Design is a plan to make something. But there is no need to re-invent your plan for every project. That’s where frameworks come in. Developers will be familiar with the term framework. In software development frameworks are chunks of pre-built code used to handle common functions in an easily repeatable way. The design and strategy frameworks I describe below are somewhat similar, you can use them to quickly get your head around common problems, make a plan, or a key business decision.
Business Model Canvas / Lean Canvas
The Business Model Canvas was originally proposed by Alexander Osterwalder in 2008 and later appeared in his book Business Model Generation. The BMC is a really simple way to describe key aspects of a business on one page. The format makes it easy to consider different structures for a business: adjusting single blocks in the 9 block diagram you quickly see the pros and cons to many decisions. One variations of the Business Model Canvas I like is the Lean Canvas which was created by Ash Maruya for his book Running Lean. Maruya’s version of the canvas is more suited to startups and early stage companies. I find BMC is better when looking for innovation opportunities within an established company.
Service blueprints are a simple tool to map out all the touchpoints that come together to create your customer experience. Touchpoints could include things like, a printed advertisement, a business card, a storefront, a catalog, a receptionist on the phone, an employee talking to someone in a store. a social media profile, a news article about you, or a customer review on Yelp –basically any place a person can learn about or experience some aspect of your company.
Using a service blueprint, you can consider how your touchpoints are designed and sequenced, creating the best possible experience for your customer and your staff. It’s amazing to me how many huge profitable companies have crappy experiences when you start to map them out. It’s common to find annoying interactions turning away customers, and awkward operations wasting staff time. When you look at the complete experience of a business with an eye for simplification and reduction, you quickly find ways to save money and delight customers at the same time.
The service blueprint was first proposed by Lynn Shostack in her prescient article for Harvard Business Review, Designing Services That Deliver. More than 30 years later, her ideas are more valuable than ever. In the article Shostack uses a shoeshine business to illustrate the concept, mapping out the business and showing how a blueprint can reveal opportunities for innovation and optimization. Services and the way we experience them are changing rapidly with the technology that supports them. With the extreme complexity that pervades modern life, this sort of mapping is essential for any business, physical or digital that wants to delight (not piss off) their customers.
As mundane as it is, we have a whole class of people on a mission not to achieve world peace, or equality, but to erase all annoying things from their lives. These people are flocking to companies like Amazon, Uber, Apple, TaskRabbit, Instacart, Rinse, and Grubhub. They do anything they can to do as little as possible while getting what they want. If you want to capture this market, you need to make your business less annoying –service blueprints can do that.
The Four Actions Framework
This is from Blue Ocean Strategy which is all about succeeding by moving away from the competition and operating on a different playing field. The authors call it, “uncontested market space.” I won’t try to summarize the book, because this PDF does it pretty well. If you want just one good takeaway, it’s the Four Actions Framework. This framework can help you choose which dimensions your company will compete on, and where you choose to not compete at all. The four actions are:
Eliminate: Which factors that the industry has long competed on should be eliminated ?
Reduce: Which factors should be reduced well below the industry’s standard?
Raise: Which factors should be raised well above the industry’s standard?
Create: Which factors should be created that the industry has never offered?
Basically, you look at your competitors products and list their key features, them consider which factors you want to remove or reduce from your business, and which factors you want to increase or add to your business. Once you have analyzed your competition and answered these 4 questions, you can map out your competitive strategy using the Strategy Canvas.
The best explanation of Blue Ocean Strategy that I have heard is not actually in the book, my wife told me. Here’s a quick version of her example:
iPad vs Kindle: Blue Ocean Strategy
The iPad has a color touch screen, a fast processor, lots of storage, millions of apps, including the Kindle reader app, a camera, and more.
The (original) Kindle had no color display, no apps, no GPS, no camera, and a slow processor. But it cost less than an iPad, and it had something the iPad didn’t: a long battery life and a screen that worked well in daylight. That’s Blue Ocean Strategy.
Amazon have sold billions of dollars worth of Kindles. They continue to operate using a Blue Ocean Strategy.
Okay, Now What?
You could start by using these frameworks to understand where your business is now. Fill out the Business Model Canvas, create a service blueprint, analyze your competition, and capture how you currently compete against them. You should be able to do a quick version of these things in under 90 minutes. Now look at what you have made. Are there some parts you are unsure about? Are there elements of your business model you want to change? Stop doing wholesale and go 100% direct to consumer? Stop handling something in-house and move that function to a partner? How about your service experience? Is there some area of your operations you already know is rocky? Hone in on that and create a detailed map of all current steps of the interaction, then think about how to cut steps. Perhaps you want to just stop serving some customers, and let your competitors handle them? Could you attract higher value customers and ease operational complexity?
These are just a handful of the ways you can use these frameworks. If you’ve got a framework or process you like, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.