Use Design Principles to put a boundary around your transformation

After I read a transformation strategy I get really excited and can think of a million ways to achieve that strategy.  Part of the reason this happens is I can interpret the strategy in so many different ways.  I believe this interpretation is a big reason for transformation frustration within an organization. 

Imagine what would happen if every staff member reads their organization’s strategy and starts painting a different picture.  Each one of them is reconfiguring their area in their head to achieve what they believe that strategy is saying.  Every planning session, every project, and every meeting going forward is going to be tainted with this problem.  You may think this is a good thing to get the ideas flowing but OMG this just causes chaos in my opinion.

The idea of design principles is to put a boundary around that thinking.  This piece of the puzzle is going to identify what things are going to transform and how much they “could” transform.  If successful it should put everyone into a smaller imagination box.  Some areas may not change at all, and other areas may go away…. it doesn’t completely solve the chaotic problem but it does redirect it to certain areas, the areas that are “up” for change.

So, how do you come up with these design principles?  

  1. Identify components of change, 
  2. Create scales of change,
  3. Identify appetite for change,
  4. Create catchy principles… probably the hardest part


To identify the components of change I like to sit with the 5 architects… I want to side step a bit… An EA does not need to be a business subject matter expert. They do not need to know anything about the business to be successful but having said that their team HAS to be very knowledgeable.  The business architect has to understand the business, not only that the organization must have the confidence that the business architect understands the business.  This is a hard one because most organizations do not have a business architect…  They do have business experts but those experts are not usually architects.

Back to the components of change… I like to sit with the 5 architects and start the discussions with… If you had a magic wand what would the future state look like based on your interpretation of the strategy?

I love this step…  Everyone starts talking about what the future could look like… you have to remember they each read the strategy with their specialized area in mind.  Each one of them has painted a picture in their head of the future related to their area.  One by one they start to express the possibilities,  I always push them to take it a step further… don’t just think about what others in the industry are doing think about what they aren’t doing yet.  Encourage the team to bring forward bleeding edge technologies and ideas.  The cool thing is the way the others start showing how their discipline could support the vision. 

Together we identify a number of components. 


For each component I want to create a scale showing the two extremes.  One extreme is doing nothing, and the other depicts what the world would look like if we used a magic wand.  I like to have a SHOCK value, really think outside of the box.  Just because it is being presented doesn’t mean it will be implemented, the idea is to really get the juices flowing.  Who knows maybe it is the direction the business should go, maybe it sparks something completely different that ends up being the future.

These scales are created to get discussions flowing among the executive team.  The purpose is to gage their appetite for change within different areas of the business.

 I use the word picture but it is so much more than that.  You have to be ready for every and any question the executive team could ask.  Their time is limited and valuable, it is not like you can say I will get back to you on every question they ask.  You have to be able to identify what things will need to change to achieve each of the future states presented.  The executives will be interested in things like cost, timeline, resources to build it and operate it. 


Once fully prepared a meeting needs to be set up with the full executive team.  I also like the whole architecture team to be there as well.  I am not the expert,  and I want to be able to reach out to them when needed BUT I do not (this is going to sound bad) want them talking too much.  The only reason I say this is because I am on a mission to get my answers and I have limited time with the full executive team.  If the CIO wants more information from the IT experts then I make it a separate meeting in the future. 

This meeting is going to determine the executive team’s appetite for change.  This will not work unless the whole executive team participates.  Each one of them needs to hear what the others are saying.

I present each component independently, I paint a picture of the world if it wasn’t changed and then I show them the possible future.  It is important to give a high level explanation of what is changing including the pros and cons of each and then I open the floor for them to discuss.

Once they get over the shock of the magic wand scenario, they start asking about variations and if it all goes well they will start scaling it back to where they are comfortable.  This meeting is to see where they land on each of the  component’s scale. Nothing more and nothing less.

You have to be hard and disciplined here.  This is a fun and exciting step but you have to be prepared, you have to be able to answer all of their questions, and you have to keep the meeting on track so you reach your goal.  This meeting will bring to life the resources available, the appetite for change and areas that are off limits.


The final step is to create those design principles.  With the help of the full architecture team create catchy phrases used to illustrate the design principles based on what was learned from the executive meetings.  Define each one so that they make sense to everyone within the organization. These principles will be used to create the future operating model, they will be used for every project going forward, and they will be used as a way to share the plan.  I like to laminate these and make them readily available.

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Lisa Pantuso

Lisa Pantuso is passionate about business transformation. She has worked with corporate leaders and executives over the past 30-years making their visions and strategies come to life. Having worked across Finance, Health, Justice, Social, Natural Resource and IT industries Lisa is qualified to help your organization. Lisa is known for creating results and "doing it right", sought after for her ability to lead and engage the full organization through change.