in Business Design

Business design example: opening up the process

I’ve heard some skepticism towards business design, which is healthy and quite justified given that no one has shown concrete examples of it yet. One reason for this is that examples are difficult to describe; the application of design thinking to business situations is highly contextual and — as the name states — has much to do with how people think.

I recently encountered a situation where I thought design thinking could improve a problem-solving process. It’s small and simple, but often difficult to put into practice because it challenges the way organizations work.

Let’s say a mail order company’s Customer Service group reports that an usually high number of products are being returned. Someone in management might request some data and generate a hypothesis about what is happening. Then they might come up with an idea for fixing it and implement the idea. Or, maybe two good ideas are analyzed and the better one is implemented, thusly:

Another way to process this problem is to consciously inject elements of design thinking into it. Starting with the data, the manager could collaborate with a partner or a team and use creativity techniques to abductively generate several hypotheses for what is causing the unusually high number of product returns. They could then run an experiment and test the best hypotheses with customers to understand the unique and personal issues behind the problem. With both quantitative and qualitative information in hand, the team starts to integrate this information and interpret it while creatively generating a number of possible solutions. The solutions are analyzed for potential and tested with customers, and the best one is launched.

The second approach is unquestionably more work, but strives to find a better answer with less risk. Remaining agile is all in the execution.

This isn’t new or radical thinking, it’s just new and radical for organizations whose cultures are suffering and need to change.

  1. Hi Victor

    I agree with you – the second approach is what is needed. Too many companies are too introverted and a shift in management style is necessary when moving forward to be a more competitive player in the marketplace of tomorrow – TODAY!

    But it’s not only about top-management. As I see it its also about personal leadership in each and every individual. If you are too closed in you mindset, in the approach of finding solutions you’ll get the wrong answers.

    So, your right when saying that there are major culture challenges in companies, but it comes down to the individual.

    All the best
    Hans Henrik

  2. I think that there IS something radical here. I am intrigued by the use of the word “Agile” in your last two posts. I have managed Scrum and XP software teams in the past, and have found Agile processes to be extremely effective ASSUMING that the organization as a whole is ready to accept the cultural shift.

    Once a team begins to implement agile processes, their customer focus and user-centeredness seems to shift into high gear. Quick implementations, fast feedback, and the constant re-interpretation of results enables such teams to respond to customers and frustrate competitors.

    I like the idea that remaining agile “is all in the execution,” but I think that it falls short of true agility. I believe that true agility must also incorporate “designing for change,” being ready for higher risk/uncertain elements of your business to be quickly changed to respond to customer needs. In this scenario, this would imply more followup with the customer than you state above. In Scrum, for example, customers are encouraged take part in the constant re-analysis and prioritization of requirements (though they are encouraged to stay OUT of the design and execution phases).

    Of course, bringing the customer into the process must also be balanced against the unfortunate phenomenon described by Christiansen — customers usually want more of the same for less money, whereas disruptive technologies tend to initially require exactly the opposite. This is a potential breakdown in the conflation of Agile Development processes and Business Design.

    As you state, this approach is radical for companies whose cultures are suffering — leadership is crucial here in encouraging the rest of the company to integrate the results of Agile processes into their own work. How does, say, a managerial accountant change their own processes to react to the changes generated by R&D or Customer Service?

    As far as examples of Business Design are concerned, software teams tend to embrace many of the ideals that you posit as being central to Business Design. Perhaps a look into these kinds of teams would yield some positive examples?

    This is a great thought experiment — but (as you imply) it sure would be nice to get some real data points.

Comments are closed.