Building a Standard Framework for Transformation

No work effort exists in isolation.  As a company goes through a transformation, it’s important to recognize the interdependent journeys that will take place.

The Four Journeys
There are in fact 4 Journeys involved in a company’s transformation:

  1. The company’s strategic journey – The Driver
  2. The people journey – The Engine
  3. The business model journey(s) – The Map
  4. The operations journey(s) – The Power Source

Let’s call each of these journeys a ‘space’.  It is important to find a common language for these necessarily interwoven spaces to succeed.  The best framework for that common language is a template-driven, service-based approach, where all four spaces interact as design elements in each service.

To establish a framework for a common service approach, we need to establish a consistent baseline, or maturity model which will help define the state of readiness of each space.  At this point it is important to understand:

  • the desired end-state (the company’s successful transformation)
  • the dependency between spaces
  • a common definition of maturity
  • what each space needs to achieve to support the overall objective


Definition, Metrics and Service Templates
If these things are understood and stated, the service templates can be defined.  The definition of ‘template’ here is, “the organization of resources within constraints.”  Constraints allow for definition and anything that is defined can be measured.  As a result, we can establish standardized metrics for the discrete spaces, for the various services and work packages, for the service catalog and for the transformation program as a whole.

The three phases of the maturity model I’m suggesting are:

Basics:  Command of the basics of each discrete space
Gaps:  Understanding and mitigating the gaps between spaces
Connections:  Making the right connections to key stakeholders

On a chart, plot out the state of readiness of each discrete space against its maturity trajectory and map out the dependencies between efforts in one space and another.  As we have developed a common set of metrics for all spaces, we can develop a set of metrics and services required for achieving each phase of the strategic plan.

For a large organization, I’m aware that I am overstating the simplicity here.  It is important to understand, however, that even in large complex initiatives, there is a direct correlation between interdependent spaces and it is possible to identify dependencies between work-packages in one space and another.  The benefit of taking the time to understand the dependencies is that it becomes possible to step back and identify constraints or resource requirements before a bottleneck is formed.  (If you define them and develop a standard metric, you can set your analysis and machine learning tools loose on them.)


The People Journey
Around now is where the People journey becomes most important.  There has to be a collaborative, problem-solving mindset across the organization to take on a transformation program.  In fact, it pays to sponsor the development of a design mindset within your organization before getting started.  A major transformation will effect the ability of the company to grow and deliver new value and it will ripple through every functional aspect of the business.  As the status quo changes, it’s better to be working with a team that is prepped and bought into change than one that is uninformed and suspicious.

And so, back to the 4 Journeys.  There is a hierarchy of journeys here, starting with the company transformation.  Each journey – or space – consists of groups of people with different skill sets and levels of authority and engagement.  Each bears responsibility for complimentary business models and operations.  It’s good practice to develop a mind map to show the key characteristics associated with each space and to highlight where the spaces connect.  This will highlight where collaboration and a design culture can really bear fruit.

To summarize

It’s important to undertake the following steps:

  1. Understand the 4 Journeys of transformation, how and where they intersect
  2. Develop a maturity framework that describes organizational readiness
  3. Develop a template-driven, service-based approach that is measured by…
  4. Standardized metrics
  5. Develop a collaborative, design-based culture and growth mindset within your organization

If we take these five steps and develop the growth mindset within the teams, we will effect rapid transformation of the organization as a whole, realizing personal and business growth objectives for everyone.  In addition, we’ll enable:

  • an embedded standard language of service across the organization
  • agility, flexibility and confidence in the face of change
  • ownership and accountability from everyone towards colleagues, the company and customers.

Reframe your Executive Briefing Program as a Business Design Tool

Your Executive Briefing Program can – and should be – reframed as a key enabler of longer term customer-centered relationships and desired business outcomes.

First, let’s talk a little about design. It’s important. Hidden behind the simple expression, ‘well designed’, is an iterative process that allows for a flash of inspired thinking to be captured, defined, transformed and tested in a real world environment. There are five steps to the typical design process:

1.   Empathize: with customers, spend time walking in their shoes. Observe what is actually going on in their environment rather than just asking questions. Sometimes a client will lack the awareness needed to describe the problem.

2.   Define: start to give shape to the needs and challenges that you observe. Perhaps, you may help the customer reframe the challenge they are facing in order to help solve it. Successful definition enables measurement and measurement is where business outcomes begin to take shape.

3.   Prototype: begin to determine how we might improve outcomes with some rapid ‘prototyping’. This could be as simple as doing some sketches or running some rapid validation tests etc. The trick is to develop lightweight and quick examples that give a sense of how a desirable solution might look.

4.  Test: several prototypes later, it should be possible to develop and try out some proofs of concept. These tests will take the most feasible of the prototypes and check them for viability in test environments.

5.  Analyze: how did we do? At this point, we should have a strong sense of a business-viable solution for the customer’s need.

What we call ‘Business Design’ occurs when design processes like these are applied to business challenges.

What we call ‘Business Design’ occurs when design processes like these are applied to business challenges. We like to talk about Business Design in reference to Executive Briefing Programs because an Executive Briefing Program provides the opportunity for a company to engage with and observe a customer’s real world for up to eight hours a day. Imagine the opportunity that exists to empathize with a customer’s challenges and opportunities and engage in an exploration of their most inspired thinking, while also helping them to define – and even prototype – some emerging new ideas that help them accelerate and reframe their existing business opportunity.

In our experience, there are three major factors that prevent most Executive Briefing Programs from embracing these opportunities:

  1. EBC programs themselves suffer from a lack of definition within the enterprise. They are perceived as either marketing or sales tools and it is almost impossible to use today’s available toolsets to measure their impact on business outcomes or even just their ROI. You can’t measure something that’s not defined.
  2. Most large marketing organizations do not spend as much time observing customers in the field as they might. In fact, we would be so bold to suggest that the majority of marketing folks do not actually meet with customers. We’ve observed time and time again, that customers love to open up about their situation when given the opportunity in an EBC setting – but there’s nobody there except the sales team to take note.
  3. Most customers are invited to an EBC by the Sales team and Sales teams have clear responsibilities to ensure quarterly business outcomes. Earlier in my career I used to be frustrated when sales teams didn’t always seize on the opportunities we were beginning to reframe with customers. That’s not, however, the sales team’s primary objective. They have to hit that number.

So what this all means, is that there is a huge opportunity that goes begging with each customer engagement at an Executive Briefing Center.

An executive briefing is an opportunity to empathize with the customer at close quarters and begin to re-envision with them what the future could look like.

The EBC isn’t just an opportunity to close a deal or move a deal forward. It’s an opportunity to empathize with and observe the customer at close quarters; to begin to re-envision with them what the future could look like. The EBC is an opportunity to build human-relationships: people engaging directly with people, enabling 1:1 ‘permission-marketing’ on steroids and laying a long term road-map for account-based selling. Not to mention, building a needs-based value proposition for your company in helping your customer get to their newly envisioned future faster, along a growth curve they’ve never experienced before.

From Gut Instinct to Process

Build success on collaborative energy and the design processes for repeating it

In recent blog posts I’ve written about creativity, strategy and innovation. I’m someone who really needs to buy into the vision and the culture or the programs I work on. Gut instinct is one thing, having a process for turning it into meaningful results is another. In this post, I go back to the first great creative program I lead and explore retrospectively how we achieved some phenomenal results and had huge fun doing it.  Then I lay out some of the tools we used to design this program and others since. The core principles are always: great teamwork and excellent results through smart program design.

– – –

Start-Up Mode inside a Fortune 200

During my career at EMC, I was responsible for spinning up a customer engagement program at our brand new Briefing Center in Silicon Valley. With just two people on the team, we delivered 300 net new customer meetings in the first year.

In the second year, we added a contract front desk agent and topped 450 engagements with our three staff. We extended our offering from simple, transactional briefings to include a program of themed ‘Solution’ weeks. It allowed us to create a win-win for both customers and internal groups alike: if we guaranteed our customers that the best talent in the company around a given topic would be in one location for one week, it would be worth their while to join us for a conference at nano-scale – where every session ran at a scale of one panel of experts: one customer. Not surprisingly, our sales leaders loved it. So too did our channel team and in the following year – our third year of operation – we extended to include key partners.

These ‘Solution Weeks’ were the door-opener to us for a continuous run-rate of over 500 customer engagements, workshops and briefings in our Silicon Valley Executive Briefing Center with a full-time staff that grew to five in number. In our fifth year of operation, customer accounts representing ten percent of EMC’s global business passed through our doors and attended at least one meeting at our center. The EBC became a noted inflection point in a multi-point attribution model that lead to over $2.5 billion revenue.

Looking back on that effort – the tremendous grass roots partnerships that made it possible, the innovation that it enabled and the global programs it helped launch – it is possible to do great things, with a small and committed core of people operating with clear principles. Our principles at the time were simple:

  • Create an unrivaled in-person customer engagement experience at 1:1 scale
  • Achieve a net new run-rate of >500 customer engagements per year
  • Maximize the utilization of the available capacity and resources

Some of the corporate initiatives our series of programs launched included VCE – the VMware/ Cisco/ EMC converged infrastructure start-up did all of its initial testing and customer engagements on our Solutions Week platform – and the EMC/ SAP relationship – which morphed from a turnout of 15 customers in our first year of operation to a global, rolling program that today hits more than 20 cities world-wide. Our management set us two objectives: continue to deliver a volume of >500 engagements per year and continue to deliver on feedback with a minimum score of 4/5. They didn’t tell us how to do our jobs and they made training available to us when we requested it.

Looking back, we didn’t go into this program with a grand plan on paper. Initially, there was just one goal: hit a run-rate of 500 customer visits per year within the first three years (we did it) and have the Silicon Valley center become a global Center of Excellence for the company around a theme that on the occasion of our opening had yet to be decided.   A few years on, that theme was Collaborative Innovation. “Want to see the Next Thing and how it will work in the Cloud? Come to EMC in Silicon Valley.

The factors that enabled our success were straightforward:

  1. My small core team and our collaborators were hungry, driven and given freedom to design the program as we saw fit, so long as we hit the objectives.
  2. We opened the Center at a time when EMC was in the midst of acquiring 65 companies, many of which were in the Bay Area and both customers and our EMC colleagues were unsure of the direction the company was going in – we brought clarity to an emerging market place around Cloud and ITaaS.
  3. We established a culture of Innovation and Collaboration where the whole was greater than the sum of individual parts. We threw social events around our program and built up a tremendous ‘esprit de corps’ – great friendships were built around our programs.
  4. We built on the many ‘adjacent possibilities’ that emerged from our events, from the water cooler effect of having talented people camped in our green room for weeks at a time.
  5. Dull power-point presentations were banned: speakers were nominated on quality and white boarding was a pre-requisite skill for leading sessions. Later on, we grew to include Design Thinking and Discovery Workshops in our programs.
  6. We did a great job supporting sales and never forgot that if the sales guys didn’t get paid, we didn’t get paid.

In short, we built a reputation of enabling sales teams to achieve significant cross-sell and up-sell through engaging, discovery sessions with leading customers, partners and prospects. One bugbear that we had continuously was measurement. Typically, briefing centers have separate management and reporting tools that were designed for administrative purposes and not for showing the return on investment of the program from revenue or influence. Read on and you’ll see how we began to change this in section 2: ‘Definition and Measurement’.


Dealing with Change: Designing for Uninterrupted Transformation

As EMC moved into the Big Data space, we sought to make the Silicon Valley location the HQ for our customer activity around Big Data. Our facility had been designed with a glass wall data center at its core, at a time when refrigerator size storage arrays were our core product set. The team that ran that lab moved over to VCE when that company was formed and we were left with an open space at the heart of our center. Mindful of our commitment to maintaining volume of traffic, we quickly invited the Marketing Sciences team to move into the space and turn it into a customer-facing showcase of how EMC Marketing used our portfolio of Big Data technologies to run our own business. Within one quarter, we had switched the focus of the Silicon Valley center from infrastructure to data and without any fall off in customer volume, utilized our collaborative model to drive Big Data traffic and business out of the location. Here’s a link to the formal opening of the lab.

Over a period of five years we had started a program from scratch, iterating on its core objectives three times without missing our volume goals and significantly increasing measurable revenue attribution – from:

  1. Excellent transactional briefing experiences;
  2. Connecting the teams that supported the briefing program to generate a brand new business development program built around themed ‘Solution Weeks’;
  3. Evolving the customer engagement platform we had designed from Infrastructure-centric to Big Data-centric (from ‘Platform 2’ [IaaS] to ‘Platform 3’ [PaaS]) as the market changed.

We discovered that our grass roots, collaborative and innovative approach had matured into a scalable, repeatable customer engagement program that matured over the years. In the early years our team actually designed the agendas and suggested the solutions we could discuss with customers. As our results became apparent, the business units stepped into formalize the offerings but never moved off the collaborative platform that we designed.

We didn’t go into this whole experience with a documented process in mind, although in hindsight we had an informal way of doing things that maps very neatly onto a progression of process tools. In the roles I have pursued since my time leading the EBC and Customer Engagement program for EMC, the opportunities have been less organic and more prescriptive. And yet I have found that there are some great process tools for coming up to speed quickly to enable the core business results we achieved, which included:

  • Collaborative Innovation
  • High Productivity
  • Exponential ROI
  • Significant cross-sell and up-sell resulting in measurable revenue attribution, influence and demand generation


  1. The Business Model Canvas

The first of these tools is the Business Model Canvas from Strategyzer. The Business Model Canvas derives from Business Model Generation, a crowd-sourced business development guide built on collaborative and agile principles. The Canvas itself is a simple one-page framework that allows you to consider all of the variables that support your business plan.


Figure 1. The Business Model Canvas from Strategyzer

It is designed in two parts: the Cost side and the Value side. There are nine variables for consideration across these two parts:

  1. Customers
  2. Customer Relationships
  3. Channels
  4. Value Proposition
  5. Revenue Stream (Value Side determinant)
  6. Partners
  7. Key Resources
  8. Key Activities
  9. Cost Structure (Cost Side determinant)

Print out a copy of the template diagram (Figure 1) and play around with it. You’ll find that every variable of consideration when designing a new business model or program plan can be attributed to one of nine modules.

The Business Model Generation book and other tools on the website go onto help you design and plan for several different types of program – or business plan – depending on your objectives. It’s not Harvard Business School, but it’s a set of very effective day-to-day scope-planning tools.


  1. Definition of the Program and Metrics

The Business Canvas provides the broadest perspective on (1) what can be designed or ideated on. The next job is to figure out based on various parameters – interest, demand, cost-benefit analysis, change management etc. – what is (2) feasible. We should always factor in a pilot or prototype to determine what is likely to be (3) viable. In a multi-touch attribution model, your program needs to follow the measurement schedule that is common to the entire model – without exception. Don’t pick a tool that will not support direct integration with your CRM or Marketing platform. Don’t do it. We live, work and are measured in a connected world.

Sometimes I hear people say that it is “too difficult” to measure the impact of a program. I have three resources to help avoid this:

  • Capture references that show repetitive success and ability to scale
  • Measure your data as part of the prevailing multi-attribute model!
  • Get a copy of Douglas Hubbard’s How To Measure Anything.


  1. Your Program Platform aka the ‘Layer Cake’

The Layer Cake is a visual model that I use to lay out the top-down and bottom-up interdependencies in a program. Some people love the visual, others have difficulty grasping it – so, although it works for me, it’s not for everyone. Here’s the narrative supporting the concept of the program ‘platform’:

  1. The objectives, definition and measurement of the program goals will determine…
  2. The organization that is required to achieve those goals.
  3. Next we look at the specific deliverables and…
  4. The value to constituents/ stakeholders including a clear understanding of:
  5. Audiences/ Contexts/ Stories that we need to facilitate.
  6. Where and how will we collect and manage our data? (CRM, Marketing etc.)
  7. What program-specific tools are we using (that integrate with tools in #6)
  8. What thematic Customer/ Marketing campaigns are we running to generate demand or leads?
  9. What are our Content development requirements to support these campaigns and…
  10. What is our integrated Communications, Events and PR plan?

Figure 2 is an example of this template used to map out an integrated Sales Enablement program.

 PlatformFigure 2. Sample Sales Enablement Platform

This platform takes the variables specified in the Business Canvas and allocates them to specific functional roles supporting delivery of your program. As your program matures, it will be beneficial if this platform can be made easy to use by generating it in the form of an automated Self-Service Service Catalog – for instance, if account managers sitting with customers can create a custom event via a mobile tool. In this case, we provide the customer a tailored experience delivered via an integrated platform that can track the demand generated and automatically suggest adjacent cross-sell or up-sell potential.


  1. The Logical Model Workflow

This is another eye chart that is best not to share with your stakeholders unless they are happy being in the engine room of a collaborative project!

In the model depicted below in Figure 3, we were designing for a sustainable, data-driven marketing platform for a small marketing department. It was a dynamic, sales driven company where each sales team acted effectively as their own small business. There was no common approach to marketing across the company.

Business planning was anchored to sales performance rather than a thorough going evaluation of the market opportunities. We didn’t have a clear brand statement and everyone’s view of what we did derived from their particular experience. We needed to align the core components of the company around one message and one marketing strategy.

From a design standpoint, we needed a mechanism to align our investments with our brand promise and our organization (as defined by the Program Platform, above #3). To do this, we used a Logical Model. In our case, we referred to the Logical Model Guidebook by Lisa Knowlton and Cynthia Phillips.

 Logical ModelFigure 3. Sample Marketing Logical Model

In simple form, the Logical Model looks at four basic components:

  • Inputs: resources allocated to developing the program
  • Activities: activities undertaken to deliver the program
  • Outputs: what is produced by the resources and activities
  • Outcomes/ Impacts: the results of the program

Once we laid these components out in a logical order, we were able to realign activities, resources and goals into short, medium and longer term objectives that our key stakeholders – sales, partners and leadership – were able to agree on. The model enabled the following goals:

  • Alignment of the organization with the brand promise;
  • A map that aligned our existing areas of work and identified critical gaps.
  • Prevention of scope creep by individual groups;
  • Higher productivity by positioning each team’s work in strategic context with each other team within the model;
  • Utilization of existing resources and activities to focus on the brand promises we delivered well;
  • Clear focus on a target community of strategic value rather than the dogged pursuit of revenue via an account maximization strategy.

Now we had an integrated, logical marketing model focused on strategic outcomes designed from existing resources and activities. Critically, we achieved agreement from the key stakeholders around this plan. We achieved an exponential value and ROI from each and over a three year period the revenue of the company grew three-fold.

In a future blog post I will dive deeper into designing a logical model specifically for a marketing plan including how to align tactical work packages at each step.


In Summary: Start at the End.

 I guess I have always been someone who needs to buy into a vision. I find it difficult and frankly unrewarding to work in a dead end. I define a dead end as a work effort that people don’t measure because they don’t see its intrinsic value. At one company I worked at many years ago, an office relocation lead to the discovery that my colleague Keith had actually been laid-off two years prior, except nobody updated the Payroll database. So Keith had spent two years generating a weekly report that, literally, nobody read or wanted. He was promptly laid off a second time.

Three things are critical for me with every initiative I undertake:

  1. I want to know the vision for the project and is has to be that we are going to change the world even just a little bit;
  2. The culture has to be open, engaging and collaborative and team ethos is critical;
  3. We have to be creative in our approaches.

My colleague Hoda Mehr recently sent me this great article by Kaihan Krippendorf on FastCompany. “Start at the End!” it says:

Imagine the scene of your move just before the credits appear. This is a picture of what you will achieve or what you will become in the long-term, usually 3-10 years from now. Define 1-3 metrics and their values, that will tell you that you have achieved your long-term vision. You can call these BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals).

Krippendorf goes onto lay out a pretty neat plan for achieving your vision.

I got pretty lucky early on in my career, being given a fantastic opportunity to build a new program by a leader who trusted me to do the right thing. He sought results but trusted our team to design the program we needed to meet our goals. We surpassed the goals required, with a level of productivity and revenue attribution that became the standard for the rest of the company.

In subsequent roles, I’ve always taken on a program-building function because it’s tremendously rewarding and collaborative. As time goes on, the need to document our processes becomes more prevalent. Although I’ve used many different models and tools down the years, for some of the “BHAGs” I’ve taken on, these four tools deployed together have never failed to deliver results:

  1. Business Model Canvas
  2. Clear Definition and Measurements
  3. Program Platform (aka ‘the Layer Cake’)
  4. Logical Model Workflow

Thoughts on Practical Creativity

Unlock exponential volumes of motivation, engagement and value in any organization


Creativity, Motivation, & Practice

I design and build programs for a living.  I believe that if we infuse our programs with the belief that they truly transform the business, we will always connect dots that spark our imagination, enabling multiple adjacent possibilities. This, to me, is the human essence of creativity: Sell me on a vision that keeps us moving and relevant as we plough through tactical projects! I can get pretty passionate and idealistic about what is possible. But I often run into ‘practical objectors’ for whom I’ve needed to develop a smart business model or system to strike a balance. I call it ‘Practical Creativity’.

Understanding the Audience

There is no one message that will completely sell a complex idea to different audiences, to people with varying thought processes operating in different contexts. When we think differently, we have a design challenge, or opportunity, on our hands. Knowing your audience is key and having a tailored explanation of the value proposition is essential for each conversation.  It is equally essential for the audience to know the perspective of the pitch-man or woman. If I have a fundamentally different thought process to the person trying to sell me on a concept, where’s the harm in sharing that with them so that we can get closer to understanding each other?  Fiona Czerniawska’s The Intelligent Client, (2003), set out a practical series of steps for how clients and consultants could stay on the same paths of understanding, despite differing approaches and degrees of knowledge. The more experience you have, the more flexible you can be with the context of a situation and therefore your parameters for what is feasible or viable can be quite broad. I try to consider what is long-term desirable, medium-term feasible and short-term viable. It allows me to create a work stream of cool and dependent efforts in a sequence that is both practical and inspiring.

The Internal Stakeholder and the Design Process

These steps pertain just as much for internal stakeholder relationships. For the creative individual contributor, they are an important part of managing expectations up. That includes understanding what quality or success looks like for a stakeholder and how to plan and execute programs to deliver it. Over-sharing details about the design process  that leads to that success can be dangerous! I’ve worked with some stakeholders who want to define not just the results but also the means of getting them. My mindset is that if the result achieved is the result that was pre-agreed, then the means should be significantly negotiable. When that’s not an accepted option, a systematic approach is the only way to push through the barriers. Much of it has to do specifically with how we think.

What Kind of a Thinker are You?

A recent Harvard Business Review article by Mark Bonchek and Elisa Steele asks, “What kind of a thinker are you?” Here’s what they found – despite all the technology, tools and processes at our disposal today, it is ultimately people who make the difference:

We normally think of roles being about what people do… but in today’s marketplace the smartest companies aren’t those that necessarily out-produce the competition. Instead, it’s the organizations that out-think them. While there are plenty of tools that help us quickly understand what our teammates do, its harder to tell how they think. Research shows that it is ultimately how teams think together that most determine their performance.

The article goes on to lay out an interesting matrix for how we think based on either Orientation – big picture or details – or Focus – ideas, process, action and relationships. Finally, when you know your thinking style, “you will know what naturally energizes you.” As a nifty added benefit, the matrix allows you to understand where there are gaps in the thought processes of your leaders to execute on strategy.

In this context, I remember a statement I first heard from my old marketing leader and mentor, Jeff Goldberg, at EMC:

“The people who know how always work for the people who know why.”

I’ve been tossing that around in my head a lot recently. Good leaders will always both know and share ‘Why’. In my career, I’ve seen and experienced more examples of where the ‘Why’ seems limited – given the existing potential – with more focus on ‘How’ and ‘Doing’. The challenge for creative people is to avoid expounding on the coolness of the vision at the expense of a practical program plan for delivery. To strike a balance, creative people need to use solid practical models that have creativity designed in at every stage.

A Practical Design Model for your Creative Vision

I have a four-step model that I use, not always in specific sequence, but in general it looks like this:

  1. Create an initial OGST* plan on a page: Objectives, Goals, Strategy & Tactics;
  2. Create a platform that defines the Purpose, Organization, Deliverables and Data structure of the program;
  3. Create a practical agile workflow and timeline for delivering the objectives and goals – design for prioritization and the interaction between teams, strategy and tactics;
  4. Agree on timeline and delivery of objectives and goals with key stakeholders.
*There are multiple models out there; I’ll choose one that best fits for a given initiative.


Various aspects of this model may require a design facilitation workshop. In my next post, I’ll walk through an example of executing this model and where we used design workshops to push various projects past obstacles or challenges along the way.

 Practical Contribution for Creatives

If you are a ‘why’ thinker, you absolutely need to feel that you can contribute both practically and creatively to the thinking and strategy of the organization. It is entirely what you are about. We want to know we are playing a part. It motivates us, it inspires our delivery and it gives an outlet for how we think, which is – I believe – the thing that is most important to each of us and where we get our energy. Sometimes we lack the tools and practical skills to move our thinking from passion to practicality. We have the thinking and broad business experience to know what is feasible, but lack a platform and workflow for proving the viability we believe is there. It is important that people feel that they are making valuable contributions to the big goals. That infectious energy will pass to customers and partners and will in itself be a point of considerable competitive differentiation.

So the three legs of the stool for practical creativity are:

  • Understanding the audience,
  • Collaborative design thinking and
  • The design of a practical business model.

Carefully cultivated, they will unlock exponential volumes of motivation, engagement and value in any organization.

It’s not the thing you fling, it’s the fling itself

Creativity, improvisation and great customer experience.

One of the first pieces of advice I recall being given, upon starting a new role with broad expectations and few resources, was, “Don’t try to boil the ocean.” It is the standout piece of bad advice that I have ever received. When you have nothing, it’s much more effective to be strategic than tactical. Think big and keep thinking. Keep lighting fires.

My non-ocean boiling adviser was really saying, “keep it small;” “don’t be creative;” “be pragmatic;” “don’t question where this is going.” Essentially, they were married to the internal structure and behavior that prevailed at the time and was carving out a path of survival between tactical lines that became irrelevant once the strategy evolved.

This story is relevant to customer experience because essentially the intentions and objectives of internal process are what define the eventual quality of the end product or service. (Badly hacked from Frank Chimero’s wonderful, The Shape of Design). Empathic customer relationships are real. We try hard to predict the next sale through big data and analytics, but let’s face it — we all like to be wowed, energized, sated by great design and the art of the possible; by open questions not closed ones. We have to attempt to boil oceans to connect dots that spark the broader imagination and keep us relevant. Ocean boiling teaches us to listen and create. Through it, we perceive the previously unknown and improvise to create new value.

People buy from people. People buy into an ideal or an essential value. Every single person making a purchasing choice cares about something on some level. Our role in Customer Experience is to make it easy to define that transaction and keep it simple; then go forth and empathize with our customers to find what other value they seek, that they might at some time source it from us. Whatever motivations brought the customer across the digital realm to our door, let’s hope we have some data that supports us making an authentic impression that motivates that customer to stay a little longer, browse among our partners at least and always seek to renew.

Creative confidence should be championed. Creativity and design generate more value. They are pro-active, assertive and lead to personal growth in any practice where user consideration is required before the product or service is deployed. Everyone has a sense of his or her ideal place in mind. Why not help them get there? We are literally talking about art and creativity and the challenge we often see in companies is too big a focus on “how” and “what” and not enough focus on “why” or “what if?”

In the episode, ‘Burning Down the House’, the ever-brilliant 1990s TV show Northern Exposure deals head on with the challenge of art and creativity.

I’ve been here now for some days,” says radio DJ, Chris in the Morning, the town’s de-facto explorer-in-chief, “groping my way along, trying to realize my vision here. I started concentrating so hard on my vision that I lost sight. I’ve come to find out that it’s not the vision, it’s not the vision at all. It’s the groping. It’s the groping, it’s the yearning, it’s the moving forward… I think Kierkegaard said it oh so well, “The self is only that which is in the process of becoming.” Art? Same thing. James Joyce had something to say about it too. “Welcome, Oh Life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience, and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscious of my race.” We’re here today to fling something that bubbled up from the collective unconsciousness of our community. The thing I learned folks, this is absolutely key: It’s not the thing you fling. It’s the fling itself. Let’s fling something, Cicely.”

Having pilfered the entire episode of its final scene, I’ll guide you here to see what Chris flung and how he got to that point. But amid all the creativity and philosophical musing, there’s something else really important in that passage: the thing he flung “bubbled up from the collective unconsciousness of the community.” Most of the time our customers will look at our offerings, our ‘community’, and assess for themselves the value they can derive from some quality that we create. Our intention and our brand should be to always design to that eventual objective and always be open to that improvisation. After all, our value’s often not the ‘fixed’ thing we fling; it’s the fling itself.

2015: another fresh start; another program built (and building)

During 2012 and 2013 I had a great run through the modern marketing technology tools available at EMC.  For several years I had run a flagship Customer Engagement program at EMC and now we were embedding our program into Customer Journey and simultaneous funnel analysis through the Marketing Sciences program which we had established and hosted inside the Executive Briefing Center in Silicon Valley.

At EMC I learned many skills to build a highly productive internal program that touched over $2bn in revenue at some point along the customer journey.  Apparently, nearly 10% of all EMC’s revenue touched our office and staff of just five people based in Santa Clara at sometime during the year.  We had great fun, great exposure and it was exciting.  But we didn’t own any of it.

So this time last year I got the opportunity to build my own program, carrying my own targets for an EMC partner, Kovarus, based in the San Francisco Bay Area with regional offices in Sacramento, Seattle and Denver.  We knuckled down with a small team to bootstrap a new marketing function for a business that doubled in size in 2012, grew a further 50% 2013 and added almost 40% in 2014.  My job was to bring together the bit parts and build a sustainable marketing program for one of the fastest growing private businesses in the United States.

We’ve had some great early successes and we’ve also learned a lot along the way.  The experience got me thinking about some of the things we did well not just at Kovarus, but also in previous roles and how previous experience gave me somewhat of an ‘Outlier’ advantage in tackling new challenges in this role.  For some of the things that tripped us up, having to carry a marketing-generated revenue goal for the company allowed us to generate proposals, fail or succeed rapidly and drive change with determination where needed.

In general the experience has lead me to focus – personally – on two areas of particular interest:

  1. Connected Thinking (always a favorite of mine)
  2. Learning what we’re good at, what that means and how we supplement our skills.  (I’m not a big believer in us all heroically conquering the things we’re just not great at.  That’s the stuff of heroes, not teams).

Because we all think differently, I think it serves a purpose to highlight the three sides of my thought process as I look at building successful programs and achieving our goals.  They are:

  1. Lay out a mind-map of everything we need to do, build a process that supports it and declare the time line for achieving it.  We won’t get everything built in natural order, but we’ll build the program to comfortably incorporate the parts we develop later:  Plan for the future.
  2. Quickly determine what are the roadblocks along the way and how to move beyond them.
  3. Collaborate, partner, be open: don’t be a roadblock.

There’s no rocket science here – I do think if you look after these three, the complex parts of work will become simpler to manage because you have a process, you’re vigilant and you’re open to ideas from other sources.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!