’m talking about addressing challenges as they occur with rational, dare I say, intuitive responses.

The ROI of cautiously dissecting a problem before trying a solution is pretty slim for many of the smaller-scale problems we run up against on a daily basis. Better, sometimes, to quickly test out a reasonable fix rather than spend hours of analysis before attempting what most likely would be the same solution you would have intuited without all the handwringing.

I’ve seen teams buckle and implode under the weight of required analysis and justification for all of their relatively minor refinements. When you hit this point of diminishing returns, rather than die the death of a thousand paper cuts, you may want to consider trying out an idea and risk a wrist slapping.

When you kick the vending machine to get that Milky Way bar, though, do it responsibly. Be transparent. Don’t subversively and passive-aggressively implement your idea without management’s knowledge. Let them know what you’re doing and why.

In addition to transparency, another important point to remember is to test out your idea on a small scale. A good example of this showed up in a conversation I had recently with an InHOWse conference attendee. He had 4 positions each with multiple responsibilities assigned to them that included copywriting, client management and project management. Rightly so, he had concerns about the efficiency of this staffing model. He believed it would be better to have positions with responsibilities focused on a single core competency – a copywriter position, an account manager position and a project management position. His managers believed otherwise, and he was struggling with how to make his point. Just rolling up and reorganizing the whole team was out of the question. But we discussed taking one of the staff and shifting her responsibilities to only copywriting for a limited period of time to test his theory – no real harm there.

What I’m talking about here is the same kind of prototyping that we do during the design process. This type of real-time prototyping with people is called piloting. It’s a small-scale test run.

Not only are pilots an efficient way to test out new ideas, they allow for additional insights that lead to refinements of the original idea. At Designer Greetings, we’ve rolled out procedural initiatives knowing that they haven’t been fully vetted but were close enough to completion to be implemented. In following the adoption of these new procedures, we find unexpected weak links in the plan that we couldn’t have anticipated and that we can then quickly address prior to a full rollout.

So shake that stubborn iPod with the hopes of getting it to reboot. Just do it gently.