Process Design

Your Systemic Process of Inquiry

Process design is the mindful construction of steps that a team uses to explore questions and execute the answers.

Nonprofits always have some systematic process of inquiry, whether they're aware of it or not.


Let's look at strategic planning. How does an organization make sense of everything it wants to achieve? And what is strategy but a deliberate act of creating new pathways? What is strategy but rigorous creative inquiry? In the beginning it always starts with a question and the outcomes could be anything.

So we want to think about the phases and activities used to explore questions and generate those answers. Read the skylance entry on Outcomes Awareness.

One drawback of not exploring process is discovering too late that strategic challenges are much more multifacted than previously thought: The wrong solution was created; some crucial details were left out; funds went towards the wrong thing, etc. Read the skylance entry on challenge mapping.

Designing process involves visualizing the sequence and phases and activities used in a meeting:

  • Observing and shadowing team dynamics in meetings and recreating the process of how new ideas are handled
  • Observing how a nonprofit asks major Why's, What if's, and How Might We's
  • The satisfaction level from the results. For example, are leaders and staff happy that all strategic questions were thoroughly explored? Did they feel that all ideas and possibilities were explored to the fullest extent?

Most people believe creativity is initiated by ideation or brainstorming. But it actually begins much earlier. The path to differentiation starts by seeing what others do not – connecting the dots among what, at first glance, might appear to be unrelated activities or data.

— IBM: Cultivating organizational creativity in an age of complexity (2011)

Why does process matter?

Simply, the nonprofits collaboration dilemma that rages on today. There are a few pointers that usually go overlooked:

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