Five Design Considerations for Every Program

Common Sense Design Basics

I’m currently interested in how to design a Customer Engagement Platform across sales, services and marketing outlets.

Simple Graphic

We’ll build upon several existing projects and work streams to give a better understanding of our value to a customer on a global level, as depicted in this highly simplified view.   It’s a converged, account-based view, forming a reference point for every customer interaction.  The goal is to create a simple, converged interface for the customer, that gives us better understanding of the state of the entire relationship.

Of course, nothing is quite so simple.  There’s a lot going on here and a project like this has a very wide scope.  In this post I want to consider common sense design basics that should be applied to this and, in fact, any initiative.  It starts with an old question and answer: 

Q. How do you eat an elephant?

A. One chunk at a time.

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Planning to eat the Elephant – Three Basic Design Considerations

In his book, Change by DesignIDEO design consultancy CEO Tim Brown describes a filter for evaluating whether a project is fit to be developed .  It’s a simple, three-step filter:

  1. Is the concept Desirable?
  2. Is it Feasible?
  3. Is it Viable?

Two out of three won’t do.  You’ll need all three, a strong value proposition and alliances across multiple company functions to plan how to eat this particular elephant.  It may be a simple filter, but simplicity isn’t simple – simplicity is a thoroughly designed, collaborative process whose output is a meticulously conceived, functionally fit for purpose package that meets or predicts the customer need.  That’s how Apple’s design guru Jony Ive describes Simplicity in this interview.

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Five Steps Needed for a Shot at Success 

“Designing and developing anything of consequence is incredibly challenging,” says Ive.  Jony Ive didn’t walk me through his process for leading a design team, but Andy Lewis, CIO at Kovarus, a San Francisco Bay Area-based IT Consultancy and EMC Velocity Partner, did.  Andy is a twenty-year IT veteran with experience on Wall St and Silicon Valley at some of the world’s largest companies.

Andy shared with me five distinct steps that should feature in every project plan and I’ve used them successfully on every initiative I’ve lead since.  They need to be applied at every phase.

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1. Define and Measure.

Clearly define the scope of what you are trying to achieve and how it can be measured.

  • What are the benefits?
  • What are the costs?
  • What needs to happen to realize the value?

Speaking of value, how will you measure the value?

  • Is it a numeric value, such as revenue, leads generated etc.?
  • Is it a complex value, such as influence, multiplier etc.?

There are multiple different types of value and multiple ways of measuring it.  Define clearly what you are doing including where and how it’s benefit will be realized.  Understand what kind of influence you can generate if your value is not an ROI number. 

Douglas Hubbard’s How To Measure Anything is a fantastic resource for researching and understanding value and how to measure it.

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2. Simplify and Converge

The diagram above represents several initiatives that have been grouped together to show what might be possible if all these individual work packages were designed to work together.  In reality, each started as its own idea with its own, viable value proposition.  What we are looking to do is to design a simpler ‘platform’ with a consolidated set of functions that deliver those multiple requirements or services.

As a rule of thumb, the fewer the moving parts, the more reliable the functionality.  It’s important to group similar or compatible tasks or phases together to simplify things and help speed them up.  Bring like-minded people together in a virtual team or matrix, and align multiple initiatives to support converged goals.

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3. Align and Partner > The Co-Ideation Phase 

Someone, somewhere in the wider organization has similar goals to you or at least goals that are very compatible to yours.  Find them and find away to support each other.  It has the effect of multiplying your capability without adding headcount, resources or even budget.  A branding project may find support in the Facilities or Sustainability Offices rather than marketing;  a technology initiative might find support in Sales or Business Ops rather than IT.

IDEO design methodology begins at the Co-Inspiration phase, the phase before Ideas.  This allows all parties to share what their inspirations are so that the inspirations – on Post-It notes – can be grouped together to form emerging ideas.  We’re building bigger picture concepts based on existing functions or ideas that compliment each other.  This does four things:

  • It builds partnership and alignment around shared goals;
  • It incorporates the goals of each Tactical function into a bigger Strategy;
  • It delivers a converged, simplified expression of joint goals;
  • It encourages functional groups to see themselves as part of a larger ‘Whole’.

From a business perspective, we now have the impetus to build a shared framework, collaborate across teams and crowd-source skills, significantly reduce overhead, streamline delivery times and increase productivity – not to mention the feel good factor of having everyone feel part of something bigger.

It will also allow us to further define the scope of the project, deliver better insight into composite metrics – not every function has the luxury of being able to generate simple ROI or TCO – and leverage expertise and spare capacity in other organizations to deliver goals.

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4. Business Process Management, People, Processes and Tools

Definition, measurement, simplification, convergence, alignment and partnership occur because there is structure.  Structure supports the scope and the deliverables, it is the foundation for repeatability and scalability and it gives a basis for verifying results.  Structure = Business Process, so each project requires a strong Desirability/ Feasibility/ Viability value proposition and a plan for proving it out.

At the same time, even the very best plan will fail if we don’t have the right people or mindsets involved.  People are the most important element of all.  Understand the MOs and goals of every individual involved, how they should be aligned – or even kept apart – and how value should be represented to them, often in different ways to meet their requirements.

Additionally, the very best business idea is often a convergence of several inspirations.  The feasibility of the process and the viability of the plan can only be measured when the best-fit tools are considered.  I once worked for an organization that had tremendous customer engagement ideas, but refused to invest in any web-based tools or automation to enable them.  They didn’t consider the impacts that new plans would have on the people in the organization, nor they did they consider career paths for existing staff as part of a transition.  The net result was that nothing changed, the program couldn’t scale and staff churn was a constant issue that further compounded the problem.

It’s critical to understand the domino or multiplier effects of change – even if you don’t plan to eat the entire elephant in one sitting, it’s important for everyone to know that we are indeed eating an elephant and that as we progress, various changes in process, roles and tools will take place.  Design your platform for at least 4x growth.  (Plan to go big or go home!)

Get your buy-ins and opt-outs out of the way before the real stuff gets going.

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5. Market & Communicate 

Each phase is critical, but this might be the post critical of all.  Perception really IS reality.  If you don’t share – across every available channel – the objectives and successes of your programs, directly with those who gain the most from them, nobody else will.  It’s not good enough to paint a masterpiece and then stick it in the basement where no one will see it.  You must be pro-active and assertive about marketing and communicating the value of your work.  If you’re not the best spokesperson, find that Rock Star and give them the megaphone.

If you need to bring in this expertise from outside, do.  My favorite example of this is around IT Transformation.  As IT organizations seek to reign in spending, switching from expensive, custom-built IT stacks to more flexible, agile Cloud infrastructures, many have employed external marketing professionals to promote their success to customers from the customers’ viewpoint, not IT’s.  In many cases, the marketing plan is the difference between success and failure for multi-million dollar programs.  See one great example here. 

To recap:

  1. Define and Measure
  2. Simplify and Converge
  3. Align and Partner
  4. Business Process, People and Tools
  5. Market and Communicate

These common sense design basics will form the basis for upcoming posts on reviewing projects, converging them with other cross-functional initiatives and seeing if and how we can start to build a Customer Engagement Platform (CEP).

Thanks to Andy Lewis for the failsafe planning insight!

I like to see how things fit together

I like to consider how things fit together.  (Spatially) Separate No More refers to a geographical theory from the 1960’s called Spatial Separatism.   I like to call it the “Isolated Theory,” because it was “possible to identify, separate and evaluate the spatial as an independent phenomenon or a property of events examined through spatial analysis.” (Sack, 1974)  Geographers posited that there was merit in trying to understand a phenomenon in its own right without understanding any of the wider social structure within which it operated or that which brings influence upon it.  It’s a super tempting idea, and one that I think drives much of our behaviors at work.  But it ignores all the sticky tissue between silos that makes things happen.

I studied politics, sociology and law and today I work in the arena Customer Engagement for EMC, industry leader in all things Cloud Computing and Big Data.  I find the urge to connect things always interesting and endlessly relevant.  As a student, I constantly sought out patterns to construct new perspectives on well-covered topics. I may not always have been right, but my data and research argued that I was no more wrong than the perceived wisdoms.  Thanks to a lot of patience and great teaching (Prof. J.J. Lee) I learned to search for common patterns in history, policy and data that satisfied my urge to show that everything could be connected and to help make my case.  I’ve been looking for patterns and trying to fit things together ever since.  It satisfies my sense that I’ve got something creative to bring.

Through marketing and Customer Engagement, I’m able to meet interesting characters from all around the world in different industries and with different backgrounds.  Because I love technology, it’s just great to be able to apply gut instinct and raw data to Cloud Computing and Big Data in Silicon Valley.

At EMC we talk about the intersection of the Cloud and Big Data as a Space that interrelates the spatial patterns of the Business and IT and is in fact the ultimate expression of their confluence:  the place where IT investment directly yields higher revenue.  (My colleagues in EMC Sales and Consulting will gladly guide you there.)

I am drawn to things that seek or scream connection, influence and relevance.  Whether it’s technology, or government policy, business processes or social events, media, cultural or sporting.  I’m going to try and explore some patterns here.  And I’m always going to try and and prove that they’re connected.

One other thing about that blog title:  I spent most of the summer of 1996 trying out my spatially separate thesis  on my college friends and suffered them stuffing peanuts in my beer every time I mentioned it. Happy Days.