We recently did a keynote talk at DesignOps 2019 about the 6 principles of the N2D Method®. We’ve written about some of these principles before, but I thought I would split them into two short articles as some inspiration for people thinking about how to focus their own projects and initiatives. Here goes…

First Principles

(it’s also the first of the six principles)

In order to work out what sort of things you might go about prioritising, you need to have some basic understanding of what you are trying to achieve. We break this down into some core beliefs.

  1. All organisations are designed to serve people, otherwise the organisation ceases to be of any use, really. An organisation usually makes or supplies something that other people want, or provides a service other people need. They also serve the needs of people who they might operate on behalf of. These people can come in all flavours: customers, talented specialists in their teams, shareholders, partners, beneficiaries or people they need to influence like media, the list goes on.
  2. All organisations are trying to achieve something. No matter how self-serving or altruistic these objectives are, they exist. The organisation has a reason for being and a set of outcomes (that can change over time) that they want or expect from pursuing their business practices.

Mutual Benefit

Understanding BOTH the people and the objectives are critical to working out what might have most impact. Otherwise initiatives will fail at either the ‘customer’ side (as and inelegant short hand for ‘the people’) or the business side. They will serve one much better than the other.

In our work, we often see organisations and teams banging their heads against a brick wall when things aren’t working. They can’t work out why. All of the organisation’s ‘strategic pillars’ have been covered. All of the business objectives look like they should be being met by the current plans. Using the Method, we uncover that at the heart of the problem, initiatives, programmes and ideas are serving the organisation well, but the needs of the people have been overlooked.

The antithesis of this is the organisation that has gone head-over-heels for customer-centricity. They go out of their way and invest tens of thousands serving the needs of the customer without consideration of which of the customer needs actually has mutual benefit to them. What is the value of serving each need to their organisation?


The final principle in Part One is the (sometimes hard to accept) fact that not everything is as important as everything else. Clearly, in prioritisation this is an critical principle.

We take this principle seriously in the N2D Method. Quantifying the relative importance of objectives, people and their needs is crucial to the success of the process. The saying “if everything is urgent, nothing really is” is a useful thing to have in mind.

Your objectives are most likely not all as important as each other. Imagine you have 100 points to spend across your 3 top objectives. If you say they are all important I might say “OK. We’ll give each one 33 points (yes, I know there would be an extra 1 spare, but go with me on this)”. Then you’d be likely tell me that this was wrong – one should have 50, maybe 30, maybe 20. I know this happens, I see it every week. Outcomes and objectives have unequal importance – being clear on this helps a lot.

Hate to say it, but the people aren’t all as important as each other either. Some groups will clearly be more important than others.  This is one of the hardest concepts for groups to accept, but it happens without being explicit all of the time. Re-structures, allocating training budgets, marketing spend, investing in systems and processes, they all require someone to work out who is most important and to de-prioritise the needs of others.

Finally, not everything you do is AS important to all of the people you serve. Many groups might share a common task or need – for example, to book a table for a restaurant online – but it’s not that IMPORTANT to every group. For some it’s critical and they would barely visit without it. For some it’s a nice to have that they can frankly live without. These groups are just as happy to call or pop in, or just turn up and see what happens. Identifying the most important needs of the important people will help to narrow how you spend your money, time and energy.

That’s all for now folks. So for Part One, three things to think about:

  1. What are the outcomes you want and who are the people you serve?
  2. Where are the areas of mutual benefit?
  3. What’s the relative importance of each thing you need to consider?

Part Two covers: Evidence Beats Opinion; Big questions are made up of small questions, and, Reducing Subjectivity.

If you want to know more about how these principles feed into the N2D Method and how it can help you to focus on things that will have impact, you can read up on it here.

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