We design and run projects according to a common set of patterns: processes that bring together talent and resources to deliver great results. Our projects are built from these patterns in a modular way, designing the right sequences to deliver on any challenge.
For those interested in working with us, these patterns give a taste of what to expect: the approach we’ll take, the experiences and results we deliver. For fellow practitioners, we share these patterns to use as a resource in designing and delivering your own projects.
When there’s too much talking, or nothing is happening, it is time to make things real as quickly as possible.
A core team comes together without distraction to conceptualise and assemble prototypes in the most direct way possible, with a commitment to generating outputs that can be shared with and understood by the target audience. A sprint can be loosely structured, but its team must consist of four to eight people who represent between them the core competencies needed on the project.
Sprints can follow Google’s traditional one-week format, but can also be used by design teams to sketch identities or more general future states. A sprint is finished when there is a workable prototype to test.
You have broad and poorly-defined gaps in knowledge. It's an arcane topic, or the project sits at the intersection of different worlds and perspectives.
A swarm brings together a varied group of people with specific expertise in a structured way. Different perspectives spark off each other and rapidly establish the basic contours of a problem.
You could create a swarm through micro-commissions, host an unconference, or even use carefully-designed versions of old favourites like the focus group.
There’s plenty of knowledge and ideas, but no shared understanding amongst the team. It’s time to create a communal map of the landscape.
Mapping creates a systematic and comprehensive visualisation of the essential aspects of a project. The key is to provide a visual reference that groups can understand and use together.
Maps can range from highly systematic dominance/dependency matrices or systems diagrams to more fluid illustrations of debates and ideas, architectural flow diagrams or procedural code. Good maps often require several iterations, and should be reviewed and amended by the team until they are agreed upon.
Clearly-defined gaps in knowledge need to be answered for the project to proceed.
The Verify pattern involves the formulation of individual questions, and then gathering data to answer them.
Wherever possible this process is disintermediated and involves direct contact with those closest to the gaps in knowledge. Analysis should be undertaken by those who do not have a stake in the outcome, while second-hand knowledge should be used with caution.
Evidence can be gathered in numerous ways including formal qualitative and quantitative online research packages, but can often be achieved more cost effectively in collaboration with an organisation’s own staff.
We’re big fans of research but VERIFY should only be used when you have a focused hypothesis to prove / disprove. If the discussion is less defined, money should not be wasted on research - use a Swarm or Sprint to help clarify your thinking first.
Most significant projects require change in the way organisations behave, but organisations have unconscious and inbuilt habits that protect the status quo.
As you conduct your project, look for opportunities to rehearse the future in controlled ways. These will help lay the groundwork for more ambitious change as well as providing insight that will help the team refine their vision as the project continues.
The process should begin with a sharp break from everyday behaviour to create the space for change as well as artefacts that participants can take back into their day-to-day work. The rehearse pattern is completed when you have direct experience of the change you wish to embody.
Every project exists in the context of the many conversations and activities that preceded it – and you ignore this at your peril.
While a successful project often requires a decisive break with aspects of the past, look for ways to document and reuse aspects of what has gone before as you plan for the future.
Successful projects need to be built on a clear statement of commitment amongst the working group. This should be made collectively in the presence of the rest of the group, and in a way that can be cited in future.
Our approaches at this stage tend to avoid blockbuster moments where participants must choose between options, and instead develop conversations that build consensus, strip away unnecessary noise and help the group find consensus without entrenched conflict. For more, we’d direct you towards Richard Sennett’s recaps of the language of diplomacy or Institute for the Future’s thoughts on dilemmas to help plan and prepare for such moments.
The agree pattern is completed when the group publicly asserts their commitment to an idea and its implications.