Elevate Blueprinting Success in Step 1
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Imagine that two paths are before you. Or even worse, 20 paths. Some lead to success beyond your imagination. But others just return back to the starting position. A disappointing result and time wasted.
This is your situation as you begin Blueprinting’s Step 1. We could be well on the way to a project capable of delivering profits, revenues, growth…good things like these. Or we may find ourselves back where we started. Oh sure, maybe we learned a few things along the way – but not enough for a commercial win. And that’s just not enough.
Let’s think about how we can ensure that we select a highly profitable path. But first, what do we actually do in Step 1?
What do we actually do in Step 1?
We select two components: the what and the who. We select what we want to help a customer accomplish and then who those customers are. Consider this example from our workshop: Business travelers using taxi services. “Using taxi services” is the what. This will become the topic of discussion with customers during Discovery Interviews. Our questions will be variations on, “What problems do you have when using taxi services?” Then there’s the who. Unfortunately, this has nothing to do with Pete Townsend or Roger Daltrey. This refers to who are we seeking to create value for? In this case, it’s “Business travelers”. This is who we’re going to interview.
With this path, we not only chose a market but our selection means that we also excluded part of the market. We excluded other transportation modes when we picked “using taxi services” as opposed to something broader like “take a business trip”. We chose business travelers thus excluding vacationers. A consequence of our selection is that the scope has become narrower.
We select what we want to help a customer accomplish and then who those customers are.
For most teams, scoping is difficult. If a team goes very broad, they reduce the likelihood of missing any customer needs – which is good. And further they also get a purer sense of the customer’s ultimate objectives – independent of technical constraints. More good things. But with breadth, they also must accept the risk that their findings may not be actionable due to poor fit with firm capabilities or strategy. Of course, a team can also go too narrow. In which case, they guarantee that they can act on what they learn – but they may not find anything new or overly meaningful.
If conflicted about the scope, the general Blueprinting recommendation is to err on the side of more breadth and use the insights from the first few interviews to tighten the boundaries. This is similar to the marketing research tactic known as the “exploratory study”. The goal of an exploratory project is not to prioritize customer outcomes for innovation, but rather, to learn the “unknown unknowns” and develop hypotheses for later projects.
If we get the breadth right, we’re off to a good start.
Let’s look at some other best practices for executing Step 1:
1. Define the boundaries
Regardless of how broad or narrow, don’t leave this to interpretation or to chance. Make it clear as to what’s in, what’s out – and also who’s in and who’s out.
2. Within what’s in…seek diversity
As Blueprinting pros, diversity across our sample helps us to finish a project faster because we can get more insights from fewer interviews. For the business traveler project, maybe we’d seek a mix of large and small companies, for example. You might consider what else might variation in responses and resolve to expand your investigation accordingly. In this example, we might seek a mix of geographies, language abilities, nature of business trips, firmographics, demographics, etc. But for your project, what variables could drive diverse responses? Think about what these are – and be purposeful in getting that proper mix
3. Schedule enough time
It’s not going to happen in a one-hour meeting. Allow plenty of time over a series of days or weeks to get the scope right. Otherwise, the group will converge too quickly and make a hasty decision. You’re going to spend quite a few weeks executing the project. A few days to ensure that you have a great scope is a small price to pay.
Is Blueprinting a new process at your company? And if so, are you in a “change management” role to increase adoption? In this case, it might be tempting to expedite Step 1 in an attempt to just get the project done faster. But a little patience will pay off here. Nothing will be as effective at getting corporate buy-in than a wildly successful new initiative – born from the insights of a Blueprinting project
4. Produce a scope that’s in sync with the strategic plan
Every strategic plan has an aspirational element to it. There’s a market we’d like to enter. One in which we could leverage our technologies or distribution network. Perhaps a natural adjacency that our executives are interested in. All of these aspirations have inherent risks. Risks that grow with each step away from the core business. Blueprinting is the perfect vehicle to transform these wishes into reality. And so, let’s not miss the opportunity to align the project with corporate ambitions
5. Ensure that key stakeholders are onboard and involved with the decision
I knew a Blueprinting team that did a tremendous amount of work on their project. They did all the interviews. They analyzed the data. They hired an outside firm to facilitate idea generation. They even retained an industrial designer to bring their concepts to life in the form of beautiful 3D images. This team was on track to produce a business plan worthy of display in an art museum. They were confident in what they learned, enthusiastic about their ideas, and excited about what this could mean to the company. It was at this point that upper management informed them that the market they were pursuing was too small to be of interest. A disappointing revelation and a late one at that.
Is executing Step 1 difficult?
No. It just happens to be incredibly important. The seeds of success (or something less than success) are sown there. A team that takes the time should have no difficulties selecting a project with the proper breadth, appropriately linked to strategy, and with suitable stakeholder buy-in.
Originally published in Take AIM newsletter, August 2017.