Business Thinking for Designers03
Develop your business perspective
Your business partners and youListen to Chapter
by Ryan Rumsey
Now that we’ve reviewed basic business fundamentals, this chapter will cover practical steps to get to know your business and business partners.
It’s fundamental to your design work to understand the models and strategies specific to your business and the people who use them. With your creative problem-solving processes you can:
- Visualize your business
- Anticipate the needs of your partners
- Analyze the effects of culture on decision-making
- Reflect on how you are or aren’t having an impact
Visualize your business model and strategy
To get a high-level idea of where your company plays and how it wins, there are two diagrams you can use: The Business Model Innovation Framework and the EcoSystem Map.
The Business Model Innovation Framework
Developed by Oliver Gassmann and his team at the University of St. Gallen, the Business Model Innovation Framework is a simple diagram to quickly capture a business model. The diagram makes the business model tangible and helps confirm some of the assumptions you might have about a business.
This diagram helps you answer four basic questions:
- Who are the target customers of your company?
- What does your company offer of value to those customers? (delivering value)
- How does your company produce the offer? (creating value)
- Why does that offer generate value for the company? (capturing value)
Perhaps you’re asking yourself why the word “value” is used rather than revenue in #4. While revenue is very important, many startups are initially focused on growth. These hyper-growth models are set up to create large customer bases and then find sustainable revenue models later. Value is specified in each of the answers to these four questions.
To create the diagram, draw a triangle and place a circle at each point and in the center. Each circle represents one of the questions above. (See Figure 3-1)
After drawing the diagram, the next step is to provide two to three answers per question. Start with the target customers, then the value provided, how it’s provided, and why it’s valuable to the company.
As an example, here’s a business model I created for the online payments processing company Stripe (Figure 3-2). Stripe targets organizations that want to accept online payments in a seamless and simple way. To reduce the complexity and time it takes to integrate these systems, Stripe provides a “seven lines of code” solution for accepting payments. Using the questions, I formed a quick hypothesis of the business model I’d be willing to put in front of my business partners.
The EcoSystem Map
Now that you have a representation of the business model, the other diagramming tool depicts how the model works. Called an EcoSystem Map, this tool shows all the actors involved in a business and the flow of value between them. Think of it as a flow chart of the transactions between a business and its suppliers or customers. (“We give you X and in return you give us Y.”)
The EcoSystem Map is my favorite way to quickly understand how the business model works. As a visualization, it has several advantages:
- It maps the big picture.
- It guides discussions with business partners.
- It’s quick to develop and cheap to iterate.
I use the EcoSystem Map with business partners so they know that I understand the business model at hand. I’ve also found that these types of visualizations are something business partners always wanted, but never knew to ask for. It helps identify parts of the model that might not be working well.
Here’s an EcoSystem Map for our example, H&R Block. Even with just a simple understanding of the business model, we can gain a new perspective by quickly drawing out the flow of value.
Anticipate your colleagues’ behaviors
As mentioned in Chapter 1, I’m most comfortable in my work when I can anticipate the needs of others. When I couldn’t anticipate what my business partners would do, I began to look for patterns in their behavior.
Sometimes, data was used to make decisions. Other times, the most senior person in the room would just say what they wanted and everyone would scramble. I noticed rules of business would change from room to room, and in order to influence change, I had to take a new approach.
Changing human behavior is hard. B.J. Fogg, a behavior scientist, author, and founder and director of the Stanford Behavior Design Lab, is one of the leading behavior change experts in academia. He’s worked with startups around the world to develop new strategies for behavior change, using his Fogg Behavior Model (FBM).
Behavior (B) happens when Motivation (M), Ability (A), and a Prompt (P) come together at the same moment.
Behavior (B) happens when Motivation (M), Ability (A), and a Prompt (P) come together at the same moment.
Simply put, the FBM states that any behavior will only happen when three elements converge at the same moment in time. These are the three elements:
- Motivation: A person is sufficiently inspired to engage in a behavior.
- Ability: A person is capable of performing that behavior.
- Prompt: A person is cued, triggered, called to act, or requested at the right time.
As I began looking for patterns in behavior, I realized I didn’t know what motivated my colleagues. I didn’t know what skills they were capable of performing, what they paid attention to, or how they were responding to my cues. To better anticipate the behavior of my colleagues, I had to get to know them better.
Start with empathy
Trust is a foundational element of any good relationship. Whether you’re new to a role or have challenges with an existing work partnership, it’s natural to want to jump in and start “fixing” things right away. But don’t rush to act. Instead, spend some time building understanding and trust.
To do this, you need the answers to two basic questions: “Who are you working with?” and “What are they trying to achieve?”
Empathy Maps are a great visualization tool to quickly capture “good enough” answers to these two questions. The exercise helps you to understand partners in a new way so you can empathize with their perspectives.
You may already be familiar with the Empathy Map, which was originally developed by XPLANE. Traditionally used as a quick way to develop empathy for customers, the maps are now used by business teams around the world to improve cross-functional partnerships. Since it was released, the tool has undergone many iterations by different users. But my favorite is the 2017 version from the XPLANE team.
As an exercise, the Empathy Map first walks through a step-by-step process to identify a specific person and their goal, and then views the work ahead through their eyes. Doing so gives designers a better understanding of what business partners really think and feel about design work, processes, and approaches.
Best done as a team activity, the diagram is structured around seven basic questions:
- WHO are we empathizing with?
- What do they need to DO?
- What do they SEE?
- What do they SAY?
- What do they DO?
- What do they HEAR?
- What do they THINK and FEEL?
A team can put as much fidelity into the exercise as they want, but 20 minutes should be enough time to develop a rough profile. Answering these basic questions provides three benefits:
- You clarify the intended goals a partner is looking to achieve.
- You identify what your colleagues are on the hook for, how that makes them think and feel, and how those responsibilities influence what they say and do.
- You realize that our partners are not anti-design, but have different perspectives and ways of working.
Once the exercise has been completed, it’s important for the team to be able to summarize the insights in a clear and concise way. Insight Statements are helpful to highlight new key findings.
Insight Statements allow you to synthesize and frame the information from the Empathy Map into a simple overview. They provide a quick view into what you’ve learned by empathizing with your partner(s). Here’s an example of how to quickly build an Insight Statement.
Something new or novel I learned about [Partner name] was _______.
This knowledge helps validate/invalidate my assumption about _______ .
_______ is a pressing question [Partner name] has that I can now provide an answer for.
_______ is a plausible thing the design team could/should do moving forward to help [Partner name].
There is an opportunity here for us to _______ together.
Once Insight Statements are formed, you have the basis to ask yourself how you might become a better collaborator and partner. You’re now ready to take on business culture.
A Great Team Activity
Empathy Maps and Insight Statements are great team-based activities. Set aside a two-hour block with your teammates, grab some Sharpies and Stickies, and develop ideas together.
Map the business culture
There’s another side of business that’s much more complex than the model or strategy but equally important to understand. It’s how business gets done.
Executive stakeholders have the power to say “yes” or “no,” and it’s up to us to figure out ways to win them over. When there’s a lack of clarity around decision-making, designers are likely to feel frustrated. Conversely, when designers better understand how those leaders make decisions, they feel more engaged and have more trust for their teammates.
In either scenario, designers need pragmatic approaches to map these cultures of decision-making. My favorite tools for the job:
- Team Mapping Tool
- Stakeholder Analysis
- Force Field Analysis
These tools give designers the means to quickly visualize culture in a workplace—from stylistic preferences of decision-making to mapping organizational power dynamics and willingness to change. The tools effectively find gaps in communication to identify advocates and detractors of design and form a strategy for whom to partner with and when.
The Team Mapping Tool
Time and time again, culture trumps strategy. What sounds like a simple and straightforward plan quickly evolves into different expectations of what the design should be. What works for one stakeholder is not working for another, and people in the room seem to be speaking past each other rather than listening.
These are not great conditions to make quality business decisions and it’s not the time to try and address the misalignment. While strategy can be captured, culture is much more difficult to pin down. Next time, try a different type of preparation.
In her book The Culture Map, Erin Meyer introduces a visual diagramming tool called the Team Mapping Tool to help teammates better understand the cognitive, behavioral, and relational differences between one another. As a professor at INSEAD, a top international business school in Paris, Meyer developed this tool for organizations as a way to decode cultural differences so teams could better work together.
The tool includes a total of eight cultural dimensions with ranges of differences for each. As a quick workshop activity, this tool helps design teams understand how their preferred methods and styles of communication, decision-making, persuasion, etc. may be different than their cross-functional partners. The basic process of mapping out these cultural differences is as follows:
- Identify stakeholders.
- Use Post-its to plot the observed styles of each across the eight dimensions.
- Draw a simplified culture line to connect dimensional differences.
By taking a little time up front to understand differing cultural styles of stakeholders, you can speak directly to their comfort zones. Your colleagues will appreciate your understanding.
Reverse Engineer What Works
If your colleagues are successful at getting stakeholders to make tough decisions, ask them for their presentation documents. Rather than reinvent the wheel, reverse engineer what has worked previously.
Designers need to create, deliver, and capture value for colleagues. But introducing new cultures of design and modern development practices can be hard, especially when your company has done things a certain way for a long time. While your ultimate goal may be to help transform a company into one that’s customer-led, it’s important to pick and choose your partners strategically along the way. You need to find your allies.
Stakeholder Analysis is a great way to select strategic partners. Utilizing a two-by-two grid, you can quickly map who has power/influence in your workplace and who is willing to experiment with new ways of working. As you may have guessed, this is called a Stakeholder Map.
In my adapted version of the Stakeholder Map (Figure 3-7) the purpose of this plot is two-fold: 1) To understand stakeholders who will advocate for design when designers aren’t in the room, and 2) To find “less visible” projects to work on to build case studies of success. The grid is divided into four sections:
- Champions: influential partners who can help drive scalable adoption of design
- Challengers: influential partners who may be skeptical of design
- Sidekicks: partners willing to experiment with something new and willing to forgive if the experiment doesn’t go as planned
- Say-nos: partners to politely de-prioritize
While it’s logical to try and work closely with Champions first, it’s better to try new things with Sidekicks. Champions drive organizational change, but they tend to be more risk-averse to making organizational changes without seeing evidence that those changes will be successful. Sidekicks will help you build those case studies of change, and if things don’t go as well as expected, they won’t be so influential as to prevent change in the future.
Designers, you are a force of change and not all partners are ready for that change. In some cases, they are quite resistant. For change to happen, the status quo will be disrupted either when conditions favorable to the change are present, or when forces resisting the change are reduced.
Being able to visualize problems gives you a leg up in understanding the whole problem. Force-field Analysis is a great visualization tool used to evaluate when the conditions are ripe for change. It’s a rapid way of examining the forces both for and against a change. This helps determine whether or not teams should move ahead (with confidence) with the proposed change.
The following questions may help you identify forces that will influence the change:
- What benefit will the change deliver to your partners?
- Who supports the change? Who is against it? Why?
- Do you have the resources to make the change work?
- What costs and risks are involved?
- What business processes will be affected?
You can combine the three tools from this chapter on a semi-regular basis to help you better understand your workplace culture and when the right conditions are in place for changing how things get done. They’ve served me and my teams well over the years.
By visualizing cultural differences, stakeholder interest, and the forces both for and against change, designers can quickly identify gaps in the value they provide to partners and how they provide it. With gaps identified, you can then conduct a retrospection of how designers provide value to their colleagues.
Atlassian’s Team Health Monitors are fantastic, step-by-step guides to help teams assess themselves across eight different attributes. They identify when there’s a problem with how design teams create, deliver, and capture value for the business and its business partners.
When to Reflect
Conduct reflections on a quarterly basis. This will allow enough time to discover new patterns, while ensuring too much time hasn’t passed to build on past discoveries.
As you begin to understand the models and strategies used by the people you work with, you’ll become a better partner and a more influential designer. Using visualization skills will help you and your team quickly understand the business around you. This additional context fills in gaps to the design story at your company.
The next chapter demonstrates how to establish the right conditions for maturing design in your organization. By including a business perspective in your work, you gain a more comprehensive view of what success looks like. This view will push designers and their partners to be more rigorous in the decision-making process.