Organisation design: Odile the organisation designer, part 2

A couple of weeks ago I started the story of Odile the organisation designer as she joined Intersection Railways in a newly created role of Organisation Design Lead.  This is the second part of the story – and now it’s looking as if it’s going to need a third part!  (Ed: This neatly illustrates that we don’t know where things will go, when we begin).

Recap on Odile the organisation designer, part 1.

‘I left the meeting with Farzin Ahmadi  (the HR Director I report to) with a brief to develop a strategy to create a ‘design movement’ in Intersection Railways, that would do two things:

  • Informally unite the various disciplines involved in change and design work with an intent to minimising senior leaders/executives’ aversion to collaboration – via showing the value of it.
  • With the ‘movement’ develop a proposed governance method that enabled continuous design oversight and design efficiency/effectiveness of the organisation without heavy handed ‘control’.  We discussed an evidence based, real-time, data driven model as a possibility which raised some alarm bells for me as a strong focus on data might lose the human/culture dimension.  (See Mr Gee’s video poem Data People)

I thought that the sleeper train project, colleagues were involved in, could provide a test bed for developing the strategy.  Drawing on my social anthropology skills and experiences I set off to use the sleeper train introduction to spark an organisation design movement.’

Chapter 1:  Rising action, Part 2.  After that meeting I spent a couple more weeks doing a more rigorous baseline assessment of the design landscape.  I used the questions in Jim Collins’s Good to Great® Diagnostic Tool  as a rough guide to areas to look at.   As I tried to chart the various design communities in the organisation with a view to drawing them together, what the diagnosis revealed was several, seemingly giant hurdles which seemed to fall into 3 categories

Location in organisation chart

The different design-related communities are located in different reporting lines (on the organisation chart), so user researchers have a different reporting line from service designers, and they from enterprise architects, communications designers, and so on. 

The way managers’ performance is managed means that there is little incentive for those leading a reporting line, to co-operate or partner with those leading another reporting line.   

The boundaries of the different design disciplines leads to fragmentation of design approach, confusing use of language and terms – there is no commonly agreed taxonomy or glossary – for example an agreed description of a business capability, or the relationship of a capability and a product.  So meetings sometimes degenerate into people talking at cross-purposes, or making assumptions on what is being discussed, or spending time trying to agree on a definition of something.

My own location in the HR reporting line seems to be a disadvantage as I feel I’m being typecast as ‘HR’ and am continuously being told that ‘we’ll get to the people aspect later in the design process’.  I’m privately wondering if I’d feel, and be, less disadvantaged if I were in the COO or Strategy office.


My idea to use the night sleeper train project as a test out for generating the ‘design movement’,  means working not only across internal business units but also across several external organisations (and government regulators) each of whom has different interests in and views of the value of introducing a sleeper train service that crosses borders.  Getting access to all of these could be problematic.


Data sharing across the disciplines is weak as legacy systems and patching in of new software has been done piecemeal in the business units, rather than as a whole organisation common platform – this is getting easier, but there is a general lack of trust on the quality of the data generated, (not to mention the different interpretations of the data that is generated).

Specifically on the people front (which others seem to think is what organisation design is mainly about – juggling the organisation chart), there doesn’t seem to be a recognition that the strategy to introduce a sleeper service with app is constrained by numerous factors which need to be acknowledged up-front.  The ‘people’ aspect is only one of them, albeit it a critical one.  On the people, we need to know their numbers, skills, where and how they work, what the possibilities are of staffing up a new service and app, and so on.  This is the arena of workforce analytics – outside my skill-set, but one of the disciplines that needs to be in at the start of a project like this. 


I talked with several leadership team members about organisation design, and discovered that they were largely unaware of systems thinking, complexity science, and the way informal networks of influence operate in organisations. 

It was heartening to hear that they were curious and interested in the topics and keen to see synergies and collaboration increase across the design community.   Hans Fischer, Director, Marketing and Comms, and Leonie Bletcher, Director Operational Planning, were particularly supportive and I mentally tagged them as sponsors for the design movement project I was developing.  They were enthused about my idea to use the sleeper train service/app as a test bed for this.  

Even so, the enormity of my task felt rather over-whelming.  Then I remembered that a while ago I watched a short video, with Jim Collins, on the Stockdale Paradox .  Briefly, this suggests that however adverse and difficult the situation is, it is necessary to face the brutal reality of it, without glossing over or ignoring aspects of it.  With this brutal reality in one hand, you must balance it, on the other hand, with an unwavering faith in the endgame and be able to manage the tension this presents.  (NOTE: See also the HBS piece ‘What the Stockdale Paradox tells us about crisis leadership’).

I think I can do that, I have the brutal facts and at the same time I have a belief that I will (somehow) get my brief delivered. Now, after conversations with some allies, I have an action plan that follows patterns and sequence outlined in Enterprise Design Patterns  (see graphic). It involves risks, and may create conflict, or put some things in jeopardy, but being able to recognising the reality of the situation and maintaining a faith that I will manage whatever emerges, means I will be ‘both grounded and hopeful’.

What I’m thinking is, in the next couple of weeks is that I will:

  • Invite those I think have influence and are interested to help me develop the vision and purpose of an enterprise design movement.
  • Develop (with others)  a systems map (See intro to systems mapping and a case study of this approach in use. NOTE: although the latter is related to energy evaluation it is a full explanation of applying the approach with good explanatory graphic).  Doing  this will require collaboration with stakeholders, and yield a visual of the complexity of context of the sleeper train service/app.

My aim is to take this to leadership team meetings to get their support for establishing an informal community cross-organisation of designers to work on this and similar projects.  (We’ll have to work out how to formalise aspects of this if we want to use people’s time and skills for specific work).

  • Pull together the spec for a minimum viable dataset we would need to draw on to collaboratively  design and implement the sleeper/service app –  and see what we have already and whether there are any gaps.  I think there is already some good data, but it is not accessible to all who need it, so maybe we will only need to look at data access rights, and do a data quality assessment.

I think all this achievable, but I’m wondering if I’m missing the obvious.  How would you advise me to proceed at this stage?  Let me know.