Diary of a Process: Budget Slashed in Half

Diary of a Process: an episodic peek into a creative company’s internal process.

  • The company: an experience design firm that creates learning environments and opportunities for team-building, exhibit design, education, training, branding, etc.
  • The project: designing a visitor experience for a small west coast museum.

Episode 1, Aug 25: A meeting was called because the client had informed the project manager the budget had been cut in half.

The initial challenge in responding to the news of the drastically shrunken budget appeared to be how to identify all the elements in the design concept, presumably with an eye for what to cut. To begin, owner Bryan Thermo reviewed the various elements that would make up the visitor experience of this museum. As he did so, Thermo began to elaborate upon the concept…

Let’s take a look at elaboration. In the context of creativity, elaboration is the development of an idea, building it out, adding depth and complexity. It’s good to come up with lots of ideas when doing creative thinking. It’s also good to be able to elaborate upon them––in appropriate moments.

…at which point the project manager redirected the discussion to give her impressions of the reasons why the budget had been cut: they hadn’t completely sold the board of directors on their vision for the museum.

The project manager was pushing for clarification. She wanted to have a clear understanding of the issue, before coming up with ideas on how to overcome the challenge. Often, ideas are generated that don’t really fit the problem at hand. Clarification helps you identify the most important problem to solve. The project manager’s redirection of the conversation helped pull back on the elaboration in order to focus on important new information.

Now the conversation turned directly to the core value propositions of the company: how it does what it does––inspire learning, deepen experiences. Client values were identified: cultural enrichment and regional identity. From there it was a short step to a pitch that could be presented to the board: “maintaining the original budget will allow us to transform your landmark into an experience.”

Process in a nutshell: the challenge of a reduced budget led to elaboration on the original concept. A clarification of the situation allowed the team to explore the context of the challenge, and this lead to a decision to pitch the virtues of the original proposal as deserving of the full budget.

Up next: how will the board respond to the pitch, and how will the design concept move forward to meet mid-September deliverables?

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