Shallow thinking on projects can lead to disaster and extra work. Use of the Engineered Thinking techniques can transform your thinking and your results. Learn more

Lack of thinking

When you reflect, we are taught NOT to think at school. We are taught to listen, learn and repeat. If you ‘think outside the square’ in much of the education system you are marked down.

Learning has supplanted thinking.

In addition the time to think has been reduced by downsizing, ‘efficiency drives’, open plan offices, and the like. A person’s ability to step back, take time out and think an issue through has been largely eliminated.

But when you are doing projects, you need to step back and make the time to think things through, to challenge the status quo. So we need to learn how to think again, hence TOP’s extensive use of Engineered Thinking™ techniques.

Engineered Thinking™ equips management and staff to quickly move past their ‘top of mind’ ideas and think deeply—to delve into their Deep Smarts®, their non-conscious knowledge, so as to identify and define what they really need in clear, specific, measurable terms. This may sound obvious but is rarely done.

A major system replacement project had been underway for five years when we defined its desired business outcomes for the first time. The project team immediately took this list of outcomes and circulated it around the firm saying, in effect, “Hey folks, THIS is what we are delivering.” Several executives commented that this was the first time they had truly understood what the project was intending to deliver.

Pseudo thinking processes

The most common ‘thinking process’ used is brainstorming. I’m sure most of you have attended brainstorming workshops that are noisy but not necessarily productive. Firstly, few facilitators know how to run an effective brainstorming workshop, and secondly, what tends to come out of the workshop is a ragbag of ideas, comments, opinions and more of various qualities.

Engineered Thinking processes

By contrast, when you attend a ‘benefits identification’ workshop, these are usually run as a brainstorming session to answer a specific question—“What benefits can we expect from this project?” using the Benefits Funnel to prompt ideas. During the session a list of relevant and also the irrelevant benefits are generated, but whether or not they are complete is unknown at that stage after the workshop. That becomes clear next.

Well designed, Engineered Thinking techniques are used to translate a ragbag of ideas into a structured output.

Using the TOP Benefits Funnel™ process as an example, teams routinely identify two or more times the number and value of benefits because it is a structured thinking process. The teams progressively think-though for each identified desired business outcome in turn what customer, competitive, capability, productivity, financial and risk-reduction benefits will be generated.

By limiting the perspective to each outcome in turn the team’s thinking is focused. As each benefit has to be clearly deliverable by the outcome, this ensures each benefit identified is relevant and deliverable. (In too many business cases there are ‘benefits’ that will never be delivered by the project—this process avoids this.)

By focusing on each of the six types of benefits in turn also focuses the team’s thinking. “How will this benefit our customers?” Just focus on the customer benefits and don’t think of any other types of benefits at this time. Then focus on “How will this make us more competitive?” And so on.

Having a process makes ‘thinking’ simple.

But it does need to be the right process. Too often the processes used to 'think' and garner ideas are limiting and too narrowly focused. People-focused change identification processes tend to ignore all of the other changes that are required that make a real difference to the effectiveness of the change.

Do you have the right process for each thinking step in your delivery process? Poorly engineered thinking processes can be destroying your projects.

An example of a set of Engineered Thinking processes is the TOP Value Equation™

DOWNLOAD OUR BOOK Understanding the TOP Value Equation 

Topics: Productivity Improvement

Further Reading



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Revision History

First published: Simms, J. (Jul 2016) as "The Need For "Engineered Thinking™" Techniques"

Updated: Chapman, A. (March 2020), Revisions and Corrections