Get the basics right first!

Development of management concept fads, 1950-2000 (cf. Pascale)

New buzzwords are dominating the design management discussion here and there, most recent in the design thinking debate. But are you sure which fashions are worth to follow? How do you decide in which issues you are going to invest time and money?

Certainly, other disciplines are facing the same challenge, e.g. a huge amount of new management concepts, tools and themes are published in business magazines, daily magazines and management books. Many researchers are focusing on the effectiveness and efficiency of management concepts, tools and techniques, but there is little knowledge about the emergence and durability of business economic issues.


One interesting research, the “evergreen project”, helps to understand where to look for the core trends of management.[3] Fifty leading researchers analysed 60.000 documents and condensed the research outcome to a 4+2 formula. Four central management disciplines are supplemented by two of four secondary management disciplines to have significant influence on the corporate success.

Translated into a design management context, you can check if you effectively support those corporate management issues. Get your basics of successful management right first, before buzzing off to new horizons.

The primary management disciplines are (Support all four!):

  1. Strategy
    Do you derive our design strategy from your corporate strategy? Do you define measurable design objectives? Do you make effective use of design capabilities to improve the quality of your business strategies? etc.
  2. Execution
    Do you apply a coherent design style across our entire portfolio of products? Do you have a clear process to bring design strategy into execution? Have you defined and communicated an efficient and effective design process? etc.
  3. Culture
    Have you aligned your vocabulary on design and innovation within the entire company? Do you foster a culture of creativity beyond your design department? etc.
  4. Structure
    Have you effectively positioned design in your company, in relation to other functions like marketing and engineering? Do you have clear defined roles and responsibilities for design and innovation? etc.

The secondary management disciplines are (Support at least two!):

  1. Talent
    Do you have clear career development paths for creative directors and design managers? Do you individually improve the competencies of our designers, both managerial as creatively? Do you have a good strategy and selection criteria to find and recruit the right designers and design managers? etc.
  2. Innovation
    Do you have an effective knowledge exchange between the front-end design team and your regular design teams? Do you get insights through the involvement of partners or customers while crafting your innovation strategy? Do you clearly relate your design strategy to your innovation strategies? etc.
  3. Leadership
    Do you effectively use design to boost your leadership position in the market? Do you employ a design vision in your company and know how to build one? etc.
  4. Fusion and partnership
    Do you effectively cooperate with suppliers in the area of design? Do you have the right amount of external design partners and continously increase the quality of cooperation? etc.

Design management still lacks a good body of comparable best practices in previous mentioned issues. Since challenges are very similiar across different industries, design managers should not be afraid to exchange their experiences and learn from other companies.

[1] A first attempt was done by Pascale [Pascale, R. (1990) “Managging at the edge.” p.19, New York], who researched on the development of management fads through an analysis of management themes in daily newspapers during 1950 and 2000.
[2] Zupanic, D.; Belz, C.; Biermann, P. (2004), p.3 & 9ff. “Trends und Moden in Management und Marketing” Thexis Fachbericht fuer Marketing: University St. Gallen
[3] The research was executed by Nohria/Joyce/Robertson [“Managementmethoden: Was wirklich funktioniert” In: Harvard Business Manager 2003] on 200 established management methods in 160 companies over a time period of ten years. It aimed to show which management trends do have significant impact on the company success.