Why It Won't Work Exercise

Posted on by Brandon Klein

People often fail to rigorously critique a plan or design that they feel strongly invested in. For various reasons, voicing criticism and doubt is often thought of as dream killing — and at the wrong stage in the process, it often is. Yet for the design process to be rigorous, it’s often appropriate to set up a forum for exploring all the reasons why “it” (the participants plans and designs) “won’t work.” When this critique occurs before the “it” is engineered, we use each reason listed as a specification – “this is an obstacle or barrier that your plan must overcome if it is to succeed.” Thus each “why it won’t work” becomes a specification for success. This module is typically a board blitz: at the facilitator’s signal, participants charge to the WorkWalls, to write and/or diagram their response. Frequently, you organize participants’ responses by templating the WorkWalls (naming major categories for response) prior to the “blitz.”

To get a list of the hurdles and obstacles and concerns out in front of the group quickly.

Timing is important here; you have to have energy in the group or build the energy for this one. If the participants have a strong vision coupled with a strong intent to make it happen, and if there are obviously undiscussed barriers to be overcome, the energy will probably be there. Takes typically half an hour to blitz, 15-30 minutes to “report” (longer if a synthesis conversation is needed). The following is basically a repeat of the “Board Blitz” information.

Strengths — Fast. Gets everyone moving. Covers more ground more quickly than a group conversation. Can be a great release of energy. Gets everyone involved. Often “depersonalizes” information, allowing individuals to share comments and criticisms that they might not offer in other settings. Can be physical and fun, as participants allow themselves to work in tight around each other at the WorkWalls. Can result in aha’s! (shared insights). Weaknesses — Chaotic (this can be good, but not always). Typically calls for many short responses; this “bias” may mean that the content is less reflective, more “old thinking” (depending on timing). Participants will read each others’ comments during the “blitz.” (If you want them to be more reflective and you don’t want them influencing each other’s answers, consider Take A Panel instead).

Specifications for Success —
1. See note above on timing.
2. Give permission for what you want to happen. If you want candor, say so.  

Typically, after the first phase calms down, people start scanning and reading and taking in the other comments. You can let this continue, then take it to discussion; or you can do a more formal report, for example, category by category.

• Note that this type of module often generates more information than can be quickly absorbed; often it’s particularly useful to have the KnowledgeWorker staff organize, analyze and re-present the information.
• Introduce the process to the group, and have them select the categories; when the group’s satisfied with the categories, commence the blitz.
• Ask participants to put a check mark √ next to a response they agree with, rather than writing on the board a redundant comment.