Organisation design: Odile the organisation designer, part 4

The third part of the story of Odile the organisation designer, saw her 100 days into her role of Organisation Design Lead at Intersection Railways.  She was presenting her strategy for developing an organisational design movement, to bridge the confusing gaps between the various design-related specialisms present in the organisation.  Delivery of her strategy included developing a design taxonomy, getting a minimum viable dataset for all designers to access, rethinking the recently introduced design governance approach and raising awareness of systems thinking and complexity science. 

Eighteen months later:  Odile is talking with her mentor, Abeo Okigbo, about the highs and lows, successes and failures, of her time, so far, in Intersection Railways.  Odile is preparing for her last monthly performance discussion with her manager, Farzin Ahmadi, Group HR Director.  It’s going to be a milestone meeting as she is moving reporting lines, saying farewell to Farzin. From Monday she’ll be reporting to Bonnie Wang, recently appointed Director Corporate Strategy Design and Delivery. 

Abeo:  First off, how are you feeling about moving reporting lines? 

Odile:  Well, I’ve got mixed feelings.  Farzin has been great at helping me integrate into Intersection Railways.  I recently read a blog on the 8 critical skills of effective design leaders  and although he isn’t a specialist designer, he has all these skills and he instinctively ‘gets design’.  This has really paved the way for my successes so far.   

Bonnie is a fairly unknown quantity to me.  She’s still finding her feet, having joined the Railway four months ago, and to a newly created role.  She’s led several meetings I’ve been at, and I’ve been reassured by her firm view, reflected in her role title, that successful strategy delivery requires integrated design approaches.  I gave her Richard Buchanan’s classic article Wicked Problems in Design Thinking – exploring integration of design related specialisms – which she actually read!  She seems personable and is interested in ramping up the work that we’ve been doing in design since I joined. Although the signs are good so far, I’m wondering if she will manage the transition to the leadership team and gain peer trust and support.

Abeo:  Have you thought that your work may have played a part in Intersection Railways creating this new role of Strategy Design and Delivery?  You’ve had quite an impact on the Sleeper Service and App’s success.  From what I’ve heard, your idea to use it as a type of ‘proof of concept’ has made the point that integrated design approaches will help deliver a strategy.   

I hear, too, that Bonnie is proposing the job family ‘Designer’, which all related design jobs will align to.  You will be titled Designer: Organisation. Earnestine becomes Designer: Enterprise Architecture. Severin becomes Designer: Service. Some of Hans’s team become Designer: Graphics, etc. and the whole Design job family comes within her sphere of accountability, within the new design governance framework.  I think that’s a sign of your influence around creating a design movement.

Odile: Oh, maybe you’ve got a point – it’s often difficult to track how big things emerge from a small disturbance.  Remember Ray Bradbury’s short story, The Sound of Thunder? It pre-dated the ‘butterfly effect’ theory within complexity science, but illustrates it pretty well.  I think my insistence on general awareness of complexity science is starting to catch on.  I really enjoyed the presentation showing the links between our planned strategy and the necessity to simultaneously be able to respond to emergent strategy (NOTE: see Graphic above and article explaining it here)

My other successes?  Well, I’ve been working hard with the Learning and Development Teams and it’s great to have our first cohort going through the now ODC accredited Design Practitioner programme.  We’ve attracted a range of people representing different design specialisms into it. And the complexity science awareness sessions are going well.

The design movement is getting rooted under the common purpose of ‘Developing Collaborative Design’ with Slack channels, comms, marketing, events, and peer coaching, which sounds impressive but it’s only in its infancy so far.

What it has managed to do is generate collective interest in a design taxonomy, though we’re stumbling around trying to find a way forward on this.  Some people are interested in concepts like a pattern language, based on Takashi Iba’s work. Others want to go down a business capability route (if only we could define what a capability is).  Others are interested in a methodology like The Milky Way. And others are vested in using a common graphical language for design.  There’s a mishmash of view and opinions being aired.

The Sleeper Service and App programme is back on track and beginning to ramp up successes to the joy of the Executive. The Design: UX team must take a lot of credit for this, but have been well supported by other design specialisms.  And our ability now to get good operational data. I guess the minimum viable data set is there.

Abeo:  Great work, congratulations.   Where are you now?

Odile:  Good question.  I’m using the simple but powerful tool What, So What, Now What to reflect on what’s happened since I joined and plan next steps.  It’s been a roller coaster 18 months, and it hasn’t all been rosy.  I’ve had some dark moments, but I don’t think I’m facing 344 single point failures, as the James Webb Space Telescope launch is.  However, I am noticing several potential issues.  For example:

Much of the work of generating and sustaining the design movement is down to my efforts as, essentially a type of ‘community manager’.  I worry that if I go, then that community goes.   I’m about to start lobbying, and get approval for, a Design Community Manager role which may help the sustainability of the design movement.

The support systems for the concept of a Design job family are flimsy though growing: job titles are one thing, but we need to develop pay and reward systems, career routes, and so on to create a sustaining infrastructure.  Intersection Railways is traditional on this: promoting people out of technical roles into management, rather than having parallel tracks (of equal status and perceived value) of technical and managerial progression.

It’s very hard to get data on the different design specialists’ contribution to the Value Delivery Chain.  We’re trying to do it on the Sleeper Service and App:  it’s demanding and difficult to get to something, including measures, that people will understand.   If we fail on this, we may fail on the goal of uniting the design specialists in anything more than job titles.  We must show how the additive value of collaboration amongst the various designers contributes to effective planned and emergent strategy delivery. 

And there are other risks that I’m circling. The leadership team are drawn to ‘flavours of the month’.  We’ve managed to keep design highish on the agenda but you never know when a new something will grab them.  More importantly, they’re operating in a business context which is extremely volatile.  Notice how the successive waves of Covid-19 are hitting passenger numbers.  Naturally, attending to this is a priority, which may mean that design may drop off their radar.

My plan, following this conversation, is to develop a summary of my progress over the last 18 months with a forward look on what I plan to do (under Bonnie’s management) in the coming months.  Thanks for helping me firm up my thinking. I’m feeling challenged but excited about the possibilities.


What would be on your forward look if you were Odile?  Let me know.


  • Odile the organisation designer,  part 1
  • Odile the organisation designer,  part 2
  • Odile the organisation designer, part 3

Register for a webinar on Odile the organisation designer, February 23 2022,  here  (and, on this link, you can also register for others in the series all 100% live and free!)