Sunday, September 11, 2011

Design and The Four Basic Questions

The magazine Rotman is my favorite business publication.  Published by the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto - - the articles typically cover design thinking, innovation, and creativity.  Wharton is about finance, Kellogg is about marketing - - Rotman places a focus on design thinking.  This is the heart and soul of engineering - - design thinking. 

Authors Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie have a story in the current issue, Designing for Growth: A Toolkit for Managers, discusses the design process in the context of four basic questions which correspond to the four stages of the design process.  The four questions are:
  1. What Is? - - This question explores the current reality.  All successful design begins with an accurate assessment of the current reality.  Engineers need to pay close attention to what is going on today to identify the real problem or opportunity that we want to tackle.  A key component of design and innovation is to identify the clues that highlight dissatisfaction with the present.
  2. What If? - - This question envisions a new future (some companies, such as Apple, have the ability to skip "What is?" and go directly to their vision of the future).  Based on the results of "What is?" - - engineers start to see new possibilities , trends and uncertainties.  Engineers call this point ideation - - the point where possibilities come into view.  During this stage, engineers also look at how customers currently frame their problems, their mental models, and constraints that frame the problem.
  3. What Wows? - - This question looks at choices.  Engineering is about making choices.  What you are looking for are ideas that hit the "sweet spot" - - where the chance of a significant upside in customer value meets attractive profit potential.  Apple and Steve Jobs have created the most valuable global company in history by living in the "Wow zone."
  4. What Works? - - This question takes us into the marketplace.  A particularly powerful approach to determining what works involves inviting the customer into the conversation in an active hands-on way.
The four questions are key in many different avenues of business and life.  Very hard to have an effective strategic plan if you consistently struggle with "What Is?" type questions.  Even harder to manage a 50-year career if you are clueless during the "What If?" moments.

The authors also list ten tools to enhance the four questions.  These are:
  1. Visualization - - using imagery to envision possible future conditions.
  2. Journey Mapping - - assessing the existing experience through the customer's eyes.
  3. Value Chain Analysis - - assessing the current value chain that supports the customer's journey.
  4. Mind Mapping - - generating insights from exploration activities and using those to create design criteria.
  5. Brainstorming - - generating new alternative to the existing business model.
  6. Concept Development - - aassembling innovative elements into a coherent alternative solution that can be explored and evaluated.
  7. Assumption Testing - - isolating and testing the key assumptions that will drive success or failure of a concept.
  8. Rapid Prototyping - - expressing a new concept in a tangible form for exploration, testing, and refinement.
  9. Customer Co-Creation - - engaging customers to participate in creating the solution that best meets their needs.
  10. Learning Launch - - creating an affordable experiment that lets customers experience the new solution over an extended period of time, so you can test key assumptions with market data.

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