Work By Design
  • Planning ahead of time what it will take to achieve a desired outcome
  • Thinking through the priorities, resources, and methods necessary to achieve a specific result
  • Working smarter, not just harder, by leveraging knowledge, experience, team skills and available tools


Work By Design was previously defined as purposefully using what we have in order to do effectively what should be done. It refers to doing our work well by delivering the right level of service in a quality manner while making good use of our resources.

A key component to Work By Design involves working smarter, not just harder. It entails leveraging the knowledge, experience, and skills of others. It also means taking advantage of tools and other resources that have previously been developed. We all have limited resources and there are always new problems to solve. In many cases, there is no reason to duplicate others’ efforts or to invest time building solutions that already exist.

The challenge, though, is not agreeing with this principle. Almost everyone does. The challenge is putting it to practice. Why does it seem so hard at times to stop “reinventing the wheel” (i.e. re-solving already solved problems)? I think that one of the primary culprits for this phenomenon is the fact that circumstances rarely are identical. Something has always changed. Some fact, or feature, of the situation might be slightly different than the last time it was encountered. Being confronted with similar but different challenges can make it difficult to see how an existing solution can useful. To confront this tendency, I recommend the following:

Develop solution profiles. Identify your resources and the types of challenge they are well-equipped to address. When a challenge comes along, ask yourself what the solution might look like, and then check to see what you have that looks similar. For example, at Funds For Learning, our Specialist department is staffed with individuals who have a keen eye for data entry and cataloging information. This group originally focused their efforts on reviewing our clients’ invoices for E-rate discounts. However, we recognized that those same skills and tools could be used for other data-intensive projects, like entering school enrollment data.

Identify situation types. Although circumstances can vary, being able to classify theme into general categories can help a great deal. If I know the categories for the types of situations that I might face, then I can better plan how to deal with those types of challenges. As a personal example, if I have a clogged drain at home then I know it is a plumbing-related problem and I should either buy a liquid drain opener, or call a plumber. Either way, it wouldn’t be very effective for me to call an electrician or try and improvise some solution on my own. As simple as this concept may sound, it can be hard to put into practice.

Guard Against Proximity Bias. The closer that I am to a problem, and, perhaps, have even contributed to it, the easier it is for me to not seek out help or other perspectives. Sometimes this is the result of my own pride. Other times, it is because I don’t want to bother someone else, even though they may be far better suited than I am to handle a situation. I call this proximity bias and it occurs when I am so close to a problem that I am blind to outside answers or resources.


When we Work By Design, we strive not to reinvent the wheel; we guard against the tendency to duplicate efforts and create new resources needlessly; we begin to categorize the resources that we have and the types of challenges that we face; and, finally, we become more aware of our own proximity bias by stepping back and looking at circumstances from a more objective point of view.


Related reading: Stop Trying to Reinvent the Wheel, Businessweek, June 2, 2010

Key Words and Phrases

Skillful use of time and energy; Good use of resources with little waste; Produce desired result effectively; Work smarter, not just harder; Potent; Fruitful; Efficient; Productive

Opposite Terms

Wasteful; Ineffective; Unproductive; Ill-planned


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