The Decentralised Design Team – how do we lead them?

November 26th, 2020

Paul Tattum

Every project is bespoke and the quality of any space created is a product of its design team. Managing that team is project critical and for some, this has just become more challenging.

In today’s decentralised working environment, access to information and clarity of vision has never been more important. Yet, the opportunity provided by COVID-19 is accelerating a positive change in how real estate spaces are designed.

Vison not repetition

“A goal without a plan is just a wish” and a design team without a vision will simply fall back on what they know. The starting point, therefore, for any successful team is the metaphorical “pinning to the wall” of the all-important project vision, allowing them to visualise and truly understand what they’ll use their unique talents to create; but capturing that vision effectively, is often the most overlooked stage.

When asked a simple question – “what are you designing this space to achieve?” – how many design teams can clearly answer? But we can’t pin this on architects and designers, their job is to design amazing spaces. It’s the job of the Project Manager to capture the building’s vison in collaboration with the client and then use that vision to guide the project. The project manager must ensure amazing spaces are created, and delivered. 

Investing time in capturing the vision right at the start of any project, will pay back manifold, avoiding costly re-design and wasted effort throughout the lifespan of the project. A project vision does not need to be complex however, anything but. It is most effective when this is a single statement that encompasses the outcomes required, that can be pointed to and remembered to guide the whole project team.

Stepping outside the comfort zone

So we have the project vision, how do we turn that into action? It means empowering key members of the team to focus and deliver on what they do best. At Future Projects we bring together a Project Board for each project, made-up of the group leaders for design and construction, and then we empower them to get the job done.

These are the key activists and decision makers, and by restricting the key meetings to just these individuals, we can achieve more, in less time.

COVID-19 has brought the benefits of collaborative software such as Microsoft Teams to the forefront and whilst this has enabled established teams to continue to function well, the need for good quality site information is more critical as teams are starved of the ability to visit the project site in person.

In our recent blog – Back to Reality the need for good quality digital data to inform design teams was set-out, and this approach not only provides the platform for collaboration but opens up new opportunities, not least the ability to speed up the design process. 

For those with the mindset to adopt new ways of working, applying the approach invented by Jake Knapp at Google to the initial design stage of projects can bring real reductions in the time required to design projects and will quickly gel the key members of any team in the process.

Huddles not meetings

The cost to business for tying up the most valuable asset, our people, is vast and yet the number of Teams and Zoom meetings is increasing. If you’re in a meeting, you’re not doing, so a change in meeting culture to one that minimises both the number of meetings and the attendees required, to a core team of empowered leaders can bring a number of advantages. 

Key to this strategy is picking the most experienced consultants, and then empowering them do what they are good at, to achieve the results needed. This should be supported by removing as many of the obstacles to this as possible, including looking at

  • the way meetings are perceived
  • the frequency of any meetings
  • and the administrative burden in comparison to the actionable outputs from the meetings.

In adopting the key recommendations from Kevan and Alan Halls’ book – Kill Bad Meetings, meetings can be refocussed by a change in emphasis; at Future Projects we no longer hold meetings, instead we have sprints, workshops or huddles depending on the need and these gatherings are kept to the minimum effective participants, ensuring that they are direct, succinct and visual. The focus is on the outputs and how these meetings contribute to the project vision. The administrative burden is reduced allowing more time to focus on the end goal.

Everything in one place

Each project is, by definition, unique but too often so are the myriad of approaches to administration. It doesn’t have to be this way and the pain can be taken out of the process by using out of the box software solutions such as Microsoft Teams, Asana or Trello, that connect into everyone’s platforms. 

This, coupled with using a standardised layout and training to ensure the optimum functionality of these off-the-shelf tools is understood by all project team members, enables teams working on one or multiple projects to focus their effort on the end goal and not get side-tracked by the day-to-day admin.

Leading not following

Leading today’s increasingly decentralised design and construction teams needs a more proactive approach to ensure the quality of spaces delivered. In the end, the opportunity afforded by each new project to create amazing spaces and experiences, we at Future Projects believe can be improved by employing 3 simple changes;

  • Vison not repetition – time spent capturing the project vision, a simple actionable statement, and making this the focus for the design team will pay back throughout the project and avoid generic design. 
  • Stepping outside the comfort zone – the commitment to kill bad meetings and empower the team leaders and their teams to do what they are good at. 
  • Everything in one place – break down information silos that currently exist by making it easy to access information and keeping it in one place using existing off-the-shelf software to make this easier. 

Managing diverse, remote teams is challenging and projects can easily lose their way when teams have not worked together before. The ability to set and maintain the focus and discipline of these three elements amongst the whirlwind of the everyday tasks that make-up our working lives, will mean the difference between designing spaces that are a generic reproduction of previous designs, rather than creating spaces that have the end user at their heart.

Ready to create your next amazing space? Future Projects can help. Let’s talk.