Over the past decade, there has been a steady and growing appreciation for the way design can also inform management. What is less commonly acknowledged is the extent to which management by design is also linked to extended enterprise learning.
Taking Account of all the Parts
To appreciate the places where design and management skills converge, consider the design of a familiar and relatively simple product: the bicycle. While a bicycle is simple enough for a large number of people of take apart and put back together, the bicycle remains an amazing feat in design. For this simple machine propelled by human energy to work, all the parts need to fit together perfectly. In addition, it helps a great deal if extended conditions (e.g., road conditions) are favorable too. Over time, of course, the bicycle has also undergone a series of improvements. Lighter frames and more durable parts have made these machines faster, easier to carry and more resistant to the elements. In recent years, folding versions have ushered in a whole new era of bicycles. These evolving designs have not simply been driven by engineers, however, but also by the people who ride bicycles for sport, transportation and simply for pleasure.
In many respects, design management is a lot like bicycle design. When you bring design to organizations, amazing things happen too. Bringing the principals of design to organizations means paying increased attention to how all of an organization’s moving parts fit together. It means paying attention to the relationship between things and people. It means engaging in decision making processes driven not only by people inside but also outside one’s organization.
Bringing design principles to organizational management, then, is about being integrative, holistic and about taking one’s extended network seriously into account. A 2015 study by Mark Gruber, Nick De Leon, Gerard George and Paul Thompson, “Managing by Design,” observes that extended enterprise is also part of managing by design:
Factors that influence the workplace experience include the organizational design and related incentives and management procedures; the task and associated business process design; the support tools and information services that enable the execution of the task; the physical and virtual environment in which the task takes place; the internal interaction between employees within a business or organizational function, as well as between functions and the extended enterprise and its partners and customers.
Incorporating Extended Enterprise Learning into Design Management
As design management continues to transform the workplace, extended enterprise learning stands to play a key role. Among other contributions, extended enterprise learning supports design management on the following key levels:
- Data Collection: With extended enterprise learning, new opportunities open up to get to know your extended network and customers. As you extend learning to people in your supply and distribution chain and to your customers, for example, it becomes easier to collect data on how they are interacting with your product or service. Of course, this is contingent on adopting a flexible learning management system.
- Management Decisions Driven by Data: As you collect data on how people in your supply and distribution chain, as well as customers engage with your product or service, you can begin to use this data to inform management decisions. For example, if you discover that your distribution chain is holding products too long or that the floor staff in some retail outlets lack the knowledge required to promote your products, you may decide that you need to restructure to rely less on third parties to distribute and sell your products (e.g., you may decide that your organization would benefit from getting into the distribution or retail business).
- Coordination: The real place where design management meets extended enterprise learning, of course, is at the level of coordination. The ultimate goal of design management is coordination: the ability to ensure that all the moving parts of an organization are working together in the most effective manner possible. Recognizing that some of these moving parts are located outside or on the edges of an organization, extended enterprise learning serves as a critical tool to reach out. To put everything into perspective, you can build a great bicycle but if your local roads are made of dirt and full of pot holes, you may find your produce sales remain stalled. Chances are, the person designing and building the bicycle is not in charge of local road conditions, but this doesn’t mean they can’t influence their local network of roads. With extended enterprise learning, a bicycle manufacturer might not be able to own the road but they can more easily shape its conditions. The result is that all the parts, including the extended parts, will move more effectively.