Embodiment and Iteration in Work Process: Listening, Learning, Leading and Following

"Our culture is one of learning, sharing and challenging. Of analysis and inquiry. Of seeking spaces of discomfort, and challenging the norm." - Jess Knott

By Jess Knott, Learning Design Manager

I am often asked to explain the Hub to people at MSU and beyond. I love when this happens. In sharing, we build connections, and in building connections we build a Hub. Every conversation is an opportunity to collaborate, either immediately or on future endeavors. As our focus is on functions rather than structures – meaning, what functions are needed within the MSU community to facilitate the transformation of teaching, learning, and institutional practice – we strive for a brainstorming and planning culture that focuses on accountability while embracing creativity and catalyzing change. Put another way, we look to engage in verbs instead of create nouns. Process is an action to us, not a product. Process is a practice. Process is a way of being. And process is constantly evolving. For us, the full adoption of standard project management processes is not always effective in helping structure and guide the projects in our portfolio and collaborations which are fast-paced, fluid, iterative, and lived.


To combine  this function-versus-structure philosophy with resource management, we have developed a process that draws from a number of project management practices like  Agile, waterfall, and lean.. Early on in the development of the Hub, we shared a post about our project boards and how they worked. Later, we discussed the Hub stand-up meetings and process.Those posts aren’t old,  but the content within them is. By that I mean that Hub processes and practices are in a constant state of reflection, iteration, and improvement. Sometimes we realize that the things we’re doing are only being done because a publication or “best practice” told us to do them. When we make these discoveries, we see valuable opportunities to reflect and improve.


First, we performed focus groups, asking Hub workers and project partners about the Hub’s process and how they understood it. From this data we were able to make some immediate changes while digging more deeply into the complex questions revealed via conversation with these focus groups. As a part of our analysis and inquiry, we had the opportunity to collaborate with a talented team from KPMG. They were a valuable external voice, helping us consider our processes and practices through an entirely new lens, and via a series of design exercises intended to clarify intent, gather perspectives, and challenge how we understand what we do and why. Here are some things we learned:

  • We had all the right tools and were using them – but we needed to focus more on practices and intentionality than on the tools and artifacts facilitating them.
  • As living documents and communication tools, project charters can be tricky. Really tricky. For each project, we write charters that map out and scope the work of the project and garner agreement amongst stakeholders as to what will be done. To get them right and keep them updated and useful takes practice, planning, and intentionality.
  • While we had a culture of planning and practices that reinforced that culture, we struggled to make that planning culture as visible and transparent as we wanted it to be.
  • The practice of reflection is important throughout the entire project, not simply at its conclusion. Further, it’s important to make this reflection visible so we can not only identify changes and additional learning needs, but also share that learning with others and invite feedback.

"Our culture is one of learning, sharing and challenging. Of analysis and inquiry. Of seeking spaces of discomfort, and challenging the norm." - Jess Knott

Since the stand-up post was written in March 2017, and as a result of the reflections KPMG helped facilitate, we have made some updates to our processes and practices, listed below. Click the links to make a copy of the documents mentioned (using a Google account):

  • A monthly journal club where we read, share, discuss, and analyze articles related to the work of MSU and discuss our possible roles in furthering that work
  • A heightened focus on internal and external professional development featuring a series of workshops on the topics of giving feedback, communication in both conversation and writing, and cutting edge learning design methods and models
  • A list of standard project roles that accompanies each project. What roles are needed? What is each role responsible for within the scope of the project? Who is responsible for each role?
  • An updated weekly reporting slide that focuses on not only tasks, but also reflection, needs, and celebration
  • A guiding template for weekly project meetings that asks meaningful questions about the previous week’s work, while facilitating planning for the next week
Weekly Report template with categories: recently accomplished tasks; new tasks added; huzzah; help/resources needed; and reflection pieces about what went well, what didn't go well, and how we'll use what we learned this coming week.

The updated project reporting template.

We’re currently assessing how our recent changes work to close some of the gaps we perceived early on such as opaque planning practices and fewer reflective opportunities, and are identifying the next steps we may wish to take in refining this work. Our culture is one of learning, sharing and challenging. Of analysis and inquiry. Of seeking spaces of discomfort, and challenging the norm.