Liberating Structures

Design StoryBoards - Advanced

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You can avoid many of the traps that turn transformation initiatives and innovation projects into failures: the lack of a clear and common purpose, overall and for every stage of the initiative; inadequate engagement and participation; voices that are essential but not included; frustrated participants and nonparticipants; resistance to change; groupthink; nightmarish implementation for a disproportionally small impact.

A comprehensive design is a series of basic designs (see Design StoryBoards–Basic) linked together over a period of time. The design unfolds iteratively over days, weeks, months, or sometimes years depending on the scale of the project. Small cycles of design operate within larger cycles, scaling up and out as the initiative proceeds. You can easily include more people and more diversity in the design group for larger-scale projects. You can reflect the twists and turns in a transformation or innovation effort by a careful and ad hoc selection of participants (including unusual suspects since they are often the source of novel approaches).



Define Step-by-Step Elements for Bringing Transformation and Innovation Initiatives to Productive Endpoints




    Five Structural Elements – Min Specs

    1. Structuring Invitation

    Invite an initial design team to create a detailed plan, including visual cues, for how participants will interact to achieve their purpose

    2. How Space Is Arranged and Materials Needed

    • An open wall with tapestry paper or flip-chart pages
    • 2-by-4-inch Post-its and/or Liberating Structures Playing Cards
    • A blank storyboard template (see Collateral Materials)

    3. How Participation Is Distributed

    Everyone on the design team involved in the design and planning of the project has an equal opportunity to contribute

    4. How Groups Are Configured

    1-2-All or 1-All in rapid cycles for each step below

    5. Sequence of Steps and Time Allocation

    • Determine the composition of a design team that includes all relevant stakeholders and assemble the team (the composition can be adjusted ad hoc over time as the work progresses). 1 to 3 hrs.
    • Design team clarifies the overall purpose of the initiative (use Nine Whys or a more elaborate microstructure as needed). 1 to 6 hrs.
    • Describe in detail what happens when people use the current product, service, or approach that you wish to transform/improve. You may need to use a method like the Liberating Structure called Simple Ethnography to gather data for an accurate description of this current user experience. 6 hrs. to days or weeks.
    • Based on the users’ experience, assess how the current product, service, or approach succeeds and fails in achieving the stated purpose. 3 hrs. to days.
    • Reexamine and strengthen the purpose statement if needed. 1 to 6 hrs.
    • Reexamine and decide who needs to participate in the core design group and who needs to participate on the periphery to help with vetting or field testing. 1 to 3 hrs.
    • Brainstorm and outline alternative microstructures (both conventional and Liberating Structures) that help achieve the purpose. 3 hrs. to days.
    • Break up your outline into steps or chunks that can be designed and function independently (don’t try to put together a comprehensive design from the start). 1 to 6 hrs.
    • Determine a design for one step, selecting microstructures that are suited to achieving the purpose; choose one plus a backup. Repeat and continue with each step. 1 to 6 hrs.
    • Decide whether any testing or vetting of your design is feasible or desirable. Consider testing in waves and in different configurations. 1 to 6 hrs.
    • Implement the first step in a simulated or field setting. Continue testing in more extreme conditions.
    • Evaluate the first and then the subsequent steps of your design.
    • Repeat design cycle and refine the design for the next step, and so on…

    WHY? Purposes

    • Make a significant and enduring advance by breaking away from current reality
    • Provide enough time for new behaviors to take shape and spread, expanding what others believe is possible to accomplish
    • See additional Purposes under Design StoryBoards–Basic.

    Tips and Traps

    • Resist the urge for action and do not skimp on time spent designing the storyboard then assessing and adjusting it
    • Establish a core design team and keep the door open to others that want to join in
    • Don’t forget to include users!
    • Share the design widely
    • Remember that a design makes it possible to improvise as you go: if one element of your design is not achieving its purpose, go to your backup (or a backup of your backup)
    • Shoot for the moon with your feet firmly on the ground (i.e., anchored in user’s experience research)
    • Use icons and sketches to quickly develop shared understanding

    Riffs and Variations

    • In place of focus groups with users, invite the users to participate in designing a storyboard to improve their experience with a product or service
    • Find an illustrator or cartoonist to dramatize your work


    • For redesigning the exchange of information and responsibilities at shift change
    • For transforming from a product-centric to a customer-focused market strategy
    • For reforming how academic training prepares students for practice in the field
    • Read “Turning a Business Around” in Part Three: Stories from the Field. Alison Joslyn’s management team used Design StoryBoard to formulate strategy discussions and launch Liberating Structures “basic training” for product managers and sales reps.
    • See examples in Chapter 7, “From Strings to Storyboards”


    Attribution: Liberating Structure developed by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless.

    Source: Liberating Structures

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