Step 6 of the Design Process Improve Your Design (Iterations, Iterations, Iterations)

Kaizen is the Japanese philosophy of continuous improvement and the western trend of Design Thinking (Step 6) of Iterating aligns quite well here. In particular because the work of crafting a completely new solution to an existing problem is incredibly time consuming and costly to an organization’s resources. Iterations as improvements can be quick, light and effective. Thus, quality is the prize of iterations. If you are deep into designing solutions at your school, what better way to protect those investments than to improve your design as time goes on?

A quick reminder of the Design Process:

  1. Define the Problem (Verification vs. Validation)
  2. Collect Information (Nodes and Links)
  3. Brainstorm and Analyze (Modeling or Ideation)
  4. Develop Solutions (Prototyping)
  5. Solicit Feedback (Closed Loop)
  6. Improve Your Design (Iterations, Iterations, Iterations!)

Teams taking part in iterative work has a unique positive impact for educators because so much work done by a classroom teacher is done alone and far away from their colleagues. Depersonalizing each iteration, by placing the group at the center of responsibility and the center of where improvements are expected to take place, can reduce much of fear educators often have about being wrong, making mistakes and in finding ways to be productive with colleagues who practice different than they do . With space, time and the expectation that the current iteration of any initiative must lead to the next iteration helps remove shame, a need to be right and an unwillingness to truly evaluate our practices.  

Your Iteration Toolkit:

  • Understanding how to let go: Making changes can be hard, but building in reward
  • Maintenance time: building regular time to explore and plan iterations
  • Meeting Protocols for iterations
  • Answering: What works about this design? What was it not able to solve? What new problems developed as a side effect?

Letting go and changing is hard in a profession so consumed by facetime with the community they serve and so little time to plan and change. The first key to helping your team let the last iteration go is to support them with enough quality time to get the job done of reflecting on their current practice and time to build a plan for what’s next. Secondly, a vision, a road map or a plan beyond the initial design phase needs to be set and ready from the beginning of any design effort. Teammates need this to see beyond the completion of the first iteration to not over invest in the first designed solution, but to be ready to stretch out into several iterations. Personal investment and distributing that investment is critical planning for any design leader.

Maintenance time can be thought of a checkup rather than a declared iteration time that might confirm that the team is doing the right work or might precipitate a sooner than expected need to stop and plan the next iteration. This is much like the work done in Step 5 where sensors are checked and the work is verified. These are little bites of time that can be done with simple protocols helping you know what path you are on and what to do about it next. Recordkeeping here needs to be excellent and articulate to be sure that the team is building knowledge.

Nearly any meeting protocol might work well of your team, but be sure to use one. Things to consider include the time you have available, what record keeping will need to be done and what about the design process can you use over to recycle and not learn new. Step 2 of the design process offers several good models for running a self-study and the time considering an iteration is no different.

Stop what you’re doing and take the time to get things right. So much of the job of educators is with students and so little of it is time set aside for work with peers and leaders to plan and improve. Staff up and organize your school to be ready to take advantage of the design process, especially to be reflective and iterative. A real and meaningful pause from implementation is the only way to be able to answer your pressing questions. “What works about this design? What was it not able to solve? What new problems developed as a side effect?”

Finally, remember that quality is the prize of iterations!

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