Business Model Canvas in the wild: how this tool has worked for me

We’ve recently started hosting the Strategyzer community meetups at DiUS, where practitioners get together, swap stories and extend their knowledge around Strategyzer’s innovation tools, including my favourite –  the Business Model Canvas. A theme that has come out of these nights is the extra challenges faced when innovating in a corporate setting. We know the tools can be successfully applied in a startup setting, where the constraints are different. But can we realistically implant the necessary mindset into the average corporate? I think so, but it’s not always easy.

In my experience as a technology consultant, I frequently lead teams into unfamiliar organisations with the need to quickly get up to speed and start solving what is usually an important challenge for the business. A memorable example of this was working with an insurance company who were facing what they described as a “must win battle” to increase the sales of their products, and to do so in a transparent and ethical way. This article outlines the approach we took to kickstart the project, and highlights how the Business Model Canvas played an integral role in the process.

At DiUS we typically start delivery engagements with an inception workshop where we get all of the relevant people in a room for a few days, and work hard to get everyone into alignment. The goal is to emerge with a plan to solve the right problems, in the right order, and in the right way. Another important objective is to arm the team with the context required to make the many important prioritisation decisions that will be required of them over ensuing weeks and months during delivery.

As a facilitator, getting information out of senior stakeholders in a condensed time period can be particularly challenging. The Business Model Canvas provides the ideal framework to traverse the full breadth of a business model, and then to go deep on the areas where the hot spots emerge. Something I frequently observe in the eyes of the stakeholders and workshop participants is the lightbulb moment when the inter-relationships between the segments of the business model come to light. People who have been in an organisation for a long time have an implicit understanding of the way that things work, but rarely do they get the chance to stand back and actually visualise it. These interrelationships often highlight the unexpected things that actually underpin the way value is created – such as a key partnership, or a key aspect to the way the organisations relates to its customers.

Having established a solid understanding of the status quo, it’s important to have a strong vision of what an ideal future looks like. I think that one of the best examples of a vision is Apple’s Knowledge Navigator video from 1987. Its mind-blowing to think this was created over thirty years ago, and only just now are the likes of Apple starting to get close to realising that vision with advent of technologies like Siri and artificial intelligence. During our inception workshop at the insurance company we watched this video together, to draw out the big idea. Our stakeholders sure didn’t fail to come up with a really impressive and ambitious vision of what we could create! To help the team explore the possibilities and to internalise the message, we used the Product Box technique to make it tangible and inspire some creativity.

But how do we transition from these high level discussions to a picture of what we are actually going to build?

Armed with a solid understanding of the existing business model and the future vision, we used the story mapping technique to visualise the full end to end journey of what would be required to deliver the bulk of the vision. Fortunately we were in a massive room as the map ended up being about 8 meters long!

Next came the absolutely pivotal moment, which occurs at the beginning of any such project – where we come to decide how we will actually start. It’s impossible to tackle it all at once, and you also have to determine how to create the best opportunities to quickly learn about the product, the customer, the team and the organisational context. There is both art and science involved in this process, and it requires the team to have a high degree of shared understanding and trust.

The actual process involves carving horizontal release lines through the story map. We chose to slice our story map based around particular customer types, which were defined while we were creating the business model canvas. Our first release goal included the minimum set of features to satisfy the needs of one of the three customer types, who we deemed would provide some immediate business value, and also represented an achievable starting point.

With our client on board and in alignment with the team, we were able to proceed with a clear plan. We agreed to prioritise achieving an end to end customer flow that would generate revenue. This meant a delaying in tackling a formidable but important integration challenge – never an easy trade off – but something that can be achieved once everyone is genuinely on the same page about what is important and why. And the results around revenue uplift exceeded expectations, which was a great outcome.

Every team has its preferred tool kit of practices and techniques that it uses to get the information it needs to make a start. For me,the BMC dovetails perfectly into agile ways of working – both for startups and for corporates. This was my experience on this project.  Come along to the Strategyzer Community Meetups to trade more stories with other practitioners on how to master these tools. 

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