Musings on designing experiences & (re)engineering complexity

Jul 2018

Blockers and Filters

In one of our recent projects, we are mapping workflows which are no longer being used due to organizational and staff changes. In doing so, we’ve been doing some light assessing of what the organization has been doing since those workflows and methods were compromised. What we find is what’s true at every company, people find a blocker to a way of working, and like water, they seep around the walls until there’s a better route found.

There’s actually nothing right or wrong about reorientation. In the course of any behavior or process, this happens as a natural evolution. The difficulty is fighting the urge to just evolve and not have bricks in a place of understanding from what’s being evolved from. For the companies who have engaged Avanceé so far, it been our ability to visualize those bricks of past actions and understandings, and turn those into questions and potential roads for ways forward. One group doesn’t want to do the old workflows, but they want the benefits of automation — the key to their benefits will be in what they’d done previously. Another group wants to deploy a more accountable transaction mechanism — the key to their benefits isn’t in customer acquisition, but in communicating minimal customer friction.

Reorienting in this wise ends up taking on the persona of a filter rather than a blocker. A blocker prevents/inhibits movement. It is a wall — immovable, impenetrable by design. It is an enforced boundary. This space of workflow transformation (and really, org transformation) needs something more like a filter. First, a method to collect all the relevant (and some of the non-relevant) inputs. Second, the filter itself needs a few levels of filtration. There might be large holes initially to allow for all but the most unfit of behaviors, then smaller holes each level down until the most pure behaviors and actions remain. We do this with conversations, mind mapping, and sketchnotes, though this can and does come in several other mediums. Lastly, there’s a pouring and mixing of what remains into a new container — a new brick. This remade packaging doesn’t forget the lessons of the old, but since we’ve filtered the legacy behaviors and actions, we are able to continue with what works best, and what is less likely to need a major adjustment later. We might add to the mix, and that’s ok. What is used has been filtered to its essence, and now is in a “best fit” scenario.

We do this and end up pushing the boundaries of what constitutes working, what constitutes success/failure. The ways we are working are by no means a panacea for how to continue working, but are seeing as just a slightly lighter sketch on which a harder imprint or eraser will follow. Does it have a defined shape by the end? Yes. But, not because we started with a shape. It is similar to what a great sculptor would say, “there was always beauty in the stone, it was just my job to remove what kept you from seeing it.”

Blockers as a guide? As a building block? Or, are those walls the stitches which build your filters so that you can better simplify what it means to work forward? We prefer to posture blockers as the latter. So in this way the filters engaged will cause us not to add our own slant to what is there, but will clarify what your team has always known to be true about your efforts.