How Much Does It Cost? The Importance of Process Design

Posted by Matthew Thomas

Usually very early on in a conversation with a prospective client, I hear one of two interrelated questions: "How much is this going to cost?" and/or "How long is this going to take?" 

These are very valid, and very important questions in any work we do. We certainly want to acquit ourselves well in efficiency of both time and expense. However, in many cases, these questions are very difficult to answer up front. In organizational design, the real answers to those questions are as much dependent on the client - their complexity, their goals, the speed at which decisions are made, the "institutional will," and so on - as they are dependent on the skill, expertise, or quality of the consultant

matthew-thomas-2How, then, do we go about answering those questions?  

For basic engagements, we work through a series of questions, ones that may be familiar from school essay-writing:

  • Why (Why this work? Why us?)?
  • Who is involved (who supervises, who funds, who signs off, who approves, who must be consulted along the way)?
  • What detailed outcomes or deliverables do we expect?
  • Where is the work to be done?
  • When does the work need to take place?
  • How shall we proceed?

Once we work through those, answering the cost and time questions is a lot easier. We find that working from clear objectives in this manner helps bring clarity to the client's situation even from before the work begins. 

Many times, though, the full nature of the work required to solve the problem is still not clear even after asking all those clarifying questions. The reason is, typically, that the client still is operating with some unknowns, and does not have key pieces of information to give to the consultant that would help specify what is needed. In those cases, we have two options: either work from our educated best guess as to what we think it will take (which may or may not have enough information to be accurate in the first place), or design a process whereby the missing information may be obtained, within an assessment and discovery process, all of which points toward a clear way of moving forward, reflected by clearer answers to our six questions.  

This process design allows everyone involved to take a step back, lower the heat a bit, and create a way forward that is the most timely and cost-effective given the nature of the problem and its solution. With truly complex situations, everyone understands that working toward solving one problem may surface other related, but as-yet unaddressed problems. 

Design Group International helps organizations and their leaders transform for a vibrant future. We are committed to doing just that, from the earliest stages of conversation to the completed work. We have found that using this method helps increase client satisfaction and helps our consultants really provide the help we desire to offer. 

If you're reading this, and thinking, "I think this process approach might really help a situation I'm in," then I invite you to click the button below to begin a process conversation with us. 

It begins with design.


If you're reading this, and thinking, "This approach to problem-solving and organizational design really fits me; I'd like to see what it might take to link up with Design Group International to build my practice," then I invite you to click the button below to begin a conversation about whether Design Group International might be a consulting home for you. 

I think Design Group International might be for me. Let's talk!

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Topics: process design, Matthew Thomas, organizational design

Organizational Development: When Cutting Expenses isn't the Solution

Posted by Matthew Thomas


When Cutting Expenses Isn’t the Solution

Deficits: at a certain point, cutting expenses isn’t the solution. Cutting expenses to meet income while maintaining the same organizational structure and model for staffing, programs and buildings will cause the organizational mission to be compromised after a certain amount of cuts. Moreover, the organizational stress of “death by a thousand cuts” will strain all aspects of organizational life, as people begin to ask, “Who is next?” It just ends up smelling of death.

matthew thomas, cost-cutting, design group internationalSo what to do? Wise, fiscally prudent leaders know that deficits can’t last forever. In organizations with net worth rather than net debt, the strategic use of assets will create the space to make the changes necessary to get finances back on track.

That strategic asset use could include:

  • A Donor Capacity and/or Constituency Assessment to see what additional funds may be available to the organization. If you don’t know to ask, it’s less likely you will receive. It just may require you to ask people you never thought to ask in ways you never thought to ask for things you never thought to ask for.
  • Development of a new organizational model with different governance, staffing, and program structures and different facility needs.
  • Developing and nurturing partnerships with like-minded organizations for shared work in common causes.
  • Developing a for-profit wing of the organization that takes the organization’s expertise and passion and uses it to fund the organization through the sale of products and services.

All of these approaches are adaptive in nature and require innovative thinking – but base results in how an organization can begin to thrive and grow rather than preserve what it has.

-Matthew Thomas

matthew thomas, design group international

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Topics: process design, process consulting, nonprofit leadership, organizational development consulting, Matthew Thomas, Design Group International

Use of Restricted Reserves

Posted by Matthew Thomas


Use of Restricted Reserves

Organizations often come to me in fiscal difficulty with the need to spend some of their reserves in order to deal with budget deficits or shortfalls. In many cases, these organizations have both unrestricted reserves and restricted reserves – money that can only be spent under certain conditions. In most cases, the restrictions on the funds are designed for the organization to use the funds for a certain purpose that is a subset or portion of the organization’s larger purpose and goals.

In these cases, innovative organizations do their best to use their restricted funds first: this way, they have fulfilled the obligations on the money up front, within its intended purpose, leaving the organization with more of its unrestricted money for future use – either to be expended more generally if the crisis deepens, or to be used as seed funds for innovation, outreach, research and development. This gives greater flexibility and room to maneuver in the long term.

restricted reserve, design group internationalNon-innovative organizations tend to use their restricted funds last: thus ensuring that certain endowed programs will be maintained long into the future, even at the expense of new, creative or innovative programs and/or services, or, even more likely, at the expense of the organization’s greater purpose and even its health. This approach gives dramatically less flexibility and reduces potential stability in the long term, even though it looks (from some angles, at least) as the most stable approach.

Deficits can come from a variety of different factors, not the least of which is a long-term crisis of vision. Nevertheless, even in a fiscal crisis brought on by lack of vision, an organization can choose innovation over stagnation by using its restricted reserves proactively, thus creating space for the renewal of vision and development of new programs, products and services that fulfill the greater purpose of the organization.

-Matthew M. Thomas

Matthew Thomas, Design Group International

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Topics: process design, process consulting, Matthew Thomas, Organizational Development. effective nonprofit ma, Design Group International