by Gaia U MSc candidate, Tom Palmer

Re-post from

Life can be seen as a series of overlapping projects. These projects are all powerful learning experiences — however, when they are consciously approached as such the growth intensifies as does the quality of the work. Becoming an effective project designer and developer is to become an effective designer and developer of life itself. Here are 7 key edges to consider as you look to evolve your own processes:

1) Design Thinking

Adopting the mindset of a designer is about recognizing your ability to transform reality — to imagine something other than what is and put into motion the process of creation. With project work, you evolve your design skills through the use of design models and frameworks that guide activity. While these models vary, most follow a sequence of stages in which specific actions are carried out. One example is that of SADIM — Survey, Analysis, Design, Implementation, Maintenance.

Check out: Design Thinking… What is That?

2) Systems Thinking

Much of traditional education relies on linear thinking — subject does x to y, which results in z. Yet in the real world things are usually more complex. Cause and effect is not always so near or clear. Systems thinking entails seeing webs of relationships and making connections between elements. Projects can facilitate this as they often contain the dynamic complexity of real-world activity, encouraging you to see the big picture with an awareness of context. They can be framed as interventions within existing systems — promoting high-level cognitive processes and strategic thinking.

Check out: An Overview of Systems Thinking

3) Independent Research

Being able to effectively find the information we need and apply it to our work is one of the most useful skills we could possess in the modern world. In developing a project of any kind, research is almost always required. This is an edge that can be pushed by incorporating new tools and techniques (such as highlighting PDFs, creating mind maps, etc.), learning how to properly cite others’ work and evaluating resources critically.

Check out: 10 Tips for Smarter, More Efficient Internet Searching

4) Active Experimentation

Creating new knowledge is an active process — it is not about memorizing information. Learning through projects is extremely effective because it allows us to apply new information in our unique context to discover what works and what doesn’t. Failure is valued for the knowledge that it generates (as opposed to being feared), and project designers/developers are encouraged to push boundaries and to think outside the box.

Check out: The Top Rapid Prototyping Programs and Techniques for Designers

5) Cultivating Stakeholders

Projects typically involve multiple people, including those working to develop it as well as those who may interact with it or be affected by it in some way. All of these people could be considered stakeholders, and evolving the soft skills required to establish and nurture these relationships is a powerful edge. This involves networking, communication, following up on commitments (or renegotiating), and other inter/intrapersonal skills.

Check out: 7 Tips for Networking

6) Creating Feedback Loops

Feedback is what ultimately drives the learning process. Designing projects in a way that creates feedback loops and prepares the team to learn throughout the development process — to continually adapt and improve — is critical and empowering. Techniques such as prototyping, interviewing and creating experiments are often used to facilitate feedback in this way.

Check out: Designing Great Feedback Loops

7) Reflection

As a complex, active and interactive process, designing and developing a project can result in learning about many different things. Reflecting on the experience helps to synthesize the diverse insights that tend to emerge. Reflection is also an important component of knowledge building, helping to ground new information in experience and highlight the often nuanced lessons to be learned. A common technique is to carry out a reflective journaling process throughout the development process, as well as a more in-depth reflection at the end (or at the end of each stage).

Check out: Tips for Effective Reflection

While we have only briefly touched on each topic here, I hope reading this post has given you some incentive for digging in deeper to each of these powerful edges. Project development is, in essence, a learning process — organizing projects as learning experiences will help you grow holistically and better prepare you for an increasingly complex future.