Need a design taken from A to B or maybe A to Q? Going from A to B might take one skill set and from B to C, another. Do you know what Q through B looks like? Stuff that brain matter back in your ears and take a breath. Let’s review the ABCs of project management and see if you’ve got the chops to design with me.

Skilled Implementor

Skilled execution requires a clear input and a clear output. If the inputs, outputs, and processes are unambiguous, tasks can be outsourced. Sites like Fiverr and Upwork abound with talented and eager folks ready to tackle requests for less than you might expect. Try it, set aside $50 for a low-risk experiment. The question is though, are you sure your requirements and expectations look the same for every person from every angle? There are many tiers to conceptualizing an idea. From the broad concept level to the design minutia. The input shouldn’t be a general problem, idea, or even refined idea. This is a textbook mistake that concept owners and originators make when they don’t know the breakdown of tasks across the design and manufacturing process.

The input must be explicit, to minimize misinterpretation or miscommunication.  Every time information is exchanged from person to person there is a loss of fidelity. When the intent isn’t clear from the start, additional loss can result in situations of total communication breakdowns and work with little or no added value. Be thorough in transferring all the knowledge that might be needed. 

However, more information can be helpful but not a substitute for clear information. A “brain dump” when it is just a giant jumbled pile of disconnected thoughts, unfiltered and without context, may be an “unexplained lump” and cause a “constrain slump”. Garbage in, garbage out.

Take the example of mistaken expectations when a concept gets tasked out for the almighty “3D model”. What is the expectation of the model? An industrial design concept? A virtual prototype? A final concept? A model can be a realistic blueprint or untethered to reality and impossible to make. The untrained eye can’t tell the difference and the uninitiated entrepreneur doesn’t know there is a difference.

Ideators envision a version of their product in their mind’s eye. When I think about a product concept, I don’t see just a product. I envision the whole ecosystem required from industrial machines, tooling, assemblers, packaging and test facilities. The truth is that the originator’s vision isn’t a solution, just the beginning of identifying a need. Even if a functional prototype or patent exists, it’s just a validation of the need, not a solution. This is how a lack of understanding of what is required for skilled execution leads to slow execution.

Solution Creator

Great designers solve wicked problems. Wicked problems can be incomplete, contradictory, or a total stumper of a problem. Your problem is likely a wicked problem but you just don’t know it yet. You haven’t peeled back enough layers of the onion or found the Pandora’s box that will test your will and resolve.

We use a tool called “design thinking” to tackle wicked problems. Design thinking is a methodology and a mental muscle. It’s like the scientific method, but for every problem. The process is an ordered series of steps: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test, assess, and iterate.

Challenging problems can have such a large scope they seem to have no beginning or end. This is where the desire to start throwing things over the fence to skilled implementors comes from. But this undisciplined approach to solving problems is an exercise in flushing resources and kicking the proverbial can down the road. The design thinking approach allows you to partition the massive and unwieldy project into compartmentalized and manageable bits that can then be individually tackled and reassembled to tame the whole beast.

Design thinking isn’t a protected secret, it’s freely available to all. We use this muscle in everything we do, not only for the deliverable, from process improvement and prototyping to skill acquisition and communication; every area that can be understood better and, therefore, managed better. 

Some will view all of this as over analysis, engineering efficiency gone awry, and perfect being the enemy of good. Simply rebutted, unclear is the enemy of success. We advanced design thinking practitioners are able to take a loose framework as the input. We can glean a holistic approach to the problem you desire to solve and use finite resources to achieve outcomes that not only succeed but thrive in landscapes with a harsh reality of failure as the norm. 

Design thinking is process specific as opposed to output specific. Differing solutions will come from different people or even the same people at different times. The wisdom of all past experiences and one’s current worldview shape the individualistic understanding and approach. The “perfect solution” to a given problem is a myth, what is real is the variety of solutions and how drastically they can vary from better to worse. So, choose your problem solvers with care, based on track record and style. Go for the best you can get. Their design thinking stature will determine your business’ future.

Skilled Implementor + Solution Creator

When both are done under one roof or by one person, magic can happen. Behind any organizational dynasty is a legacy of talented people under a unifying strategy. What allows our favorite brands and studios to ceaselessly release hits and beloved products? Behind these dynasties are highly talented individuals under the umbrella of a cohesive empirically validated methodology. This talent/method combo is the (not-secret) secret sauce. The method facilitates the directional course. The talent can be used to create prototypes to help figure out the direction and then over deliver on it. There is an interplay, a dance between the two. The one firm approach boosts efficiency through shared design “language”, instant communication and prioritization setting. That’s the way to get from “Absolutely no clue” to the “Zone of design domination” and, frankly, anywhere in-between.


Dan Slaski is the Lead Renegade for Renegade Prototyping and your new secret weapon/best friend for design domination. A Virginia Tech Mechanical Engineer with a long list of credentials to accompany his years of industry experience in fields including the medical, robotics, and military sectors. He has designed assemblies with hundreds of unique parts and moving components that have gone high into the earth's atmosphere, deep below the oceans and everything in between. All of this has contributed to his vast portfolio of knowledge dealing with difficult engineering problems, and a wide repertoire of skills in prototyping, manufacturing, and sourcing. Yet he still finds a way to remain humble. If you have a project that demands success you need to get on his client list ASAP.